Treading Lightly
Treading Lightly

One Day in Yellowstone National Park

We spent a whirlwind day in Yellowstone on our trip to Wyoming this summer. While that’s really not a lot of time, especially when you sit down in front of a guidebook or map about Yellowstone and factor in drive time to and from the park, we got to see just about everything we wanted to.

What to see if you only have one day in Yellowstone National Park

Since we were staying just outside of Teton National Park, we entered Yellowstone through Teton via the south entrance. The drive there was gorgeous, and well worth the time in the car.

1. Old Faithful

We somehow missed the signs (there had to be signs… right?) for West Thumb – our intended first stop. Instead we ended up going to see Old Faithful first.

I had heard mixed reviews about the geyser, but I really couldn’t imagine going to Yellowstone and not seeing it.

One Day in Yellowstone National Park – Old Faithful

I felt like a brat – Old Faithful did not live up to my expectations. You only see pictures or short video clips of it shooting into the air with force and stamina. In real life it spent maybe 10 seconds at its full height and the rest of the time half as high if that. It also took forever to get enough steam. There were a lot of false starts and disappointments. It didn’t help that we were parking during an eruption and thus had to wait 90 minutes or so to see it.

2. Area around Old Faithful

While we waited to see the geyser, we walked around the pools and crazy landscape around it.

One Day in Yellowstone National Park – Boiling Thermal Pool

The experience was surreal, and way better than Old Faithful if you ask me.  I’ve never seen a landscape like it. The pools of boiling water were like something out of a dark-magic movie.

One Day in Yellowstone National Park

3. Gibbon Falls

We just happened to pull over because the area looked beautiful and there was a turnout. I’m so glad we didn’t miss these falls. They aren’t the most impressive of the (many) falls in the park, but they were a nice little stretch break and a great view.

One Day in Yellowstone National Park – Gibbon Falls

If you visit, you’ll likely be just as impressed looking at the valley below the falls.

4. Canyon Village Upper and Lower Falls

I was impressed from the lookout at the top. I was even more impressed from halfway down the cliffside.

One Day in Yellowstone National Park – Lower Falls

We took Uncle Tom’s Trail down to the lookout along the canyon. The trail featured many flights of stairs after zig zagging a bit on a regular trail. (We also saw a deer who could not care less that we were all standing there. S/he really held up traffic while lazily eating in the middle of the path.)

The stairs were a bit frightening. I’m not huge on heights, and I particularly didn’t like that you could see straight down into the depth of the canyon below through the metal stairs. They were also wobbly in places or had (small) holes in others. The stairs cling to the side of the canyon in a not so comforting fashion, and they had a tendency to move a bit as people waked on them. Add in the huffing and puffing from climbing stairs at elevation, and I was thankful to get back on solid ground.

Despite the scare, they are 100 percent worth the views at the bottom (and along the way if you aren’t freaking out and staring at the hand rail calculating if it will really save you). Bonus, you get in a good workout before hopping back in the car.

5. Yellowstone Lake

To be fair, we just drove around the edge of it on our way home, but this expansive lake was incredible. It’s the largest high elevation lake in North America. With 141 miles of shoreline, it felt like it went forever. It blew my mind that the lake is frozen for nearly half the year. I can’t imagine what it takes to freeze a lake that’s roughly 20 miles long and 14 miles wide.

I’ve spent my fair share of time around Lake Tahoe, and this lake didn’t stop impressing me. It went on for miles and miles. Stunning.

So much more

There is plenty more to see, but if you only have one day in the Yellowstone National Park, this southern loop will give you a good start. There are plenty of places to pull over along it to see jaw-dropping views and wildlife (between the two parks we saw bison, elk, a wolf, lots of adorable chipmunks, squirrels, unidentified birds, and cute dogs traveling with humans). We got to the park a little before lunch and left around five or so.

One Day Yellowstone National Park

One Day Yellowstone National Park – Chipmunk

After a day of exploring (and what does start to feel like too long in the car), we were spent.

Helpful Tips

There are water bottle filling stations at just about every tourist information station.

The food sold at Old Faithful did not look appealing – I’m very thankful I brought my own lunch.

We stayed with other people in well-populated areas and didn’t have to worry about bears. If you do want to hike around and have a little more space to yourself, it’s a good idea to bring bear spray and take the snacks out of your bag.

2 Responses

  1. Yifan says:

    Love getting a glimpse into your travel adventures! One of my favorites at Yellowstone was Grand Prismatic Spring. You can hike up and get a bird’s eye view…it’s breathtaking. Really puts me in awe of how beautiful our planet is!

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