Your Perfect 3-Day Weekend in Yellowstone

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Long weekend in Yellowstone? You’ll have time to explore some of the lesser-visited parts of the park.

Watch Wildlife in Northeastern Yellowstone

Bison in Yellowstone

Bison in Yellowstone

Yellowstone’s northeast corner harbors excellent wildlife watching, dramatic peaks, and quieter trails. Start with a cruise over one-way (two-way for bikes) Blacktail Plateau Drive, just west of Tower-Roosevelt: This scenic route offers another chance to look for coyotes, wolves, and bears.

Also worth a stop: the Petrified Tree, an ancient redwood. Just down the road lies Specimen Ridge, where you’ll find the world’s largest concentration of petrified trees.

Some of the best day hikes in this area are Slough Creek, a 9-mile (round-trip) hike along a historic wagon trail into bear- and moose-rich habitat, and the Lamar River Trail, a streamside ramble (watch for bison). If you can, time your exploration to catch dinner in tiny, scenic Cooke City just outside the Northeast Entrance, then cruise back through the Lamar Valley at dusk to boost your wildlife-spotting odds.

Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone Lake with Hotel and Dot Island. Photo by Jeff Vanuga

Yellowstone Lake with Hotel and Dot Island.

The shores of enormous Yellowstone Lake feature plenty of dining, camping, and hiking opportunities. For a breathtaking view over the lake, head for the 3.6-mile Elephant Back Trail (the trailhead is just north of Lake Village).

Another standout hike is the Pelican Valley Trail just northeast of Mary Bay—but this is grizzly bear central, so hike in groups of at least four, carry bear spray, and talk or sing loudly to alert grizzlies to your presence.

The Fishing Cone Geyser at the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake

Fishing Cone Geyser at the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake

Geyser lovers will find a small but dynamic thermal zone at West Thumb Basin, where Yellowstone’s magma chamber lies just 2 miles below the ground.

Hike to a Backcountry Geyser

Lone Star Geyser in Yellowstone's Upper Geyser Basin

Lone Star Geyser in Yellowstone's Upper Geyser Basin

Yellowstone’s developed geyser basins justifiably attract people from all over the world—sometimes, it seems, all at the same time. To watch the geothermal show without the crowds, hit the Lone Star Trail (start near Kepler Cascades). Check the eruption schedule at Old Faithful Visitor Center, then hike the 5-mile (round-trip) trail to see the 45-foot geyser blow skyward.

For an even more remote and impressive show, continue on the Shoshone Lake Trail to Shoshone Geyser Basin to see more than 70 active spouters. The 17-mile round-trip takes at least two days.

Soak in a Wilderness Hot Spring

Yellowstone's Boiling River Swimming Area. Photo by NPS Jim Peaco

Yellowstone's Boiling River Swimming Area.

Forget the spa—it has nothing on Mother Nature’s hot tubs. Most of the park’s thermal areas are much too hot for swimming, but a few places are safe enough for a dip. One popular spot is the Boiling River, where a large hot spring flows into the Gardner River. Park at the lot just south of the 45th Parallel near Mammoth and walk a half-mile to the spring; it’s even accessible in winter. Or head to Mr. Bubbles, a four-foot-deep backcountry hot spring via the 13.5-mile trail from Bechler Ranger Station.

Attend an Evening Program

The Milky Way over Castle Geyser in the Upper Geyser Basin. Photo by NPS Neal Herbert

The Milky Way over Castle Geyser in the Upper Geyser Basin.

Each night all over the park in summer, rangers lead entertaining programs on a variety of topics. Two visitor favorites: astronomy and stargazing programs, complete with telescopes, at Madison. Pick up a park newspaper or check nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/rangerprog.htm for times and themes.

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Do you have a park map? You'll receive a free park map when you enter the park or you can download one now. But if you'd like to plan your trip with a detailed topographic map, consider purchasing a Trails Illustrated map of Yellowstone on REI.com that includes hiking trails, iconic sights and more. 

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