So, first of all, I know, I know. One day is not a sufficient time to visit Yellowstone! Trust me- I am used to giving people advice about visiting Yosemite and have the same problem. But ultimately I always say that one day in Yosemite is better than none, and I think the same is true of Yellowstone.
A quick background of our trip: we were 5 middle aged ladies celebrating a high school reunion together. We stayed near Teton Village in Jackson Hole, and the focus was on visiting that area. But everyone wanted to see Yellowstone, particularly the geyser area. They seemed to trust me to be their "activity director" (apparently they don't know my secret weapon, which is all of you TA advisors!) So I made sure they were all aware of the time the trip would take, and what the limitations would be, so off we went.
The most helpful info in planning this trip was something I learned about here, a link to a website: www.alandsuejohnson.com/yellowstone_home.htm
These lovely people had created a website of their travels, including a section on Yellowstone with day trips from Jackson. Particularly useful was the link to a map with apprx. driving times between major sights. This was invaluable in preparing us for how much we could see in one day, particularly since none of us had been there before.
The suggested itinerary had you leave Jackson at 6 am and head up to the right side of the lower loop, and Hayden Valley, to catch the wildlife in the morning. Well, we didn't leave until 8:30, and everyone wanted to see geysers, so we just took the recommended loop backwards.
We had packed our own lunch in order to save time. We made a few scenic stops along the way, including Oxbow Bend. What gorgeous scenery! The trip was worthwhile just from scenery alone. We also vowed to stop whenever we saw that there were wildlife sightings along the way, which we did.
Our first major stop was in Grant Village for a restroom break and to gather a bit more info. Then we turned left and headed up the lower loop for our first stop at Old Faithful. It was blowing right as we arrived, so we parked and spent some time walking along geyser hill nearby (some decided to watch the movie in the Visitor Center instead.) Then after the next "eruption" we switched places, and some walked around some more geysers and some saw the movie. I also stopped in at Old Faithful Inn, which is an attraction all by itself.
We had our picnic outside there in the Old Faithful area, and even watched another eruption while we ate.
We moved on toward Norris, stopping to look at bison and at Gibbon Falls. We passed a number of worthwhile stops, but it had to be! We enjoyed walking around the Porcelain Basin at Norris and were in awe of that unique and amazing spot. It was already about 3 when we were there.
On to Canyon, where snacks and coffee were in order, and a quick visit to the amazing Education Center. I checked in with the ranger to ask about seeing the falls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. He gave me an excellent plan of attack for the area, so I'd certainly recommend anyone do the same. However, we knew that our time was running out, so we opted for half of it, heading to the road on the south side of the river, visiting Brink of the Falls, and later Artist Point. It was getting close to 5 oclock by then, and I could tell everyone was getting a bit weary, but all were thrilled with our stops.
Lastly, we headed back towards Grant Village, keeping our eyes peeled for wildlife along Hayden Valley (saw some bison and elk, no bears!) We stopped for a bit at Mud Volcano and walked around a bit- what an otherworldly place that is! I was amazed by the ranger who could be there all day, as the smell of sulphur was overwhelming.
We continued along, enjoying the views of Yellowstone Lake and West Thumb Geyser Basin. One last quick stop for snacks and a bathroom break at Grant Village (we got there just before 7 when the Visitor Center closes!) and we were headed back to Jackson. We got back at 9, with enough energy to have a great dinner at "Q" near our condo.
While it was not the ideal way to see Yellowstone, to a one we are all glad we did it, and enjoyed everything that we WERE able to see. While I didn't post many questions here before our trip, I did read the posts here religiously, and I want to thank you all for your helpful advice.