Traveling to Yellowstone is a great way to spend time with your family and build lasting memories. While back country trails are beyond the effort most families want to expend, there are plenty of attractions in Yellowstone which are very kid friendly and require very little effort to enjoy with some planning. I have been visiting Yellowstone National Park for many years. So many years, that I really don’t remember when I first visited the park. It was sometime in the early 1980’s, just a few years after I was born. Now I continue the family tradition as I enjoy taking my own kids to Yellowstone every year. My hope is that this article will help other families enjoy the park.
My most emphasized bit of advice to enjoy Yellowstone National Park with kids is to follow a schedule that allows plenty of rest and eating. This advice goes for any trip, but is especially important in Yellowstone as you will be doing a lot of walking and driving. Pack snacks like cheese sticks, dried fruit, nuts, and plenty of water that you can eat and drink as you walk on the different boardwalks. These types of snacks will help your kids not to have sugar highs and become cranky as they come down off of the sugar.
There are plenty of places to eat in Yellowstone, but not many of them are really very kid friendly meals. If possible, pack your own lunches. Peanut butter and honey sandwiches are great because they do not require coolers. If you don’t mind leaving the park for dinner, West Yellowstone, Jackson Hole, and Gardiner all have plenty of places most people are familiar with for dinner. If you want to stay in the park, Old Faithful, Mammoth, Grant Village, Lake Village, Roosevelt Lodge and Canyon Village all have dining facilities that serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can also purchase light meals and fast foods at the general stores in Mammoth, Canyon, Tower, Lake, Grant Village, Fishing Bridge, Bridge Bay and Old Faithful.
Sleeping in and around Yellowstone can be a very exciting adventure for kids. Campgrounds, Cabins, Lodges, and Hotels are all available options that are very doable with kids. The park and surrounding communities supply all of these options.
Camping is my favorite way to enjoy the park with kids. There is something magical about camping out in nature for a young child. Some campgrounds in Yellowstone accept reservations. If you are travelling much of a distance and want to camp in Yellowstone, I highly recommend making a reservation at one of these campgrounds. The non-reserve campgrounds fill up quickly on weekends in the summer, especially on holiday weekends. Most of Yellowstone’s campgrounds have running water and flushable toilets, but a few feature drop toilets which disgust a lot of people who have never…um…done much in the outdoors.
The amount of time you have to spend in the park will determine the type of attractions youwant to visit. I recommend a minimum of two full days for visiting Yellowstone with kids. Any less than that and you will miss out on a lot. The minimum of two days allows you to spend at least one full day on each of the loops. I also don’t recommend any more than four days when travelling with children in Yellowstone because when you reach that point they start to putter out and lose excitement.
Any way you decide to visit the park, just be aware that there are oodles and gobs of nature to see in Yellowstone. A lot of tourists are only aware of Old Faithful as an attraction, but here are my suggestions on where to visit when travelling to Yellowstone with kids:
Top 10 of Yellowstone’s Upper Loop for Kids
- Norris Geyser Basin – Home to the World’s largest geyser, Steamboat.
- Roaring Mountain – Roaring mountain no longer roars, but it’s fun to tell children about how it use to roar, but the giant inside is now sleeping.
- Sheep Eater Cliffs – Indians used this cliff to chase sheep off of in the name of hunting. This is a fun area for children to climb on and view Marmots.
- Hoodoo’s – Between Golden Gate and Mammoth is a little turn out called the Hoodoo’s. Look closely and you might just see a face staring back at you from the rock formations.
- Mammoth – The Mammoth area deserves an article all its own, but think of how much fun it would be to play with GI Joe’s or Barbie dolls on those terraces.
- Petrified Tree – This one is a fun history/science lesson for kids to learn about how a tree can become petrified.
- Roosevelt Lodge – Saddle up or jump in a carriage for an old Wild West experience at Roosevelt Lodge.
- Tower Fall – A little bit of a hike this is a fun waterfall to view. Use the restrooms while here, they are really good ones.
- Mount Washburn – Do not hike this one with real little ones unless you have all day, but you can point out the fire lookout station on the top of the mountain. The view from the top is excellent.
- Canyon – Canyon is another area that deserves its own article, but children really enjoy the visitor’s center, and looking at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. If you have more than two days, you can spend an entire day around the Canyon on the different hikes and at the visitor’s center.
Top 10 of Yellowstone’s Lower Loop for Kids
- Firehole River Drive – show the kids one of the few places in the park that swimming is allowed. If you are swimmers, bring your suits and go for a swim.
- Fountain Paint Pot – This is a great area to show your kids a lot of what Yellowstone offers in a very short looping trail. Mud pots, geysers, and hot springs are all found on the loop.
- Old Faithful – Visit the Old Faithful Lodge, Old Faithful Geyser and the Old Faithful Visitor’s Center. If you have extra days, it’s possible to spend close to half a day walking the different paths around Old Faithful.
- Lone Star Geyser – Lone Star Geyser is a large cone shaped geyser at the end of an old paved road that erupts faithfully every 3 hours. Bring your bicycles and cut the time down significantly on this one. Don’t leave after the first small eruption, wait another 20 minutes and watch the major eruption.
- Continental Divide Lily Pond by Scaup Lake – This pond is unique in that the water filling it can flow to either the Pacific Ocean or Atlantic Ocean. Very good location to have a geography lesson and to get a picture with the Continental Divide sign as well.
- Grant Village – Grant Village has a visitor’s center with exhibits that change out from time to time. However, this is not what kids will remember the most. There is a trail at the Northeast end of the parking lot that goes around a corner to a large swinging bridge. Kids love playing on the bridge. It’s on the Lakeshore Stroll.
- West Thumb Geyser Basin – What little kid doesn’t like fishing? Fishing cone is a great story to tell a child. Fisherman in the early days of Yellowstone would fish in the lake, then turn around and boil their fish in the cone.
- Natural Bridge – This 51 foot high natural bridge is reachable by walking or biking down an old paved road for about a mile. Kids like to walk up by the top and wave to parents down below. This is another trail that time is saved by biking.
- Fishing Bridge – There is an excellent bird museum at the Fishing Bridge area that allows kids to see stuffed animals up close and personal. At one time, this was a very popular location for fisherman to get a great catch. Although fishing is now banned from the bridge, you can still walk on the bridge and see trout swimming below.
- Mud Volcano – Dragon’s Mouth is probably one of the best places in Yellowstone to get a kids imagination going. It really sounds like a dragon is living down in a cave as steam constantly pours out of the opening. When I was a kid, I thought this was where Elliot from Pete’s Dragon lived. Watch out for Buffalo on the trail. They are not like puppies, you don’t pet them.