Upper Geyser Basin/ Shutterstock Image

Upper Geyser Basin/ Shutterstock Image

The Very Best of Yellowstone Itinerary in 3 Days


shaka guide yellowstone tour map

Embarking on a Yellowstone adventure is an exciting endeavor, but with the park's vastness and incredible diversity, it can feel a bit daunting.

Yellowstone, spanning an impressive 2.2 million acres, boasts an array of natural wonders, from erupting geysers to magnificent wildlife and picturesque landscapes.

bar graph of largest national parks in united states

Don't worry, though; this guide is your ticket to making the most of your limited time.

Over the course of just three days, we'll help you explore the very best of Yellowstone's iconic attractions.

Soon, you'll be relishing your well-deserved title as the vacation hero for your friends or family!

About This Yellowstone 3-Day Itinerary

This itinerary focuses on the major park highlights, including:

To add more days and activities to this itinerary, check out our one-week Yellowstone Itinerary.

Note: For the sake of this itinerary, we’ll assume you’ll be staying in West Yellowstone. 

Best Time to Visit Yellowstone National Park

tourists watching the geyserShutterstock Image

Yellowstone National Park presents a distinct experience in each season. Summer boasts long, sunny days and thriving wildlife, but it also draws large crowds.

Fall and Spring, the shoulder seasons, provide most of the summer amenities and attractions but with fewer visitors.

Winter, though challenging with road closures, is a tranquil winter wonderland for those seeking a more peaceful and private adventure.

How to Get to Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park provides convenient access via multiple airports, all situated within a manageable 1 ½ to 3-hour drive from the park.

To streamline your travel plans, consider your preferred park entrance as your starting point.

The West Entrance, being the most popular and nearest to the park, offers extensive amenities but may have limited car rental options.

For a broader selection of rental vehicles, you might pick the South Entrance or West Entrance as your home base.

Yellowstone’s North Entrance-

Mammoth Hot Springs; Fort Yellowstone

  • 1 ½ hours from Yellowstone (88 miles)

Yellowstone’s West Entrance-

Grand Prismatic Spring; Old Faithful

7 minutes from Yellowstone (3.2 miles)

1 hr 50 min (109 miles)

Yellowstone’s Northeast Entrance-

Lamar Valley; Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

2 hrs 59 min (154 miles)

Yellowstone’s East Entrance-

Yellowstone Lake; West Thumb Geyser Basin

1 hr 5 min (55 miles)

Yellowstone’s South Entrance-

Lewis Lake; West Thumb Geyser Basin; Old Faithful; Grand Teton National Park

1 hr 5 min (49.3 miles)

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Where to Stay in Yellowstone

Lodging Inside the Park

There are plenty of places to stay inside Yellowstone National Park, but they often fill up several months to a year in advance.

If you can, try to book these at least 6 months in advance.

North Entrance

(307) 344-7311

Northeast Entrance

  • Roosevelt Lodge: 100 Roosevelt Lodge Road, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190

 (307) 344-7311

 (307) 344-7311

West Entrance

  • Old Faithful Inn: 300 Old Faithful Inn Road, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190

(307) 344-7311

(307) 344-7311

East Entrance

(307) 344-7311

South Entrance

  • Grant Village: 24 Rainbow Loop, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190

(307) 344-7311

Lodging Outside the Park

There are so many places to stay near Yellowstone that it would be impossible to list them all.

To help you get started, here are some locally-owned and highly-rated hotels and lodges located near each park entrance.

For more detailed suggestions, check out our Know-Before-You-Go guide.

West Yellowstone, MT (Yellowstone West Entrance)

Cody, WY (Yellowstone East Entrance)

Wapiti, WY (Yellowstone East Entrance)

Jackson Hole, WY (Yellowstone South Entrance)

Gardiner, MT (Yellowstone North Entrance)

  • Yellowstone Basin Inn- A locally owned and operated bed and breakfast offering scenic views of the surrounding mountains and a peaceful atmosphere.
  • Absaroka Lodge- A family-owned lodge with a rustic charm and proximity to the Yellowstone River.
  • North Yellowstone Lodge & Hostel- A locally owned lodge and hostel that offers both private and shared accommodations.

Cooke City, MT (Yellowstone Northeast Entrance)

  • Alpine Motel- A locally owned and operated motel offering comfortable accommodations and a convenient location.
  • High Country Motel and Cabins- A family-owned motel with cozy cabins and a mountain atmosphere.
  • Skyline Guest Ranch- This rustic ranch offers many guided tours and adventures.
  • Soda Butte Lodge- A locally owned and operated lodge with a focus on outdoor adventures and hospitality.
  • Elk Horn Lodge- A cozy, family-owned lodge with a friendly atmosphere and proximity to the natural beauty of the area.

Yellowstone Day 1

Major Stops: Prismatic Springs and Old Faithful

1. Begin the Tour From Outside West Yellowstone

Just minutes outside of the town of West Yellowstone, your Yellowstone adventure begins.

Whether you’re coming in from WYS Airport or off the Targhee Pass Highway, Shaka Guide will help you get acclimated with some quick tour instructions.

2. See Scenic West Yellowstone

view beside a river in yellowstone madison riverImage by Rachel Ennis

Approximate Time: 1 hour

Start your adventure by driving along the crystal-clear Madison River.

As one of the best rivers in the nation for fly fishing, it holds the honorable distinction of being a Blue Ribbon Fishery.

The drive down and back will take about an hour, but you will need about two hours to enjoy all of the stops.

3. Explore Fountain Paint Pots 

hot spring explodingShutterstock Image

Approximate Time: 30 minutes

As you drive to Fountain Paint Pots, you’ll pass a few roadside hot springs, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled.

You’ll definitely want to make time to walk the 0.6-mile Fountain Paint Pots boardwalk trail.

There are several lesser-known geysers and hot springs here, such as Celestone Pool and Spasm Geyser.

4. Meander through Midway Geyser Basin (and optional hike)

geysersImage from Flickr by 

Approximate Time: 1-4 hours

The Midway Geyser Basin may just end up being your favorite stop in the park.

Along the short boardwalk trail that encircles the gigantic, 370' Grand Prismatic Spring, you'll also witness a number of other smaller hot springs. 

If you have time, be sure to pull into Fairy Falls Trailhead and take the 0.6-mile one-way hike to Grand Prismatic Overlook.

If you’re feeling adventurous, this trail continues for another 1 mile each way to Fairy Falls, one of the park’s most spectacular waterfalls.

5. Black Sand Basin

sand basinImage by Rachel Ennis

Approximate Time: 30 minutes

Named for its rare obsidian black sand, Black Sand Basin has some of the most colorful but overlooked hot springs in the park.

Be sure to see the Emerald Pool, Opalescent Pool, and Sunset Lake along this short, half-mile boardwalk.

6. Say Hello to Old Faithful

geyser explodingShutterstock Image

Approximate Time: 1-3 hours

It’s not a trip to Yellowstone without visiting the iconic and reliable Old Faithful.

The big geyser itself erupts about every 60–110 minutes, but if you get there early, don’t fret.

There’s lots to see and do nearby, including checking out the Visitor Center, the Tribal Heritage Center, or the surrounding hydrothermal features along the Geyser Loop Trail.

If you need a snack, coffee, or restroom break, be sure to stop by the historic Old Faithful Lodge. That’s also where you’ll find the gift shop.

7. Return to West Yellowstone

Approximate Time: 40 minutes

It’s probably time to head back towards Madison Junction and the West Entrance.

If you have some more time and energy to spare, feel free to stop at any of the stops you passed along the way such as:

  • Firehole Canyon Road
  • Talus Mountain
  • the Two-Ribbons Trail
  • or Fountain Flats Drive

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Yellowstone Day 2

Major Stops: Mammoth Hot Springs and Norris Geyser Basin

1. Begin Your Drive To the North of Yellowstone

Approximate Time: 1 hour

Just as before, you’ll drive through the west entrance, but this time, you’ll head north at Mammoth Junction.

The drive to Gardiner will be full of hot springs, pine forests, and no shortage of exciting stops.

2. Gibbon Picnic Area and Falls

picnic area with woods aroundImage by Rachel Ennis

Approximate Time: 20 minutes

Want to enjoy the music of the Gibbon River while having lunch? Swing by the Gibbon Picnic Area!

After you’re done, it’s less than a half-mile drive to Gibbon Falls, named for early Yellowstone explorer Colonel Gibbon.

3. Beryl Spring

hot spring that is smokingImage from Flickr by 

Approximate Time: 10 minutes

This is one of the most radiant hot springs in the park, with a striking blue color like that of a beryl stone.

It’s just on the side of the road, so it’s more than worth the stop.

4. Critique the Artist’s Paint Pots

colorful basin in yellowstoneImage by Rachel Ennis

Approximate Time: 45 minutes

Artists’ Paintpots 0.6-mile boardwalk begins in pine woods and emerges into a basin full of colorful mud pots.

It's one of Shaka's top spots for avoiding the crowds while enjoying the park's unique, bubbly, gurgly hydrothermal.

5. Norris Geyser Basin

sky blue basinShutterstock Image

Approximate Time: 1-2 hours

You’re not “geysered out” yet, are you? Because there is one more major basin to see before you head on up to Mammoth Hot Springs.

The Norris Geyser Basin is Yellowstone’s hottest and oldest geyser basin, featuring the tallest geyser in the world!

You won’t want to miss this 2.9-mile looping boardwalk trail. 

6. Hear the Roaring Mountain

white mountain emitting smokeShutterstock Image

Approximate Time: 15 minutes

You’ve seen them, you’ve smelled them. Now, let’s hear them.

Roaring Mountain is pocked with fumaroles, super-hot chasms that “roar” and hiss with steam.

The ash-gray color of this mountain is caused by sulfur-reducing bacteria that dissolve the lava stone over time.

7. Obsidian Cliff and Exhibit 

rock cliffImage by Rachel Ennis

Approximate Time: 15 minutes

Because of some extra-handsy tourists (shame!), you aren’t allowed to walk directly to the Obsidian Cliff.

But, we’ll get a great view as you drive past, and then we’ll stop off at the exhibit.

Then, take a short 5-minute walk to get another view of the cliff, black glass shining and shimmering in the sun.

8. Sheepeater Cliff (with optional hike)

rock formationsShutterstock Image

Approximate Time: 30 minutes-2 hours

Pull in to see Sheepeater Cliff, a geometric basaltic wall that was named for the Sheepeater people, one of the few Native American tribes to live in Yellowstone year-round.

These hexagonal columns formed naturally over 1.3 million years ago and cooled into the unique shape you see today.

Its short, 1-mile there-and hike leads to a second basalt cliff and then the chutes of the Gardner River. 

9. Drive the Upper Terrace

brown hot springShutterstock Image

Approximate Time: 20 minutes

It’s the moment we’ve been waiting for—Mammoth Hot Springs! Some big highlights on this 1.5-mile drive are:

  • the Orange Spring Mound
  • Angel Terrace
  • and Aphrodite Terrace

You won’t want to miss this iconic drive around Yellowstone’s white travertine terraces.

10. Walk the Lower Terrace

brown terraceImage from Flickr by 

Approximate Time: 1 hour

Now that you’ve explored the Upper Terrace, it’s time to check out the Lower Terrace.

Those instantly recognizable photos of snow-white terraces you see online? Most of those happened down here.

Minerva Terrace, Jupiter Terrace, and all of these park icons are sure to enchant you.

If you have time, I suggest you walk the entire 2.2-mile boardwalk.

Don’t forget to stop by Liberty Cap before heading out!

11. Check out Mammoth Village

view from a far of a small townImage from Flickr by 

Approximate Time: 1 hour

If you’re here before about 4 p.m., consider checking out Mammoth Village. There’s the:

  • Historical Fort Yellowstone
  • the Albright Visitor Center
  • and the Mammoth General Store

If you’re hungry, consider stopping by the Mammoth Dining Room.

12. Return to West Yellowstone

Approximate Time: 40 minutes

If you have time, you might want to stop at any of these attractions we skipped:

  • Rustic Falls
  • Terrace Spring
  • Tuff Cliff
  • Hoodoos Circle
  • Bunsen Peak Trail
  • Apollinaris Spring
  • Nymph Lake
  • Frying Pan Spring
  • the Museum of the National Park Ranger
  • and Chocolate Spring

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Yellowstone Day 3

1. Head Down Norris Canyon Road

Approximate Time: 35 minutes

Turn left at the Canyon Village intersection to drive the final stretch of Yellowstone you have yet to see.

Norris Canyon Road takes you through thick Lodgepole pine forests and bear country to the west entrance.

2. Take a Diversion By the Virginia Cascades

waterfallsImage by Rachel Ennis

Approximate Time: 15 minutes

This is a scenic, high, and narrow one-way road that leads to the Virginia Cascades, the 60-foot roaring falls of the Gibbon River.

There are two overlooks on this road to let you admire the falls from outside the car.

3. Explore the North Rim

waterfalls with rainbow over top

Approximate Time: 1 hour

Your epic Grand Canyon adventure begins with a turn right onto North Rim Drive.

The Brink of the Lower Falls has one scenic stop after another, including:

  • the Brink of the Lower Falls
  • Lookout Point
  • Grand View
  • and Inspiration Point

Most of these lookouts are roadside or accessed by a short walk. Be sure to stop by every point on your way up.

If you have time, check out these optional hikes as well:

4. Get Refreshed in Grand Canyon Village

Approximate Time: 1 hour

Canyon Village has a restaurant, a lodge, several shops, and a visitor center.

If you do nothing else, be sure to stop by the visitor center—the displays, including one lit diorama of Yellowstone, are informative.

They really help to visualize complex geological processes like the formation of the canyon and caldera.

5. Brink of the Upper Falls

big waterfallsImage from Unsplash by Miles Farnsworth

Approximate Time: 20 minutes

After you circle around, turn right just past the North Rim Drive to get one final look at the Upper Falls.

This viewpoint, right at the brink of the falls, is one of the best in the park.

You’ll need to walk just over a quarter mile on an easy trail to enjoy its viewing platform.

6. Head Down the South Rim

view of waterfalls from afar

Approximate Time: 1 hour

This drive leads to two more fantastic canyon viewpoints—the Upper Falls View and Artist Point—along with some optional hikes.

I recommend Uncle Tom’s Trail. Take one last look at this geological wonder: the eras of rock carved through by the Yellowstone River's awesome power are truly breathtaking.

7. Uncle Tom’s Trail (optional hike)

Approximate Time: 1 hour

There used to be a series of thrilling rope bridges that connected this historic trail. No fear now.

To reach its viewing platform, hugging the side of the canyon, you’ll just need to take the 300 stairs down. And then…up.

8. Overlook the Tower Falls

waterfalls in yellowstone national parkImage from Flickr by Zechariah Judy

Approximate Time: 30 minutes- 1 hour

Tower Falls has a general store and, as you may have guessed, a waterfall.

A short boardwalk leads to several breathtaking overlooks of the plunging 132-foot falls.

There is also a one-mile there-and-back trail that leads to the river and past a few bubbling cauldrons.

9. Take in the Sights at Lamar Valley

A herd of bison move through the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park on a fall day under a clear blue sky.  The scene is reminiscent of the great migrations of the herds of the pastShutterstock Image

Approximate Time: 40 minutes

As you drive through this wildlife mecca, keep on the lookout for bison, bears, antelope, foxes, and all of the wildlife that frequents the area.

Your tour will point out glacial erratic boulders and notable Absaroka mountain peaks, and, as always, you’ll hear several exciting stories about the area and its history.

10. Head Back to West Yellowstone

Approximate Time: 1:30

It’s a long, final drive back. If you have extra time, stop by some of the stops we skipped:

  • Washburn Hot Springs
  • Silver Chords Cascades
  • Chittenden Road
  • Calcite Spring
  • Petrified Forest Trail
  • and Ice Lake Trailhead

Map of the 3-Day Itinerary in Yellowstone National Park

Things To Pack

things to pack for yellowstone

  • Weather-Appropriate Clothing: Yellowstone's weather can be unpredictable, so bring layers, including a waterproof jacket, regardless of the season.
  • Comfortable Footwear: Sturdy and comfortable hiking boots or shoes for exploring the park's trails.
  • Sun Protection: Sunscreen, sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat to protect against sunburn.
  • Insect Repellent: This is especially important during the summer months when mosquitoes and other insects can be active.
  • Water and Reusable Bottle: Stay hydrated by carrying a refillable water bottle and drinking plenty of water throughout the day.
  • Snacks and Food: Pack snacks and a picnic lunch, as dining options within the park can be limited, especially in remote areas.
  • Bear Spray: If you plan on hiking in bear country, carrying bear spray and knowing how to use it is crucial for safety.
  • Binoculars and Camera: Yellowstone offers excellent wildlife viewing, so bring binoculars and a camera with extra batteries and memory cards.
  • Backpack: A small daypack to carry your essentials, including water, snacks, and extra layers.
  • First Aid Kit: A basic first aid kit with essentials like bandages, pain relievers, and any necessary personal medications.
  • Personal Identification and Park Pass: Carry your ID, and if you have a National Park Pass, make sure it's with you.
  • Cash: Some places within the park may not accept credit cards, so having some cash on hand can be helpful.
  • Garbage Bags: Pack out all your trash to help keep the park clean and protect its wildlife.
  • Camping Gear (if applicable): If you're camping in the park, bring your camping equipment, including a tent, sleeping bag, and camping stove.
  • Hiking Essentials: For longer hikes, bring a map, compass or GPS, trekking poles, and a whistle for safety.
  • Cell Phone and Charger: You can’t take your Shaka Guide tour without them!

Important Things To Remember

grizzly bearShutterstock Image

Yellowstone National Park is renowned for its remarkable wildlife and is considered one of the best places in the United States to observe animals in their natural habitat.

For both your own safety and the safety of the animals, do not approach, feed, or harass any of the wildlife.

Additionally, please practice vigilance when near geothermal areas such as hot springs and geysers.

You must stay on the path while in these places, as the ground can be unstable and dangerous. Keep an eye on small children.

Dogs are not allowed in many areas of Yellowstone, including walking trails and boardwalks.

For the most up-to-date information on where you can take Fido, check out the NPS website.

Finally, as always, do not take, mar, destroy, or deliberately alter anything in the park.

When we all respect these natural places, we can preserve their beauty for future generations.

For more information, check out Shaka Guide’s Know-Before-You-Go guide.

Explore with Shaka Guide

woman using an audio tour in front of yellowstone national park

Shaka Guide’s Yellowstone National Park Tour features over 100 stops in the park. Access Yellowstone from any of the park’s entrances and the app with guide you along easy-to-navigate routes with stories and music as you explore.

download shaka guide's yellowstone national park

We hope that we’ve given you all the information you need to make the most of your day. Your vacation is extremely important to us so if you have any questions feel free to reach out at aloha@shakaguide.com.

For more detailed information to help you plan, check out our Yellowstone National Park Itinerary and Know Before You Go article.

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yellowstone national park 3 day itinerary


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