22 Jun 2023
Yellowstone National Park is a treasure trove of natural beauty and wonder with its sprawling landscapes, abundant wildlife, and awe-inspiring forces of nature, making it a must-visit on your Montana vacation. With the North and West park entrances conveniently accessible from Bozeman and Big Sky, you can explore many of Yellowstone’s amazing areas during your stay. We’ve put together four incredible day trip itineraries that will lead you through picturesque valleys, along winding rivers, and past stunning canyons. So, load up the car, and let’s hit the road on these exceptional day trips from Bozeman and Big Sky to Yellowstone National Park.
Day Trip 1: Soak in the Wonders of Mammoth Hot Springs
Set off from your Bozeman vacation rental and head down US-89 South for a scenic drive through Paradise Valley. The paved, 62-mile "loop drive" circles the valley, which is surrounded by the dwarfing Absaroka and Gallatin Ranges, making it one of Montana's most scenic valleys. As you venture through, you'll pass over the brilliant Yellowstone River, which flows through the center of the valley, and through beautiful, wide-open plains. If you packed a fishing pole, this is an excellent place to stop and enjoy some time casting a line! As you continue on through the North Entrance at Gardiner, you'll make your way to Mammoth Hot Springs. Famous for its steaming mineral terraces, this natural wonder is well worth the drive.
Spend your afternoon wandering the boardwalks of Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces, where you can marvel at the steaming hydrothermal features and brilliant natural formations made by thousands of years of activity. Study the unique travertine formations of Minerva Terrace and the beauty of Canary Spring. If you're feeling adventurous, there are some easy hikes in the area and a welcome center full of information from park rangers. After working up an appetite, take advantage of the numerous picnic tables and share a meal with a view. Due to flooding, some local businesses may have delayed hours and openings, so be sure to check here before you travel. If weather permits, the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and other local establishments will be open for dining giving you more options.
As the day winds down, take a leisurely stroll around Fort Yellowstone and explore the 35 structures that still remain from the 1890s and early 1900s. Start your drive back to Bozeman, maybe making a brief stop in Gardiner for a souvenir or snack.
Day Trip 2: Wildlife Safari in Lamar Valley
Get the coffee ready and head out of Bozeman to Lamar Valley for early morning animal watching. Located in the northeastern corner of the park, the drive to Lamar Valley is just over two hours via US-89 South, and its wide valleys provide an excellent natural habitat for bears, wolves, bison, pronghorn, and many other species. Because of its lush grounds and open expanses, this area is often referred to as America's Serengeti due to its easy-to-spot populations of animals.
The area is full of pullouts and viewing spots making it easy to stop and observe along the way. Take advantage of these and pack a picnic to enjoy as you explore the valley. Then, visit the Lamar Buffalo Ranch. Established in 1907 to preserve the Yellowstone's bison after they were nearly driven into extinction, the ranch is a symbol of successful wildlife management and conservation. Today, it serves as a field campus for the National Park Service, and Yellowstone Forever Institute, which offers programs for visitors of all ages and interests.
Afternoon Scenery & Return
On your way back to your vacation rental, take a detour to visit the Petrified Tree and Blacktail Plateau Drive. Then, continue your journey back to Bozeman, arriving just in time for dinner.
Day Trip 3: Geysers Galore - Norris to Old Faithful
Head out from your Big Sky or West Yellowstone vacation rental around 7:00 am for a scenic drive south on US-191 to the West Entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Once inside the park, make your way to Norris Geyser Basin, which is about a 30-minute drive from the West Entrance. Norris is the park's oldest and most dynamic thermal area. Spend your morning wandering the boardwalks and trails, marveling at the geysers and hot springs in both the Porcelain Basin and Back Basin.
As noon approaches, head south to the Midway Geyser Basin, a short 20-minute drive from Norris. Here, you’ll be captivated by the Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in the United States, known for its vibrant colors. Enjoy a packed lunch amidst this geothermal wonder, or choose to dine at a nearby grill.
After lunch, continue your journey south to Old Faithful, which is about a 15-minute drive from Midway Geyser Basin. Check the posted schedule for the predicted eruption times, and secure a good spot to watch this iconic geyser. While you're here, take some time to explore the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center and the surrounding Upper Geyser Basin.
As the day draws to a close, begin your journey back to Big Sky. If you're wanting dinner, a stop in the town of West Yellowstone offers several options for food and shopping. We recommend the Buffalo Bar's outdoor patio, or the Wild West Pizzeria & Saloon.
Day Trip 4: The Grandeur of Yellowstone's Grand Canyon
From the West entrance of Yellowstone, it's about an hour's drive to Canyon Village, where you can see the breathtaking beauty of the first large canyon on the Yellowstone River. Begin your day with a visit to the Canyon Visitor Education Center, where you can learn all about the fascinating geology of the park and the formation of this natural wonder. Then head to the North Rim. In the early morning, crowds should be low and getting a parking spot at the overlook will be easier. If you're up for a nice hike, the Brink of the Lower Falls Trail is kid friendly and only takes an average of 30 minutes to complete.
When it's time for a bite, visit the "ultimate food hall" at Canyon Lodge Eatery. Whether you're in the mood for homestyle favorites or Asian-inspired bites, you can find it all here. There's even coffee for an afternoon pick-me-up after your hike!
After lunch, take a leisurely walk along the canyon rim to Artist Point, where the breathtaking views of the canyon and Lower Falls await. If you still have room for some more exploration, consider taking a short and easy hike to the brink of the Upper Falls to experience the thundering water from a different perspective. At only .3 miles out and back, this kid-friendly, wheelchair-accessible hike gives everyone a chance to stretch their legs before the return to your vacation home.
On the way home, consider driving through Hayden Valley; it's a great place to spot wildlife such as bison and elk. Part of the splendor of Yellowstone and Montana are the vast spaces and untouched beauty, so taking advantage of the scenic route is part of the experience.
Remember to bring along essentials like water, snacks, sunblock, and a camera to capture the memories, and be sure to check the park’s official website for any updates or road closures.
Book Your Unforgettable Montana Adventure Today!
There's no time like the present to embrace the call of the wild. With Yellowstone National Park's awe-inspiring landscapes just a stone's throw away from Bozeman and Big Sky, the opportunity for adventure is at your fingertips. Our day trip itineraries and Yellowstone Park Tours have been designed to help you experience some of the park's most famous landmarks and are perfect for families and those looking for leisurely activities on their Montana vacation. The awe-inspiring geysers, hot springs, canyons, and wildlife of Yellowstone are sure to create lasting memories. So, don’t wait – book your Big Sky or Bozeman vacation with us and experience the majesty of Yellowstone like never before!