How to Spend a Day in Yellowstone National Park
You can’t truly appreciate Yellowstone National Park until you see it in person. One of the best ways to experience its wonders is by camping in an RV.
It was the first national park, and it’s one of the most popular, despite its remote location. Millions of people visit each year to enjoy its rugged beauty. In many ways, it has come to symbolize the unspoiled grandeur of the western frontier.
There’s so much to see and do at Yellowstone that it helps to have a guide. In that spirit, we offer our suggestions on how to spend an unforgettable day at this incredible place.
Let’s dive in!
What’s Yellowstone All About?
Established as a park in 1872, Yellowstone is known for its petrified rock formations, its geothermal features and its abundant wildlife. Some of the last remaining wild American bison roam these grounds along with moose, elk and grizzly bears.
Native Americans inhabited this magical place for at least 11,000 years before white explorers documented it in the early 1800s.
The park is mostly in northwestern Wyoming, but parts of it are in Montana and Idaho. It covers nearly 3,500 square miles (or 2.2 million acres). That makes it larger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined.
Old Faithful is the most famous, but there are hundreds of geysers. The diversity of animal life and plant life is staggering, too.
Here’s the full history of Yellowstone National Park.
Let’s get going!
Morning in Yellowstone National Park
Breakfast at Old Faithful Inn Dining Room
Address: 1000 Old Faithful Rd., Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190
Menu options: The log cabin ambiance at Old Faithful Inn Dining Room will start things off with a proper mood. So will a breakfast menu of American classics.
The appropriately named Hiker’s Special is two eggs however you like them, toast, a choice of fresh fruit salad or home fries. For the protein, you can choose from bacon, ham or two kinds of sausage.
Other favorites are the custom omelets and huckleberry pancakes. For vegans, there’s green wheat freekeh topped with tofu and served up with Southwestern sides.
Reasons to love it: The huge stone fireplace and the rough-hewn pine interior add to the rustic feel of this inviting room.
Further warmth comes from the comfort of knowing that literally millions of diners have left here satisfied. There’s also an environmentally conscious attitude here that extends to the menu. Many of the ingredients are locally sourced, including those huckleberries.
Tour the Grand Prismatic Spring
You’ve probably seen pictures of the Grand Prismatic Spring, but they can’t do it justice. You’ll love seeing it with your own eyes. For one thing, pictures don’t quite capture the scale of it – or the amazing prism of colors.
At 370 feet in diameter, this huge hot spring is bigger than a football field. It’s actually the third-largest hot spring in the world.
It gets its name from the visually stunning shades of orange, yellow, green and blue in the different layers. This rainbow of colors actually comes from different types of bacteria in the waters.
Afternoon in Yellowstone National Park
Eat lunch at Old Faithful Snow Lodge Obsidian Dining Room
Address: 2 Old Faithful Rd., Yellowstone National Park, WY
Menu Options: While the dinner fare includes heavy dishes like braised bison short ribs, you can go lighter at lunch. Favorites at Old Faithful Snow Lodge Obsidian Dining Room include the wild Alaskan salmon tostada, the roasted onion and garlic polenta fritter, the roasted red pepper with smoked Gouda soup, and the artichoke and tomato ravioli.
There is also a nice selection of local brews, including the popular Old Faithful Pale Golden Ale and the Moose Drool Brown Ale.
Reasons to love it: Though it’s in a lodge-style setting, it has an updated, contemporary feel in the furnishings and the menu.
The Old Faithful Snow Lodge opened in 1999, so it’s actually the newest full-service hotel in the park. It’s a large space that seats over 100 people. The servers are usually nice and accommodating, even though it can get quite busy at times.
Watch Old Faithful Geyser Erupt
You’re in a great position to experience one of the top attractions – you just have to time it right.
Old Faithful is arguably the world’s most famous geyser. It’s very predictable, too – it faithfully erupts, almost like clockwork, every 60 to 110 minutes.
This happens 16 to 17 times a day, and each eruption lasts anywhere from 90 seconds up to 5 minutes. You can check out the predicted times on the National Park Service’s website.
When the geyser does erupt, the stream of water reaches a minimum of 100 feet, and sometimes higher. To avoid the crowds on the busy boardwalk, hike a half-mile to the observation point. (It’s a steep uphill climb, but coming down is easy.)
Hike to Artist Point
Artist Point is one of the best-known overlooks in the park. It’s where you can get an amazing view of one of the park’s other famous features, the 308-foot Lower Falls.
It’s a must-do activity, and it’s easy to get there, even though it’s on the edge of a cliff. From South Rim Drive, it’s a short walk of just a tenth of a mile on a paved trail. (Keep moving along the trail and you’ll reach other points of interest, including Point Sublime.)
From the point, you can see miles and miles or steep canyon walls in amazing and vibrant colors. Take some binoculars or a spotting scope to spy on eagles, ospreys and ravens nesting along the canyon walls.
Evening in Yellowstone National Park
Dinner at Lake Yellowstone Hotel Dining Room
Address: 236 Yellowstone Lake Rd., Yellowstone National Park, WY
Menu Options: After a day of scruffy outdoor activities, clean yourself up and treat yourself to fine dining, Yellowstone style. Fresh and sustainable are the order of the day for a menu that creatively showcases wild game and fish.
Popular choices at Yellowstone Hotel Dining Room include seared lemon lobster sliders with aioli, bison tenderloin with garlic mash potatoes, and sautéed trout with lemon and parsley and wild rice pilaf.
In keeping with the custom here, you can expect local flavors almost exclusively. Even the classic burger is made from Wagyu beef raised in Montana.
Other reasons to love it: Talk about a room with a view. The stunning visual centerpiece of your dining experience will be Lake Yellowstone and Dot Island in the near distance. Don’t worry, the atmosphere is not quite formal.
Let’s call it casually elegant.
Stargaze at Yellowstone Lake Overlook Trail
Yellowstone National Park is pretty much free of artificial light, so opportunities for stargazing are literally anywhere you go. One great place in particular is the Lake Overlook Trail.
In the West Thumb Geyser Basin area, it’s a mile-long path that climbs some 500 feet through pine forest and grassland. It can get pretty congested during the daylight hours but offers a nice bit of solitude after dark.
Here are a few tips to make the most of your stargazing experience in Yellowstone: Stay on the boardwalk and watch your step – it’s always a good idea to carry a flashlight. Bring along a star chart. Finally, don’t forget that it’s grizzly country, so don’t let your guard down.
Where to stay at Yellowstone National Park?
Camp on Snake River (Free Boondocking)
Address: Near the park’s south entrance on John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway.
About the Park: The sites are large and spread out and offer some privacy. In fact, they can accommodate a tent or two along with a small RV. There is direct water access, clean vault toilets and bear boxes for tent campers.
Why you’ll love staying here: If you’re not afraid of dirt roads, it’s a great place to unplug for a bit and unwind. It’s the best of both worlds because it offers a natural experience and it’s so convenient to the park entrance.
Pro Tip: Here are the 11 best free campsites near Yellowstone National Park.
A Full Day in Yellowstone
For people like us, Yellowstone National Park is nothing less than a paradise. We feel fortunate that our forebears thought enough to preserve it generations ago.
Our taste runs toward dry camping in remote spots. If you’re looking for more comforts, there are lots of developed campgrounds sites in the area with full amenities.
Yellowstone National Park seems to have something for everybody. Spending a day there is a good start, but just a small step toward seeing all it has to offer.
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IF you travel all that distance to see Yellowstone, I just don’t understand why you just can’t stay a second day to see the park. JUST slow down.