Yellowstone National Park

The Ultimate 48-Hour Itinerary for Yellowstone National Park with Insider Tips!

Yellowstone National Park with views of the mountains, valleys, and herd of bison.
Bison roaming in Yellowstone National Park

When I finally made it back to Yellowstone National Park with my kids for the first time, I knew I wanted to see all the big things. Both for their benefit and because it had been quite a while since I’d really “done” Yellowstone. 

But we only had two days to spend in Yellowstone.

 Could we really do both main loops in Yellowstone in two days without losing our minds? The short answer is yes. The longer answer is yes, but you’ll need to accept you won’t see everything and you’ll need to be strategic with your time. That’s where this itinerary comes in!

Bison herd with babies in Yellowstone's Lamar Valley
Bison herd with babies in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley

What You’ll Find in This 2 Days in Yellowstone Article

The Loop Drives of Yellowstone National Park

First off, let’s discuss those loops, and then I’ll get into my 2-day Yellowstone National Park itinerary.

map of yellowstone national park
Map via

My mom and sister have done countless weekend trips to Yellowstone and helped me put together the perfect 48-hour trip based around the lower loop and upper loop of Yellowstone. 

If you look at this rudimentary map of Yellowstone above, you’ll see the main roads consist of two loops. The upper loop is Mammoth Hot Springs to Norris while the lower loop leaves West Thumb behind and takes visitors through the geyser basins and Yellowstone Lake. If you just take the outer roads, that’s called the Grand Loop of Yellowstone.

If at all possible, I recommend staying in the park. This saves you lots of time in the morning since you won’t have to wait in any lines at the entrances, and it also may save you some backtracking.

—> Click Here for my Ultimate Guide for Yellowstone Lodging!

If staying in the park isn’t an option, getting a hotel in West Yellowstone is ideal since you’ll be coming into the park close to where the loops divide.

Now, which loop you start on depends on where you’re coming into the park. If you’re coming from Grand Teton or Cody, Wyoming, you’ll be entering via the southern entrances and should do the lower loop the first day. 

If you’re coming from Montana, you’ll be entering from the north and should plan to cover the upper loop on your first day. You can also enter from the west via West Yellowstone and then I’d pick which loop based on where you’re staying that night.

My top pick for where to stay: Old Faithful Inn – it saves you time since you can just watch for the Old Faithful eruption in the evening while relaxing on the second-floor balcony with a glass of wine, or in the morning with a cup of coffee. Plus, you can get up early and get to the Grand Prismatic Spring hike before the crowds of day-trippers get there.

Read my personal review of staying at Old Faithful Inn here.

Multiple levels of Old Faithful Inn and its iconic stone fireplace.
Multiple levels of Old Faithful Inn

The Top Sights to See on Each Loop During a 2-Day Trip to Yellowstone

For a 2-day stay in Yellowstone with an overnight at Old Faithful Inn, I recommend doing the upper loop the first day, then driving down to Old Faithful Inn in the early evening so you have ample time to explore the inn and see the eruption. Then plan on doing the lower loop drive on day 2 (and then head to Grand Teton if you’re planning to do both national parks on your trip).

Read More: How to Spend One Day in Grand Teton National Park

What to See Along Yellowstone’s Lower Loop

Let’s start with the attractions of the lower loop of Yellowstone since it’s where some of the park’s most famous sites reside.

Old Faithful

Old Faithful Inn, where we stayed during a 2-day road trip through Yellowstone National Park.
Watching Old Faithful Erupt by Old Faithful Inn

Old Faithful is an impressive geyser that shoots up to 184 feet in the air “faithfully” every hour or so (can sometimes take up to two hours between eruptions, so be prepared to be patient).

Old Faithful Inn

Even if you don’t stay overnight at the Old Faithful Inn, walking through this historic lodge is a must-do. It was built in 1903 and features an incredible log ceiling and a massive stone fireplace in the lobby.

Grand Prismatic Spring

Bright colors seen from Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook during a 2-day trip to Yellowstone National Park in the summer.
Bright colors seen from Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook on a hot summer day.

This is the largest hot spring in the U.S. (and the third-largest in the world). Grand Prismatic Spring has incredible color and a mesmerizing geothermal makeup.

A popular place to view it is from the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook (which takes roughly 90 minutes roundtrip at a moderate pace).

Grand Prismatic Spring boardwalk with lots of steam rising up from the hot spring on a cool autumn day in Yellowstone National Park.
People walking on the Grand Prismatic Spring boardwalk with lots of steam rising up from the hot spring on a cool autumn day.

You can also walk directly by the hot spring on the boardwalk built alongside it. It’s very important you stay on the boardwalk to avoid injury to yourself or the land.

Yellowstone Lake & Lake Hotel

The yellow front front exterior of Lake Yellowstone Hotel with a view of the lake.
Lake Yellowstone Hotel

Lake Village, which is home to the historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel, which is a much more peaceful area of the park as it doesn’t get as many visitors.

Insider Tip: My mom stayed here on a girls’ getaway to Yellowstone and they all loved it, so keep Lake Yellowstone Hotel & Cottages as another great option for lower loop lodging if Old Faithful Inn is already booked up.

—> Click here for more photos and info on the beautiful Lake Yellowstone Hotel.

Lake Village is cute and provides a good place to gas up or get some snacks.

The beautiful lobby of the Lake Hotel is also nice to walk around and has a gift shop and coffee shop in it.

In front of the hotel is a viewing platform with benches overlooking Yellowstone Lake.

Hayden Valley

hayden valley

The aesthetic of Hayden Valley is more rolling countryside compared to the sprawling plains of the Lamar Valley.

Hayden Valley is often overshadowed by Lamar Valley (which we’ll get to shortly under the Upper Loop section), but I love this drive that connects the Lower Loop to the Upper Loop, with the Yellowstone River on one side and bison roaming the valley all around you.

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Artist Point

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and its famous waterfall seen from the Artist Point viewpoint.
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone seen from Artist Point

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is a massive canyon that was created by erosion from the Yellowstone River.

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone spectacularly slices through the earth in the middle of the park.

The Artist Point lookout trail is one of the most popular ways to view the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone since you’ll also get to see the stunningly gorgeous Yellowstone Falls.

Insider Tip: The parking lot for Artist Point can be crowded with a long line to find a spot during peak visitor months.

The parking lot is a one-way loop, so you don’t need to worry about cars coming in all different directions trying to find a spot. Meaning when it’s finally your turn to find a spot, save yourself some walking time and don’t take the first spot you see if it’s toward the back of the parking lot.

If you drive up closer to the trailhead, you’ll likely find a better spot and if not, you can loop back around, but you’ll need a nice person to let you back into the front of the line! Just hang out the window and say you couldn’t find a spot and need to try again. 🙂

Now onto the Upper Loop…

Of course, there are so many more things to see than just the above attractions along the lower loop of Yellowstone, but with just a day to spend on each Yellowstone loop, you likely won’t have time for much more, especially if doing a hike or two. This means it’s time to discuss the Upper Loop now!

Day 2: What to See Along Yellowstone’s Upper Loop

At first glance, the upper loop of Yellowstone doesn’t seem as if it has as much to see as the lower loop, but it might take you even longer to experience!

 Why? Because you’re going to be driving through the Lamar Valley on this route. And there’s a good chance that means lots of stopping to look at animals.

A mama bear with her baby spotted from the road in Yellowstone's Lamar Valley.
A mama bear with her baby was spotted from the road in the Lamar Valley.

We must have stopped at least five times to watch the bison the last time I drove through Lamar Valley. And there was a traffic jam at one point while a herd of bison crossed the road.

We also had a long stop to watch the activity of a bear and its cub playing on a hillside near the road. (Bring a telephoto camera lens and binoculars!)

Let’s get into more detail now about the Upper Loop’s main things to do and see. 

Lamar Valley

Bison roaming in Yellowstone National Park's Lamar Valley. This is a must-visit on a 2-day trip to Yellowstone even though its off the two main loops.

As you have probably already surmised, this is the prime place to see wildlife! The Lamar Valley features wide, flat plains that are ideal for animal spotting. 

Note on the Lamar Valley: Driving through the Lamar Valley technically takes you off the upper loop at the Roosevelt-Tower junction, but it’s a worthy detour and backtracking won’t be boring since this is where you’ll likely see the most wildlife – definitely lots of bison! If you don’t want to backtrack, plan to enter or leave the park through the Northeast Entrance (only possible when the Beartooth Highway is open).

Mammoth Hot Springs Village

An elk gazing toward Mammoth Village in Yellowstone National Park.
An elk gazing toward Mammoth Village

 This is a fun village to get lunch or ice cream in and walk around a bit. It’s also where you’ll find the popular Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel & Cabins.

You can even see glimpses of its namesake hot springs from the village square. In addition, elk are often walking around and it’s a prime place to see the elk rut in September and early October.

Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces

Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces should be on your 2-day Yellowstone National Park itinerary.
Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces

 You can’t miss walking along the boardwalks surrounding the steaming travertine rock terraces that make up Mammoth Hot Springs. They look otherworldly and will make you feel like you’ve landed on another planet – or, in this case, ascended many stairs. 

There are definitely stairs involved for this natural attraction so be prepared for a thigh workout — but you’ll want to take many breaks anyway to gaze at these mesmerizing hot springs.

Roosevelt Lodge

Relaxing on the rocking chairs at Roosevelt Lodge in Yellowstone National Park, a great stop during a 2-day trip to Yellowstone.
Relaxing on the rocking chairs at Roosevelt Lodge

This is an iconic log lodge with a long front porch lined with rocking chairs guests can enjoy. Inside is a restaurant – reservations are strongly recommended. Down the hill from the lodge is a convenience store where you can get a snack or fill up with gas.

In between the lodge and convenience store are a line of cabins available to say in. Find out more about these cabins here.

Roosevelt Lodge is located at the Tower Junction, which you reach at the western end of the Lamar Valley, making it a good place for a pit stop before continuing on your journey (or to get a snack before entering the Lamar Valley). 

Note on Road Closures in the Park: While we’re talking about roads, always double-check road statuses in Yellowstone National Park before heading into the park. Roads may be closed for construction or because of a late-season snowfall in spring or early snowstorm in fall. Occasionally, roads are closed because of wildlife in the area, too. You may need to make detours or change up your planned route, which is nicer to know you have to do BEFORE you’re actually in Yellowstone National Park!

My Exact 2-Day Yellowstone National Park Itinerary

So from the info above you should be able to put together your perfect 2-day Yellowstone itinerary and see all the top sites without going crazy! 

Keep in mind that during peak season, there is going to be traffic and parking may take a while, so be sure to give yourself plenty of extra time; i.e. don’t get too distracted by all the turn-off points along each loop. 

For example, you may think you have lots of extra time to spend at Yellowstone Lake….until you get to Artist Point and are stuck in line for an hour waiting for a parking spot! (Yes, this happens.)

Now if you’re thinking…

I don’t know what my perfect itinerary is. Can you just tell me exactly what to do during my 2 days in Yellowstone?

Haha, sure! Here’s the route I took this past summer for my 2-day Yellowstone trip.


  • Left Billings early in the morning and headed toward Red Lodge, where we got a breakfast burrito and pastries to go and then connected with the Beartooth Highway.
  • Took the Beartooth Highway to the northeast entrance. Stopped for lunch in Cooke City.
  • Drove through Lamar Valley. Took three hours with several stops for animal viewing.
  • Roosevelt Lodge – Got ice cream from the service station and enjoyed some rocking in the chairs along the famous front porch.
  • Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces: Just walked up to the first viewpoint to see the Mound Terrace. (If you don’t drive the Beartooth Highway, you’ll have more time to explore this area.)
Mound Terrace in Mammoth Hot Springs, one of the must see sites to put on a Yellowstone National Park Itinerary.
Mammoth Hot Springs
  • Drove down to Old Faithful Inn, where we were staying.
  • Checked in, got sandwiches from the café for dinner, and ate them on the second-floor balcony, where we had an excellent view of Old Faithful when it erupted. (Second time seeing it since it also erupted as we were walking up to the entrance from the parking lot!)


  • Backtracked slightly to do the roughly 2-hour roundtrip Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook hike. (I had kids with me and we had to park far away so it might be faster for you!) Tip: If you also want to do the boardwalk hike and you’re staying at Old Faithful Inn, do it on the way to Old Faithful. We skipped this because it was just me with the kids and I was paranoid my preschooler would fall in! 
  • Drove back down south past Old Faithful Inn and made our way to the West Thumb near Grant Village where we had our first views of Yellowstone Lake. Kept driving and stopped at the Lake Lodge for coffee and sandwiches.
Yellowstone Lake overlooks spot in front of the Lake Hotel in Yellowstone National Park.
Yellowstone Lake overlooks spot in front of the Lake Hotel
  • Continued north toward Canyon Village. Shortly before getting there, we pulled off to see Artist Point.
  • Drove to Norris, and debated whether to head to Bozeman (where we were spending the night) through West Yellowstone or Gardiner. Decided Mammoth Hot Springs might have an evening traffic jam and headed to West Yellowstone, then through Big Sky Canyon and onto my sister’s house in Bozeman.
    • Tip: Gardiner is where the famous Roosevelt Arch is. I’ve seen it before and knew we’d see it again, but if this might be your only time going to Yellowstone, drive through that entrance! It’s pretty cool.
Roosevelt Arch by the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park
Roosevelt Arch: This iconic entrance to Yellowstone National Park by Gardiner will be closed for the foreseeable future.

We had such a great time doing the above itinerary! Hope you also have a wonderful two days in Yellowstone National Park!

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