How to do Yellowstone National Park in One Day like a Pro

How to do Yellowstone National Park in One Day like a Pro

Words + Photos by Liam Cremins

In a perfect world, we’d all have an infinite number of vacation days to explore our national parks and public lands— but we don’t! Because of work, school, and other responsibilities, sometimes we need to make compromises when exploring these wild places. Wild Tribute ambassador Liam Cremins is always on the move, and knows how to pack a lot in a small amount of time. Below he shares how to explore Yellowstone in one day, like a pro. 

My first suggestion is to plan ahead. Yes— always make sure you have the proper gear with you like food, water, and layers. But if you’re crunched for time, decide what you want to see, and map out your route. This will save time during the day, and maximize the sights you get the chance to view. 

Camping

I chose a dispersed campsite outside Fort Yellowstone on the park's north end. This way I would be close by for my early start. There are a handful of nearby lodges, and Yellowstone National Park also offer 12 campgrounds. Camp as close as you can get! 

Get Up Early

I woke up at 4am with the hope of seeing more than just an awe-inspiring sunrise. Lamar Valley is a spot known for its wildlife including grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, bison, elk, deer, and many others. This is a great way to incorporate an activity over your morning drive.  

Spotting Wildlife over Breakfast

Wildlife is most active at dawn and dusk. Oftentimes in a park, you might see a car (or 10) pulled over on the side of the road, and all you need to do is stick your head out of the car window and ask what everyone is looking at.

That said, keeping your eyes peeled is always the move. I saw a group of small dots moving on a hill across the valley as the sun was beginning to shed light on the valley, while not yet fully risen. No one else had pulled over, but I thought what the heck; pulled over and grabbed my binoculars, (don't forget to bring these, a spotting scope, camera, or spyglass) peering at the dots, I now recognized four grizzly bears wandering around across the valley, turning over logs looking for breakfast. I couldn’t believe it, I just spotted four grizzly bears! 

After a short while, I decided to move on to a spot where, the night before, I had heard about a lone wolf. A few miles down the road I pulled off again with no one else around. I made coffee and started eating breakfast when I saw a shadow dart across the valley before me. I grabbed my binoculars and didn't even need them to know I had found the lone black wolf I had heard about.  

I sat in my cozy camp chair enjoying coffee and breakfast while watching the wolf run around in the valley for over an hour. The sun continued to rise and people joined me and left, while the landscape changed from a soft glow to daylight. I let a girl borrow my binoculars and pointed out where the wolf was to her—I could feel the camaraderie that nature was lending to us. Knowing I had a full day ahead of me, I reluctantly decided to move on. 

 

Old Faithful

I came to Blacktail Plateau Drive, a dirt road that loops back to the main road. I decided to take it and enjoyed the scenery without seeing another vehicle— often a rare occurrence in Yellowstone. 

Back on Grand Loop road, I made my way past a heard of bison towards mammoth hot springs which I eventually passed, and continued on Grand Loop Road to Old Faithful.

On its own, the Old Faithful parking lot can be overwhelming. If you seek to avoid crowds and still view the eruption, head to Observation Point Trailhead. It is 1.5 miles to the observation point with 250 feet of elevation, and when I arrived it was completely empty. I watched Old Faithful move through its beautiful, timeless eruption, and took the Observation Point Trail back to the main boardwalk, passing a few smaller geysers along the way.  

 

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Next up was the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Best viewed from Artists Point, I followed the path, around a five mile loop, back to the parking lot. Talk to a ranger to find a trail best suited to your timeframe, skills, and abilities. It’s always important to come prepared for hikes. 

Yellowstone Lake

From there I left for Yellowstone Lake and pulled over to view the beautiful water from the side of the road. There are a handful of picnic areas along the side of the picturesque lake, a ranger station, and a lodge as well. If you have a little more time, you can even take a kayak out onto the water, and soak up the views surrounding you.

All in All

This action-packed day was beyond my expectations, and rather easy to do if you don't mind getting up early. My main suggestion is to plan ahead. The grizzly bears, lone wolf, and incredible views made the lack of sleep worth it for me. 

 

Liam is an avid outdoorsman who grew up in the Smokies, and moved to Colorado in 2010. His favorite activities are backpacking, bouldering, and helping people who are inexperienced in outdoors enjoy it as much as he does. 

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