Yellowstone's roads are fully open by Memorial Day weekend, presenting an ideal opportunity for visitors who are ready to experience the park before peak summer crowds really start to hit. If you love the thought of playful baby animals or meandering along the shores of high alpine lakes, read on for a three-day Yellowstone itinerary that is best enjoyed in late May through mid June.
Day One: The Grand Loop/Geyser Gazing
Your itinerary begins in Gardiner, Montana at Yellowstone's charismatic and historic North Entrance. Eat a big breakfast and grab a packed lunch in Gardiner before heading out for your first day exploring Yellowstone. As you head south from Mammoth, you’ll cruise down roads lined with geyser basins. Stop and meander the boardwalks at Norris or Midway Geyser Basin. Further south, Old Faithful makes the perfect picnic stop to stretch your legs and learn more about the park’s geology at the Old Faithful Visitor Center. Finish the loop by heading east towards Yellowstone Lake and north through Hayden Valley or backtrack to stop at any geysers you missed on the way down.
Day Two: The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone & Yellowstone Lake
Rise early and head to the Canyon area by driving east toward Tower Junction and up and over Dunraven Pass. Choose from one of several viewpoints and spend as much time as you like admiring the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone as it plunges more than 300 feet into the colorful canyon below. Continue south through Hayden Valley, leaving time for chance wildlife encounters including bison and grizzly bears. Beyond Hayden Valley you'll find yourself on the shores of spectacular Yellowstone Lake—the largest lake above 7000' in North America. After a picnic lunch on the pleasant beach behind the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center, take an hour or two to hike Storm Point Trail along the shores of the lake. Be sure check in with the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center to ensure the trail is not closed for bear management. As the afternoon winds down, head back to Gardiner the way you came or by taking the cut-across road from Canyon to Norris, then north to Mammoth Hot Springs and on to Gardiner, Montana.
Day Three: Northern Range
Spend your final day in our favorite part of the park, the Yellowstone Northern Range. Heading east from Mammoth Hot Springs, travel along what is known as the"Serengeti of North America" for a chance to spot Yellowstone’s most famous critters. In the springtime, highlights include bison calves (also known affectionately as "red dogs"), elk calves, moose, and clumsy black bear cubs. Break up the day with a short hike to Lost Lake or Trout Lake. For optimal wildlife viewing—and to leave the driving and planning to someone else—book with a local guide. If you prefer to travel solo be sure to get out early or stay out late as Yellowstone's wildlife are most active at dawn and dusk.
Photos courtesy of Yellowstone National Park Service.