Yellowstone was full of surprises from beginning to end. No amount of research can prepare you for what you’re going to see and experience there: from spotting exotic animals in the most unexpected corner of the park to being caught up on a heavy hail storm that nobody saw coming (weather there changes every 5 minutes!)
We were lucky to spend 6 full days camping inside Yellowstone, which allowed us to cover most of the park and even re-visit some of our favorite spots.
- Read more: Our experience camping in Yellowstone
For those who are on a tighter schedule, I thought I’d share my top favorite places & experiences in Yellowstone that I personally think should not be missed.
1. Animal Watching at Lamar Valley
If you’re going to Yellowstone chances are you’re looking forward to watching the amazing wildlife living in the park: black bears, bisons, wolves, elks, mountain lions, etc. And let me tell you, you won’t be disappointed!
The best places to spot animals are in the open country areas of Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley. In our experience, Lamar Valley had a higher number of animals and diversity – large herds of bisons (and baby bisons too!), bighorn sheep, mountain bluebirds, elks, wolves, to name a few. Landscape was somewhat more photogenic as well. If I had to pick one of the two, I’d definitely go for Lamar Valley.
- Go to Lamar Valley either early morning or at dawn or dusk
- Watch out for open meadows and sagebrush – that’s where it is easier to spot animals
- Stay at least 25 yards (23 m) away from wild animals
- Bring binoculars!
2. Grand Prismatic Spring
If you search Yellowstone on Google, the image of this out-of-this-world hot spring will probably pop up at the top of the results. Seeing it in real life is a surreal experience that cannot be missed.
- Walk the boardwalk for ground level and close up views. For views from above, go to the scenic overlook by following a trail from the south of the spring (I recommend doing both!)
- For clearer views, go on a warm day when the hotspring produces less steam
3. Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
This was an absolute surprise, we didn’t know that Yellowstone had such a beautiful canyon – we were blown away! There are multiple vista points on the North and South Rim, but my favorite viewpoint was Artist Point. If you’re feeling adventurous, from Artist Point you can go on a couple of unpaved backcountry trails that also offer spectacular views.
- There are steep drop off on the hiking trails so walk carefully
- If you don’t have time to hike, you can easily drive around the different observation areas
4. Old Faithful Geyser
Old Faithful is the most famous geyser in the world so make sure you stop by the viewing area to witness its eruption. It is a truly impressive phenomenon! You can check the eruption prediction times displayed on most buildings in the Old Faithful Area (on average, it erupts every 90 minutes). After that, enjoy the walkways around the Upper Geyser Basin featuring some incredible and colorful geysers and steaming pools.
- If possible visit on a clear day to see the geyser against a blue sky
- During high season, parking can fill up quickly so go early to get a spot
5. Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway
After a few days of camping, we were running out of supplies so decided to go to the nearest town, Cody, which is a 45 minute ride away from the East Entrance of Yellowstone. Little did we know that we would be embarking on one the most scenic drives in the US! While it is technically outside Yellowstone, driving across the stunning rock formations is an experience not to be missed, especially if you happen to stay in Cody.
- Fuel up before driving
- Avoid driving in the evening when it gets dark
Wow, it was hard to pick only 5 favorites but there you have it. Which one intrigued you the most?
To finish up this post, I thought I’d share our day-by-day itinerary in Yellowstone in case you’re interested! Hope you find this useful and if you have any questions that I didn’t cover on this post, please leave a comment down below – I’d love to hear from you.
Our 7-day Itinerary in Yellowstone
- Day 1: Arrive & explore Salt Lake City
- Day 2: Drive to Yellowstone via Idaho Falls, Set up camp in Madison Campground
- Day 3: Old Faithful Loop Biscuit Basin
- Old Faithful Geyser
- Black Sand Geyser
- Midway Geyser Basin (Grand Prismatic Spring)
- West Thumb Geyser Basin
- Mud Volcano
- Sulphur Caldron
- Quick stop at Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
- Day 4: Mammoth Springs, GardinerMammoth Springs
- Quick stop at Gardiner to re-stock food supplies
- Canyon Village – Drive over snow peaked mountainous range, check out visitor center
- Day 5: Road to CodyBuffalo Bill Cody Scenic Highway (Yellowstone to Cody)
- Quick tour of Cody
- Day 6: Lamar Valley1 hour hike at Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
- Hayden Valley
- Specimen Ridge Trail
- Lamar Valley
- Day 7: Drive to Salt Lake City
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