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ULTIMATE 4 Day Yellowstone Itinerary

ULTIMATE 4 Day Yellowstone Itinerary

Are you looking for the ULTIMATE 4 day Yellowstone Itinerary? Then you have come to the right place. In this guide I tell you a practical Yellowstone Itinerary for 4 days in the park including tips for dealing with traffic, weather and more while making sure you see EVERYTHING on your Yellowstone bucket list.  

But before we get into our itinerary for doing Yellowstone in 4 days we thought that first it would be useful to point out some of out top tips for planning a trip to Yellowstone no matter how many days you have in the park.

Tips for Planning Your  Yellowstone Itinerary

Yellowstone in the morning showing road and sunrise.

4 day Yellowstone Itinerary

Best Place to Base yourself for this 4 day Yellowstone Itinerary

Your yellowstone Visit will be influenced greatly by where you decide to base yourself for your trip.

Now Yellowstone, being so large has several entrances with accommodation near to all of them as well as having accommodation, both camping and lodges, inside the park itself.

Now the best place to base yourself for Yellowstone has to be in the park itself at one of the many campgrounds or lodges. However these book up a long time in advance so be prepared to be organised and plan your trip over a year in advance if you want a better chance at staying in the park.

We did a Yellowstone trip last minute and it is possible to do but we did not get in-park lodgings so had to look outside of the park for accommodation. 

The main entrances to Yellowstone are:

Roosevelt Arch Yellowstone - Best Entrance to Yellowstone National Park

Roosevelt Arch Yellowstone – Best Entrance to Yellowstone National Park

  • North – closest town Gardiner, MT
  • Northeast – closest town Cooke City, MT
  • East – closest town Cody, WY
  • South – closest town Jackson, WY
  • West – closest townWest Yellowstone, MT

If you like us don’t plan on or can’t stay inside the park, then we recommending conducting this 4 day Yellowstone Itinerary out of West Yellowstone. 

The West Yellowstone entrance is closest to the park itself so will reduce your driving times in the mornings to get to the main Yellowstone attractions. Also West Yellowstone has more amenities such as shops and restaurants as well as some tourist attractions of its own which we think make it the best place to based be for our 4 day Yellowstone Itinerary. 

Or if you are ok with packing and moving accommodation during your trip then you could spend one night near each of the North, East, South and West entrances which will give you a head start to different Yellowstone attractions. 

For tips on how to secure on -site Yellowstone accommodation or for advice on where to stay near Yellowstone check out this post.

Best Time to do this Yellowstone 4 day itinerary

Yellowstone sign - Planning a Trip to Yellowstone Travel Tips

Yellowstone sign – Planning a Trip to Yellowstone Travel Tips

Also, the time of year will greatly influence what you are able to do in the park in how much time.  

Out Yellowstone Itinerary 4 days edition is based on visiting Yellowstone in summer. Summer has the largest crowds in the park, so you will need to allow extra time to get between sites as we have in the below itineraries but traditionally has the best weather. However by traveling in Summer you will have the best road conditions to complete this 4 day Yellowstone national park itinerary

If you do decide to visit in Winter, the bonus is that there are far less crowds but please not that not all entrances are open year round so this will affect travel time and where you can stay (you can check out this post for more information on which entrances are open).

How to get to Yellowstone

Perhaps one of the biggest decisions you will need to make when visiting Yellowstone National Park is how to get to Yellowstone.

The main ways to get to Yellowstone are as part of a road trip or to fly in. 

One thing that is for certain is that for this Yellowstone Itinerary, and for any visit to Yellowstone in my opinion, is that you will 100% need your own transportation. So  no matter whether you drive or fly, you will need to factor in hiring or driving a car and its associated costs. 

There are actually plenty of airports in the vicinity of Yellowstone National Park, so it will really depend on where you are coming from as yo which airport is best for you. 

For US Visitors, there are plenty of choices of airport including:

  • Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, MT near the North entrance.
  • Cody, WY near the East entrance.
  • Jackson Hole airport, WY near the South entrance.
  • Yellowstone airport, MT near the West entrance – seasonal.
  • Salt Lake City, UT near the South entrance and 
  • Denver, CO near the East entrance. 

If you can pick of any of these I would try and get as close to the park as you can within your budget as this itinerary is for 4 days in Yellowstone and doesn’t allow for travel time to and from the park itself. But it is worth pointing out the smaller airports closer to the park will cost you a premium. 

And if you are an international visitor and don’t want to make a connection then Salt Lake City or Denver are likely to be your best airports. 

When we did this 4 day Yellowstone Itinerary, it was part of a larger Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and South Dakota Road trip so we flew in and and out Denver. 

But whatever airport you choose to fly into you will definitely want to hire a car or RV before you head into the park. 

If you do fly into one of the larger airports then also be sure to check out our other road trip posts for inspiration:

Pack Wisely (including your patience)

If you look on google maps you will see how large Yellowstone National Park really is. While this Yellowstone 4 day itinerary has been designed with a realistic itinerary and time allowances, it is still important to pack your patience and not  underestimate the driving time between sites.

We found that everywhere we went took longer than online estimates. This was largely due to traffic,  roadworks and of course the infamous bison jams!

The below itineraries aim not to over schedule to ensure that you have adequate time in your schedule.

We also advise taking a packed lunch with you for your Yellowstone itinerary. It can be hard to know your exact timings driving through Yellowstone with bison jams and traffic and there are very few places to pick up snacks and lunch (the lodges are your best bet).

Taking your lunch and snacks with you will definitely be more convenient and help make the most of your day. Always make sure you keep your food and drink in a cooler or other sealed container because the grizzly bears can smell a sandwich a mile away. For a full Yellowstone packing list check out this post. 

I would advise filling up on gas everyday before entering the park. You don’t want to get stuck in one of the famous Yellowstone jams with a low tank of gas.

For more Yellowstone Planning Tips check out this post. 

Why do 4 days in Yellowstone?

When people ask us what is the best amount of time for Yellowstone I always say 4 day. This is because in my experience in the park four days  was sufficient to see all of the main Yellowstone sites, without having to rush or stress when we got stuck in Yellowstone traffic – and trust me if you are travelling in summer you will hit traffic in Yellowstone.

If you only do 3 days in Yellowstone chances are you will miss some of the main attractions. But 5 days in my opinion is too long in the park without adding the Grand Tetons into the mix too. 

Yellowstone Self Drive versus Guided Tour

Although there are guided tours of Yellowstone, this itinerary relies on your driving yourself. In my opinion this is the best way to see the park as you can plan your own itinerary, can spend more or less time at stops that you are interested in and is much easier if you are traveling to Yellowstone with kids, toddlers or people with additional needs. 

Difficulties Planning a Yellowstone Itinerary

Yellowstone itineraries are notoriously difficult to plan. That is because your day can be greatly influenced by:

  • Yellowstone crowds
  • Traffic jams
  • Full parking lots
  • Wildlife especially the bison. 

This itinerary therefore does not try to overload your day to day itineraries as you can’t every know how long each stop on the scenic drive or Grand Loop Road is going to take. 

4 Day Yellowstone Itinerary

Bison on road in Yellowstone

4 day Yellowstone National Park itinerary

Note About Itineraries: If you have less than 4 days in Yellowstone then feel free to pick your favorite days out of this itinerary and use this as your Yellowstone planner.

Otherwise be sure to check out our other Yellowstone Itineraries that have more and less time in the park. 

It is also worth pointing out that there are no specific timings on this itinerary because at Yellowstone you are so beholden to traffic. For this reason we have outlined what we think is achievable in Yellowstone in Summer in a day, but it will take everyone slightly differing amounts of time to complete the days based on many factors outside of your control.

Also for all of our days in Yellowstone we recommend you get an early start to try and beat the crowds and the heat. We have also tried where possible to try and prioritise some of Yellowstone’s most popular attractions early in the day to try and reduce the difficulty in finding a parking space. 

Day 1 of our Yellowstone 4 Day Itinerary 

So you have arrived at Yellowstone. We recommend getting up and into the park before sunrise to complete this day as it will maximise your time at attractions and reduce the effects of crowds and heat. 

Just be sure to have breakfast food with you as well as a coffee thermos as it will be a long time before you will be able to grab something in the park. 

To start your first day in the park we recommend heading to one of Yellowstone’s most famous sights – Old Faithful. 

Where to Stay in Yellowstone

The Old Faithful area is one of the busiest in the park which is why we recommend starting your day here.

But before heading off be sure to check out the estimated eruption times for your day of travel (You can check them online here!). This website has the most up to date information. I would check them before you set off just in case you struggle for mobile phone signal in the park.

Contrary to popular belief, Old Faithful isn’t exactly faithful. It doesn’t erupt on the hour every hour as urban myth would suggest. Instead Old Faithful erupts roughly every hour and twenty minutes – with a plus or minus of ten minutes either way.

It is worth arriving with some time to spare at Old Faithful so you can get yourself a good spot on the Old Faithful Observation Deck.

If you forget to check the website the best place to find timings is in the on-site lodges in particular the Old faithful Inn. This is because all the lodges have signs with up to date geyser eruption timings.

If you manage to just miss an eruption don’t fear. There are plenty of things to do in the Old Faithful area to keep you occupied while you wait for the next eruption.

You could nip inside the Old Faithful Lodge to buy souvenirs and grab a coffee at the coffee or alternatively (and best in my opinion) is to explore the rest of the Upper Geyser Basin.

There are other geysers in this area other than Old Faithful – notable the Beehive Geyser. These eruptions are quite irregular but it is worth the walk to see it in case you get lucky. 

You can find out more about other geysers in Yellowstone that you might want to explore here.

Once you have finished at Old Faithful, drive east towards the West Thumb Geyser Basin.

 This is a great place to stop as there are two small trails that take in the impressive and expansive Yellowstone lake.

There is an inner trail is only 1/4 mile while the outer boardwalk trail is 1/2 mile. So even for those short on time there are some trailheads that are possible.

Other things that you will see at this stop are:

  • Thumb Paint Pots

When you have finished here your next stop is Lake Yellowstone!

Woman and toddler at Yellowstone Lake

4 day Yellowstone itinerary

There are some amenities here and places where you can pick up snacks if required. And Yellowstone lake is also impressive in itself , and this is a great way to view the lake.

The next stop on your trip is perhaps one of my favourites in Yellowstone – the beautiful Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. 

Woman and Child at Grand Canyon of Yellowstone Observation Deck

Yellowstone Itinerary 4 day

The drive between Lake and The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone passes through the Hayden Valley

. This is one of the best places to spot wildlife in all of Yellowstone, however as you will not be there during early morning and evening sightings of the more rare animals can not be guaranteed. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled as you drive through. But don’t worry, we will be coming back here at a better wildlife viewing time!

Top Tip: If you see cars stopped be sure to stop too as it is likely that there has been a sighting. But please don’t be the person that causes a traffic jam by blocking a road. 

As you only have limited time at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone I recommend heading straight to Artists Point Observation Deck! This is a short walk from the car park and offers some of the best views of the Canyon and waterfall.

After the Canyon head to Norris Geyser Basin.  This is one of the most thermal areas in all of Yellowstone. If time allows then try the Porcelain Basin Walk.

Your final stop of the day is the iconic Grand Prismatic Springs. We have put this as the last item on your itinerary as this is something that is best done in the afternoon.

The reason for this is because of the the orientation of this loop drive but also because in the afternoon there is less steam at the Grand Prismatic Spring which means you have a better shot and view of the colours in the lake.

Grand Prismatic Spring

4 day Yellowstone itinerary

The colors of the Grand Prismatic Lake can not be fully appreciated from the Boardwalk however. To get the east view of them you will need to head to higher ground. The best way of doing this is to climb the Fairy Falls Trail. This is where all of those iconic shots of the Springs are usually taken and where you should end your day. 

Day 2 of 4 day Yellowstone Itinerary

So in the One Day Itinerary we covered most of the main sites so you could tick off your Yellowstone Bucket List.

However, you really didn’t get chance to experience each of these places in depth. For the second day of this 4 day Yellowstone  itinerary we are going to cover much of the same ground but in a lot more depth so you can escape the crowds and have a much more unique experience.

Today your day will start at the Hayden Valley.

Hayden Valley in Yellowstone with elk on the road

4 days in Yellowstone itinerary

We recommend heading to the Hayden Valley first thing in the morning i.e. for sunrise. The reason for this is that Hayden Valley is one of the best places to view wildlife in the park. And wildlife in Yellowstone is easier to spot at sunrise and sunset.

Hayden Valley is one of the two main wildlife spotting areas in Yellowstone and you can potentially see:

  • bison,
  • water birds,
  • bears and
  • sometimes even wolves.

Once you have finished at Hayden Valley loop back on your self slightly to spend some time on Lake Yellowstone! You could even hire a kayak and spend some time on the actual lake and then head to the Mud Volcano. 

Now is probably a good time for lunch before heading off on some trailheads in the afternoon around the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. 

You have several options for hikes this afternoon depending on your ability and time available. But hikes in this area are:

  • Uncle Toms Point – more difficult trail
  • South Rim Trail
  • North Rim Trail

Please check online to make sure all trailheads are open as there has been a lot of construction in this area and sometimes trailheads can close in bad weather. 

Other trailheads for more accomplished hikers with no health issues are:

  • Red Rock Points Trail
  • Brink of the Lower Falls Trail

However we did not attempt these as we traveled to Yellowstone with a toddler. 

Note: if you plan on hiking, especially if you plan to go off the major trailheads then be sure to check the Yellowstone situation report. This website will give you the most up to date information regarding bear sightings and activities, trail closures, snowfall and water levels amongst other things.

Again we recommend checking this before you head into the park in case you struggle for signal in the park.  

Day 3 of this Yellowstone 4 day itinerary 

As with yesterday your first stop of the day has to be an early one. That is because you are heading out to spot more wildlife but this time in the Lamar Valley.

Note: to drive here from West Yellowstone you will head past the Dunraven Pass. There is a trail up to Mount Washburn but in there is not enough time in this itinerary to complete this hike. However if you have longer you will have enough time to do the trail but will require the proper equipment and be of a suitable ability.

Mother and child in Lamar Valley Yellowstone National Park watching bison

Yellowstone 4 day itinerary

The aim is to get to the Lamar Valley for the sun up. This is a great time to see wildlife and the Valley is one of the best spots in the park to see them.

The Lamar Valley I read has been known as the Serengeti of Yellowstone and it is easy to see why when you overlook the plain and river.

The Lamar Valley is actually the best place in the park to see wolves (you can see them in the Hayden Valley but the sightings are a lot less common).

Wolf in long grass in Yellowstone National Park

4 day Yellowstone itinerary

Bears are also known to frequent the area along with bald eagles, bison, deer and other more commonly spotted Yellowstone animals.

If you have time and inclination on this drive you could also stop at the Petrified Tree.

I’m going to be honest though, there isn’t much to see here bar this one fossil! If you like fossils and the Yellowstone traffic gods have been on your side then by all means stop but don’t worry too much if you don’t have time.

The next stop of the day is the Mammoth Hot Springs. Mammoth Hot Springs is a large complex of hot springs on a hill of Travertine. There is a great boardwalk walk around the hot springs.

However this is one of the most popular places to visit in Yellowstone. And of all the places in Yellowstone that we did as part of this itinerary, the Mammoth Hot Springs was the place that we had most difficulty parking at. 

Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone

4 days in Yellowstone itinerary

Once you have finished at Mammoth Hot Springs, head to the Boiling River, a once hidden gem in Yellowstone but becoming increasingly popular. When we were there the River was actually heaving with people.

The main attraction of going to Boiling River is to go swimming. The bathing area is about half a mile walk from the park lot and there are a small amount of toilet facilities on site.

The area where swimming is permitted is clearly signposted and you should not deviate from this area for your own safety.  Be sure to follow all safety guidelines for using the river.

Also if you are travelling with little children be sure to check the water temperature and keep them near the banks of the river. 

Note: Watershoes are advisable if you plan on getting into the river. 

Yellowstone Itinerary Day 4  – Beartooth Highway

Bend on the beartooth highway

Yellowstone itinerary 4 day

If you have four days in Yellowstone, this is your chance to get off the beaten track and do some more extreme hikes for instance.

Some ideas of what you could do on Day 4 of your Yellowstone visit

  • Dunraven pass and the Mount Washburn hike. Proper precautions should be taken and bear bells etc would be required
  • Drive the Beartooth Highway to an elevation 11,000 above sea level
  • Leave Yellowstone to explore the neighbouring Grand Teton National Park

We chose to spend our fourth day driving the Beartooth Highway.  You can drive this highway if you plan on heading out to South Dakota as part of your trip as the Beartooth highway is next to the Cooke City entrance. The bear tooth highway connects Yellowstone to the ski town of Red Lodge Montana.

This is consistently named as one of the most beautiful drives in America. The drive reaches an elevation of 11,ooo feet and is absolutely spectacular with its switchbacks, glacier lakes and the chipmunks! As this leaves and enters via the Lamar Valley this is also another opportunity to do some great wildlife spotting

I should mention at this point though that the Beartooth Highway is an unpredictable road. Even in summer it can experience ice and snow and can close unexpectedly.

Before setting off on your journey  be sure to check that the pass is fully open, especially if you are using this to drive into the park. If you get to the Highway and it is shut you have a long way to go to detour into the park

Also, the switchbacks in this drive can be quite severe and at altitude so if you are a nervous driver this might not be the itinerary option for you! 

Please also note the elevation of Beartooth Highway is over 3000 metres! So if you are asthmatic etc you might not enjoy spending time at the top.

Yellowstone Activities and Excursions

As we were travelling with our two year we opted to do our Yellowstone trip completely solo. However if you have more time, older children etc then you make want to take in a specific Yellowstone activity or excursion on the final day our trip. 

Some of the best excursions available in Yellowstone include:

Essential Yellowstone Information

Grand Prismatic Lake at Yellowstone

Grand Prismatic Lake at Yellowstone

Yellowstone Address 

Address: PO Box 168, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190
Website: nps.gov/yell
Phone: (307) 344-7381

Park Hours: All day, every day
Entrance Fee: US$ 35 Vehicle unless you have a national America the beautiful pass. 

Entrance Information

If you are following the itinerary in summer hopefully all facilities, roads and amenities will be open. Did you know that July and August are really the only months you can experience this?

We actually had snow in August a few days prior to our driving of the Beartooth Pass so please be sure to check all entrance opening on the Yellowstone website before going.

You can enter the park at any time during the summer months.

Entrance fees for a vehicle for a one week pass is 35USD.

If you are planning on visiting more than one Park in a year period you might be better buying the annual pass which if you go more than twice will give you savings.

Safety

Yellowstone although fabulous is wild terrain. Wild animals, geysers and hot springs deserve your respect. Please follow all safety precautions, stick to boardwalks and maintain appropriate distances from animals and geothermal activity.

Weather

Weather during the summer in Yellowstone can vary wildly. On the same day I was wearing my thickest jacket and hoodie in the morning and by afternoon in a tshirt and shorts so you need to be prepared for all weather

Fun Fact: It can snow any month of the year in Yellowstone – in fact the day before we drove the Beartooth Pass it was closed with snow in Summer.

What Other National Parks Are Nearby Yellowstone

  • Grand Teton National Park – reachable via the South Entrance. If you want to do two parks in one trip then this is definitely the one to go for. 
  • Craters of the Moon State National Monument – 3 hours from West Yellowstone. We had intended this as our next stop on our road trip but a bout of illness meant we stayed in Idaho Falls
  • Also Mount Rushmore and Badlands are popular additions to road trips in this area but require a day of driving to get between the two locations. 

Further Yellowstone National Park Reading

So have you been to Yellowstone? What Yellowstone itinerary did you follow? We would love to hear what you did? 

Sandy Averett

Monday 3rd of February 2020

We are coming from salt lake area I booked 5 nights at koa in west Yellowstone but I really want to see the Tetons should we go the first or last? Do you plan out vacations lol I’m so overwhelmed

Lisa

Wednesday 7th of August 2019

Thank you for all the info, we will be there in September and can't wait

Jenni

Saturday 4th of May 2019

This is awesome! Would love to visit the US national parks!

Catherine’s Cultural Wednesdays

Saturday 4th of May 2019

I really really want to go to Yellowstone, even more so now!

Wandermust Mummy

Saturday 4th of May 2019

It’s fab you would love Catherine