Summary: Yellowstone National Park, from the South Entrance, brought us way more excitement than anticipated. Sure, we knew the Park is famous for its wildlife, but we were still surprised to see so many animals, including a Grizzly bear with her baby cubs. Driving a loop through the Park, we stopped at Old Faithful Geyser, Grand Prismatic Spring, and Yellowstone Falls, and then ended the day driving through Hayden Valley. As this is a ton of driving in one day, we recommend breaking up the day with shorts hikes at each stop.
What Gear You Should Bring. We packed sandwiches, a ton of snacks and lots of water so we wouldn't be caught trying to find a place to eat in this large Park. We also brought layers to accommodate the changing temperatures, rain jackets, and ponchos, though we were lucky to avoid any rain on our June trip. Sun screen, a hat, and a good pair hiking shoes is preferred since the terrain is often without shade and rocky.
Driving Route. Our first day in Yellowstone involved a loop that began and ended in Jackson. This is a long day in the car but with the stops we made, which included four short hikes, it was not so bad. The Park is so big that hours on the road are somewhat inevitable.
From Jackson, we drove through Grand Teton National Park to the South Entrance of Yellowstone via Hwy 191. Our first stop was at Old Faithful Geyer. Next we continued up Hwy 191 and made two stops at Grand Prismatic Spring. The first was at the Fairway Falls parking lot to view the Spring from the overlook trail and the next was at the Grand Prismatic Spring itself. After that we cut over on Hwy 89 to Norris Canyon Road to Upper Falls of Yellowstone. Next, we drove through Hayden Valley via Grand Loop Road. Finally, we drove back to Jackson via Hwy 20 then Hwy 191.
Note: We stayed in Victor, Idaho instead of Jackson to save money on lodging. This added 30 minutes to the drive from Jackson. For us, it was just fine and worth the cost savings.
Heading out. We left our Air BnB at 6:00 a.m. hoping to arrive at Old Faithful before the crowds. The early start also allowed us to capture some great morning shots of the Tetons as we passed through.
First Stop - Old Faithful Geyser. This famous Geyser erupts every 90 minutes. We arrived with roughly 45 minutes to go until the next eruption. We used this time to grab a snack, use the facilities, and then hike up to the top of Observation Point Trail. The trail is just 1.5 miles roundtrip but does have a bit of a climb (260 feet on one short stretch). This location avoided the crowds and also gave a unique vantage point above the Geyser (also especially helpful if you are vertically challenged like this author). We think this is the best place to view Old Faithful.
Afterwards, we spent about an hour walking through the springs and smaller geysers in the immediate area. There are wooden walkways you can meander through, taking photos of the individually named springs. Truthfully, we had no idea that this area had so many! To read more about the Park's hydrothermal features, visit the National Park Service page here.
Next Stop - Grand Prismatic Spring. Here, we made two stops. First, we stopped at the Fairy Falls Parking Lot. There is a longer hike you can do here, but we opted to hike to the Grand Prismatic Overlook instead. This is roughly 1.2 miles, out and back, depending on where you park. From the top of the Overlook, you will get your best view of the Grand Prismatic Spring, especially if you visit on a colder day when the steam coming off the Spring can block the view when you are up close. Next, we drove down the street to the Grand Prismatic Spring. This 1.2 mile route is largely on wooden walkways that take up close to these large springs. This area was quite busy with people when we arrived but it was still worth the stop. The Springs are beautiful, unique, and shouldn't be missed.
Next Stop - Upper Yellowstone Falls. The drive from Grand Prismatic Spring to Upper Yellowstone Falls is about an hour in length. It was in this stretch that we began to see some fantastic wildlife. At one point, the road was covered in a large herd of Bison, with adorable babies following along.
Upper Yellowstone Falls. Here, we hiked on the North Rim Trail. The total route is approximately 4 miles though we cut it short for good reason - bears! A portion of the trail was closed due to black bears hanging out on the trail.
Grizzly and her baby. In the end, it worked out though because upon returning to our car early, we headed to Hayden Valley via Grand Loop Trail, and not 5 minutes down the road, we encountered a mama Grizzly bear with her cub.
Hayden Valley. This stretch of Yellowstone is notoriously a great spot to catch wildlife and it did not disappoint. Here we saw Bison, elk, geese and other species of birds.
Gas Refill. After driving through Hayden Valley, there is a service station to re-fill your tank near the intersection of Hwy 14 and Hwy 20 (Grand Loop Road). Cross Fishing Bridge and the service station will be right there on your left.
Drive Back to Jackson, then AirBnB: In Jackson, we were ready for dinner but unfortunately, the entire town was completed booked solid. We tried several places, all of which had 2+ hour wait times. Reservations were not available at the places we checked so planning ahead would not have helped either. Unfortunately, we do not have any good tips here. In the end, we stopped at the grocery store and made dinner back at our lovely Air BnB instead. After a long day in the car though, it was just fine to relax back at our beautiful lodging.