Yellowstone National Park Southern Loop: Things to See, Do, and Photograph

Yellowstone covers over 2 million acres of land! It’s divided into 2 main sections and 9 areas. This guide will focus on the Yellowstone National Park Southern Loop: things to see, do, and photograph.

You’ll find everything you need to know in this Yellowstone National Park travel guide: best times to visit, what to pack, where to stay, and things to do!

Yellowstone Southern Loop Vacation Ideas

This guide lists all the attractions, hiking trails, services and accommodations found for each area in the Southern Loop of Yellowstone.

Use the information to create a Yellowstone itinerary that’s tailored to what YOU want to see and do!

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FREE DOWNLOAD: Printable Yellowstone Packing Lists

Packing for a winter vacation in Yellowstone

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A Photo Tour of the Yellowstone Southern Loop

Take a visual tour through the south loop of Yellowstone National Park to see the wildlife, waterfalls, geysers, and landscapes you’ll find in this part of the park!

Visiting Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is one of the most popular National Parks in the United States. Its sits atop a volcanic hot spot that creates a unique, natural landscape that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before: awe-inspiring canyons, alpine rivers, lush forests, hot springs, and mesmerizing geysers, like Old Faithful.

For wildlife enthusiasts, Yellowstone is also home to a wide variety of fascinating animal species that include bears, wolves, bison, elk, and antelope.

We visit Yellowstone multiple times a year (yes, we love it that much!). Our favorite things to see and photograph are the Yellowstone waterfalls, geysers and wildlife.

Check out our guide detailing the best places to see Wildlife in Yellowstone National Park!

Areas to Visit in the Yellowstone Southern Loop

There are three entrances to access the southern loop of Yellowstone: West (West Yellowstone), South (Grand Teton), and East (Cody).

There are seven areas in the southern loop of Yellowstone:

  • Madison
  • Old Faithful
  • Lake
  • West Thumb Geyser Basin
  • Grant Village
  • Canyon
  • Norris

We detail all the services, lodging, and things to do in each of these areas of Yellowstone in more detail later in this guide.

Check out our guide to the Yellowstone National Park Northern loop if you want to see the whole park!

Best Time to Visit the Southern Loop of Yellowstone

The best time to visit Yellowstone National Park is during one of the park’s shoulder seasons, which are from April through May and September through October. During these months you’ll avoid the crowds that can overwhelm the park throughout July and August when most families are on summer vacation. 

Additionally, you can further reduce your encounters with park crowds by visiting Yellowstone National Park during nonpeak hours, which are either before 8:00 am or after 3:00 pm.

Our favorite months for a Yellowstone vacation are May, October and during the winter. We think they are the best times to visit yellowstone for wildlife.

Man sticking head out of bombardier snowcoach at Yellowstone in the winter

Yellowstone Southern Loop Operating Hours

The southern loop entrances to Yellowstone include: West Yellowstone, the South Entrance from Grand Teton, and the East Entrance from Cody, Wyoming. The southern loop part of the park is closed throughout November (to prepare for winter) and between the end of March and early April (to prepare for summer).

In mid-December, the roads open to oversnow travel only via snowmobile, snowcoach, snowshoe and cross-country ski. Planning a Yellowstone winter vacation is a unique experience you’ll never forget! We highly recommend Alpen Guides – riding the bombardier snowcoach was amazing!

See the website for specific Yellowstone park roads information. When roads are open they can be used by park guests twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

Entrance Fees at Yellowstone

There are a variety of passes available to visit Yellowstone. Check the website for the most current Yellowstone fee prices and information.

If you’ll be traveling through the south entrance between Yellowstone to visit Grand Teton National Park, you will need to purchase a separate admission pass for Yellowstone AND Grand Teton, or purchase the National Parks Pass.

Yellowstone Weather

Since most of the park sits above 6,000 feet (1829 m) in elevation, daily Yellowstone National Park weather patterns can vary unpredictability throughout each month of the year. Therefore, expect significant seasonal changes in temperature, rain, and snow. Accordingly, regardless of when you visit, be sure to pack a fleece jacket, rain gear, and lots of layers.

In spring and fall specifically, daytime temperatures can vary between 30°F and 60°F (0°C to 20°C) in a single day, with overnight lows in the teens and single digits (-5°C to -20°C). Snow is also common throughout these seasons, with accumulations of 12 inches (30.5 cm) in a twenty-four hour period being quite normal.

In contrast, summer, daytime temperatures can often climb as high as 70°F (25°C), and even 80°F (30°C) in lower elevation areas. Nights are also typically cooler, with temperatures that may drop below freezing at higher elevations. Thunderstorms are also common throughout the afternoon.

In winter, park guests can expect average, daytime temperatures between zero and 20°F (-20°C to -5°C), with sub-zero temperatures common throughout the evening. Visitors should also prepare for a signifcant amount of snow, with average snowfall levels around 150 inches (381 cm) per year. However, higher elevations will typically receive twice this amount of snow.

Packing for a winter vacation in Yellowstone

Yellowstone Pets Policy

Because of the number of different animal species that are found within Yellowstone National Park, bringing your pet with you can limit the number of activities you can participate in.

Pets are not permitted on boardwalks, hiking trails, in the backcountry, or in thermal areas.

Therefore, if you do decide to bring a pet with you on your Yellowstone vacation, please remember that pets may only accompany people in developed areas and must remain within 100 feet (30.5 meters) of roads, parking areas, and campgrounds at all times.

Pets must also always be physically controlled while in either a car, crate, or on a leash that is no more than six feet long. As a result, pets may not be left unattended or tied to an object at any time.

And while pets may be left in a vehicle for a short period of time, it is recommended that someone stay with the animal to help monitor their continued well being. Owners are also required to pick up after their pets and dispose of their waste.

hot-pool-at-yellowstone

Yellowstone Goods and Services in the Southern Loop

You’ll want to check the Yellowstone website for the most updated operating times for all services in the park.

Yellowstone Visitor Centers in the Southern Loop

  • Old Faithful Visitor Education Center (open daily between April and early November)
  • Canyon Visitor Education Center (open daily between May and mid-October)
  • Fishing Bridge Museum and Visitor Center (open daily between late May and late September)
  • Grant Village Visitor Center (open daily between late May and late September)
  • Madison Information Station (open daily between late May and late September)
  • Norris Area Museums (The Norris Geyser Basin Museum and the Museum of the National Park Ranger are open daily between late May and late September)
  • West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center (open daily, year-round and located in the town of West Yellowstone)

Many of these visitor centers also contain park stores that sell a variety of different souvenirs: books, artwork, and educational materials.

Yellowstone Service Stations in the Southern Loop

These service stations offer 24-hour, year-round, credit card fueling: Canyon Village, Fishing Bridge, Grant Village, and Old Faithful.

Yellowstone Southern Loop Cell Service

Like most national parks, cellular service is limited in Yellowstone since cell towers are only found at West Yellowstone, Old Faithful, and Grant Village in the Southern Loop of the park. Service can also be found at the West entrance.

Yellowstone Medical Services in the South Loop

  • Lake Clinic
  • Old Faithful Clinic during the summer

All clinics are open to the public and fully equipped for most medical emergencies and routine care. Services include injury/illness treatment, x-rays, and some lab and pharmacy services. If in-patient care is required, clinic staff can stabilize patients and transfer them to hospitals outside the park.

Miscellaneous Services in the Southern Loop of Yellowstone

  • Powell Lock for locksmith services
  • US Post Offices: Canyon Village, Grant Village, Lake Village, and Old Faithful. 

For visitor convenience, general stores, gift shops, mini stores, and park stores can be found throughout the park allow visitors to buy a wide variety of gifts, food, and travel essentials.

Check the Yellowstone website for operating hours and seasons for the various services in the park.

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Yellowstone National Park Map

Printable and interactive Yellowstone maps will help you navigate through the park.

Yellowstone map

Yellowstone National Park Southern Loop: Things to See, Do, and Photograph

Here’s a list of things to do at Yellowstone National Park to add to your vacation itinerary when visiting the Southern Loop.

You can also book a tour to drive the Yellowstone Loop! We also recommend the GyPSy Yellowstone Audio Tour!!

We are listing the southern loop points of interest in geographic order starting and ending in West Yellowstone.

Firehole Falls in Yellowstone

West Yellowstone to Madison

From West Yellowstone, you’ll drive east next to the Madison River then head south at the Madison Junction and drive next to the Firehole River. These two rivers are known for great fly fishing. And you’ll often see wildlife along the rivers as well.

One of our favorite things to do is view and photograph spectacular Yellowstone Waterfalls. Don’t miss the scenic drive in Firehole Canyon to see Firehole Falls.

West Yellowstone and Madison Attractions:

Madison & West Yellowstone Lodging

Our Favorite Places to Stay in West Yellowstone:

Lower and Midway Geyser Basins

As you continue south you’ll drive through the Lower Geyser Basin where you’ll find the Fountain Paint Pots and other hot pools and geysers.

When you reach the Midway Geyser Basin, the one must-stop location is Grand Prismatic Spring. It’s a huge oval pool surrounded by unusually colorful bands of algae and travertine terraces, with wavy run off channels.

A half mile boardwalk trail runs part way around the spring, past two much smaller pools (Opal and Turquoise) and Excelsior Geyser, formerly the largest geyser on Earth.

Iconic Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park.

Old Faithful & Upper Geyser Basin

Watching Old Faithful Geyser erupt is a quintessential Yellowstone National Park experience that people from all over the world come to enjoy. In fact, it was the unique, predictability of Old Faithful’s eruptions that led the American government to establish Yellowstone as the first national park in the world, in 1872.

No Yellowstone vacation would be complete without a trip to Old Faithful, one of almost 500 geysers in the park, and one of six that park rangers can currently predict.

For the best view of the eruption, try watching from either the Old Faithful viewing area or from the boardwalks that wind around the geyser itself.

The geysers of the Upper Basin in Yellowstone National Park represent the most concentrated group in the world – over 250 are found in an area just 2 miles across.

The Old Faithful Snow Lodge is the only place in the southern loop to offer Yellowstone winter lodging. You’ll need to reserve a Yellowstone snowcoach for transportation to and from the lodge.

Old Faithful Area Attractions and Services:

boardwalk in the Yellowstone West Thumb area

West Thumb & Grant Village

From Old Faithful, continue south and east toward the West Thumb Geyser Basin. Two circular boardwalk trails totaling 0.75 miles pass by colorful hot pools and springs, steam vents and mud pots.

Most of the geysers here are just bubbling pools, but it has the added attraction of being right next to Yellowstone Lake.

Grant Village is a developed area in the park with both a hotel-style lodge and a large campground with lots of amenities.

Near Grant Village you’ll have the option to head toward the South entrance for visiting Grand Teton National Park.

West Thumb Attractions:

  • West Thumb Geyser Basin
  • West Thumb Information Station

Grant Village Lodging and Services:

  • Grant Village Lodge and Dining Room
  • Grant Village Campground
  • Grant Village Lake House Restaurant
  • Grant Village General Store – grill and ice cream counter
  • Grant Village Service Station, Public Restrooms
  • Grant Village Marina
Moose Falls at Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone South Entrance to Grand Teton

The drive toward Grand Teton is beautiful. There are a few hiking trails and photographic spots we recommend: Lewis Lake, Lewis Falls and Moose Falls.

If you’re like us and like to photograph waterfalls, then definitely stop at Moose Falls!

Because Grand Teton National Park begins just south of Yellowstone, there are no towns with hotels until Jackson Hole, about 57 miles away.

Yellowstone South Attractions:

Yellowstone South Lodging and Services:

Lewis Lake Campground
Headwaters Lodge & Cabins at Flagg Ranch
Headwaters Campground & RV Park

Bridge Bay, Lake Village & Fishing Bridge

Continuing north from Grant you’ll drive along Yellowstone Lake. It’s the largest lake in the USA at this elevation (7,773 above sea level). Activities you can do here are rafting, kayaking, paddling, boating, and fishing. The water is generally too cold for swimming, and the whole surface is frozen solid for several months in winter. 

Conditions can change quickly on the lake. We recommend you book a Yellowstone kayaking tour so you’re with a guide!

A fun stop in Bridge Bay is a short hike along a forested trail to a small rhyolite natural bridge, framing a minor stream.

Lake Village has a hotel, ranger station, post office, visitor center and day hiking trails.

The road forks just after the village where the left branch leads to the popular Canyon area and the right fork crosses the Yellowstone River over the historic Fishing Bridge.

From here the road follows the north shore for a while then turns away from the lake towards the East Entrance of the national park. About 50 miles after the park entrance you’ll reach Cody, Wyoming where you’ll find a good variety of lodging and food options.

Lake Area Attractions:

Lake Area Lodging:

Bison standing on the road in Yellowstone.

Hayden Valley

From Lake, you’ll head north and follow the Yellowstone River into the wide open grasslands and marshes of Hayden Valley. This is one of the best locations for roadside wildlife viewing in Yellowstone. Spring and fall are the best times to visit yellowstone for wildlife.

Before the river enters the flatland of Hayden Valley, it descends at LeHardys Rapids. You’ll then pass through an interesting, and smelly, thermal region with a variety of mudpots, fumaroles, sulphurous springs and odorous pools.

Bison are often found in this area. PLEASE follow the wildlife regulations for the park. Wild animals are unpredictable and dangerous. Every year people are injured when they approach animals too closely. Animals that attack people may need to be relocated or killed.

To protect yourself and the animals you come to watch, always remain at least 100 yards (91 meters) from bears or wolves, and at least 25 yards (23 meters) from all other wildlife.

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Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone & Canyon Village

The Yellowstone River flows over two large waterfalls and drops into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

It’s a spectacular canyon with steep walls formed of jagged, eroded, chemically altered volcanic rocks of unusually bright colors – red, pink, orange and white.

Viewpoints for the Upper Falls:

  • Upper Falls Trail
  • Uncle Tom’s Trail
  • Artist Point

North Rim Viewpoints for the Lower Falls:

  • Brink of Lower Falls
  • Lookout Point
  • Red Rock Point
  • Grandview Point
  • Inspiration Point

Canyon Area Attractions:

Lake Area Services and Lodging:

  • Canyon Village general store, restaurant, cafeteria, and deli
  • Canyon Village gas station
  • Canyon Village public restrooms
  • Canyon Lodge
  • Canyon Campground

Gibbon Falls at Yellowstone.

Norris to Madison

The Norris Geyser Basin is full of dynamic thermal activity you can see, and it’s home to Steamboat Geyser, the largest active geyser in the world.

From Canyon to Norris you’ll drive through Gibbon Meadows and find Virginia Cascade.

From Norris to Madison you’ll see the Artists Paint Pots, a collection of small but colorful springs, mud pots and sporadically-erupting geysers. And be sure to stop at Gibbon Falls, an impressive wide waterfall.

Norris Area Attractions and Lodging:

From Madison you head back to West Yellowstone where we started. Now you’ve got a general idea of all there is to see along the Yellowstone southern loop!

Yellowstone Maps and Guides at Amazon:

Yellowstone maps and guides

Yellowstone Tours and Day Trips

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