With more than 3,500 square miles to cover, as well as countless breathtaking natural wonders and one-of-a-kind experiences, exploring Yellowstone National Park in its entirety in three days is a daunting feat. But with a little planning, 3 days in Yellowstone can be memorable and exciting, allowing you to pack a few days full of incredible sights and unforgettable discoveries. Here’s how to make the most of your time in Yellowstone National Park if you’ve got three days to spend with us.
Spend a day – DISCOVERING THE HIGHLIGHTS
Yellowstone in a Day Tour (Full Day)
The best way to discover Yellowstone when you’re short on time? Sign up for the Yellowstone In A Day adventure and let us do the driving! Available during the spring, summer, and fall months, Yellowstone in a Day is a guided, full-day adventure that covers the entire 142-mile Grand Loop Road, with stops at key locations along the way.
Yellowstone in a Day tours depart bright and early from both Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Old Faithful Inn, so they’re great choices regardless of whether you’re staying in the northern or southern region of the park. Participants will see the legendary Old Faithful geyser, the magnificent Lake Yellowstone Hotel, the awe-inspiring Upper and Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Canyon Village, Mammoth Hot Springs, the colorful Fountain Paint Pots, and other stops as time permits.
Your guide and driver will keep you informed along the way, and if you look closely, you might even manage to spot some wildlife! The Yellowstone in a Day Tour is recommended by guests as a “best first-day activity”. And it’s not just for quick visitors either: people who are visiting Yellowstone for longer durations enjoy the Yellowstone in a Day tour as a way to choose how to spend the rest of their vacation time based on what bits of the tour captured their interest the most.
Once your tour returns to the hotel, chances are you’ll have worked up a healthy appetite! For guests staying in Mammoth, the Mammoth Hotel Dining Room, the first 4-Star Green Restaurant Certified restaurant in our National Park System, serves locally sourced fare in a casual setting overlooking the parade ground of the original Fort Yellowstone. You might even see grazing elk or bison from your dinner table!
Guest staying in the Old Faithful area can refuel in the cozy, intimate Bear Pit Lounge at Old Faithful Inn, where etched glass panels inspired by the original wooden Bear Pit Murals create a warm and welcoming setting for a reflective chat at the end of the day. Full-service dining is also available at the Old Faithful Inn Dining Room (reservations are required).
But don’t stay up too late – you’ve got a big day (and possibly an early start) tomorrow!
Spend a day – DISCOVERING WILDLIFE
Elk, bison, bighorn sheep, wolves – there are plenty of critters roaming the park that you’ll want to see. The greatest concentration of wildlife resides within the Northern Range of Yellowstone, which includes Lamar Valley in the northeast corner of Yellowstone. In general, animals are most active during the early morning and early evening hours, which is why our guided tours take place during those time frames. And since you’re operating on limited time, take the guesswork out of the best places to spot our wildlife by signing up for a guided tour.
If you’re staying at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, Roosevelt Lodge, or Canyon Lodge, sign up for the Wake Up to Wildlife Tour and rest easy knowing you’re in good hands! Yellowstone’s expert tour guides are always in the know about where the park’s animals are most likely to be hanging out.
Wake Up to Wildlife tours depart early so you’ll want to make sure that alarm is set, but we promise it’ll be worth it! Your tour group will board the Historic Yellow Bus, head for Lamar Valley, where wide, sweeping views allow for plenty of wildlife-spotting opportunities. Don’t forget your camera! You’ll return to your pickup point in time for lunch.
If you’re not staying in the northern region of the park, consider the Picture Perfect Photo Safari tour. Departing bright and early from Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Old Faithful Inn, you’ll spend the morning touring wildlife-rich areas in the southern half of Yellowstone – and learning how to take photos worthy of framing while you’re at it.
Casual fare is on the lunch menu in Yellowstone. Check out Canyon Lodge Eatery, where you can customize stir-fry or pasta dishes with fresh, sustainably sourced ingredients. End on a sweet note with a scoop of Montana-made Big Dipper ice cream at the Canyon Lodge Ice Creamery. Kick back at Roosevelt Lodge Dinig Room, located near one of Theodore Roosevelt’s favorite spots in the park, with a distinctive Old West feel. Or pop into the Terrace Grill at Mammoth or the Old Faithful Geyser Grill for quick bites, like burgers, salads, and sandwiches.
Get In the Saddle
After lunch, why not explore Yellowstone the way they did centuries ago – on horseback? Daily guided horseback rides provide a fun and unique way to experience Yellowstone. Rides start at Roosevelt Corrals for a one hour ride with gorgeous views of Pleasant Valley and Hellroaring Mountain. With a laid-back pace, these rides are ideal for beginner to experienced riders aged eight and up.
Old West Dinner Cookout
Now that you’ve got a taste for life in the saddle, why not keep the cowboy spirit alive and head out on an Old West-style cookout? Ride on horseback to Pleasant Valley or hitch a ride in a covered wagon if you’re feeling a little saddle sore. Enjoy a feast fit for a cowboy: hot camp coffee (brewed over a campfire), beef steaks, signature Roosevelt baked beans, potato salad, and more, all served with a side of live cowboy music and lore.
An Evening With the Animals
If you’re not an early bird, an Evening Wildlife Encounter might be a good bet for you. These tours, which depart from Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Canyon Lodge late in the afternoon, are four hours long and are great for catching wildlife on the move during the early evening hours, another peak time of day when animals tend to be active.
Spend a day – EXPLORING YELLOWSTONE LAKE
You’ve had a chance to discover Yellowstone on land. Today, it’s time to check out the wet and wild side of the park! The largest body of water in the park is Yellowstone Lake, which offers fantastic fishing, sailing, and recreation opportunities. Located in the southern half of the park, it’s easily accessed from Canyon Village, Grant Village, Fishing Bridge, and Old Faithful village, but it’s also worth making the trek from northern accommodations like Mammoth and Roosevelt, too.
A Scenicruise tour is a perfect introduction to Yellowstone Lake. This one-hour guided boat tour departs from Bridge Bay Marina and sails around Stevenson Island. Passengers will catch a glimpse of the remains of the SS E.C. Waters, an ill-fated steamship from the early 1900s, and hear the story of the ship’s very colorful captain and his untimely demise. You may spot eagles, ospreys, and other waterfowl – maybe even an elk or a bison!
Reel In a Big One
Yellowstone Lake is renowned for its fishing. If you’re an experienced boater Bridge Bay Marina offers outboard rental boats. Pack a lunch and head out on the water for a few hours of rest, relaxation, and reeling in the catch of the day. Guided Fishing and Sightseeing charters will tailor your trip to your interests. Our knowledgeable boat captains will help you reel in “the big one” or take you to secluded spots on the lake for sightseeing, or do a little bit of both – it’s your adventure.
Unwind in Style
From the moment you arrive at the front steps of the Lake Yellowstone Hotel, flanked by those iconic white columns, you’ll feel like you’ve traveled back to a simpler, more refined time. Yellowstone National Park’s most gracious property, and a National Historic Landmark, has been making guests feel at home for more than 125 years, and it’s worth a visit!
In the evening, check out the postcard-perfect views of Yellowstone Lake from the Sun Room as a string quartet plays in the background. Celebrate your Yellowstone adventure by savoring an exceptionally elegant dinner at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel Dining Room, or sip on a craft cocktail at the lobby bar as you soak up the stunning architecture and rich history that’s present in every room of this grand establishment.
From old west cookouts to fine dining, from a thrilling morning spotting bison and elk to a tranquil afternoon on the lake: there’s no question that Yellowstone National Park is full of extremes. And with our three-day Yellowstone itinerary, you’ll be able to experience the very best of what Yellowstone has to offer! Get started planning your Yellowstone trip itinerary.