Yellowstone in 2 Days

Catching highlights on Yellowstone's Grand Loop Road

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A 2-day trip circling Yellowstone National Park can hit most of the iconic sights. One huge park. So little time. But don’t worry. It’s all thanks to Grand Loop Road. The loop connects geysers and hot springs from the rumbling volcano and cuts through scenic mountains and plateaus teeming with wildlife.

In Yellowstone, visitors need three things: a camera, a pair of binoculars for wildlife watching, and comfortable walking shoes. Most of the sights require getting out of your car to follow a boardwalk. To make the most of your time, pack a picnic or car lunch for both days.

For one night between your two days of touring, plan to stay at the historic Old Faithful Inn. The monster log building inspired the design for many park lodges. Book rooms a year in advance, or try to snag one of the few cancellations that pop up. If the inn is full, along with nearby Old Faithful lodging, reserve a room in West Yellowstone instead.

Day 1 on Yellowstone’s Grand Loop

From Livingston on I-90, drive south to Gardiner and the North Entrance to drive through the Roosevelt Arch. Ascend to Mammoth Hot Springs to walk the lower boardwalk past a tall hot springs cone and colorful travertine terraces. Drive south on Grand Loop Road as it climbs to a high plateau and scoots through the rugged Gallatin Mountains to Norris before descending into the caldera to Madison. En route, bison, elk, waterfalls, and steaming hillsides add a feast for the eyes.

From Madison, Grand Loop climbs up into the caldera along the Firehole River. Soon, clouds of steam rise from the ground, a signal that you’ve reached the famed geyser basins. Since you won’t have time to see them all, go for the best. Stop at Midway Geyser Basin to see Grand Prismatic Spring. With a rainbow of colors, it shimmers with turquoise water while heat-loving organisms grow in yellows, oranges, and browns.

Then, drive further to Old Faithful. Before exploring the Upper Geyser Basin, stop at Old Faithful Visitor Center to check when Old Faithful Geyser is scheduled to erupt. It’s usually every 90 minutes. Plan to arrive at the viewing benches about 30 minutes in advance if you want a seat. When the geyser finally erupts, the crowd cranes heads upwards, as water can shoot 184 feet in the air. By staying at Old Faithful Inn, you’ll have a couple chances to watch the geyser blow before and after dinner.

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Day 2 on the Grand Loop

After breakfast at the inn, hit the road early for a second full day of Yellowstone sights. Head eastward over the Continental Divide to Yellowstone Lake. At West Thumb Junction, turn north for a scenic drive along the shoreline of the immense lake. At the north end of the lake, follow the Yellowstone River as it winds northward through the forest. Eventually, it slows in the broad meadows of Hayden Valley. Look here for bison and trumpeter swans.

At the South Rim Drive, turn off to go see Artist Point. It’s one of the classic views of the Lower Falls tumbling through the colorful Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. From the canyon, climb over Dunraven Pass and descend the curves to Tower Junction. After turning right, you’ll cross the Yellowstone River to enter the high plateaus of Lamar Valley, known as “America’s Serengeti.” Watch for bison, wolves, pronghorn, sandhill cranes, and bighorn sheep. To finish to your day, close the Grand Loop by driving west to Mammoth Hot Springs.

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