Yellowstone National Park was the first National park established in the US. With over 4 million visitors per year, this park is one of the greatest and most iconic places to visit for all nature and wildlife lovers. Thanks to over 3000 miles of paved roads, it can be easily visited by car and makes an ideal road trip destination, like those road trips in the UK and Ireland. Located in three states at the same time – Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho – it is a beloved place to visit in both summer and shoulder seasons. This 4 day Yellowstone Itinerary is a detailed guide for your next unforgettable journey to the wild!
The best month to do the Yellowstone Itinerary 4 days
The best time to visit Yellowstone National park is during shoulder seasons, such as the beginning of April through the end of May and the beginning of September until the end of October. These months are generally much less crowded and offer mild weather conditions. Moreover, kids are back in schools so you will have a park all to yourself.
Arriving in Yellowstone – where to fly?
The nearest International airport is Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, located roughly 90 miles from the north and west entrance. Many local airlines serve this airport with daily connections to other major cities in the US. However, if you are interested in entering through the South entrance, Jackson Hole Airport would be your choice.
Flight prices may be quite high during peak seasons, so picking an alternative airport is a good idea if you are on a budget. There is an option to drive to Yellowstone from Salt Lake City if this is the city you are flying to (driving time is around 5 hours).
- Day 1 Arriving in Bozeman Airport, picking up a rental car, driving to Yellowstone, Boiling River, mammoth hot springs, overnight in Mammoth
- Day 2 Lamar Valley animal watching, Lower Falls (uncle Toms trail), overnight in Lake village
- Day 3 Drive to Thumb geyser, then to Old Faithful, hike to geysers, overnight in Old Faithful
- Day 4 Midway geyser basin, Gibbon Falls, back to Bozeman
Entrance to the park
Yellowstone National Park has a total of 5 entrances, the entrance fee is 25USD per vehicle and valid for 7 days. The same pass is valid for Grand Teton National Parks, located just south of Yellowstone. If you are visiting more than one national park, consider buying America the Beautiful National Parks pass for 80USD, which is valid in all US parks for one year.
Day one: hot springs
Depending on the arrival time of your flight, you may still have a few hours of daylight to explore some attractions along the way before reaching the final destination for the day. Few miles before the North Entrance to the park, you will spot Roosevelt Arch – former park entrance dating back to 1903. As the name suggests, the arch was laid down by President Theodore Roosevelt. The arch was built when the railroad leading to Gardiner was finished and was meant to create an impressive gateway for the visitors entering the park.
Follow the road 89 south until you reach Boiling River – another popular spot for all the hot spring bathing fans. Make sure to bring a bathing suit (change in the car), water shoes, and a towel. You will need to take about a mile-long hike to the bathing spot, but it is worth it! The cold water from the river meets the hot springs, creating an ideal mixture for relaxing and enjoying nature. The place also attracts lots of wildlife!
Mammoth hot springs
Mammoth Hot springs is a collection of around 50 geothermal travertine terraces with scenic trails and hiking paths. Take your time to explore the pools and terraces during the evening hours, when the crowds are gone. The hike should take no longer than 1 hour. We will be staying here overnight, so no need to rush. If you are hungry, the Mammoth Dining Room will be your place to go.
Overnight in Mammoth
When it comes to staying overnight, Mammoth has two options for you – Mammoth Hot springs Hotel or Mammoth campground. The best thing about staying here overnight is the frequent visits by wild animals, such as deer, elk, and bison.
If you are not ready to cash out on this fancy, but an overpriced hotel, consider staying in nearby towns outside the National Park – for example in Livingstone (Yellowstone Pioneer Lodge) or Bozeman (Travelodge, Ramada). Both towns are about an hour’s drive from Mammoth.
Day two: Animal watching and waterfalls
In the first half of day two of our 4-day Yellowstone Itinerary, we will head to Lamar Valley to take a closer look at some gorgeous local animals. Although the valley is a self-drive, the best way to explore it in-depth is by hiking one of the trails. One of the most popular ones starts at the parking near Soda Butte Creek and is 11 km long. The trail is moderately difficult and takes you all the way into the wild, to Cache Creek.
While hiking this route, you have a good chance of spotting bison, pronghorn, bald eagles, elk, and even grizzly. Make sure to keep the distance from wild animals and never feed them! When you are done exploring and taking scenic photos, head back to Tower Junction for a quick lunch before proceeding to the next destination. If you have time, make a quick stop at Tower Fall – 132 ft falls. You can skip the hike to the bottom and take some photos from the parking lot.
Insider TIP – leave the camp or hotel as early as possible to capture wild animals before the crowds arrive.
Cooke City Montana Museum
Take a short ride up north for a quick visit to Cooke City Montana Museum. This little museum will give you an overview and some historical insights into the area. Moreover, guests appreciate good Wifi, friendly local staff, and clean restrooms.
The last major attraction for the day is going to be Lower Falls – the impressive 308-foot tall waterfall with many lookout points. The best one is considered Lower Lookout Point, which requires a short hike.
As soon as you finish photographing the falls, head south to the lake where we will spend the night. Yellowstone Lake is situated at 7,733 feet (2,357 m) above sea level and is the largest high elevation lake in North America. The average yearly water temperature is 41°F (5°C).
Day three: geysers
The next morning we will head to the most photographed spot in all Yellowstone National park – Old Faithful geyser. Follow the road along the lakeshore until you reach Thumb geyser. This will be the first stop for the day. Follow the West Thumb Geyser Basin Trail for spectacular views of the lake, geysers, and pools.
Once you are done exploring the geysers, have a quick look at the grant Village visitor center. Named after the 18th president of the United States, Grant visitor center offers exhibitions, park information, ranger programs, and much more. Enjoy a tasty meal at the lake house restaurant with a fantastic view.
The next major attraction for the day is world-famous Old Faithful geyser known for its frequent hot water eruptions. Known to be erupting 20 times per day, this geyser is a true wonder and a must-see for anyone visiting the park. The area around the geyser is accessible to everyone, has enough benches and wide boardwalk. Best hours to view the eruption without crowds – before noon or after 6 pm.
Once you have enjoyed the main geyser, take a short hike to see the other small geysers. Did you know that Yellowstone is home to 60% of world geysers? Take your time to see each of them, as they are all unique. If you are interested in learning more about geysers, pay a visit to the Old Faithful Visitor Center.
It is best to stay in Old Faithful overnight. When it comes to accommodation, you have a choice: Old Faithful Inn, Old Faithful Snow Lodge, and Old Faithful Lodge. None of these options is on the cheap side but driving out of the park would not make much sense at this point. If you are going to spend one night in Yellowstone, let it be here.
Day four: geysers and back to Bozeman
Midway geyser basin
Today is the last day of this amazing 4 day Yellowstone Itinerary. Head for an early start as you hit the road towards – Midway geyser basin – Home of the colorful Grand Prismatic Spring! This is the largest hot spring in Yellowstone National Park and easily the most beautiful! Take your time to explore the geyser pools in this area and enjoy the color changing show.
Once you are done exploring, follow the Firehole river up north. There is a swimming spot along the way, in case you are willing to dip into the water.
Gibbon Falls is a smaller waterfall (about 84ft). Follow the short trail to get some unique and more private views.
Back to Bozeman
We recommend exiting the park through the west gate and driving back to Bozeman via Highway 191. This way will be faster and much less traffic.
Should I take Yellowstone guided tour rather than self-drive there?
If you have a very limited time frame for visiting Yellowstone National park, an organized guided bus tour may be a good solution. These tours start early and visit most of either north or south loop attractions in one day. The price for such a tour ranges from 200 to 350USD, depending on the season, amount of people and type of transport.
Things to do in Bozeman before or after the visit to Yellowstone
Museum of the Rockies
Museum of the Rockies is a Smithsonian Affiliate, a small but very educational museum with dinosaur fossil displays, planetarium shows, educational programs, insightful lectures, and much more.
Where to stay in Bozeman
Bozeman has a wide choice of accommodation options for any budget. You will find the most known motel brands here, such as Travelodge, Super 8, and Motel 6. For a slightly better hotel experience, consider Best Western Plus GranTree Inn 4* and RSVP Hotel 4*.
Where to dine in Bozeman
Downtown Bozeman is a nice area to take a walk and experience local food. Lots of restaurants can be found Hwy 191, from Grill (Ted’s Montana Grill), Backcountry Burger Bar to Crepes, and brunch spots. Many local bars are located on the same street and offer drinks at night.
PIN for later