In 1872, Yellowstone became the first established National park of the United States. It spans an area of 3,500 square miles (about 9000 km2) and borders 3 states: Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. It is famous for its amazing wildlife, its colorful hot springs and enormous geysers..
About 18 hours driving from San Francisco
6 hours driving from Salt Lake city
2 hours driving from Jackson Hole
I would say, at least 4 days or one complete week if you want to end your trip with a visit to the Teton National Park.
Yellowstone is a big park (really big) so you’ll need a car to visit. I mean, Yosemite is big too, but if you head out to the Valley or to Tuolomne Meadows, the terrain won’t be that different- you will still find some beautiful lakes, waterfalls and incredible hiking. You can easily settle down at one particular spot and wander around. It’s not the same deal with Yellowstone : each section of the park is different : The Valley of Bisons; the geysers, the hot springs, waterfalls and colorful lakes. If you want to see all of this in one go, you will have to drive, but a little basic planning may help you optimize your diving.
First check the map below (Map from National Park websites). You can see that the main road in of th park is an 8 shaped road (cf map below). The Upper loop is 70 miles, while the lower loop is 95 miles
There are two kinds of camping in Yellowstone National Park; The campgrounds operated by Mantra, and available by reservation and the campgrounds operated by Yellowstone National Park, available first come, first serve. I would recommend you split your trip in two : book a campsite in the north loop for the first two nights and then a campsite in the Southern loop for 2 more nights. An ideal booking would be booking 2 nights at Canyon Campground and two other nights at Grant Campground (West Thumb). If you end up wanting to stay one or two more nights, there is still the possibility of checking out a first come first come campground. More information about Camping in the park
I won’t be able to cover all the things one can do or see in the park, but there are many websites that will do that way better (like this site, or this one). In the meantime, here is a short list of our own top five places to visit:
Old Faithful Area: The Old faithful Geyser is definitely a must-see.The geyser erupts roughly every 30 minutes, so the eruptions are predictable. Old Faithful is also near the Grand Prismatic spring, maybe one of the most scenic places of Yellowstone and the largest hot spring in the park.
After visiting the Grand Prismatic spring from the main entrance, I encourage you to hike the Fairy Fall Trial. This trail leads to a nice waterfall (the Fairy fall), and to "pictures hill" , an overlooking view of the Grand Prismatic Spring. There is no official trail leading to Pictures Hill, but I’m excited to say that the park is currently working on an official trail (Starting May 2016).
Yellowstone’s Boiling River: This hot spring is located north of Yellowstone between Mammoth Hot Springs and the North Entrance, at the border of Montana. The hot springs are open during the day, but not at Night.
The weather is susceptible to changing super quickly in Yellowstone National Park. Be careful and check the forecast before going. Flash floods and lightning are also common in Yellowstone. Below are some pictures I took to capture some of the crazy weather events we witnessed during the four days of our trip.