Photographer’s 2 Day Guide to Yellowstone

Having your trust be rewarded is one of life’s true pleasures. A double reward because it means you picked the right person to trust. Whose a good judge of character, eh!

My reward for trusting Bello on our cross country road trip? A two day Yellowstone itinerary, that put the majesty and beauty of the world’s first nation park on full display.

With two days, you need a plan, to pack in the highlights. You can not see everything. But you can see enough to know, Mother Nature was showing off, in Yellowstone.

A good printed map of Yellowstone National Park is essential to pickup when you enter. Also plan ahead and download google maps so you can navigate offline. Cell signals… forgetaboutit!!!

Yellowstone Photography Guide

Day 1:

There are essentially two loops around the park. The southern loops around the central plateau, the bulk of the Caldera. A 30 by 45 miles basin of volcanism that bubbles, burbs, boils and steams up all around you. I’d recommend starting here. Simply because it’s such a unique geothermal experience, you pack in a lot of wow day one.

First Stop: Upper Geyser Basin: Get Old Faithful knocked off the Must-See Yellowstone list first. We spent a few hours wandering nearby Upper Geyser Basin. For photographers it’s a playground! Colors, textures, movement, so much fun to snap away here.  The lunch counter at the Old Faithful general store is a quick, casual spot to grab a bite before you go. the

Yellowstone Photography

Next, make your way further North to the Norris Basin area. You’ll see plenty of steamy spots that will pull you over and go for it! One thing not to miss though, is the Gibbon Falls stop with panoramic views and a tiered waterfall from Gibbon River. It’s a fairly quick stop that offers the kind of sweeping green views that make you… sigh… relax.

Gibbon Falls
Gibbon Falls

Next up: Hit Artists Paintpots with early afternoon sun. The winding walk from the parking lot has peak-a-boo views no photographer can resist! The paintpots themselves gurgle and belch under the steep winding boardwalks. I kept thinking, is this safe! Such a fun area and far less folks than Upper Geyser Basin.

Next: Made sure you have a few good hours of sunlight left to make your way over to see the Porcelain Basin at Norris.  It’s the most resplendent, large scale color spectrum throughout the basin. It also has bathrooms with plumbing… just saying!

Porcelain Basin Hot Springs
Porcelain Basin Hot Springs

Day 2: 

The second more northern route circles Washburn Range. It too has geyser and hot spring activity like Mammoth Hot Springs. It’s the elevation here that sets this loop apart and makes it perfect for a full second day.

Try using a different entrance your second day. You’ll get more in that way. We opted for the Northern Entrance on day two and were instantly captivated by the elevated views of Mount Norris at 9936 feet. You’ll pass Tower-Roosevelt (we skipped it for timing… don’t tell anyone!)

Bello had a plan and it included plenty of time at Mammoth Hot Springs. Again my trust was rewarded with some of the quirkier, alien looking spaces in the park. Come on! Where else in the world can you see this… is this still planet earth?

Next Up: Enjoy the open views, keep an eye out for Bear in the trees and stop for Bison as you work your way along Dunraven Pass to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Here you’ll get elevated views and find out exactly where Yellowstone gets it’s name! The canyon and falls are only visible from the overlooks along the canyon rims. Don’t miss those views.

Got kids? Make sure you make it to the Mud Volcano. This stop was a trip! The Yellowstone Park Services Team got creative here and set up a magical, mystical walk around hot spring and geysers with names like Black Dragon’s Cauldron.

If you’re staying outside the park like we had to, make a plan for Sunset each night.  Our exit point was the East Entrance, so each night we caught magic hour around Hayden Valley. Bison were permanently roaming the graceful grasses of this area.

Sunset: Ending the day by Mary Bay or Yellowstone Lake if you can. As the sun kisses the horizon both sky and lake blaze with color.

Mary Bay Horizon
Mary Bay Horizon

If you’re headed to the South Entrance, try Lewis Lake or Lewis River.

This is probably not a popular suggestion but it is one I stand by. Get outside the park too. Shoshone National Forest  is American’s first National Forest and sits right outside the East Entrance.

Shoshone National Forest
Shoshone National Forest

It should be noted, we were cross country road tripping in our new car, Nanty. There was no way Nanty was off-roading. So this itinerary is a tame, traditional family road trip.

My Dad swears the best parts of Yellowstone are off the beaten path in the backroads. I believe him! Now, my Dad probably also knows how to keep himself safe from bears. Me, not so much.

So there you go, that should help you understand the type of two day Yellowstone itinerary you’re looking at! Easy access, Bison spotting, geyser gasping enjoyment with a few panoramic views and sunsets over water to boot. Our itinerary was constructed by my Husband, a professional photographer specially for me, his wife, a photographer in training.


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