How many days should you stay in Yellowstone? Here’s a guide on how to decide how many days you should allot to properly experience Yellowstone.
Outside of Alaska, Yellowstone is the largest of the US national parks at over two million acres. It’s so massive that while most of it sits in Wyoming, some spills into Idaho and Montana.
It also boasts the distinction of being the world's first national park, and for good reason. There’s a lot that makes this park of the best places to visit in the world.
For one, it sits atop a dormant volcano, has ample wildlife, and includes a stunning view of the Rocky Mountains.
So with 3,500 square miles to potentially explore, it’s natural to ask how many days in Yellowstone do you need?
The answer to that question entirely depends. However, I would say a bare minimum of three days and recommend 7 full days. In fact, Jennifer and I created the perfect 7-Day Itinerary you can download.
But what if you don't have 7 days to spare?…
Is One Day Enough?
Maybe you’re on a road trip in your RV from Grand Teton and have only one day to explore Yellowstone on your way to Glacier National Park.
The most famous geyser on the planet, Old Faithful’s eruptions occur once about every hour and a half, so anticipate a visit that takes about two hours. While you’re here, you can also explore the Upper Geyser Basin to maximize the experience.
About a fifteen-minute drive from Old Faithful is the Grand Prismatic Spring. You can experience its vibrant colors from a lookout point or up close at ground level. It's a wonderful 1.6-mile hike round-trip from the Fairy Falls parking area.
After a couple of hours here, you can probably manage to fit in Hayden Valley and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
But having time to visit these landmarks properly depends on whether you can reserve in advance a campground near a park entrance. The Old Faithful Inn is an option if all campgrounds are full.
But Is One Day Worth It?
Since Yellowstone is so massive, just note trying to fit all this in one day will be exhausting, perhaps even frustrating.
One reason for this is traffic, commonly taking up to an hour due to crowds or wildlife blocking the road. You can check the updated status of the roads here.
Also, since you will be seeing some of the most popular natural wonders in the United States, the parking lots and trails will probably be packed. This is especially true if you’re visiting during the summer months of July and August.
So if you only have one day, you will need to stick to a rigid, thoughtfully planned itinerary to fit everything in the must-see sights. However, you might want to set your expectations of enjoying it as a scenic drive and anything beyond that as a bonus.
The first thing to know is to make sure you are at an entrance in the early morning. If you’re flying in, it could take 2 hours just to drive to an entrance given its remote location in relation to the major airports.
If you’re traveling in your RV, it’s best to stay at a campground just outside the park so you can get a very much needed early start. Luckily, there are plenty of options inside and outside Yellowstone, such as Madison campground. This campground sits near the Madison junction where the Gibbon and Firehole rivers join to form the Madison River.
Want to take a little of the RV Lifestyle with you? Here you'll find Mike's favorite hoodie and Jennifer's favorite sayings. Come on over and see what we have for your next RV Lifestyle adventure!
So How Many Days in Yellowstone is Recommended?
Three days minimum is recommended for visiting Yellowstone National Park. And that’s not even counting the neighboring Grand Teton National Park and Glacier National Park!
Allowing yourself three days will enable you to see the most popular sights without feeling rushed, such as these 7 destinations. Any extra days beyond that and you can experience some of the bounty of activities, such as fly fishing and hiking.
If you’re visiting during summer, all the more important not to rush through on one day given the crowds you'll encounter.
Even without traffic, all the things to experience are so far apart you will want to give yourself more time. Otherwise, you may remember the trip as being 90% driving.
The best time to visit is right before school lets out in late spring, or right after school goes back into session in early fall.
Winter is gorgeous but don’t visit in winter if seeing wildlife and staying dry are important to you.
It’s also worth noting that the elevation is over 6,000 feet above sea level. So it benefits you to stay for multiple days since you may need to acclimate. Yellowstone is too gorgeous to experience while winded.
What Else Will I Get To See In a 3 Day Trip?
Besides Old Faithful and the others mentioned, there are several top sights you can leisurely experience in 3-4 days.
For example, the Mammoth Hot Springs has epic limestone formations. You can’t swim there, but feel free to stop at the nearby Boiling River where you can take a dip.
Yellowstone is known for its geyser basins, so don’t just call it a trip after the Old Faithful geyser! There is also the Norris Geyser Basin, West Thumb Geyser Basin, and Midway Geyser Basin. Plus, hike the Porcelain Basin and Back Basin for a bubbly and thermal good time.
But perhaps the most exciting thing to do with your extra time is to observe wildlife. See the bison, grizzly bears, black bears, elk, bald eagles, and maybe even wolves and moose at Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley. Be sure to keep a safe distance and respect it as bear country.
Just be sure to get there either early or late in the day for the best chance to see the animals. If you happen to visit in the spring, you’ll have the chance to even see cubs and other baby animals. That’s right. Baby animals. Bring your binoculars.
The other benefit to staying longer in Yellowstone is having the freedom to avoid the main sights at the peak of the day when they’re most crowded. This period is about 11 am to 3 pm.
In conclusion, with a $35 entrance fee for 7 days, try to plan for a minimum of three days at Yellowstone to experience it at an ideal leisurely pace.
The best way to truly enjoy all the best things in Yellowstone is to dedicate 7 days to your trip. In our 7 Day Yellowstone Itinerary, we take you through the entire park with enough time to breathe in all its grandeur.
We provide a suggested route and itinerary, links to multiple campgrounds and boondocking spots, and the best spots to see along the way.
You can hit everything in seven days, do a whirlwind weekend tour, or you can take your time and explore the area over a few weeks.
How Many Days in Yellowstone Did You Spend?
Have you visited Yellowstone and have a recommendation for the right amount of time to spend there? Please let us know in the comments!