Welcome to the second leg of the west coast tour! If you haven't checked out my first post in Jackson, Wyoming, be sure to check it out here. Yellowstone National Park is only a short 1-2 hour drive from Jackson, making Grand Teton and Yellowstone a very popular duo to visit in the same trip. Whether you head North from Wyoming into Montana like we did, or plan for a road trip in the opposite direction, be sure to plan at least a few days in each park in order to see the most you can out of these two spectacular places.
Yellowstone National park covers a whopping 3,500 square miles spread throughout Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. It is the the 8th largest national park in the country at over 2.2 million acres! Though the park is extremely spread out and it can be quite a drive going from one scenic destination to another, it is such a treat to be able to enjoy such diverse scenery including vast canyons, alpine rivers, and lush forests. Most notably, Yellowstone is known for its hot springs and over 500 geysirs since the park sits atop a volcanic hot spot.
Recommended 2-Day Route
1) West Thumb Geysir Basin
2) Old Faithful
3) Biscuit Basin
4) Mystic Falls Hike
Overnight in West Yellowstone: Moose Creek Inn
5) Grand Prismatic Spring
6) Artists Paint Pots
7) Norris Geyser Basin
8) Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
West Thumb Geysir Basin
Approx Visiting Time: ~1 hour (1 mile, paved loop)
Old Faithful Approx Visiting Time: ~1-2 hours
- Eruption times are approximately every 68-94 minutes (+/- 10 minutes). Be sure to plan your visit to Old Faifhful with the helpful geysir timer
- Be sure to visit the visitor center/gift shop and get yourself a huckleberry ice cream!
Approx Visiting Time: ~30 min - 1 hour (.7 mile, paved loop)
Mystics Falls, Fairy Creek and Little Firehole
Approx Visiting Time: ~2-3 hours (3.5 mile loop)
-Park in the Biscuit Basin parking lot. Trail head can be found midway through the Biscuit Basin loop
-You can stop at the 2.4 mile mark and turn around after you hit Mystic Falls; however, I would highly recommend combining Fairy Creek and Little Firehole for a scenic loop trail
Grand Prismatic Hot Springs
Approx Visiting Time: ~1.5 hours (1.6 miles each way)
- In order to see the spectacular "aerial" view of the Grand Prismatic, be sure to hike the short 1.6 trail to the lookout point. Instead of following park signs to the Grand Prismatic which will take you to the eye-level loop, park at the Fairy Falls Trailhead and follow the signs from there.
-Though we didn't have time, I would also recommend checking out the classic Grand Prismatic Hot Spring loop, which is a paved pathway where you can also see the Opal and Turquoise pools as well as the Excelsior Geyser Crater
Approx Visiting Time: ~1 hour (1 mile loop trail)
-Fun and easy stop near Grand Prismatic Hot Spring
-Make sure to check out the clay ponds (they were my favorite)
Norris Geysir Basin
Approx Visiting Time: ~1.5-2 hours (2.9 mile, paved loop)
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Approx Visiting Time: ~1-6 hour (Less if you only drive from one scenic lookout to the next; more time required if doing half day or full day hikes)
Check out the Canyon Area Day Hike guide for all the trail options.
During our visit to Yellowstone, all of the hotels within the park were closed due to COVID-19. The two nearest cities I would recommend staying for an overnight trip are either West Yellowstone, MT or Jackson, WY as both have plenty of hotel and food options. Based on our itinerary, we chose the most practical option of West Yellowstone, where we stayed at the Moose Creek Inn. I highly recommend booking early, especially during peak hours, since many hotels sold out in weeks leading up to our stay.
-Leave for the park EARLY. There is only one entrance in West Yellowstone and traffic will build up the later you wait to head inside. Before 9 am is best, but I would recommend even earlier if possible. Keep in mind that the drive from the entrance any major "attraction" (Grand Prismatic, Old Faithful, Norris Geysir Basin) is a minimum ~30-45 minute drive.
-Grab a sandwich at Ernie's for your lunch picnic in the park
-If there is one place you need to eat in West Yellowstone, it is Bullwinkle's Saloon and Eatery. Their elk ravioli is easily one of the best things I've eaten all year. INCREDIBLE!
To end this post, here are some beautiful pictures of wildlife from the park. Looking out for animals during our drive around the park was definitely a highlight. We spotted a black bear in the distance and came pretty close to a couple of bison too!
Check out part 3 of the west coast tour (Zion National Park) to follow the adventure!