Two Days in Yellowstone National Park

Grand Prismatic Spring

Kyle and I had each visited Yellowstone National Park on our own. I had spent about a week there when I was a kid and passed through several times on cross-country drives. Kyle had visited only briefly on his move to Seattle, and was unable to stray far from parking lots because he was traveling with a dog. We decided to take advantage of our summer 2021 Wyoming trip to spend a couple of days in Yellowstone together, before heading to the Tetons.

Note: When possible, we use affiliate links, which means we earn a commission when you book through these links. If you find this information helpful, we would appreciate you booking through them.

Saturday, 31 July: Seattle to West Yellowstone

We left Seattle early, with a goal to reach West Yellowstone by dinner – about a 12 hour drive. Always eager to try new doughnuts, we pre-ordered some doughnuts from Veera Doughnuts in Missoula for lunch. On arriving to pick them up, we were quickly reminded of a downside of online ordering: the doughnuts were much larger than we anticipated. We shared “The Motherload” (chocolate ganache, cookie butter, cookie dough chunks), a lemon meringue, a strawberry cheese danishnut, and “The Veera” (French toast). The flavors were good, but with the doughnuts being so large–and sweeter than we were used to–we would have been happy with about half as many.

Our drive continued to go smoothly from Missoula. We reached West Yellowstone around 5:30pm and checked into our hotel, The Best Western Desert Inn ( | Once settled, we decided to get dinner before crowds returned from the park. We walked about a block to Firehole BBQ. There was a line, but it moved quickly. The food was good and a reasonable price for a busy national park gateway. Dining in let us try their different sauces.

Sunday, 1 August: West Yellowstone to Old Faithful

We woke up early to get a quick hotel breakfast, which opened at 6am, before heading into the park. Our early start let us beat the lines at the entrance station.

Shortly after entering Yellowstone, we spotted a herd of elk and pulled over to watch them. Not long after we stopped, several crossed the Madison River. I enjoyed watching them.

At the junction with US 89, we turned northeast, with our next stop at Gibbon Falls. This is a lovely waterfall with easy access from the roadside parking lot. From there, we went on to Artist Paint Pots, a set of bubbling mud pots. A foggy morning made for a moody walk on this one-mile lollipop-loop trail.

Another three miles brought us to Norris Geyser Basin, one of the hottest and oldest geothermal areas in the park. It has had thermal features for more than 100,000 years and contains the tallest geyser in the world (Steamboat Geyser). We walked the 2+ miles of trails around Porcelain and Back Basin within this overall area. While we only caught a couple of minor geyser eruptions in our walk, the steam, colored pools, and mineral deposits still made for a beautiful visit. Being there relatively early in the morning also allowed us to beat the crowds at this popular site.

After, we continued north to Mammoth Hot Springs, where we started with a walk around the main terrace. By the time we were done, we were ready for ice cream, which Mammoth General Store happily provided. While we were eating in the parking lot, two elk came by Liberty Cap at the hot springs. We watched from a distance, but some crept closer and closer–including a family where a child, predictably, wanted to go even closer–even as others encouraged them to back away. Just as it seemed there was about to be a wildlife-human conflict, a ranger appeared and intervened, scooping the child back.

After finishing our ice cream, we drove up to the upper terraces. There, we stopped at each pullout for short walks. I particularly liked the walk out to the Canary Spring overlook.

We then turned south, passing through Firehole Canyon, spotting our first bison of the trip along the way. After, we visited Fountain Paint Pots. The pools here were beautiful, and Clepsydra Geyser was a highlight for me.

After, we made our way to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook. The Grand Prismatic Spring had been a highlight of my prior Yellowstone visits, and the overlook trail had opened since I had last been there. The route was busy, but it was worth it for the beautiful view of the spring from above.

Continuing our whirlwind tour of hydrothermal features, we next stopped by Biscuit Basin before reaching the Old Faithful area.

There, we checked into our cabin at Old Faithful Lodge – tight quarters, but well located. We get settled in and then walked over to Old Faithful for an eruption. After, we went to the cafeteria in search of dinner. Several of the stations were closed, but the noodle bowls were tasty and filling for a good price – and we could eat outside with a view of Old Faithful.

After dinner, we went for a walk past many geysers along the the Firehole River, as far as Morning Glory Pool, before turning in for the night.

Monday, 2 August: Old Faithful to Colter Bay

For Monday, we had to reach the Colter Bay Visitor Center, in Grand Teton, by 5pm to pick up our permit for the Teton Crest Trail. That aligned well with the forecast, which called for late afternoon thunderstorms–we would not want to be out exploring then anyway.

We were torn between two options for early morning. I wanted to see more wildlife, which prompted us to consider a trip north to the Lamar Valley. Road construction, however, meant that this trip would use most of our day. Doing so also felt like not taking advantage of our overnight location at Old Faithful. Instead, we decided to walk the nearby Geyser Hill.

This walk took us to geysers and hydrothermal features on the other side of the river from the previous night’s walk. An eruption of Beehive Geyser was the highlight.

After, we stopped at Black Sand Basin and Midway Geyser Basin. At Midway, we got to see the Grand Prismatic Spring from the ground level. Morning fog created a moody atmosphere, but also made the colors less vibrant than the previous day.

After the geyser basins, we drove north and then east, before turning south through the Hayden Valley. In the Hayden Valley, we saw bald eagles and several bison. At the south end of Hayden Valley, we stopped to tour the Mud Volcano area.

Continuing south brought us to the West Thumb Geyser Basin, directly on the shore of Yellowstone Lake.

Continuing south toward Grand Teton, we next stopped at Lewis Falls. This 30′ waterfall is visible from the road. As we continued south, a line of thunderstorms rolled through. We made just one more stop, for views along Jackson Lake, before reaching Colter Bay Village in Grand Teton National Park.

There, we picked up our backpacking permits – where the ranger warned us the unstable weather was forecast to continue – and checked into the cabins at Colter Bay ( Compared to the Old Faithful Cabins, we found these spacious. A fox also pranced by our window as we unpacked.

We had some time before dinner, so once it seemed the storms were past, walked some of the trails by the lake.

For dinner, we had reservations at the Mural Room at Jackson Lake Lodge. The location was lovely, but not worth the price. Service was slow, and the food was mediocre. Kyle’s dish, when it arrived, was so poorly made that it should not have been served, but the slow service meant we did not feel we could wait for them to remake it. After dinner, we returned to Colter Bay and went to sleep.

Early in the morning, we would start on the Teton Crest Trail.

This was part of a summer 2021 Wyoming trip, which also included backpacking the Teton Crest Trail and the Middle Fork Valley in the Wind River Range.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.