If your family is short on time and wants to see Yellowstone in a day, yes, you can. I promise it’s less stress with some planning.
We really didn’t mean to see Yellowstone National Park in a day but little did we know that if you don’t plan your stay many months in advance, you’re highly unlikely to find a place to stay anywhere in the vicinity – especially if you approach it from the southern entrance as you have a long way to travel to find any place to stay outside the park.
Sure, you can hope to find first come, first serve camping, but if you want to do this without backtracking through space you’ve already seen (crucial when you have limited time) you’re going to have a hard time finding a camping spot later in the day – especially if the day delivers a torrential downpour halfway through it.
Yes, everything conspired against us and one could say it became quite the hair-raising adventure of a lifetime later that night. But more on that later. Let’s just say it was about as planned as us seeing Yellowstone in a day – NOT.
Ever since I was a little girl I dreamed of seeing Old Faithful. A vivid imagination took me into the world of explorers who wondered at this curiosity. And I was ecstatic to get to experience this adventure with my kids. We scoped out the visitor’s center and saw we had just missed the almost hourly occurrence so we took our time exploring the robust center with all the facts, displays, and interactive centers it offered. Then we went back to the car to eat lunch. Check out the ways we eat well with tips for eating well on a family road trip on a budget.
We’ve learned to utilize every “down” moment on a family road trip to the max so we don’t miss a thing.
The moment was nearing for Old Faithful to blow so we gathered our trash and headed for the scene. Make sure to get there a little early so you get a good view. Even with great spots firmly claimed people have no issue shoving in front of you or a kid for a prime shot or video. And then the show starts. And it’s cool, but it was also a little of a letdown. Once again professional photographers have worked their magic and made a national landmark larger than life – though still beautiful.
As soon as that beauty started to die down we raced back to the van to beat the rush of people exiting. And here is where the true amazement of Yellowstone National Park began. There’s so much variety of landscape and unusual treasures to be seen. But words can’t do it justice. Here are just a few pictures to give you a glimpse.
10 tips for seeing Yellowstone in a day.
- If you can, plan it out ahead of time with a detailed map. If you don’t have the opportunity to do this, stop at the visitor’s center and grab a map.
- Plan a few “stop and take a picture quick” stops.
- Plan a couple “get out and walk/hike” stops.
- There are spots to walk or hike all throughout the park – from boardwalks through hot springs to hikes along waterfalls with varied levels of difficulty.
- Pack a lunch to eat on the road.
- Stop at a bathroom when you see one and “make everyone try”. Either that or waste your day trying to find and get out at every scattered far and wide bathroom.
- Keep your camera handy. You never know what you’ll see around the next corner – from Sheepeater’s Cliff to a wolf who’s (somehow) brought down a bison seemingly alone. You don’t have a split second to waste if you want that shot AND still see more in your day.
- Be prepared for delays – bison along the road can turn into a standstill – whether it be from sightseers who don’t get out of the road or the herd wanting to get to the other side of the road.
- If you’re driving an RV, follow the signs. Please. There are some side “trips” you can’t see where there are some amazing views and phenomenon, like the picture below. Be prepared to park and walk.
- Strategize the best way to drive through the park so you maximize the ground you cover and see everything you want to see without looping back and forth.
- This isn’t specific for seeing Yellowstone in a day but check out the National Parks Pass if you plan on visiting several parks this year.
6 safety tips for when you see Yellowstone in a day.
- Fill your gas tank before you enter the park. You will cover many miles without finding a gas station.
- Wild animals are dangerous. Getting out and taking photo ops with them IS NOT RECOMMENDED. In fact, it can be life-threatening. Good grief, have you ever seen a bison up close? And for goodness sake, don’t sit in the road with them for said photo op.
- Follow all posted signs. They’re there for a reason.
- Stay on the path. The land can be treacherous and deadly with geysers and hot springs. THE WATER IS EXTREMELY HOT AND DANGEROUS.
- Wear appropriate shoes for walking.
- Pack plenty of water so you stay hydrated.
Speaking of our hair-raising adventure. Thanks to the bison standing in the road we lost about 30 minutes in our evening and ended up hitting Beartooth Highway right around the time they closed it for the night for construction. Except they didn’t actually close it. Maybe because it was a Sunday night.
GPS said it was the quicker way so we took it. Me, scared of heights, was the one driving as we crept higher and higher on roads that got windier and steeper, turning into hairpin turns that felt like we would just keep going straight into the dark abyss. I couldn’t stop so Dave could drive because I was too scared to pull off the side of the road in the very few very small pull-offs that were ALWAYS by the guardrail and drop off. So I drove it…the whole way…for hours. And hours. Seeing only 2 vehicles the whole time we drove it. This image doesn’t even do justice to how magnificent and deadly it looked – and yes, that is snow in August. That’s how high up and cold it was. Daytime travel? Sure. Summer travel? Sure. Any other time? No way.
Check out Yellowstone National Park’s website. What would be on your must-see list if you had to do Yellowstone in a day?