Rookie mistake: trying to see everything at Yellowstone in a day. Instead of spending the whole time driving, pick one of these itineraries and make the most of your 24 hours.
One Day of Wildlife Watching in Yellowstone
Wake up with Wolves
For your best chance of spying the park’s wolf packs in action, get up before sunrise and head to the Lamar Valley in the park’s northeast quadrant. Several pullouts on the road let you stop and set up a spotting scope or pull out your binoculars—or look for park volunteers with scopes and ask for a peek. As the sun rises, you might also see bison, badgers, osprey, bears, and deer.
Eat a Hearty Breakfast
When you’re ready for a break, grab breakfast at Roosevelt Lodge. The rustic restaurant and hotel serves up breakfast burritos, hikers’ specials, biscuits, and Montana milling oatmeal.
Cruise Tower Road
Head south from Roosevelt and stop at 132-foot Tower Fall, a thundering cascade. Continue on to climb the shoulder of 10,243-foot Mt. Washburn. Stop at 8,859-foot Dunraven Pass to enjoy the view and scan for bighorn sheep; if you have the time and the weather is nice, consider hiking the 3.1-mile (one-way) trail from here to Washburn’s summit for even better views and wildlife ops.
Gaze at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Drive through Canyon Village and turn on South Rim drive for an up-close look at one of the park’s most outstanding natural features: 308-foot Lower Falls and 109-foot Upper Falls, two massive waterfalls in a strikingly colorful gorge. Park at Artist Point to take in the vista. Up for a thrill? Backtrack to Uncle Tom’s Point and descend the 328 metal steps bolted into the side of the canyon on Uncle Tom’s Trail. It’s not for the acrophobic, but the up-close view of Lower Falls is worth it.
Watch Wildlife in Hayden Valley
This grassy valley in central Yellowstone supports huge herds of bison, plus grizzly bears, elk, coyotes, wolves, moose, and bald eagles. Stop in one of the numerous pullouts along the road and scan the rolling terrain—you never know what you might spot. Or hike the 10-mile (round-trip) Mary Mountain Trail for even better scoping opportunities.
Tip: While driving and looking for wildlife in both Hayden and Lamar valleys, keep your eyes on the road. Instead of peering out into the valleys, watch for people gathering along the roadsides. Stop and park, then look where the cameras are pointed.
Dine by Yellowstone Lake
Feast on wild game, fresh fish, or steak in the Lake Hotel’s elegant dining room (reservations recommended). For a more casual evening, head over to nearby Lake Lodge Cafeteria. Must-do: Sip a pint of a local microbrew or glass of wine from a rocking chair on the lakeview front porch.
One Day of Geyser Gazing in Yellowstone
Start with Old Faithful
You’ve got two options to kick off your day. One, sit down to the breakfast buffet at Old Faithful Inn’s Dining Room, then head outside to catch Old Faithful Geyser in action (the front desk posts eruption times). Two, get a grab-and-go breakfast from the Bear Paw Deli and eat it on the second-floor porch for a picture-perfect view of Old Faithful.
Stroll Upper Geyser Basin
A series of boardwalks leads from the visitor center into the heart of this thermal paradise—with more than 150 spouters within a square mile, it holds the highest concentration of geysers in the world. Highlights include the predicted geysers (Castle, Daisy, Grand, and Riverside), the Lion group, 150-foot Beehive, and bright Beauty and Chromatic Pools.
Explore Midway & Lower Geyser Basins
Head up the road to Midway Geyser Basin, home to one of the world’s largest, deepest hot spring (370 feet across and 125 feet deep)—Grand Prismatic Spring. It’s worth walking the boardwalk to get up close, but an even better view of the vibrant feature awaits near the beginning of the Fairy Falls Trail; pick it up just south of the basin.
Next stop: Take Firehole Lake Drive past Great Fountain Geyser, then park at Lower Geyser Basin to see the fumaroles and geysers around Fountain Paint Pot.
Visit Norris Geyser Basin
The park’s oldest, hottest geyser basin is another fantastic place to see geysers in action. Head into Porcelain Basin, a half-mile boardwalk trip, to see favorites like Constant Geyser and enormous fumaroles. Continue to Back Basin, a 1.5-mile walk pass acidic Echinus Geyser, sparkling Emerald Spring, and 300-foot-plus Steamboat Geyser, the tallest in the world. Steamboat’s eruptions are highly unpredictable—but several lucky visitors saw a nine-minute show in July 2013 (its first eruption in eight years).
See Mammoth Hot Springs
Finish off your geyser gorging with a different kind of thermal feature. The hot springs at Mammoth don’t erupt, but they do build spectacular travertine terrace formations (as quickly as three feet per year in some places). Walk the boardwalk to watch the trickling springs at work; see page 12 for more.
Dine at Mammoth
Finish your day with bison sliders, trout tacos, prime rib, and other hearty fare at the Mammoth Hotel Dining Room.