Yellowstone National Park is a vast 2.2 million acre landscape, and planning a visit can make even the most seasoned traveler think 'It's how big?' and 'Wow, I'll never see it all!'.
To be frank, the latter is true; You will not see it all, especially in one trip. But, while no where close to everything Yellowstone has to offer, the following seven areas (ordered clockwise around the Grand Loop Loop road, beginning at Old Faithful) will give you a good overview and likely a taste to begin planning another adventure.
As home to both the famous geyser and it's namesake hotel, this area is arguably the best known and most visited attraction in the park. For a quick visit, stop at the Visitor Education Center for the next Old Faithful geyser prediction time and enjoy the are until the next eruption. For a more in-depth view, visit the Old Faithful Inn for a free tour of the historic hotel or take a walk around the Upper Geyser basin.
Lower Geyser Basin
Located about mid-way between Old Faithful and Madison Junction, this area is home to another large and interesting family of thermal features. The most popular part of this basin is the Fountain Paint Pots area, one of the few where you can find all 4 types of thermal features in one short .5 mile walk. With a little more time, take a drive down Fountain Lake Drive and with a little luck (and planning by checking the prediction time at the Old Faithful VEC), be awed by the display of Great Fountain geyser.
Mammoth Hot Springs
Named for the large travertine terraces that dominate the hillsides and home to the historic Fort Yellowstone area, this area offers both natural and cultural highlights. Take a walk around the boardwalks of the terraces or a walking tour of the fort, and enjoy a great show from the rutting elk during the fall season.
Often called the "American Serengeti" and home to some of the best opportunities to view wildlife, this sprawling valley is a stark contrast to the more mountainous southern regions of the park. Take a leisurely drive through (with eyes wide open for bison, elk, wolves and moose!) or have a picnic next to the Yellowstone River.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
A dramatic change from the high desert of the Lamar Valley, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone drops 1,200 feet at it's deepest point and provides a home for the Yellowstone River's 309-foot drop over the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone. View the falls from different perspective on both rims of the Canyon, or hike 500 feet down the canyon via the 300-plus stairs of Uncle Tom's Trail. The Canyon Visitor Education center is also one of the best in the park.
Located between the Lake and Canyon areas and named for explorer Ferdenand Hayden, whose geologic maps of the area played a starring role in the creation of the park, this can be one of the best areas in the park to encounter wildlife. Especially in August. When you will wonder how so many bison could possibly be in one place. At one time. Right in front of your car.
With 110 miles of shoreline, this is the largest alpine freshwater lake in North America. Stop at one of the many viewpoints, many from which offer views all the way to the Grand Teton Mountain range, enjoy a glass of wine to the string quartet in the sun room of the historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel or hire a fishing guide from Bridge Bay Marina.