Jun 9, 2017
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3 days in Yellowstone National Park

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How to spend 3 days in Yellowstone National Park

We spent 3 days in Yellowstone National Park during the height of summer and we want to share our plan and advice with those who intend on spending the same amount of time at one of the most famous national parks in the world. 3 days was enough to see all of Yellowstone’s highlights and we also got to experience camping in a couple of the Yellowstone campgrounds and in the wilderness!

Here’s how we did it:

Plan a route with these easy steps

  • Pick up an official park map on your way in.
  • Imagine Yellowstone as a figure 8 with four ways in and out of the park.
  • There isn’t much to see right in the middle, so imagine the park as one big loop with a shortcut through the center.
  • Allow 2-3 hours of driving per North and South loop without stopping off.
  • It is around 4-5 hours of non-stop driving around the full loop of the park.
  • Always consider and ask the rangers about road closures, traffic and building works.
  • Yellowstone-National-Park-Map

    Entering and leaving via the same road is a great idea as this will give you the option to drive the full park loop.

    Plan accommodation

    Hotels in Yellowstone

    There are six locations in Yellowstone National Park that offer lodging.
    The official Yellowstone National Park’s website lists all available hotels/lodges along with availability status.

    Camping with Facilities

    There are many camp grounds that sell out fast in peak season. If you only have 3 days in Yellowstone, be sure to get to your chosen campground early to reserve a spot as they are all first come, first serve.
    Camping at Yellowstone National Park

    There are camp sites outside of the park but time will be wasted driving in and out.

    Backcountry Camping

    If all spaces are taken in the camp sites with facilities, do what we did and go Backcountry Camping in Yellowstone.
    You will need to visit a Ranger Station where you will have to obtain a permit.
    You will be given useful and potentially life saving information by the rangers and an official permit to stick onto your car/tent.
    You must be follow the rules on how to store your bag, food and waste while in the Yellowstone wilderness.

    Yellowstone Highlights

    The Northern Loop

    Mammoth Hot Springs

    Spend one of your 3 days in Yellowstone exploring the Northern Loop. Mammoth Hot Springs is one of the most visited sites of Yellowstone.

    Mammoth  Hot Springs, 3 days in Yellowstone

    Northern Loop: Mammoth Hot Springs

    The site is a collection of hot springs on a hill of travertine which was created over by the hot water from the spring cooling and forming deposits of calcium carbonate (over two tons flow into Mammoth each day in a solution). The formations on site are incredible and the actually look man made.
    Mammoth  Hot Springs, 3 days in Yellowstone

    Northern Loop: Mammoth Hot Springs

    Deer and birds gather by the center of Mammoth in the summer putting on a wonderfully unique display for tourusts!
    Deer and birds at Mammoth Hot Springs, 3 days in Yellowstone

    Northern Loop: Mammoth Hot Springs

    The Liberty Cap is a dormant hot spring cone that can be seen when entering Mammoth Hot Springs. The 37-foot high cone is a site not to be missed during your 3 days in Yellowstone National Park.
    Liberty Cap dormant hot spring cone, 3 days in Yellowstone

    Northern Loop: The Liberty Cap

    Golden Gate Canyon

    One of the greatest parts of the Yellowstone National Park road trip is the scenic Golden Gate Canyon. The northern portion of the Grand Loop Road (the figure 8) runs right through the canyon offering plenty of stop over points to enjoy the picturesque views.

    Golden Gate, 3 days in Yellowstone National Park Wyoming

    Northern Loop: Golden Gate Canyon

    The Golden Gate Canyon was named after the yellow hue of the rocks in the area. Enjoy the viewpoints of the viaduct and the height of the road that travel by the grand cliff edges that form the canyon.

    Glen Creek and Bunsen Peak

    Glen Creek flows north through the Golden Gate Canyon en route to the Gardner River descending from 7,400 feet (2,300 m) at Kingman Pass to just under 6,000 feet (1,800 m) in less than 3 miles (4.8 km).
    Named after Robert Bunsen, a chemist who founded the Bunsen burner and worked on volcanic geyser theories, Bunsen Peak is 8,564 feet (2,610 m) making it a perfect spot to hike right by the East flank of the Kingman Pass. The Bunsen Peak Trail starts a little South of Mammoth and is a steep 2.1 miles to the summit.

    Bunsen Peak, 3 days in Yellowstone National Park

    Northern Loop: Bunsen Peak

    The Petrified Tree

    Part of Yellowstone’s ‘Petrified Forest’, the landmark Petrified tree was said to have been part of a flourishing group of tall trees that were buried by persistent volcanic eruptions.

    Petrified Tree, Northern loop, 3 days in Yellowstone

    Northern Loop: The Petrified Tree

    Not only did this tree stump survive the volcanic activity but glacial ice and the eroding power of running water and wind also ran through the forrest which eventually uncovered areas of fossil trees that visitors can enjoy in the current day.

    Rainy Lake

    If you’re wondering where to see bears in Yellowstone, look no further than Rainy Lake. Be prepared to be caught in traffic as visitors park up their vehicles anywhere and everywhere when a bear is spotted in the notorious Black Bear Ally. Yellowstone’s Tower region and Rainy Lake is notorious hot spot for bear spotting. June or July are the best months to see bears in Yellowstone, we spotted this beautiful baby taking a bath in Rainy Lake in the middle of July.

    Bear in Yellowstone National park, rainy lake

    Northern Loop: Rainy Lake for bear spotting

    If you want to see a bear during your 3 days in Yellowstone National Park then you don’t want to miss Rainy Lake and the Tower area.

    Norris Geyser Basin

    Often overlooked by visitors, Norris Geyser Basin is one of the most fascinating areas of the park. Norris is the hottest and most changeable geothermal area in Yellowstone. covering 2.6 miles of walking trails.

    Norris Geyser Basin hiking trails, Yellowstone National Park

    Northern Loop: Norris Geyser Basin

    Stepping into Norris Geyser Basin is setting foot into one of the most active geothermal areas in the world.
    Steamboat Geyser, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

    Northern Loop: Norris’s Steamboat Geyser

    Norris Museum can be found at the start of the Norris Basin site. Take some time to explore the exhibits of the geothermal features found within the basin then enter one of the two trails from here.
    Cistern Spring, Yellowstone National Park

    Northern Loop: Cistern Spring at Norris Geyser Basin

    Norris Geyser Basin is home to the largest active geyser in the world, Steamboat Geyser. Be sure to allow time here and be prepared to see (and smell) some of the most incredible features of the park.
    Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

    Northern Loop: Norris Geyser Basin

    Roaring Mountain

    Roaring Mountain is 5 miles North of Norris Geyser Basin and is named after the number of fumaroles on the peak that could once be heard for several miles.

    Roaring Mountain, 3 days in Yellowstone

    Northern Loop: Roaring Mountian

    At 8,152 feet (2,485 m) high, the peak can be seen from various view points and from the Grand Loop road itself.

    In the Middle

    Firehole Falls

    The Firehole River runs right by the Western side of the Grand Loop Road. What 3 days in Yellowstone National Park would be complete without a swim in some of the most natural waters of the world? Swin in Yellowstone’s Firehole River Swimming Area right by the falls, be sure to ask a Ranger of the location and current safety condition.

    Firehole Falls, 3 days in Yellowstone

    In the Middle: Firehole Falls

    Firehole Falls is a waterfall on the Firehole River approximately 0.5 miles (0.80 km) upstream from the Madison Junction.
    Swimmers at Firehole Falls, Swimming in Yellowstone National Park

    In the Middle: Swim in Yellowstone at the Firehole River

    Sentinel Meadows

    While in the middle of the figure 8 loop of Yellowstone National Park, pop by Fountain Flat Drive, hike a little into the Sentinel Meadows Trail to see a spectacular phenomena of the hot spring waters sizzling into the river. Always ask a ranger of the current safety conditions if swimming in any of the park’s waters.

    If you’re looking to swim in Yellowstone, there is a perfect spot right by the bridge where the waters are delicately warmed by the nearby hot springs.

    Sentinel Meadows Trail, Yellowstone National Park

    In the Middle: Sentinel Meadows trail, swim in Yellowstone

    Canyon Village

    Located at the Eastern center part of Yellowstone National Park, Canyon Village has many features and viewpoints that you shouldn’t miss.

    Artist’s Point and Inspiration Point

    Yellowstone has it’s own Grand Canyon which is roughly 20 miles long and was formed by the Yellowstone river running through less resistant rock.

    The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park

    In the Middle: Canyon Village, the Grand Canyon

    One of our favourite Yellowstone national park trails is the Artist Paint Pots trail. The Artist Paint Pots is a hydrothermal basin and during the 1.1 mile walk, you will see a collection of colorful hot springs, bubbling mudpots, a fumarole, and a couple of geysers.
    Artist Paint Pots trail, 3 days in Yellowstone

    In the Middle: Artist Paint Pots trail

    The View from Artist’s Point will give the best photo opportunity of the Gran Canyon as well as Lower Falls that make up the same Canyon area.
    Tower Falls overlook, 3 days in Yellowstone National Park

    In the Middle: Tower Falls

    There are many viewpoints and trails in the Canyon Village area, the Upper Falls can be seen from the Uncle Tom’s trail.
    Brink of Lower Falls, 3 days in Yellowstone

    In the Middle: Lower Falls

    The Southern Loop

    Old Faithful

    The Old Faithful Geyser is one of the most known Yellowstone highlights. The Old Faithful is a cone geyser found in the Southern area of the park. Old Faithful was named in 1870 and was the first geyser in the park to receive a name.

    Old Faithful Ranger Station, Yellowstone National Park

    Southern Loop: The Old Faithful

    The predictability of the Old Faithful has helped its naming convention. Since the year 2000, it has erupted every 44 to 125 minutes and over 1 million eruptions have been recorded overall. A seating area has been built for tourists to enjoy the natural display. Be sure to get there around 15 minutes before the predicted eruption for a good seat.
    Old Faithful Geyser seated area, Yellowstone National Park

    Southern Loop: Old Faithful Geyser

    The geyser attracts many tourists and subsequently the park have built a nearby Old Faithful Inn hotel and restaurant and the Old Faithful Museum which is part of the Old Faithful Historic District.
    Old Faithful Museum, Yellowstone National Park

    Southern Loop: Old Faithful Museum

    Eruptions can shoot 3,700 to 8,400 US gallons of boiling water to a height of 106 to 185 feet (32 to 56 m) lasting from  1 1⁄2 to 5 minutes.
    Old faithful Geyser, Yellowstone National Park

    Southern Loop: Old Faithful Historic Area

    Yellowstone Lake

    As well as all of the wonderful geological features, Yellowstone is also home to an enormous lake. Yellowstone Lake takes up 136 square miles of the park with 110 miles of shoreline.

    Picnic at Yellowstone Lake, National Park, USA

    Southern Loop: Yellowstone Lake

    Yellowstone Lake is also the largest freshwater lake above 7,000 ft in North America. The lake freezes over in the winter months and remains frozen until May/June every year.
    Yellowstone Lake, USA

    Southern Loop: Picnic at Yellowstone Lake

    Fountain Paint Pots

    The Fountain Paint Pot is a must see highlight of Yellowstone. The name derives from the colourful mud in the area ranging from reds and yellows to browns and greys.

    Fountain Paint Pots, Yellowstone National Park

    Southern Loop: Fountain Paint Pots

    The different colors indicate oxidation states of the iron in the mud.
    Some of the pots bubble depending on the season, in summer the mud is thicker making the pots look like their full of bubbling paint.

    Morning Glory Pool

    The name of the Morning Glory Pool came form the word “Convolutus”, which is Latin for the morning glory flower. The colorful hot spring is said to represent the flower.
    The distinct colors of the pool, like most colorful features in Yellowstone, is due to microorganisms that inhabit the water.

    Blue Pool at the Fountain Paint Pots, Yellowstone National Park

    Southern Loop: Morning Glory Pool

    Unfortunately, due to disrespectful tourists, some of the entryways of the pool have been clogged due to foreign object that have been purposely thrown in. The hot water supply has subsequently been reduced causing the colors to fade.
    Park Rangers have erected a sign by the Morning Glory Pool discussing the damage caused by the vandalism and assigning a new name to the pool ‘The Faded Glory’.

    Grand Prismatic Spring

    Of course, Yellowstone National Park is home to the largest hot spring in the United States and the third largest in the world. One of the best things to see in Yellowstone is the Grand Prismatic Spring located at the Midway Geyser Basin.

    Grand Prismatic Spring entrance, Yellowstone National Park

    Southern Loop: Grand Prismatic Spring

    The Grand Prismatic Spring is a site that visitors will never forget due to its sheer size and striking colors. The colors of the Grand Prismatic Spring match the rainbow dispersion of white light by an optical prism: red, orange, yellow, green, and blue.
    Excelsior Geyser Crater, Yellowstone National Park

    Southern Loop: Excelsior Geyser Crater

    Right beside the Grand Prismatic Spring is the Excelsior Geyer Crater which is also a grand feature of the park simmering in a light blue color.
    Grand Prismatic Spring Boardwalk, Yellowstone National Park

    Southern Loop: Midway Geyser Basin

    The Turquoise Pool also makes up the Midway Geyser Basin.
    Turquoise Pool, Yellowstone National Park

    Southern Pool: Turquoise Pool

    The whole area of the Midway Geyser Basin is unmissable, be sure to stick to the boardwalks at all times and note that this is one of the most touristic features so be careful when passing others.
    Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park

    Southern Loop: Grand Prismatic Spring where hot meets cold

    The Sulphur Cauldron

    The Sulphur Calderon is a smelly and acidic collection of hot springs that can be admired from an high viewpoint. The greeny yellow waters gave the site the name ‘cauldron’ as it resembles a witch’s brew.
    Bison warming up at the Sulphur Cauldron, 3 days in Yellowstone National Park
    Sometimes herds of bison gather around the Sulphur Cauldron hot springs to warm up and relax while tourists snap pictures.Bison warming up at the Sulphur Cauldron, 3 days in Yellowstone National Park

    Mud Volcano

    In 1870, visitors stood in awe as the Mud Volcano spewed mud into the air, sludging to the ground with each eruption. Two years later, it became a pool of bubbling muddy water after the Mud Volcano had blown itself apart.

    Mud Volcano, Yellowstone National Park, USA

    Southern Loop: The Mud Volcano

    The Mud Volcano and Dragon’s Mouth Spring are just across the road from the Sulphur Cauldron.

    Dragon’s Mouth Spring

    An unknown park visitor named this features around 1912, perhaps due to the water that frequently surged from the cave like the lashing of a dragon’s tongue.

    Dragon's mouth spring, yellowstone national park, usa

    Southern Loop: Dragon’s Mouth Spring

    Until 1994, this dramatic wave-like action often splashed water as far as the boardwalk. The rumbling sounds are caused by steam and other gases exploding through the water, causing it to crash against the walls of the hidden caverns.
    Dragon's mouth, Yellowstone national park, USA

    Southern Loop: Dragon’s Mouth Spring

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    3 days in Yellowstone National Park, Pinterest

    You’ll never see everything the park has to offer if you spend 3 days in Yellowstone, the wilderness away from the Grand Loop road offers way more geological features, wildlife, trails and camping areas. Or guide is designed to help you make the most of your trip as easily as possible.

    Did we miss something from ‘3 days in Yellowstone’? Let us know in the comments below.

    Article Categories:
    National Park · USA · Wyoming

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