A 2-Day Yellowstone itinerary doesn’t seem like anywhere near enough time to see the 10,000 hot spots nor catch a glimpse of one of the 600 grizzlies in residence here. But when you only have limited time, two days in Yellowstone might be all you’ve got.
Yellowstone National Park is one of the world’s oldest National Parks, and one of the most popular, as evidenced by the line of cars waiting to get in on any given morning. So, why would you choose to visit Yellowstone if you only have a couple of days to do so?
Why Visit Yellowstone National Park?
Because it’s beautiful! Not only that, Yellowstone National Park is home to hundreds, if not thousands of species of animals, some rarely seen elsewhere. With around 1,000 miles of hiking terrain included in almost 50 trails, and Yellowstone’s diversity of natural wealth such as its hydrothermal features, wildlife, vegetation, lakes, and geologic wonders like the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, vacation or not, people or not, Yellowstone is a must-stop-and-see-site, not a drive-thru site.
DAY 1 – OLD FAITHFUL
Getting to Yellowstone
We drove into Yellowstone’s East Entrance on a Sunday afternoon. Coming from Ten Sleep, Wyoming, and the Bighorns that morning, it was less than six hours to get to our destination of Old Faithful, a must see on any Yellowstone itinerary.
We had made the decision the night before while sipping on some craft brews at Ten Sleep Brewing (they offer camping, too), to drive all day, hike all afternoon, and enjoy a beer with friends in the evening.
Entering in from the east, you’ll go through Cody, Wyoming, and from there, while it doesn’t take long to enter the park itself, it is still about 3.5 hours to get to Old Faithful. We never ran into traffic entering the park. We’d like to believe that is because it was just after noon when we entered the park, and everyone was already there. There was definitely proof of that when we pulled into Old Faithful’s parking lot around 3:30 that afternoon. I don’t think we have ever seen so many RV America RVs in one place. It was almost as though it was their sales floor.
But beware, traffic is more the norm here than not. Be patient, you may have seen bison, bears, and elk before, but so many have not. So when there is any spotting of any wildlife, people stop. They are in awe. Can you blame them? I still get the chills when I see a deer. So, don your Sunday afternoon drive attitude and enjoy the view while stuck in traffic. Because odds are, you will be.
Old Faithful and Her Neighboring Geysers
At any rate, there was still space enough for parking RAIF (our RV), and plenty of daylight time to “hike” the geysers. Why in quotes? Because my version of hiking is definitely not the boardwalks and paved paths around all the geysers near Old Faithful. I’d call it walking in nature.
Put on some comfortable shoes – Chacos are fine, in my opinion – grab a jacket if needed, and put some water in your backpack. Yes, bring a backpack. While you may not be going on a full-fledged hike, you will be walking for at least two hours, and water is always nice. Plus, you are at altitude, so you need to drink more water. And don’t forget the sunscreen.
Yes, head towards Old Faithful, but unless you have some sort of idea when she might erupt, I don’t suggest waiting there for too long. She’s a beaut, Clark, but there is so much to see, including many more geysers that also erupt. So unless you have unlimited amounts of time (really, you do?), soak in her glory, but then get a move on. It really doesn’t matter which way you go, just go. Don’t rush, just don’t put all your eggs in one basket with Old Faithful.
We spent a couple of hours wandering the geysers; you could definitely spend more time than that, but we had friends to meet and beer to drink and only two days to experience all that Yellowstone has to offer.
Camping In and Around Yellowstone
Ok, so most of you won’t know the camp store workers, so you won’t be able to crash at the employee camping spot, like we were lucky enough to do that night, but there are plenty of campgrounds within Yellowstone, some with RV hookups, most without. There are also plenty of campgrounds, including free camping just outside of Yellowstone, places like West Fork Denny Creek, for example. This is a great little spot to embark on a 2 day itinerary from the west entrance to Yellowstone.
The West Fork Denny Creek area is eight miles from the town of West Yellowstone. It’s a small, yet gorgeous boondocking spot right next to a babbling brook, surrounded by aspens. Better yet, for those of us that have to work while on the road, there’s enough of a cell signal to do so here. Unlike the pull-your-hair-out, almost non existent service in Yellowstone proper.
Plus, it’s not a bad spot to hit up Lamar Valley to start off the second day of your Yellowstone itinerary.
Whether you’re camping at the employee lot near Old Faithful or amongst the aspens in West Fork Denny Creek or any of the other campgrounds, at the end of your first night, we hope you enjoy your evening. So crack open a beer around a crackling fire and sit back and relax. Because day two at Yellowstone awaits.
What beers did we drink, you ask?
Oh, several, but I recall a few:
- Blacktooth Brewing’s Hazy IPA and Copper Mule – Sheridan, WY
- Red Lodge Ales’ Czech Pilsner – Red Lodge, MT
- Bayern Brewing’s Dragon’s Breath Dark Wheat – Missoula, MT
Speaking of crackling fires, we’ve got some expert tips in the video below on how to easily start your next campfire.
DAY 2 – LAMAR VALLEY
Getting to Lamar Valley in Yellowstone
Lamar Valley is located in the north central/northeast portion of Yellowstone. Known for its scarce population of tourists, Lamar Valley is one of the rare places in Yellowstone where your chances of seeing more wildlife than people is pretty high. Wolves, included. And to get the true experience of Lamar Valley – and the best chance to spot a wolf – you should plan on being there at dawn or dusk.
We chose dawn. Coming from West Yellowstone, this meant getting up at 4:00 am to make sure we were hiking around 7. That’s a chore. But that day – oh, let me tell you about that day.
4:00 am on a Saturday. Careful, driving out in an RV in the dark has its disadvantages (we found a bush that didn’t like us, but that’s a different story for another day). Driving to the Lamar Valley area towards Mammoth and the North Entrance and just before Tower Junction from West Yellowstone takes about two hours, depending on how long the Bull Elk and his harem decide to stay in the road right in front of your car. How can you complain about that?
Don’t like people? This is the time and the place to be.
This is what greeted us in Mammoth on our way into Lamar Valley. And we were one of only two cars to experience this, this early in the morning.
Hiking in Lamar Valley
First and foremost, when hiking in Yellowstone, know that there are over 600 grizzlies living here, so bear spray is highly recommended. So, rewind to when you were at any location in and around Yellowstone where there are stores. Go into any of those stores, purchase bear spray, read the instructions on how to use it, bring it with you on the hike. Or, click here, and buy it now, delivered straight to your door, wherever you may be.
In addition, make sure you have proper hiking boots, plenty of water, lunch, snacks, sunscreen, bug spray, camera, layers of clothing, and positive expedition behavior. Meaning, if it rains, snows, or anything other than you expect, your pack and attitude are ready for it.
Hellroaring Creek Trailhead
Let’s hike. While there are several trailheads in Lamar Valley, we chose Hellroaring Trail because of the possibility of catching a glimpse of wolves. But be wary, this trail is not for the faint of heart. We also chose it for the calorie burn that comes with 10 miles of hiking. The trailhead starts at the top, which means you hike down to get started, which means at the end of your hike, you hike back up. Be prepared. Save a bit of energy to get your ass back up that hill.
For the best chances of seeing and hearing wildlife, we recommend being on the trail either around dawn or dusk. To ensure that you’re not hiking back in the dark, we recommend starting earlier in the day, rather than later.
We hiked for over five hours, 10.5 miles, and 1300 feet of elevation gain. You can choose other trails off of the main trail, just be aware of where you go, as there are many backcountry trails that break off from here. While we planned this as a day hike, if you are a bit of a backcountry enthusiast and like backpacking, I recommend taking a few days off from work. All you have to do is apply for a backcountry permit (it’s all done online and appears to be a simple process) to get “lost” in nature for at least a night.
There are Wild Animals in Yellowstone
Bears and Bison
Hiking and experiencing the energy of the natural world is quite exhilarating. But when you also scout for scat and tracks, nature rarely disappoints. About a mile into the hike, we came across tracks, all right. Big Ones. Bear Ones! While we never saw the bear that left those tracks, coming up over a hill a few miles later, we were pleasantly greeted by a great big bison about 50 yards from us. Sitting atop a rock, we watched him and a few of his buddies for awhile, grateful for this opportunity.
Wolves…In the Wild!
Then, our ears perked up. Was it really? Could it be? And then it became obvious. The howling of wolves in the wild. Several of them. And that glorious sound lasted for at least 30 seconds. Thirty seconds of something that I never imagined I would hear in the wild.
Why is this so glorious, you ask? That in itself would be an entirely new article, having nothing to do with beer and everything to do with being an outdoor enthusiast understanding why wolves cannot be taken out of an eco-system, like they did from Yellowstone in the 1920’s. But now, they’re back where they belong…in the wonderful wilds of the world. To learn more, please check out Mission:Wolf and The Greater Yellowstone Coalition.
Leave No Trace
Continuing on with our hike along Hellroaring Creek where it junctions with the magnificent Yellowstone River, storm clouds above threatening rain, bear tracks threatening my peace of mind, and wolves off in the distance possibly threatening each other, we never once felt threatened.
Actually, the only things that threatened me that day was the fact that I couldn’t stay longer. That I didn’t hear the wolves howling anymore after the first and only time. That the roar of the river would eventually leave my ears, and the beauty of a world so untouched here, can become threatened by the mere fact that we are in it.
My take on this, is be kind to Mother Nature and all her glory. Enjoy everything she has to offer. Soak it in, play in it. Revel in it. Love her like family. Care for her. Treat her well. We need her, and maybe, just maybe, she might realize she needs us.
Practice Leave No Trace Principles when enjoying all the world has to offer.
Go Beyond the Surface of a Simple 2-Day Itinerary to Yellowstone
Driving back to the North Entrance towards Mammoth and Gardiner, Montana, we couldn’t help but get a bit reflective on our 2-day itinerary in Yellowstone. Yes, Yellowstone is known for her geysers, but do you really gain everything you know from the surface of something? The more than 10,000 hydrothermal features in Yellowstone should teach us skills better than that. If we only studied the surface, we would know nothing about the true characteristics of these natural phenomenons.
So whether you only have one day or ten, visit Old Faithful yes, but go a bit deeper into her beauty, get your feet wet, maybe dive straight in (not literally). You would be doing her and yourself a huge injustice if you didn’t.
Finding the Beer After Your Yellowstone Itinerary
Beer? After Yellowstone? Why, of course! To exit the park, we went back through Mammoth to exit out the North Entrance, where we were initially stopped in the predawn hours by that big bull elk if you recall. Later that afternoon, they had not gotten very far.
It was quite entertaining to watch the tourists and the Park Rangers, maybe even more so than watching the elk. These wondrous creatures (the tourists) really don’t pay much attention to the fact that the truly wondrous creatures (the elk) are wild animals, let alone very big wild animals.
PRO TIP: Don’t be that person that the Park Rangers have to yell at to get in their car or back away from the elk. Admire from a distance. Your memories will have to tell the tales better than your iPhone camera.
Anyhow, beer. There are a few restaurants that serve some craft beer in Gardiner, Montana, just outside of Yellowstone; however, there are no craft breweries. So we decided to drive a bit further north to Livingston, Montana, where we proceeded to pump some money into Montana’s economy while enjoying handcrafted brews at Katabatic Brewing Company. And, if you feel so inclined, there’s another cool little brewery just down the road less than a mile away, Neptune’s Brewery. Both are worthy of your time.
Tips and Tricks for Visiting Yellowstone National Park
- Go the speed limit. You’ll see more beauty.
- Enter the park in the late afternoon or before sunrise.
- Camp outside of the park.
- Do the Yellowstone thing and hike around Old Faithful but go elsewhere afterwards.
- You need at least two days in Yellowstone. More is nice, but you can experience a lot in two days.
- Plan for limited to no internet or cell signal.
- Always watch for animals.
- Watch for the cars that have stopped in the middle of the road because of the animals.
- Listen to the Park Rangers.
- If you don’t like people, you don’t have to see them.
- If you don’t like animals, you shouldn’t be here.
- If you want a great beer after hiking, bring your own, or be prepared to drive a while to get one.
- Don’t go in the summer if you can help it.
- General Park Information
- Hiking Trails
- Camping in Yellowstone
- Backcountry Camping in Yellowstone
- Camping outside of Yellowstone
Quick Glance 2-Day Yellowstone Itinerary (Beer Included)
- Day 1 – From the East Entrance near Cody, Wyoming, drive into Yellowstone and explore the Old Faithful area. (#’s 1 and 2)
- Day 1 Camping – Exit out the West Entrance into West Yellowstone, Montana, and camp at Denny Creek Dispersed Area (there are other areas, but this site is about 18 miles from the West Entrance) (#3)
- Day 2 – Pack up camp, and go back to Yellowstone through the West Entrance. Get an early start so as to enter the park around 5:00 am. (#3) Enjoy your drive through Mammoth and towards Lamar Valley in the early morning hours and arrive at Hellroaring Creek Trailhead (about 3-4 miles before Tower Junction) around 7:30 am. (#’s 4 and 5)
- Day 2 cont’d – Hike all day (#5)
- Day 2 Celebration – Head out the North Entrance through Mammoth and Gardiner, Montana, and drive to Livingston for some celebratory craft beer at Neptune’s and Katabatic. (#6)
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