2 Day Itinerary
I can’t express enough how happy I am that we FINALLY had a trip that wasn’t cancelled due to COVID. Unfortunately, this was booked as a short trip with the impression that I would have very limited PTO left after our other big trips from the summer. We had two days to explore Yellowstone – that’s less than 48 hours to see everything we hoped to throughout all 3,468.4 square miles of it.
Believe it or not – we did it! I’ve outlined the itinerary that we followed and more details on our stay + the changes we experienced due to COVID. I’ve listed each area of the park we explored in the order that we did so – my layout for this post is a little different than most because I’ve done it using photos rather than listing each feature we viewed. I think it’s more enjoyable this way + gives a better insight to how amazing the park is!
There are various facilities and events closed or cancelled due to COVID-19. You can find the current information on the park website or the park app prior to your trip. Some things to be aware of:
- Visitor services are very limited – some area amenities and restaurants are closed (in our experience most restrooms were available).
- It is recommended to wear a mask in high-visitation areas and inside all visitor facilities – a reduced number of visitors are allowed in the centers at a given time
- Social distancing of six feet is recommended in high visitation areas
- The local, state, and national guidelines are encouraged – wash your hands with soap and water, use hand sanitizer where available, avoid touching your face, contain sneezes or coughs in a tissue or inside of your elbow
- Do not visit the park if you are sick
The Old Faithful Inn
This lodge is over a century old and will have you feeling like you went back in time. By that I mean, limited cell phone service, no wi-fi, no air conditioning, televisions, radio, or coffee makers. While that might sound miserable at first, I think it pays a great tribute to the purpose of visiting somewhere like Yellowstone (or any National Park) to begin with – to experience nature and to get away from all of the modern things that consume our lives. After some brief complaining when we arrived, the rest of our stay was great. It was nice to disconnect and just enjoy the land and each other without constant texting, social media checks, or sports updates.
Tip: Considering the lack of entertainment accessible (aside from the great outdoors), pack board games or cards to help pass the time while you’re in the room!
We initially booked a Old House Room with no bath, but ended up being upgraded to a superior room due to COVID. The Old House Rooms are located in the older part of the lodge and give a true historic feel to your stay. You can select one with or without a bathroom. Seth had decided we needed the full experience and booked the room without a bath so we would have been using a communal bathroom during our stay (I would be lying if I said I was disappointed in the upgrade). I will admit that it was upsetting that the lobby and historic areas of the lodge were completely closed and blocked off due to COVID. We were only able to peak in to see what it was like through the windows of the normal check in area. You can book your own stay here.
Old Faithful area has multiple options for dining including, the Geyser Grill, the Lodge Cafeteria & Bake Shop, the Snow Lodge Obsidian Dining Room, Inn Dining Room, & the Bear Paw Deli.
We were unable to dine-in during our stay due to COVID. There were multiple facilities open for togo though. We had dinner from the Snow Lodge and then BBQ from the cafeteria for Seth’s birthday dinner. We had lunch outside of the Old Faithful Area, while out and about in the park at the Canyon Lodge Grill. Seth had a hotdog, while I opted for the chili. We ate in our rental car, because inside seating was closed and well, wind + long hair & chili just don’t mix.
We started our day in Bozeman so we could have our pictures taken together at Hyalite Canyon (I’ll be creating a post with those details soon!) We made the drive to Yellowstone after grabbing breakfast at Western Cafe in Bozeman. We entered the park through the West entrance and decided to make a few stops at some of the park features on our list before heading to the Inn for check-in. We arrived to the park around 12:30pm. Our first stop was unexpected because we came across some elk!
Travel Tip: Be sure to plan for random stops while traveling through the park. We made various unplanned stops for wildlife on the side of the roadways. Other visitors slowed or stopping in or alongside the roads is a good sign of any activity!
Lower Geyser Basin
This area was quick to explore. It is all accessible using the boardwalk. I would recommend following the boardwalk in the typical direction of traffic (keep right at any fork in the walkway). There are markers that display the name of the features you’ll view. I recommend keeping a map handy as it can be hard to tell what feature the signs are referencing. Especially when there are more than one closely or in a “cluster”.
Midway Geyser Basin
This is a MUST SEE! It was probably my 2nd favorite area that we viewed. The Midway Geyser Basin includes the Grand Prismatic Spring! This Spring was so vibrant and truly grand in size. After all, it is the world’s largest hot spring! The boardwalk takes you up close to the Grand Prismatic and the surrounding features, while a nearby trail leads you to the elevated view you see in the photo above. To access the overlook, you’ll follow the Grand Prismatic Overlook trail. This trail also leads to Fairy Falls (we did not continue along the trail to the falls during our trip).
Upper Geyser Basin
The Upper Geyer Basin is home of Old Faithful and the majority of the world’s active geysers. The concentration of these geysers provides evidence of Yellowstone’s active volcano. Magma from the volcano can be 3-8 miles below the surface. The magma provides the high temps that heat the water and allow it to rise through the underground cracks and earthquake faults. We ran into elk and buffalo while walking along this trail! We were a little too close for comfort to the buffalo before we realized they were there. Luckily, the one we came closest to was grazing and did not pay us any attention as I snapped a few photos and we continued to a safer spot.
Travel tip: Be aware of your surroundings and keep an eye out for wildlife. Stop and listen – you can hear wildlife before you may be able to see it.
Old Faithful is amazing! It erupts more frequently than any of the other big geysers, but it is not the largest. Five of the six geysers that the National Park predicts eruptions for are in the Upper Geyser Basin. Old Faithful eruption times are posted all throughout the Inn, Snow Lodge, and other nearby facilities. The area is surrounded by a boardwalk with benches for seating. Even during COVID there was a large crowd in the area, and we made sure to have our mask handy even though we were outdoors. The eruption was more dramatic than I had imagined it and I was so glad that we stayed at the Inn so we were able to witness it more than once – during the day and at night! The night photo above was taken after 8 pm in the dark using my iPhone 11 Pro “night mode” camera setting. I captured it shortly after Old Faithful had erupted so you can still see some of the steam and water spewing from it.
Travel Tip: The eruption pattern of the geysers can change at any time. Forecasted times are posted in the Visitor Education centers and in many of the area facilities.
Grant Village/West Thumb
On our drive from Old Faithful area to Grant Village we came across the Continental Divide. The pond pictured above strides the divide – learn more about that here. Most of the facilities in this area were closed due to COVID and seasonal hours. The restrooms were available at the Visitors Center and the gas station was open as well. We made a stop at the Visitor Center and Amphitheater to check out the views of Yellowstone Lake. We moved on to West Thumb where the West Thumb Geyser Basin is. This basin includes views of the lake & we were lucky enough to stumble upon a few Elk. This includes the largest Elk we saw during our trip! The Geysers here are closer together than some other basins in the park. All accessible using a boardwalk with railings due to the terrain headed down to the lake.
Travel tip: You are not permitted to leave the boardwalks. It is very dangerous and can result in serious injuries/death. We did not feel the park was child friendly for this reason. Take this into consideration if traveling with kids!
This area of the park might have been my favorite! The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone can be viewed from both the South and North rim. I think both are worth checking out if you have the time!
South Rim Drive gives you access to Upper Falls View, Uncle Tom’s Trail/Point, and Artist Point. Upper Falls is 109 ft waterfall. Artist Point has a beautiful view of Lower Falls. Lower Falls is a 308 ft falls. We were able to knock out the South Rim stops quickly. These areas have close parking to the view points and completely paved walkways. We spent more time along the North Rim than we did the South.
North Rim Drive allows access to the Brink of Lower Falls, Lookout Point, Grand View, & Inspiration Point. I highly recommend stopping at all of the stops on the North Rim as I felt they all gave different views that are must sees! We started by missing the turn onto Falls Brink Road. I’m so glad we did because we ended up accessing those areas via the North Rim Trail. We began our hike at the Brink of Lower Falls Trailhead. Instead of following the trail to the Brink of Lower Falls, we hiked the trail to headed back towards Falls Brink Road. We were able to see Crystal Falls by doing so. We were then able to access the Brink of Upper Falls by following along the North Rim Trail. This was my favorite part of North Rim Trail due to the lack of other hikers or visitors that we encountered. We hiked back the way we came and continued on the trail to the Brink of Lower Falls. This was a very steep and strenuous hike. It wasn’t super long, but the elevation gain on the way back up was killer. The views are well worth it, however, it is not recommended if you are not in good physical health or able to make the climb back up. There are other view points that are more easily accessible that would be best for anyone in that situation. Those include:
- Lookout Point
- Grand View
We did not make the hike down to Red Rock Point due to time. It entails lots of stairs! It offers a closer view of Lower Falls than Lookout Point does, but is not as close at the Brink of Lower Falls.
Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs terraces have been shaped by the volume of water, slope of the ground, and objects in the waters path. Travertine builds up heavily here and creates constantly changing features. Its estimated that only 10% of the springs water is on the surface. This boardwalk includes a good amount of stairs and, in my opinion, was not a must see if you are short on time. You can view a good portion of it from the roadway as you pass through the area – mostly so when headed south.
This area was closed during our visit, but we made the drive out as far as we could to check out the area. We were able to see the Roosevelt Lodge and the Petrified tree. If you continue east from the Roosevelt Lodge, you can drive along Lamar Valley where there is said to be lots of wildlife activity. We weren’t able to so during this trip because of time!
I highly recommend a visit to Yellowstone National Park! I would definitely go back! I’d spend more time experiencing the “backwoods” trails and features the park has to offer. Feel free to message me with any questions & be sure to check out my Instagram highlights for more footage from our visit! I’ll be posting a Yellowstone “Must Have” post next week (hopefully!), so keep your eyes peeled for that if you have a trip coming up! As always…