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Heading to Yellowstone, but short on time? Planning a three-day trip or stop over to Yellowstone may seem just about impossible. (The massive park covers 3,468 square miles and the whole top left corner of Wyoming.) It would be easy to spend a week or even a month exploring this expansive natural wonderland. However, with a little planning you can see all the best the park has to offer in just three days, here’s how:

ALSO: Take our National Parks quiz!

A good way to approach the park is to break it up into two major parts, the Upper Loop and the Lower Loop. The roads in the park form two very large circular tracks that meet in the middle to form a rough looking shape of a figure ‘8’. The northern section of road most call the Upper Loop which is 142 miles (229 km) long and has spectacular waterfalls, otherworldly hot springs, and some great viewpoints.

 

The Lower Loop comes in slightly shorter in length at 96 miles (155 km) and is where visitors can find one of the country’s best know natural attractions, Old Faithful. Along thesouthern roads, you’ll find more than just that famous attraction. The Lower Loop is jam packed with geysers on the western half of the park and the huge Yellowstone Lake covers most of the southeast.

Both of these loops were designed to bring you to all of the best things in Yellowstone, but are each a little too long to cover in one day. The best way make the most of three days in Yellowstone is to do about 75% of one loop each of the first two days and leave your last day to fill in the rest.

Day 1: Upper Loop – Noris to Canyon Village

Start your visit to Yellowstone by driving the Upper Loop, which is the longer of the two loops. The Upper Loop is a bit more spread out with more driving between stops, with most of the highlights located inthe ‘corners.’

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The beautiful multi-teared Mammoth Hot Springs – Photo by GettingStamped.com

The headliner attraction in the north is the Mammoth Hot Springs. Hot mineral-rich water has been bubbling up over thousands of years to form what look like frozen miniature waterfalls. The Mammoth Hot Springs are more than just a single set of hot springs, but a large geothermal site with many features. You could spend the better part of a morning wandering the trails around the upper and lower terraces. Be sure to drive the loop road around the terraces to see them all.

RELATED: Celebrate 100 years of the National Park service!

Back on the Upper Loop road, the next major highlight is Tower Falls. Due to trail restoration, the falls can only be seen from just outside the car park. For those who want to see as much as they can in a day, this can be a short stop for a couple of snaps from the viewing platform. However, there’s a nice hike leading down to the river that’s worth the extra steps if you are doing well on time. When planning your route around the park, be sure to build in some time for a traffic jam of the natural sort. It’s quite common for bison and other animals to be crossing, and even just hanging out, on the roads of Yellowstone.

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A fiery sunset along the banks of the Madison River – Photo by GettingStamped.com

Be sure to grab a copy of the park map from the ranger station on the way in. The maps mark all of the points of interest along the side of the road. In addition to the big highlights, there are plenty of other pull offs along the Upper Loop road. Some are more interesting than others. For a less visited natural oddity, hop out of the car at Sheepeaters Cliff. No matter which pull-offs catch your eye, leave time at the end of the day to watch the sun sink behind the mountains in Yellowstone.

Day 2 : Lower Loop – From Old Faithful to Grand View

Wake up early on day two in Yellowstone and head to the park’s top attraction, Old Faithful. If you can stand an early alarm clock you’ll have this natural wonder nearly all to yourself. Yellowstone is one of the top five busiest National Parks in the country with around 3.5 million visitors per year, and they all want to see Old Faithful. Get there early in the morning and you can have her almost all to yourself.

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Peaceful Old Faithful at sunrise – Photo by GettingStamped.com

The only downside to visiting Old Faithful early in the morning is that the eruption predictions are less accurate. The rangers during the day can let you knowwithin about 10 minutes of accuracy when she is going to blow, but they don’t watch it over night. You can even follow Old Faithful on twitter @GeyserNPS to get the eruption predictions via tweet. However, cell reception in the park is hard to come by and is best near the park villages.

After watching Old Faithful do what she does best, continue southward along the Lower Loop. This section of park road is packed with amazing things to see and it could be your busiest day in the park. The eastern stretch of the Lower Loop brings you along the winding shores of the lake with plenty of good stopping places. You’re doing well on time if you have made it all the way around the lake by lunch time. If schedule permits, take the short drive down the east entrance road bringing you to the Lake Butte lookout point which has great views.

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The grandest view from the Grandview lookout point – Photo by GettingStamped.com

After the lake, the road bends northward to the next major highlight in the south, Grandview along with upper and lower falls. As the name indicates, Grandview is one of, if not the best lookout points in the entire park. Grandview gives clear views of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Though smaller than the actual Grand Canyon in Arizona, it’s impressive nevertheless. Allow a few hours to hike its trails and inhale the views. For sunset lovers, Grandview is a great place to watch the sun go down and take some great photos of the canyon.

Day 3: Lower Loop – Norris to Old Faithful

The western leg of the Lower Loop was left out of day two’s itinerary while rushing to see Old Faithful early in the morning. This portion of the Lower Loop is packed with geothermal delights. Heading south from the Norris Junction, the first natural wonder you’ll hit is the dreamy Artist Paintpots.

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The steaming Artist Paintpots from above – Photo by GettingStamped.com

Once you see them you’ll know why they are called the paintpots. Vibrant colored pools of water fill this basin and they look like an artist swirled a watercolor brush into the ponds. Just a short .75 mile hike from the car park brings you to the small basinfilled with the paintpots. Be sure to hikethe trails that offer views of the pots from higher ground; the colors look the best when viewed from above.

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Fire Hole Falls is one of the park’s best hidden gems – Photo by GettingStamped.com

After having your fill of colorful ponds, drive toward, then past Madison Junction where there’s a small one-way road along Fire Hole Canyon that brings you along a steep canyon with a fast running river below. Near the end of the drive lies a picturesque medium-sized waterfall. If you are feeling adventurous you can hike down the loose rocky path for some amazing pictures.

The last leg of Yellowstone yet to explore is the stretch between Madison Junction and Old Faithful. This portion of the park holds the highest concentration of geysers and could take several hours to explore. Some of the most popular geothermal highlights are the Midway Geyser Basin, Lone Star Geyser and a number of others nearby. Since you are right there, you may want to sneak another peek at Old Faithful! Finishing on this side of the park also works well if you plan to continue to Grand Tetons National Park, which is just a few miles south of Yellowstone.

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Hannah & Adam | Getting Stamped Bloggers
Hannah & Adam are travel writers & photographers who have called the road home since 2013. Their passion for adventurous travel has brought them to 60 countries and counting. They blog about their adventures on their travel blog GettingStamped.com.
Hannah & Adam | Getting Stamped Bloggers

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