Yellowstone is one of the most visited national parks in the USA for good reason; it’s [expletive] cool. Not to mention gorgeous, and totally unique. There is literally so. much to do that any “things to do in Yellowstone” list could go on forever. I mean it, this park is MASSIVE (check the map for reference). We only had a few days to cram it all in because we were also headed to Grand Teton for a couple of days. So knowing this, I wanted to see what to do in Yellowstone when you don’t have that much time to spend. This may sound crazy, but I think you can see all the major things to do in Yellowstone in just three days. Crazy? Maybe. Doable without risk of sleep deprivation or exhaustion? Absolutely. We genuinely loved our 3 days in Yellowstone, so to help you, here is the 3 day Yellowstone itinerary we used to explore this super unique park.
And if you need help packing, I’ve got the list of everything you need for your Yellowstone road trip as well.
The Short Version of 3 Days in Yellowstone
Day 1 – Animals in the Northern/Central Parts of the Park
- Mammoth Springs
- Grand Canyon
- Hayden Valley
- Yellowstone Lake
- Lamar Valley (dusk)
Day 2 – Geysers & Springs Part 1
- Grand Prismatic Spring
- Yellowstone Lake
- Fire Hole Canyon Drive
Day 3 – Geysers & Springs Part 2
- Old Faithful and surrounding geyser basin
- Black Sand Basin
Want to see what this looks like in action? Check my Instagram story highlights.
The Long Version of What to Do in Yellowstone
This was the day we saw the absolute most animals and it was SO fun. In my opinion, animal-watching is one of the best things to do in Yellowstone, so we spent a lot of the day doing just that. Additionally, this is also the only day of my 3 day Yellowstone itinerary that is most accessible from the northern entrance, so keep that in mind when planning your trip. Looking for more tips to help you plan that aren’t specifically a Yellowstone itinerary? Look no further than my Yellowstone tips post.
Mammoth Hot Springs
This is an incredibly quick drive from the northern entrance. We went around 10am and there were definitely people there, but it wasn’t insane. If I were to go back and do it again though, I might go a little bit earlier as parking here was a little tough to find if you were trying to get close to the bottom area. The top area had more parking though if you can’t find anywhere near the bottom.
Another note was that I went in August, so the springs were mostly dry. This was a tad disappointing to me. So if Mammoth Hot Springs are high on your list of reasons to go to Yellowstone, I suggest using this 3 day itinerary in a cooler month.
We arrived to Grand Canyon and started at the northern viewpoint, then hiked a little bit down to the southern rim. The hike between northern and southern viewpoints are relatively flat and pretty easy overall. From the southern rim, we took the relatively steep hike down to the lower falls lookout. This was pretty short distance-wise, but it was a little steep, so be prepared for that should you go down. The views from each lookout were stunning, and the breeze that hits your cheeks is unforgettable.
Want to see some wildlife? Lucky for you, Hayden Valley is FULL of animals for you to stop and check out along the way.
While this is the smaller of the two wildlife-centric valleys, that by no means means you will have any difficulty seeing animals. We saw countless bison and elk here, and probably spent a couple of hours just driving and pulling over to see a new herd.
We made a quick stop at Yellowstone Lake to enjoy our lunch with a beautiful view.
This could, quite honestly, be my favorite part of our time in Yellowstone. We went out at sunset and drove through what looked like herds adding up to 1,000 or more bison. It was incredible, beautiful, so snorty, and I loved it.
Grand Prismatic Spring
A 3 day Yellowstone itinerary is incomplete without a stop at Grand Prismatic Spring. This gorgeous spring is huge, and definitely worth the stop. It is however worth going on the hike up to see it from an aerial view vs. walking up to it next to all the people. You’ll definitely have more room to socially distance if you go on this hike, and I prefer the view from the top.
There are lots of geysers and springs to take a look at in the Norris Geyser Basin, so wander around and soak it all up.
Fire Hole Canyon Drive
This was a random turn we took to that we thought sounded cool and we were definitely right! This gorgeous drive had a gorgeous waterfall and waterway, that was definitely worth it.
Old Faithful & Surrounding Basin
Like Grand Prismatic, any 3 day Yellowstone itinerary is incomplete without Old Faithful. Old Faithful is INCREDIBLY busy, so it’s important to get here as early as possible so that you can see this with as few people present. We sat in the benches to watch, but you could also go on the hike to get the aerial view quite like with Grand Prismatic Springs.
Additionally, the geyser basin around Old Faithful is full of super unique springs and geysers to walk around and check out. Tons of variety, lots of bubbles, and even more sulphur smells, ha.
Black Sand Basin
This may have been the sleeper hit of the geysers for me. There weren’t that many people in this basin, and it was full of super gorgeous, unique looking sprints and geysers. Also, it had a spring that looked like a smaller version of Grand Prismatic, which was awesome.
Fire Hole Lake
Another gorgeous surprise was Fire Hole Lake. We pulled off and simply took a quick walk around the lake here and it was gorgeous. It was also… you guessed it… smelly.
So that’s it! If you made it this far into my 3 day Yellowstone itinerary, you are a true saint and I wish you nothing but the best time ever. Pick and choose what you want to do out of this, but you really can’t go wrong. It’s a beautiful park, and simply driving around and pulling over at picnic spots and outlooks is half of the fun.