Yellowstone 3 Day Itinerary- Based in Gardiner

This itinerary was originally written for a mixed family with some members of limited walking endurance and with a child that was staying in Gardiner and is therefore from that perspective.  Ajust if entering/exiting via another gate.  If you have more time, you can spread it out more and/or spend more time watching wildlife.

All distances and driving times I’ve included are from The Official Guide to Touring America’s First National Park: a Yellowstone Forever publication available in many languages that I suggest you order now.  You can find it and lots of other good stuff at

Those times are straight driving times – no stops for features or wildlife so remember to allow time for those stops in your planning. General rule of thumb: the slower you drive, the more you’ll see. Use pullouts to allow faster travelers to pass you.  When you stop to view wildlife, you can NOT block any part of the road – you must be in a pullout or have all four tires outside the white shoulder lines.

Day 1:
Enter through Roosevelt Arch. For first-timers this is usually the first photo stop.

5 miles up the road, about 15 minutes travel time, you’ll arrive in Mammoth. This time let’s pass the stores and head straight for the Hot Springs where you can see some of the features from the road by taking the Upper Terrace Drive (possible to see black bears and grizzly bears here – members of both species have ranges that include this are). If you are up to some walking at this point you can take some of the boardwalks through the thermals. There are short spur trails and loops. If you aren’t up to walking right now you can do so later. Since you’re staying in Gardiner “all roads lead to Mammoth.” You’ll have more opportunities.

After visiting the Mammoth Hot Springs (or not), continue south. The next major junction is Norris Junction. On the way you’ll pass Obsidian Mountain, Roaring Mountain, Twin Lakes, etc. This is good grizzly habitat.  Upon arriving at Norris Junction you can turn east toward Canyon or proceed south toward Madison and eventually Old Faithful. I’m going to suggest you get Old Faithful out of the way. Mammoth Hot Springs to Norris is 21 miles – about 40 minutes driving time.

If you’re up to a short walk at this point, the Porcelain Basin Self-guiding trail is .75 miles round trip and is easy dirt/gravel and boardwalk. Other walks in the area are the Back Basin trail and Artists’ Paint Pots. I enjoy both of those but they might not be the best way to use up limited walking energy or endurance.

Back on the road continue south to Madison Junction. There’s a good picnic area there. If you’re packing lunch it might be a good time to have a picnic. If not, you might just let your daughter run around there for bit and let everyone out to rest in shade. There are no thermals to worry about and less crowd so your daughter can be loose some there. There are food vendors at Old Faithful, the next stop, if you are not packing lunch.

Leaving Madison Junction continue south. Take the Firehole Canyon Road. Back on the main road, continue south towards OF. Distance to Old Faithful is 16 miles – 35 minutes. Along the way, Fountain Paint Pot is only a .5 mile loop walk. Midway Geyser basin is also .5 mile loop walk.

When you come to Old Faithful stop at the Visitor Education Center to find out what time the next predicted eruption is (or, you can visit on your mobile or use the GeyserTimes App – there is service there). If an eruption is imminent, make for the boardwalk.  If Castle, Grand, Riverside, or Beehive geyser eruptions are upcoming soon, those are all great.  If not, have some lunch and/or check out the Old Faithful Inn. Once again, if you’re up to it there are short walking opportunities around Old Faithful. I’ll recommend that you not use limited walking endurance going all the way to Morning Glory Pool (unless you feel up to it and/or there are imminent predicted eruptions of Riverside, Daisy or Grand Geysers).

When you’ve had your fill of Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin, you can either turn back northward, as I’m going to spell out or loop east and eventually north again.

Assuming you are going back roughly the way you came you can stop at Black Sand Basin which has Emerald Pool, Cliffside Geyser and Sunset Lake. This is a pretty area where you can see a great deal with a very short walk and is often overlooked.

Continuing north, take the Firehole Lake Drive. This short detour off the main road takes you by Great Fountain Geyser (awesome even when not erupting!), White Dome Geyser, Pink Cone, Narcissus and Steady Geysers and Firehole Lake.

Back on the main road and continuing north… Take a detour from Madison west through the Madison Valley.  After that detour, continue on to Mammoth then Gardiner.

Day 2:
Head straight for the Lamar Valley in the morning – the earlier the better.

This time, instead of heading south from Mammoth go east. Drive east to Tower-Roosevelt (18 mis – 40 mins) stopping, perhaps, to view Undine Falls. If you want to get off the main road, you could take Backtail Plateua Drive (a one-way gravel road). Now, with the goal of getting to Lamar as early as possible, I’m going to recommend that you make a backtrack to do Blacktail Plateua at the end of the day if you really want to do it and time allows.  Don’t miss the spur road up to Petrified Tree. The Petrified Tree is cool and it’s a good area for bears.  For those that visit when it is open, I absolutely urge you to drive Blacktail Plateua – wildflowers should be good – good area for bears, moose and badgers.

Continue east through Tower-Roosevelt (take a left across from Roosevelt Station).

Drive slowly, stop at pullouts, and enjoy the wildlife. You can either drive all the way to Cooke City (29 mis – 50 mins) or turn around some point at or past Soda Butte or Pebble Creek (I’d go at least that far if no further). You’ll be passing through the wonderful Lamar Valley. Wherever you turn around, take it just as slow on the way back.

When you get back to Tower-Roosevelt have lunch (restaurant or picnic) then head south. There is a view looking across at the top of Tower Fall about 100 yards from the parking lot at Tower. The trail to the base of the falls, even if your group were up to it, is closed. (this area is good for black bears)  View the fall, or not, then continue south over Dunraven Pass to Canyon Village (19mis – 45mins). I’ve got Artist Point on the next day’s agenda but if you can’t wait or want to see it in different light, take it in now. Same goes for the North and South Rim Drives.

When done with the Canyon area go west to Norris and back north to Mammoth OR, North back to Tower-Roosevelt then west to Mammoth. You’ve been both routes now so know which might appeal more for the return trip. You might have some time for more Mammoth Hot Springs foot exploration at the end of this day.

Day 3:
Go to Canyon Village. Again, you can get there via either Tower-Roosevelt or Norris. Maybe take the route that you didn’t take “home” last night. I like Canyon best in the morning so I’d spend some time on the Canyon rim drives and be sure to see Artist Point on this morning.

When you’ve had your fill of Canyon, head south to Fishing Bridge (16 mis-40mins). You’ll be passing through the beautiful and full-of- wildlife Hayden Valley. Again, drive slowly. Stop at the overlooks. You’ll also be passing the Mud Volcano area. There are some features that are viewable from near the parking lot. The others are a rather uphill hike.

Continuing south you’ll arrive at Fishing Bridge/Yellowstone Lake. You can turn east and drive along the Lake to the Lake Butte Overlook spur road and take it up to a great vista of the lake and surrounding landscape (this area, all the way to east entrance, is good for grizzlies).  Then, backtrack to Fishing Bridge and turn south. Drive through Lake Village, maybe have lunch at the Yellowstone Lake Hotel.

Leaving Yellowstone Lake Hotel you’ll be driving south along the lake shore (and more along the lake shore if you take Gull Point Drive – good area for griz, birds and otters). The next major stop is West Thumb. Fishing Bridge – West Thumb is 21mis-45 mins. West Thumb is a lakeside geothermal area. Being lakeside, it’s different from what you’ve seen so far. Also it offers short walks (boardwalks) with an inner and outer loop so there are options for how far to walk. The inner loop is .25 mi and the outer is .5 mi.

Head west from West Thumb (yes, I’m skipping Grant Village – otherwise known as “the mistake on the lake”).   You’ll be driving over Craig Pass toward Old Faithful 17mis – 30 mins. You’ll pass over the Continental Divide twice. Isa Lake, sitting at the top of the western divide, has waters draining at both coasts. Stop at Kepler Falls.

When you arrive at OF you can either continue on or stop. I’ll again leave your return route up to you. You’ve now traveled both routes so can decide how to return based on preference. The west route will probably take less time.


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