2 Days in Yellowstone National Park - Bozeman CVB

2 Days in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park (YNP) makes up 3,472 square miles or (2,221,766 acres), a vast expanse of geological wonders, majestic wildlife, and stunning scenery. You could spend weeks exploring and only scratch the surface. Most people have a short window to explore, which is plenty of time to see the highlights! We’ve outlined a two-day itinerary that incorporates the best of Yellowstone. If you’re visiting in the winter, you could do the first half of the trip since the road from Gardiner to Cooke City is the only road open to vehicles year-round.

Roosevelt Arch in Gardiner

Begin at the North Entrance, located in Gardiner. Yellowstone Forever, the official non-profit of YNP, is a great place to learn about critical projects and the Park in general. If you have kids, pick up a Junior Ranger Program guide, self-paced learning activities, and ranger-led programs that teach kids about wildlife, thermal features, geology, the ecosystem, and the history of YNP. You can also book private tours, field seminars, day adventures, and overnight packages.

Gardiner is also home to Roosevelt Arch, named after Theodore Roosevelt, who was vacationing in the area and laid the cornerstone of the partially constructed arch. The arch, constructed in 1903, was built to provide a grand entrance to Yellowstone. If you look closely, you can find the cornerstone; entering from the Gardiner side, it’s on the Park side of the right tower and is engraved with “April 24, 1903.”

Mammoth Hot Springs

From Gardiner, head to Mammoth Hot Springs, where you can learn more about the Park at the Albright Visitor Center or tour Fort Yellowstone, the US Army Officers Quarters. In 1886, the US Army came to Yellowstone to arrest poachers, educate visitors, provide medical attention, manage wildlife, put out fires, and expel squatters.

Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces are one of the most beautiful and unusual features in the Park. You can view them by walking along the boardwalks or driving around the travertine terraces. These hot springs rise through the limestone, dissolving calcium carbonate and depositing calcite, which makes the terraces. The striking white with orange is unlike anything else in the Park.

Wildlife Watching in the Lamar Valley

Often called America’s Serengeti for its large population of animals, the Lamar Valley is a great place to see wolves, herds of bison, pronghorn, badgers, grizzly bears, bald eagles, osprey, deer, and coyotes. During the spring, you’ll see lots of babies; during the fall, bull elk and bison are often seen battling over cows and territory.

Wildlife watching is best during early morning or late evening, so you may have time for a short hike to stretch your legs. For a short hike, Trout Lake is a nice walk, and for those looking for something more challenging and strenuous, check out the Specimen Ridge Day Hike Trail. Families may want to check out these family-friendly hikes.

Overnight in Cooke City, Silver Gate, or Old Faithful Areas

There are a couple of options for your overnight. The first option is to head to the Northeast Entrance and stay in Silver Gate or Cooke City, Montana. These mountain towns are small in population and full of grandeur. They are popular outposts for snowmobilers, backcountry, and Nordic skiers in the winter and climbers, hikers, and anglers in the summer. This is an excellent option for those who want to get up early and hope for more wildlife sightings.

The second option is to carry on to Canyon and spend the night at Canyon Lodge and Cabins, the largest of the Park’s accommodations, with more than 500 rooms, located near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. These redesigned lodges are all LEED certified and named one of the New York Times’ “Top 5 Hotels for Eco-Conscious Travelers.”

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Yellowstone Lake and Old Faithful

Whether you stop in the evening of the first day or the morning of the second, spend some time at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Artist’s Point is a great place to view both the upper and lower falls and is the iconic view you most often see in photographs and paintings.

From there, watch for more wildlife as you drive through Hayden Valley, another lush area that draws animals. Here, you’ll spot a wide variety of birds and waterfowl—watch for eagles, hawks, pelicans, ducks, geese, blue herons, and trumpeter swans.

Yellowstone Lake

Continue to Yellowstone Lake, which scientists believe may be the biggest high-altitude lake in the Lower 48. Explore West Thumb Bay, a vast crater created from a hydrothermal eruption 174,000 years ago. West Thumb Geyser Basin has some of the deepest and clearest hot pools on earth and hot springs and geysers in the lake.

Old Faithful and Other Hydrothermal Features

From Yellowstone Lake, Old Faithful is your next stop. This area of the Park is where you’ll find many of the Park’s more than 10,000 hydrothermal features: hot springs, geysers, mud pots, and fumaroles. The vibrant colors in the hot springs come from thermophiles, tiny heat-loving microorganisms that make their home in the thermal features. Although too small to see, trillions living together appear as masses of color.

You’ll want to spend some time at the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center, which has hands-on displays, before venturing on to see attractions such as Grand Prismatic Spring and Fountain Paint Pot. Along the Fountain Paint Pot Trail, each type of thermal feature is represented, giving us glimpses of Yellowstone’s still active volcano.

If time permits, take the Firehole Canyon Drive, a 2-mile one-way loop off the Grand Loop south of Madison. You’ll pass the Firehole River, Firehole Falls, a 40-foot waterfall amidst 800-foot-thick lava flows forming the canyon walls, and a natural swimming hole. You may want to plunge on a warm day, but contrary to the name, the water is not hot.

West Yellowstone

End your day in West Yellowstone, and if time permits, stop at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, where visitors learn about grizzly and wolf behaviors through animals who can no longer survive in the wild.

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