Top Things to Do in Yellowstone: One Day Itinerary For Everything You Need to See

Top Things to Do in Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park is a true gem of the United States, beloved by nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike. As the first national park in the world, it boasts a rich history and an abundance of natural wonders. From geysers to hot springs, from mountains to forests, Yellowstone offers a diverse range of stunning landscapes to explore.

On your trip to Yellowstone you can expect to encounter a wide variety of wildlife, including grizzly bears, wolves, elk, and bison. The park also offers numerous walking and hiking trails, ranging from leisurely strolls to challenging hikes. Whether you're looking for a peaceful retreat or an adrenaline-packed adventure, Yellowstone has something for everyone.

I talk a lot about how traveling changed my life and I mean when I say it - this was one of my favorite trips to date! In this article, I've put together a roundup of the top things to do in Yellowstone to help you make the most of your visit.

15 Top Things to Do in Yellowstone

Top Things to Do in Yellowstone

While Yellowstone National Park is a natural wonderland with plenty of activities to keep visitors entertained, there are definitely certain activities that are better than others. For instance, if you are wanting to get the most out of the park in just one day, you will need to prioritize what you see wisely.

After going this past summer, I can tell you it is definitely possible to see everything you need to see in one day. You will just need to get up early to do so! So, I've put together a list of the top things to do in Yellowstone during your day in the park. 

Important note: This tour starts after coming into the park by the West Gate in West Yellowstone. I would highly recommend staying in West Yellowstone area when visiting the park, unless you are coming from Jackson Hole. We stayed at Under Canvas in West Yellowstone and loved the unique experience! 

Before you go: It's crucial to remember to pack bear spray as a precautionary measure. Yellowstone is home to a significant population of grizzly bears and black bears. And encounters with these magnificent creatures are not uncommon. While in the area, we were told of multiple bear incidents that had happened right where we were. One lady even got attacked while heading out for a run outside the camp we were staying in just 2 weeks before we arrived. I say all that to say, bear spray is necessary for both any encounters and for peace of mind while hiking. It's essential to familiarize yourself with how to properly use bear spray. And to keep it easily accessible while exploring the park. 


Now, let's get into the itinerary. You'll get a map of the park when you enter the West Gate. For this itinerary, we will begin by driving the Lower Loop of the park and ending with the Upper Loop. As you enter the park, you'll have a little ways to drive before you hit the Madison Junction. When you approach the Madison Junction, you'll head south to our first stop.

Firehole Canyon Drive


The Firehole Canyon Drive is a scenic drive that runs for 2.7 miles through the Firehole Canyon. This drive offers stunning views of the canyon and the Firehole River. While Firehole River is one of two swimming holes in the park, I'd recommend staying in the car since you only have one day in the park. We still have lots to see!

If you brought binoculars, pull over and scan the hillsides and valley. Wildlife is often spotted here along with the beautiful views.

Fountain Paint Pots

Fountain Paint Pots

The Fountain Paint Pots are the first stop of many geothermal areas you'll see in Yellowstone. This area features bubbling mud pots, colorful hot springs, and geysers in the Lower Geyser Basin. Visitors can take a short boardwalk trail to explore the area and see the unique geothermal features up close. It is a little over half a mile. So I'd recommend getting out and briskly walking the boardwalk.

Keep in mind, the later in the day you approach these popular attractions in the park, the busier they will be. From our experience, we noticed many tour buses stopping at these spots later in the day, which would make our stops less efficient. 

Grand Prismatic Spring

Grand Prismatic Spring | Top Things to Do in Yellowstone
Grand Prismatic Spring

Now it's time to explore the largest hot spring in the United States! The Grand Prismatic Spring is known for its vibrant colors and is most likely the colorful hot spring you have seen in pictures. It is located in the Midway Geyser Basin. While visitors can view the spring from a boardwalk trail, I'd recommend doing a short hike. It offers stunning views of the colorful water and steam rising from the surface while giving you a bird's eye view of the Grand Prismatic Spring.

To get to the start of the hike, park in the Fairy Falls Trail parking lot. Grab your camera and head to the Grand Prismatic Spring lookout about a half a mile into the trail. The full Fairy Falls hike is 5.4 miles and takes about 3 hours. But I'd recommend just walking to the lookout point and back. This will take about 40 minutes and you'll get to stretch your legs, get some fresh air, and see some great views of Grand Prismatic Spring!

Old Faithful

Old Faithful

Old Faithful is one of the most famous geysers in the world and is a must-see attraction in Yellowstone. It is located in the Upper Geyser Basin, along with four other major geysers. Visitors can watch as the geyser erupts every 60-90 minutes, shooting water up to 180 feet in the air. As expected, this stop can get crowded since it is so popular! 

My recommendation is to immediately go check the next eruption time for Old Faithful. My husband and I realized when we got there that the geyser erupted while we piddling around in the store and parking lot before going to check the eruption time.

Geyser Hill Trail

Geyser Hill Trail | Top Things to Do in Yellowstone

If you have some time to kill before it erupts again, you can take the Observation Point Geyser Hill Trail for an even better view of Old Faithful! It is a 2.3 mile loop and will also take you past Doublet Pool and Giantess Geyser. It is a much better experience than sitting in the bleachers waiting for Old Faithful and you can see geysers erupting and bubbling mud pots along the trail.

West Thumb Geyser Basin

West Thumb Geyser Basin
West Thumb Geyser Basin
Yellowstone Lake

The West Thumb Geyser Basin is located on the shore of Yellowstone Lake and is known for its stunning views and unique geothermal features. Visitors can take a boardwalk trail to explore the area and see the colorful hot springs and geysers. The views here are beautiful. So definitely walk the full boardwalk and do not forget your camera! 

We actually got stuck in a crazy thunderstorm here while walking around the boardwalk. While it may sound scary, with all the beauty around it was actually one of the most memorable parts of our day!

Hayden Valley

Hayden Valley | Top Things to Do in Yellowstone

Hayden Valley is a wildlife hotspot in Yellowstone and is known for its large herds of bison and elk. You will love the scenic drive through the valley while looking for wildlife. This is one of the best places for spotting bears, wolves, and other natural wildlife. 

You will most likely see cars pulled over on the side of the road with people getting out in Hayden Valley. This is often a sign of wildlife spotting, so definitely stop and get out. This is the first place in the park we saw wildlife! However, we wouldn't have seen it ourselves. Having a hunch we were missing something, we pulled over where some cars were and walked out to a viewing area filled with people with binoculars. After asking around, a nice couple pointed out some black wolves hanging out by the river and even let us get a close up look at them through their binoculars. 

Mud Volcano

Mud Volcano

The Mud Volcano is a unique geothermal feature in Yellowstone that features bubbling mud pots and a mud volcano. There is a 0.8 mile loop trail you can take to see many cool volcanic elements. Make sure you don't miss the Dragon's Mouth portion of this short boardwalk hike.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is a stunning natural wonder and is a must-see attraction in Yellowstone. Seeing how the canyon was formed by the Yellowstone River is fascinating! Upon reaching the Canyon Village area, make a right turn onto South Rim Drive and head towards Artist Point. This location offers a stunning vista of the 308-foot-tall Lower Falls. So it's a must-see on the short 0.1-mile paved walk.

For a closer look, consider descending Uncle Tom's Trail to a viewpoint of the Lower Falls. Keep in mind that the trail involves over 300 steps. Which make the descent easy but the ascent more challenging.

In addition, you'll encounter the equally impressive 109-foot-tall Upper Falls, which is worth a stop at the Upper Falls View for some fantastic photo opportunities.

Gibbon Falls

Gibbon Falls | Top Things to Do in Yellowstone

Gibbon Falls is a beautiful waterfall located along the Gibbon River. There is a half mile roundtrip trail down to the 84 ft waterfall if you want to get a closer look. However, it is located so conveniently right off the road that I'd recommend just pulling off for a few minutes to take in the views. 

While waterfalls and all of the geothermal features of the park are so cool, I think you'll agree with me after seeing everything that the best part of Yellowstone is being submerged in the wildlife. So, spending time looking at everything else while also saving the most time for the end of the tour is essential. Trust me, you'll realize why I'm saying this later!

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs is a unique geothermal area in Yellowstone that features colorful hot springs and terraces. This is a great place to get out and stretch you legs while walking around the Lower Terrace. It is very easy to lose track of time here, so keep that in the back of your mind.

If you are interested in swimming, there is a hot spring called Boiling River where visitors can soak and swim. It is about a 6 minute drive from Mammoth Hot Springs. I'd advise checking the National Park Services website before heading that way to make sure it's open to the public at that time.

Blacktail Plateau Drive

Blacktail Plateau Drive | Top Things to Do in Yellowstone

The Blacktail Plateau Drive is a scenic drive that offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. It is a 6 mile detour off the main road after heading west on the Upper Loop of the park. You'll enjoy taking the backroads while looking for wildlife.

Petrified Tree

Petrified Tree

The Petrified Tree is a unique attraction in Yellowstone that features a petrified tree that is over 50 million years old. After getting back on the main road from Blacktail Plateau Drive, you'll almost immediately see a place to turn right. You can observe while driving by or get out and go see it up close!

I'm not going to lie, this was a little underwhelming for us. While I appreciate the concept, it kind of looks like any other tree. But go see and judge for yourself! 

Tower Falls

Tower Falls

Tower Falls is a beautiful waterfall located in the northern part of Yellowstone. To get there, it is a short detour by heading south when you get to Tower Junction. Upon arrival, you can get out and take the trail to the viewpoint that is less than a mile round trip.

If you are interested in hiking Mount Washburn, you can keep driving south and find the trail about halfway between Tower Falls and Canyon Village. However, it is important to note that this road is closed between mid-October and late May.

Now... get excited! We have arrived to the best part of the day!

Lamar Valley

Lamar Valley

Lamar Valley is a picturesque valley in Yellowstone and is known for its large herds of bison, elk, and wolves. The rolling lush meadows and panoramic views of the surrounding mountains are breathtaking. As one of the most renowned wildlife watching destinations in the park, Lamar Valley offers a unique and immersive experience you are going to fall in love with. Make sure to have your binoculars and camera handy!

This was by far our favorite part of the park and most memorable experience in Yellowstone. I'd advise you to save plenty of time for seeing Lamar Valley without being rushed. I can promise you, you will want to stop many times to see wildlife. As soon as we'd think we saw everything, we'd come across an even closer bison that we had to stop and see or even turnaround to get a better look. There is nothing like being that close to wild animals! 

Lamar Valley bison

Facts about Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is a vast protected area in the United States, covering over 2.2 million acres of land. Here are some interesting facts about the park:

  • Yellowstone was established as the first national park in the world in 1872. And it remains one of the most popular national parks in the United States.
  • The park is home to more than 10,000 geothermal features, including geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles. The most famous geyser in the park is Old Faithful, which erupts approximately every 90 minutes.
  • Yellowstone is also home to a diverse range of wildlife, including grizzly bears, wolves, bison, elk, and moose. Visitors are advised to keep a safe distance from these animals and to never feed them.
  • The Yellowstone Caldera is one of the largest active volcanic systems in the world. And it has erupted three times in the past 2.1 million years. While there is currently no indication of an imminent eruption, visitors can still see evidence of past volcanic activity throughout the park.
  • The park offers a wide range of recreational activities. Including hiking, camping, fishing, and wildlife watching. Visitors can also take guided tours of the park or participate in educational programs to learn more about the park's history and natural features.

Overall, Yellowstone National Park is a unique and fascinating destination that offers something for everyone. Whether you're interested in geology, wildlife, or outdoor recreation, there's plenty to see and do in this iconic national park.

Map of Yellowstone National Park

To fully appreciate the beauty and diversity of Yellowstone National Park, visitors should obtain a map of the park. The map provides a clear and concise overview of the park's geography, including the locations of popular attractions, trails, and campgrounds.

Visitors can obtain a free map of Yellowstone National Park at any of the park's visitor centers. The map is also available online, and visitors can access it by clicking on the link provided here.

The map is easy to read and includes detailed information about the park's features, including the location of geysers, hot springs, and waterfalls. It also highlights the park's various regions, including the Lamar Valley, Hayden Valley, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Yellowstone National Park

In conclusion, Yellowstone National Park offers a wealth of natural wonders and unforgettable experiences that can be savored in just one day. From witnessing the awe-inspiring geysers and hot springs to encountering the park's diverse wildlife and exploring its iconic landmarks, a day trip to Yellowstone promises a journey filled with adventure and discovery. Whether it's marveling at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, gazing at the majestic Old Faithful, or meandering through the tranquil Lamar Valley, you are sure to create lasting memories amidst the park's unparalleled beauty.

While a single day may only scratch the surface of all that Yellowstone has to offer, this itinerary provides you with a tantalizing taste of the park's most cherished attractions, hopefully leaving you inspired to return and further explore this natural wonderland.

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