4-Days in Yellowstone National Park - Bozeman CVB

4-Days in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park comprises over 2.2 million acres of a vast landscape that is more varied than most anywhere in Montana. From wildlife watching in the Lamar and Hayden Valleys to shooting geysers in West Thumb, you could explore for weeks and barely touch the surface. However, if you can spend four days in the world's first National Park, you can enjoy a bit of everything.

Day One:

Geysers, Hot Springs, Fumaroles, and Mud Pots

Begin your trip in West Yellowstone, at the West Entrance to the Park. If you have time, check out the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, where you can learn about grizzlies, wolves, otters, and birds of prey from animals who can no longer survive in the wild.

Once you enter the Park, head toward Madison Junction, where the Gibbon and Firehole Rivers join to form the Madison River, which eventually joins the Gallatin and Jefferson Rivers to form the Missouri River. This area's cliffs are from the Yellowstone Caldera's rim, along with lava flows. South of Madison Junction is Firehole Canyon Drive, a one-way loop that takes you past Firehole Falls and a swimming area, where you can take a dip if you're so inclined!

Lower Geyser Basin is the largest, covering approximately 18 square miles. Be sure to check out Fountain Paint Pot and Great Fountain geyser, the only predicted geyser you can drive to, which erupts every 4-15 hours for 30 minutes. You can find the expected eruption times at the Old Faithful Visitor Center.

Your next stop is Upper Geyser Basin, home to 150 thermal features and the largest concentration of geysers in the world. This is where you'll find Old Faithful, Castle, Daisy, Grand, and Riverside geysers, which are the largest and can be predicted. Old Faithful is the most reliable, but if you can time it right, Grand Geyser is the most spectacular.

Here, you can walk to Biscuit Basin and loop back, which is just over six miles if you do the entire loop, but you can go out and back as far as you like. Scientists studying this area of Yellowstone have made important advancements, particularly with the microbes in the hot pools; some feed on CO2, which could help combat climate change; some could help develop heat-resistant crops, and the most famous discovery, an enzyme that led to the development of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) which was instrumental to developing the tests to detect COVID-19.

Once you've explored Upper Geyser Basin, head to Yellowstone Lake, where you can settle in and catch a sunset.

Madison Junction
Firehole Falls
Lower Basin
Upper Geyser Basin
Old Faithful
Grand Geyser
Biscuit Basin
Day Two:

Mountains, Lakes, Wildlife, and Spectacular Views

Waking up on Yellowstone Lake is nothing short of spectacular. From here, your day trips can take on a couple of different forms depending on your energy, enthusiasm, and skill level. For those looking for an impressive hike, Mt. Washburn, a remnant of an extinct, ancient volcano, is a great option. It's close to seven miles round trip, taking 3-6 hours, and best known for its wildflowers and 360-degree views. It's a smooth, wide trail, taking you to 10,219 feet in elevation, and on a clear day, you can see 20-50 miles. At the top, there's a fire lookout with interpretive exhibits and restrooms. (This hike is not recommended in the fall when grizzly bears are stocking up for hibernation.)

For a gentler hike, Natural Bridge is a moderate 2.8-mile, out-and-back hike, open July through September (it is closed earlier in the year to protect spawning fish.) An interpretive display at the end of the trail explains the feature: Bridge Creek flows underground, and through the centuries, freezing and thawing have broken away sections of the rock, which get carried away by spring runoff, creating the natural bridge formation.

If you opt for the shorter hike, you may want to continue and explore Norris Geyser Basin, where you can visit the Norris Geyser Basin Museum, one of the park's original trailside museums, view Gibbon Falls, or talk with a retired ranger at the Museum of the National Park Ranger.

Either option should allow enough time for an evening Yellowstone Lake scenic boat cruise.

Mt. Washburn
Natural Bridge
Gibbon Falls
Day Three:

Wildlife, Waterfalls, Fishing, and Western Hospitality

At this point in your trip, you could stay another night at the lake, or you could opt to move to Cooke City or Silver Gate, located at the Northeast Entrance. These two little mountain towns make for a great overnight with lively locals and great bars and eateries.

Head north toward the Hayden Valley, an excellent area to see bison, bears, and a large concentration of waterfowl. From here, your next stop is the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, where various trails and walkways wind along the rims and partway down the canyon walls.

Try to time your drive through the Lamar Valley in the evening, when wildlife is most active. You may see bears in this area; it is home to most of the wolf packs in the Park. This is also an excellent area for fishing if there are anglers in the group. (Do note that you will need a Yellowstone Fishing License.) Pebble Creek, Slough Creek, and the Lamar River are good spots, but be sure to check with the closest visitor center to check current closures.

Hayden Valley
Grand Canyon
Lamar Valley
Lamar River
Day Four:

Wildlife, Petrified Trees, and Terraces

Early morning is also an excellent time for wildlife watching, so if you're hoping to see the elusive bear or wolf, this is the time. There are several tour companies if you prefer a guided adventure with high-powered scopes, and the tour operators' knowledge makes the whole experience incredibly engaging.

As you head toward Mammoth Hot Springs and the North Entrance, stop at Petrified Tree near Tower Junction. Here, you'll see an excellent example of an ancient redwood, like what can be found on Specimen Ridge, but it is much easier to access.

Continue to Mammoth Hot Springs and the travertine terraces, intricate fountains formed from limestone that resemble a cave turned inside out. It's unlike anything else in the Park, and strolling the boardwalks to explore is quite stunning.

Be sure to stop at the Albright Visitors Center, where you can learn more about the history and wildlife of Yellowstone.

As you leave Yellowstone, stop for a soothing soak at Yellowstone Hot Springs, just past Gardiner, Montana.

Petrified Tree
Mammoth Hot Springs
Albright Visitors Center

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