Geysers, hot springs, stunning vistas, and wildlife... we soaked up another world on our trip to Yellowstone National Park! This post includes our itinerary, FAQs, & overall experience in summer 2022.
After years of guiding adventure trips for teens, I wanted to start hosting trips for adults! I did a ton of research on ways to guide trips when you don't own your own guiding company (the logistics of hosting a trip as an individual make it nearly impossible on your own), SO I started working with Trova Trip, a company that hosts group travel.
At the very beginning of working with Trova Trip, I put out a survey asking people where they wanted to go, and Yellowstone was top of the list. So almost one year ago I planned a trip. I was so dang excited when 20 girls signed up to come travel with me!
People have mixed feelings about group travel, but I love it. You're getting a group of people together who all want to travel, try something new, and have fun. Everyone is stepping outside of their comfort zone, trying something new, and saying yes to adventure. I think that's incredible!
SO, everything came together and I hosted my first trip to Yellowstone National Park.
Yellowstone Trip Itinerary
Here's a detailed overview of our trip itinerary. This includes hikes, scenic drives, and what we did every day on the trip.
The main goal of Day 1 was getting to Yellowstone. If you're reading this in the future, you'll need to know that traveling anywhere in 2022 has been crazy. Gas prices are high, flights are cancelled more than they are completed, and it's actually really hard to guarantee you'll get somewhere on time.
The plan was for everyone to fly into the Bozeman Airport by mid-afternoon. Once everyone arrived we would make the 2 hour drive to Yellowstone National Park where we would set up camp the next few days.
Myself and a few other girls arrived early to Bozeman. Instead of hanging out at the airport all day, we decided to venture out! We went to Treeline Coffee (the Northside Roasting Room Location). This coffee was delicious, the shop was so cute, and it had plenty of outdoor seating as well! Since we had all of our luggage with us, along with people that joined our party throughout the afternoon, we found a group of shaded picnic tables outside that worked well for us.
While we were hanging out at the coffee shop, we got food nearby as well! We ordered a truffle pizza from The Ugly Onion and it was delicious, and we picked up some sweet treats from Wild Crumb, a delicious bakery next door.
After a few hours of hanging out in Bozeman, we headed back to the airport where our shuttle was picking everyone up! At the airport we met everyone in our group and loaded everything into the shuttles. We had a group of 20 so we split into two large vans and trailers. We made a quick stop of Walmart so people could pick up some last-minute supplies and then made our way to West Yellowstone!
Bozeman to West Yellowstone
Because of a few flight delays we didn't leave Bozeman until 6pm so we knew we'd be pushing daylight once we arrived to the campsite. Luckily the 2 hour drive from Bozeman to West Yellowstone was a stunning, beautiful drive so we were all just thankful to have made it this far!
It was getting dark by the time we arrived to the campsite so we hustled to get camp set up! We pitched tents, got unpacked, and got dinner going quickly. Everyone was exhausted from the travel day so we all went to bed soon after dinner. But we were excited to head into the park the next morning!
This morning we woke up excitement and energy for our first full day in Yellowstone National Park! To get ready for the day, we got up and dressed, ate breakfast, and packed lunches and day packs to take with us into the park. We knew we'd be in the park all day so along with lunches and snacks, we brought sunscreen, water, layers, sunglasses, and anything else we'd need until getting back to camp that night.
Geysers, thermal areas, and hot springs
Our goal for the day was to explore as many of the geysers, thermal areas, and hot springs as we could! We spent out day hiking and soaking up the views in the Old Faithful and Geyser sections of the park.
Since Yellowstone is a huge National Park and everything is very spread out, it took us about an hour to get from our campsite in West Yellowstone (outside of the park) to where we were exploring inside the park.
Grand Prismatic Hot Spring Hike
Our first stop of the day was at Grand Prismatic Spring! This is one of the iconic features of Yellowstone, so of course we had to visit. You can hike on the boardwalks near Grand Prismatic, but we opted for the viewpoint hike to see the spring from the overlook.
This 1.5 mile out-and-back trail is an easy route and very popular. I'd recommend going first thing in the morning!
Fair Falls Trail
After taking a look from the viewpoint, we continued our hike on to Fairy Falls. This was a 5-mile out-and-back easy trail that led to a beautiful waterfall. This trail was mostly shaded which was really nice as the sun started to warm up! This goes through the woods so highly recommend brining some bug spray for this one as well.
We liked this hike! For the easy effort that was added on from Grand Prismatic, we thought it was worth the effort to see the view.
Old Faithful Visitor Education Center
After our first to hikes, we continued our way into the park to head to Old Faithful! Of course we had to see her while we were here. We went to the visitor center because there are posted predictions of when Old Faithful is next estimated to erupt. By the time we arrived, there was still about an hour until the next eruption we took the time to explore the visitor center.
I have a National Parks Passport Book that I bring to every National Park to get stamps (a free souvenir!) so I took the opportunity to collect my stamps. I got a postcard as well!
Upper Geyser Basin and Old Faithful Observation Point Loop
Our group split up when we got to Old Faithful and picked a time to meet back up after we all explored on our own in small groups.
The group I was in decided we were going to watch Old Faithful from the Observation Point rather than below. The hike up to the top was about 1.5 miles of incline. The top was shaded and we watched Old Faithful from up high! It was very neat watching, as I've heard about it for so many years. I'm glad we got to witness!
I honestly can't tell you how the view of Old Faithful erupting compared to the bottom because I only watched from up here! There were folks next to us who had just watched from the bottom and then hiked up to watch from the top, but we told them not to tell us which one they liked more in case we chose wrong haha.
Once Old Faithful was finished, we continued our hike down and walked all around Upper Geyser Basin. Upper Geyser Basin is the most densely concentrated geyser region in the world, featuring Old Faithful & 150+ other geysers. This area was covered in boardwalks and you were able to walk at your own pace to explore the geysers. Each geyser has a unique look and name and it was very cool to explore this area!
Norris Geyser Basin Hike
After taking the afternoon to explore Old Faithful, we headed North to Norris Geyser Basin. This area is the hottest and oldest of Yellowstone's thermal areas. I'm so glad we hiked here! There were minimal people here and it honestly felt like we were walking around on another planet... It was sprinkling when we were here so that probably added an element, but it was so, so cool.
Back at Camp
After a long day exploring in the park, we headed back to the campsite. Once back, we unpacked, cooked dinner, and talked about our plan for the next day. As we were finishing up dinner, it started to thunderstorm so everyone booked it to their tents so we read, went to bed early, and rested up for the next day.
Overall, it was an awesome day! I felt like we got to see so many of the monumental things at Yellowstone National Park. Because this park is known for the geothermal features, I'm so glad we got to see them all.
We woke up well rested for another full day exploring! We had a similar morning routine as the previous day where we woke up, ate breakfast, packed lunches, and made our way into the park.
Eastern Side of Yellowstone: Grand Canyon, Hayden Valley, & West Thumb
Today we explored the Eastern area of Yellowstone. We planned to hike around the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, make our way South through Hayden Valley, and then hike around the West Thumb area.
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park is a canyon created by the Yellowstone River. It is over 600 miles and its the longest undammed river in the continental United States.
We originally were planning on doing the Grand Canyon Hike (about 4 miles along the North Rim of the Canyon) but unfortunately that was temporary closed due to bear activity. We adapted and did a few short hikes in the area instead!
We hiked the trail on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. We started by hiking down the Discovery Falls Overlook and then hiking 2 miles along the South Rim to Artist Point. This hike was an easy, mostly covered hike that walked along the rim of the Canyon. There were many waterfalls to admire along the way!
Artist Point was beautiful! There were many people around by the time we arrived so we didn't stay long, but I'm so glad we got to see this view. There's a really cool backstory about how Artist Point got his name, so read up on that before you visit!
After hiking around the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, we loaded up our vans and made the drive South through Hayden Valley. Hayden Valley is a large valley in the park that lies between Yellowstone Falls and Yellowstone Lake. It's not only beautiful to drive through, but filled with wildlife!
Storm Point Loop
This is a beautiful loop hike to Yellowstone Lake. It's filled with wildflowers, wildlife, and was very easy! Personally, I loved this hike. It was awesome being able to see the lake up close. There were a couple of bison near the start of the trail and always, always be cautious around them!
West Thumb Geyser Basin
After finishing the hike next to Yellowstone Lake, we drove a bit South and stopped in West Thumb Geyser Basin. West Thumb is another spot filled with boardwalks and geysers, right along the lake! I'd recommend checking this out.
While we were here, we hiked up along the Yellowstone Lake Overlook Trail. This was about 2 miles up to a really beautiful overview of the lake! There weren't many people on this trail and the view was gorgeous. Highly recommend this spot!
Downtown West Yellowstone
After spending all day in the park, we decided to spend an hour exploring West Yellowstone. This is a little city right outside the park near the West Entrance. There are tons of souvenir shops, restaurants, ice cream shops, food trucks, and more. We got huckleberry ice cream (a Montana staple) and enjoyed walking around here.
After West Yellowstone, we headed back to our campsite. We cooked dinner, hung out together, and got ready for our last full day in the park!
I'm sure you know our morning routine by now, but we woke up, ate breakfast, packed our lunches and bags, and headed out into the park.
As a grand finale for our Yellowstone trip, we set out to hike to the top of one of Yellowstone National Park's highest mountains, Mt. Washburn.
Mt Washburn Hike
Standing over 10,000 feet tall, Mt. Washburn's peak offers a panorama from Teton Mountain to the Grand Canyon and beyond. At the summit there's a fire lookout tower which is listed on the National Historic Lookout Register. It's a really great day hike location!
We took all morning to hike this route. We were in smaller groups of 4 or 5 ladies during this hike. The view from the top was absolutely stunning. It was so, so windy! We ate our lunch up here and rested for a bit. Unfortunately, our time at the summit was cut short because thunderstorms were rolling in. We had to book it back down so we didn't get caught in anything dangerous at the top.
I loved this one and I wish we could have spent more time at the summit as a group together.
Ice Lake Trail
By the time we finished our Mt Washburn hike, we still had a few hours we could spend at the park. We stopped the Canyon Village Visitor Center and then stopped at Ice Lake Trail for one last hike. I wish I could say we enjoyed this hike, but honestly, there were so many mosquitoes and you could barely see the lake, that it wasn't that great. Of course, I always appreciate being on a hike, so I'd recommend choosing something else.
Back at Camp
Since this was our last night at camp together, we really soaked it up! It was also the first night it didn't rain all evening so we could finally make a bonfire and hang out together! We made a bonfire, campfire cones, dinner, and hung out all night. It was so much fun getting to spend time together this night & I wish the weather would have let us do this every night!
Why do all good things have to come to an end?! 🙁 This was our last day! We woke up, ate breakfast, and then did a huge packing up of everything before heading back to Bozeman.
Although it was sad that our trip was ending, we got to make that beautiful trip to Bozeman again. There were bluffs, valleys, rivers, and it was gorgeous making this drive in the morning.
When we got to Bozeman, we headed straight to the airport so girls could make their flights. It was so, so sad to say goodbye to everyone!
Luckily (I guess depending on how you view it), there was a small group of us with later flights so we decided to explore downtown Bozeman a bit before heading to the airport.
We got dropped off downtown and our first stop was the Bozeman Co-Op. This is a community-owned grocery store with so many delicious lunch options, which was perfect for us! We were able to get a big table in the back to hang out for a bit and we picked up some snacks for our flights, too.
We also made stops at Treeline Coffee and Second Wind Sports in Bozeman. Second Wind is a gear exchange and I'm a sucker for these kinds of stores!
Okay all good things really do have to end because eventually everyone was at the airpot. And unlike the way there where only 1/20 girls had a flight hiccup, the way home for everyone was horrible. Almost everyone had some sort of delay, cancellation, or issue with their flight. This is just the state of flying right now so be prepared if you're traveling soon!
Overall Trip Experience
Overall, this trip was incredible! As the group reflected on the trip, the highlights were the friendships, the views, & the hiking.
The friendships. This trip was a group of 20 ladies who didn't know each other before the trip. Every single lady on the trip was amazing and it was incredible for so many strangers to make connections and become real-life friends.
The views. Yellowstone National Park was a place of beauty! It was awesome to get to see so much in such a few days. I love that we saw so many unique views as we went to different parts of the park.
The hiking. I loved that we got to explore the park by hiking through it! You get to experience so much as you step outside of your van. We hiked over geysers, through wildflowers, up mountains, and alongside the lake. It was wonderful!
I was reading through trip reviews from girls who came on this trip with me and this one really stands out. "I don’t even know how to put this into words. The relationships were something I never expected to be so incredibly special. It was exactly what my heart needed. The views, unbelievable."
How many days do you need in Yellowstone National Park?
Our total trip length was 5 days and we spent 3 full days in the park. I polled everyone at the end of our trip, and we all agreed that the trip felt "about the right length" for us. We spent full days in varying areas of the park hiking, driving, and exploring all we could.
I would say the only area of the park we didn't get to see that I wish we could have was the Northeastern area of the park. That part of the park looks stunning! Unfortunately that area of the park is where most of the flooding occurred so we weren't able to go there. It wasn't a part of our original itinerary, but if I were able to add a day in the future, I'd absolutely go there.
What is the best month to visit Yellowstone?
A lot of people say that the "off months" like April, September, and October are the best months to visit the park.
But honestly, July wasn't bad! I think people tend to steer away from July because of the crowds. And I'm not sure if the flooding made it less busy this month, but it truly didn't feel very crowded. Of course there were people around the popular parts of the park, but we weren't waiting in tons or lines and didn't have any parking issues.
July worked best for us because it's when several people in our group had the most free time in their schedule. I wouldn't change the time we visited!
What was the weather like during the trip?
We visited Yellowstone National Park in mid-July. During the day, the weather was upper 70s and low 80s. There wasn't always shade and it felt hot! Most of us wore shorts, t-shirts, and tanks.
It rained every afternoon for us. The rain never stopped us from hiking or ruined our plans. There were two evenings where it rained and forced us into our tents earlier than we would have liked.
At night and in the early mornings it cooled down a lot! We wore pants, layers, and were cold while going to sleep.
If you pack a lot of layers, you'll be fine! But pack for heat during the day and cold at night.
What is the best way to tour Yellowstone?
The best way to see the park is get out there and explore! Go on the trails even if they're short and quick! They'll help you see so much.
Also, go to all of the different parts of the park! Each day we were there felt so different because we saw so many different things because we visited a different area of the park each day.
Look out the windows, too! Yellowstone is one of the parks you'll spend a lot of time driving around in. Make sure to look out the windows and admire the wildlife and beauty as you go to different parts of the park. And if something looks interesting, pull over and get out of your car to look! (Emphasis on LOOK! Don't approach the wildlife or go into terrain that's unmarked).
Can you swim in Yellowstone?
Unfortunately, you can't swim anywhere in Yellowstone National Park. No lakes, rivers, hot springs, geysers, NOTHING.
We were originally hoping to swim in the Boiling River but its closed until further notice. It actually hasn't opened at all this year and I heard rumors it might not ever open again which is a bummer!
There are currently no other places to swim either. You cannot swim in Yellowstone Lake. And you most certainly cannot swim in the hot springs or geysers.
Is it better to stay in Yellowstone or outside the park?
The answer to this totally depends on your group size, budget, and goal of the trip. There are several different entrances so it's easier (and cheaper) to stay outside the park. If you're backpacking or camping, go in! If you're staying in hotel or lodge, it's easy to stay out. You're going to have to drive no matter what because the park is so huge.
Where did we stay?
We stayed at the Yellowstone Park / West Gate KOA. We had two campsites side by side in the back of the park. There were pros and cons about staying here!
The pros are that our campsites had a lot of space so we were able to set up all of our tents, have a fire ring, and picnic tables. There was a camp store that several girls visited frequently with snacks, drinks, and souvenirs (much cheaper than anywhere else we visited). The showers and bathrooms were also really nice!
The cons are that there were a lot of people around and it was a busy campground. The biggest con is that it was right next to the highway and you could hear cars driving.
If I had to pick again, I'd like to find something a little more secluded. But I think the amenities were helpful, especially for the girls who were camping for the first time!
How did meals work during the trip?
We had a similar meal routine everyday of the trip. We stayed just outside the park in West Yellowstone, meaning we had to drove to and from the park every day.
We had breakfast at the campsite every morning, packed our lunches to take with us and eat during the park, and then cooked dinner back at the campsite everyday.
Our breakfasts were "continental" style and included berries, bananas, yogurts, cereal and milk, bagels, toast, and oatmeal.
For lunches we packed whatever we wanted! There was an assortment of breads, deli meats, cheeses, and sauces to make sandwiches, wraps, and bagels. There were veggies, apples, oranges, chips, and granola bars as well.
Our dinners were cooked at the campsite every day. We were in groups of 5 and took turns cooking the dinners together. We had chili (a meat and vegetarian version), burgers & brats, tacos, and pasta. All classic meals with plenty of customizations available.
Can you bring food into Yellowstone?
Yes! We packed our lunches and snacks in our bags for every day. I recommend making a cooler filled with your lunches and accessing as you need throughout the day.
Where did you fly to go to Yellowstone?
We flew into Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, about a 2 hour drive from Yellowstone National Park. It's worth mentioning there's a small airport in West Yellowstone as well.
Is all of Yellowstone open?
The best way to determine which parts of the Park are open and closed is to check the Yellowstone park website. We were able to do so much in the park, even with some sections being closed.
How in advance should you plan your trip?
Since this park is so popular, I would suggest planning your trip as soon as you know! There were parts of our trip we planned months in advance. The very first thing I would plan is campsites! The ones in the park fill up quick so do that first if you're trying to stay in the park. If you're willing to look outside the park, you'll have more options.
Is Yellowstone worth visiting?
Absolutely! Yellowstone was the World's First National Park. Even the earliest explorers realized there was something special about this space. This place is so unique given the ability to observe wildlife and explore geothermal areas. The areas of the park are all so different that you're able to see so much when you visit.
While I'm a big mountain and lake girl, I can still appreciate the beauty of Yellowstone. I understand why so many people want to visit this park and I definitely think it's worth it!
How were trip logistics planned?
I worked with Trova Trip and Incredible Adventures to plan this trip.
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