Yellowstone has been apart of many a bucket lists, but what happens when you find yourself in the area with only a day or two to spare? In our cross country road-trip, we could only spare 3 nights in Yellowstone (and one of those was a travel day!). We also wanted at least half a day to explore the Tetons. Time to get creative and go to bed early- it was going to be a long day ahead!
How to See Every Major Yellowstone Attraction in 24 Hours
For this to work, you’re going to have to begin early. We left our campsite at Grant Campground at 5:50am to get to our first stop by 8am. We began our day at Lamar Valley, which is in the North portion of Yellowstone. I could make excuses all day long about how we ended up in a campsite that was as far as you could possibly get from where we started, but the truth is- I didn’t do my research well enough for this portion of the trip. Thankfully if you’re reading this now- you won’t have that issue.
Lamar Valley is known for its wildlife sightings, and on our trip, it definitely lived up to its name. We got there at about 8am, so right after the sunrise, which we read was the best time for wildlife. On the way there we saw many Elk and even a small black bear on the road!
Once we arrive at Lamar Valley, we drove around and stopped at all the outlooks. During our small (about 5 mile) round trip, we saw:
Hundreds of Bison
A Pack of Wolves
Herds of Elk
Many Prairie Dogs
Lamar Valley did not disappoint in its animal sightings. Next up- Mammoth Springs.
In Mammoth Springs, we saw some amazing geothermal activity. One of the things Yellowstone is most known for. The Mammoth Springs are mesmerizing due to their white color. According to the National Park Service, the springs are white in color due to the limestone deposits. Whatever the case may be, this area has a nice, easy boardwalk that leads you around the entire area. The boardwalk is not wheelchair assessable as there are a few staircases, but you can drive to the other area if you cannot do the boardwalk but want to see different angles.
I would rank the hike a 4/10. There are a few stairs but generally speaking, the hike is very doable, even if you aren’t in great physical shape. This is a busy hike, so keep that in mind!
After a quick snack here- we made our way to our next stop- Canyon Ridge
Known as the “Grand Canyon of Yellowstone”, Canyon Ridge is a must see. This magnificent canyon is about 20 miles long and over 1,000 feet deep. This creates some incredible outlooks. There are a few options here- the most popular spots to view this Canyon are Artist’s Point and Inspiration Point. Bruce and I checked out both spots, and while I thought I would like Artist Point better, I actually found myself at Inspiration Point for the majority of our visit.
While we were here, we decided to take a quick hike down to one of the outlooks. We went from the first parking lot of Inspiration Point and walked through the trails to the next parking lot. There we followed the trail down to the outlook. The entire trail was probably a little over 2 miles there and back. That being said- is was steep at some parts. I would rank it a 6/10 in difficulty. Once again- if you’re in decent physical fitness, you should be able to do it. (Though you might have to stop along the way a few times!).
Expert Tip: If you want to get the best photos of Artist’s Point, you should be set up at 9:30am. This is the best time to capture the light in the Canyon.
Canyon Ridge had a pretty large gift shop and 2 restaurants (one sit down and one quick service). So we took advantage of the empty covered tables and ate our packed lunch here. We actually got a few local beers and took in the cool breeze in the shade, as it was getting a little warm in the middle of the day.
Bonus: Grizzly Sighting!
Everyone wants to see the “Big 5” while in Yellowstone: Wolves, Moose, Bison, Elk and Bears (both Grizzly and Black). If you’re keeping count, we are at 4, having already seen wolves, bison, elk and a black bear in Lamar Valley. But the thing Bruce really wanted to see was the Grizzly Bear. Thankfully, as we made ourself to our next stop (Fishing Bridge) and went through the other wildlife haven, Hayden Valley, we saw a lot of cars pulled to the side of the road. This is always a good sign that there has been wildlife spotted. The more cars, typically, the rarer the animal. We quickly pulled over and walked down to see a Grizzly Bear across the lake! We were so excited but as the Grizzly began making its way across the lake, we decided to move on. They are big and we aren’t taking any chances!
Bonus “Stop”: Fishing Bridge
I have quotes around stop because we didn’t actually stop of Fishing Bridge, although you might want to! We aren’t big on fishing and we had already had a big day so we skipped stopping here and instead took in the views as we followed the winding roads by the Yellowstone Lake. We found this was the least crowded part of the park so it is definitely a good spot if you have a little more time or if you’re looking for some solitude.
Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Springs
Now I know what you’re thinking- you missed one of the most impressive stops at Yellowstone! And that’s true, but hear me out. We actually did go to Old Faithful after Fishing Bridge but we missed the eruption and decided to come back the next day after our trek in the Tetons, instead of wait for the next event.
How you could make this work in your 24 hours:
- Download the Yellowstone app AND the eruption times for Old Faithful. There is almost no internet (wifi or cell service) in Yellowstone. Because of that, we couldn’t download the times while we were in the park and had to play it by ear. That doesn’t work well when you’re on a time crunch.
- Get dinner at the Old Faithful Inn or at one of the two quick service restaurants and plan to hang out a little. If we only had a day- this is what we would have done so we wouldn’t miss it!
- If it has just erupted, head to Grand Prismatic Spring in the interim. We had just enough time to head over, see the impressive spring, and make it back before the next eruption. They are about 90 minutes apart so it gives you some time, even considering the driving distance (about 15 minutes) between the two.
Whew- so there is it. A VERY packed day in Yellowstone. Obviously this itinerary would still work if you had a little more time and wanted to space these things out. There are plenty of very accessible hiking trails that you can explore in each of these locations. Honestly, this is just a taste of the park. To really experience it all, I would say you need a couple days. Although, because of the crowds, Bruce and I were totally fine with our fairly limited time there.