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Are you considering a family trip to Yellowstone, but don’t know exactly what to do while you’re there? It can be difficult to decide what to do and what to skip in Yellowstone.
Yellowstone is full of unique natural wonders that will captivate everyone in the family. With so much to do, it’s important to know which activities in Yellowstone are the best for kids.
Our kids surprised us by declaring some of these activities as their favorites. They are still talking about them months later! They also talk about the things they didn’t particularly enjoy – like the smell of sulfur, especially in the Mud Volcano area. But they will definitely remember it!
We’ve pulled together ten of the top activities to do in Yellowstone on a road trip with kids below to help you plan your next family adventure.
1. Watch Wildlife
One of the biggest highlights of visiting Yellowstone with kids is seeing wildlife at every corner. It’s not uncommon to have a bison jam from a herd of bison crossing the road, or to hear the bugling of an elk while visiting one of the geyser basins in the park. Some of the animals that you may see in Yellowstone are bison, deer, elk, antelope, foxes, coyotes, eagles, osprey, and wolves.
Best Places to See Wildlife In Yellowstone
Truth be told, you’ll be able to see wildlife almost everywhere in the park. So, keep your eyes peeled! However, two locations stand out as some of the best for spotting the most action.
- Lamar Valley: Located in the northeast section of the park, Lamar Valley is known to be a perfect place for spotting wildlife. In fact, the Lamar Valley is the best place to see wolves in Yellowstone.
- Hayden Valley: Hayden Valley is more centrally located between Fishing Bridge and Canyon Village and is another excellent destination for observing wildlife. Hayden Valley is one of the best places to see bears in Yellowstone.
Tips for Watching Wildlife in Yellowstone
- Bring binoculars or a spotting scope. It can be a challenge to spot animals without them.
- Pay attention to groups of cars that have pulled over on the side of the road, especially in the valleys. There’s a pretty good chance that they are watching something.
- Be patient. This part is tough with kids, but we found luck by having a meal while we were pulled over so we could watch and wait. The kids could eat while we scoped it out, and they didn’t get bored waiting.
- Follow safety guidelines and be sure to give wildlife their distance.
2. Visit West Thumb Geyser Basin
Located near the South Entrance to the park, West Thumb Geyser Basin was one of our favorite places in Yellowstone with kids. If you can time it right, visit this one at sunset. The visitors center may be closed, but the colors of the evening against the backdrop of Yellowstone Lake and geysers are something magical.
In this area of Yellowstone, one of the kids’ favorites was Fishing Cone. There are stories of men in the early days of the park catching trout in Yellowstone Lake. They would then stand on the cone itself and cooking the fish by dropping them directly into the center of the cone by their fishing pole.
3. Go Hiking
Full of amazing landscapes, hiking with kids in Yellowstone is one of the best options. If you’re up for a bit of adventure, climb to the top of Mount Washburn. With an elevation of 10,243 feet, you’re sure to get an excellent view.
However, if the sound of a strenuous hike is a little much with kids, these are two Yellowstone hikes for kids we would recommend.
- Point Sublime Trail: This trail does wind along the edge of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. So if you have a fear of heights or tiny children, you may want to pass. However, this 3-mile hike is full of incredible views, even if you don’t complete the entire trail.
- Grand Prismatic Overlook Trail: This trail starts at the Fairy Falls Trailhead and is only about 0.6 miles long, so it can be done relatively quickly. When you get to the top, you will be rewarded with incredible views of the Grand Prismatic. It was one of the highlights of our trip.
4. Visit Mammoth Hot Springs & Boiling River
Located near the North Entrance of Yellowstone, Mammoth Hot Springs is worth a stop with kids. This thermal feature looks completely different from the others in the park due to the fact that the area is mostly made of limestone and reacts differently.
When you visit Mammoth Hot Springs, there is a drive that winds between the Upper and Lower Terraces. However, to get the best look, we recommend taking the time to walk along the boardwalks. You’ll be able to see the colors and indentations in the terraces up close and personal. Unlike what most people think, Mammoth Hot Springs is not for swimming or soaking in.
If your kids want to swim in a hot spring in Yellowstone, just south of the North Entrance to the park is Boiling River. Here a hot spring enters the Gardner River and creates a natural hot tub for visitors to enjoy.
5. Explore Visitors Centers
National Parks are always some of the best places to visit Visitors Centers. They are full of information, interactive displays, and videos to help the area come alive for children.
If you only make it to one Visitors Center in Yellowstone, we highly recommend the Old Faithful Visitors Center. Kids and adults can learn about the park’s thermal features and gain a deeper understanding of Yellowstone’s wonder.
While you’re at the visitors center, consider enrolling your kids in the Junior Ranger program, which will give them plenty of additional fun activities to complete. In the Yellowstone Junior Ranger Program, kids will learn about things like geysers, bison, aquatic ecosystems, and protecting the local watershed.
6. See the Colors at the Grand Prismatic Spring
One of the most incredible springs in Yellowstone is the Grand Prismatic in Midway Geyser Basin. The sheer size of this spring and the amazing rainbow of colors created by bacterial mats makes for a memorable stop. K
The boardwalk along this area gets you up close to the Grand Prismatic and other features in the area, such as the Excelsior Geyser. On a clear day, the colors of the spring will be even more vibrant. On a chilly, cloudy day, it’s incredible to see how the water’s heat interacts with cooler air and rain, creating clouds of steam above the thermal features.
Before you leave the area, head down to the Fairy Falls Trail parking area and make your way to the Grand Prismatic Overlook for a completely different viewpoint. Both the Fairy Falls Trail and the Grand Prismatic Overlook trail are excellent trails for hiking with kids.
7. Go Camping
What kid doesn’t love camping?! Camping in Yellowstone with kids is the perfect way to see the park and make the entire trip fun and adventurous for everyone in the family.
There are plenty of Yellowstone campgrounds for families to choose from, with options ranging from backpacking to full-service RV campgrounds.
Camping in Yellowstone with kids is incredibly popular, and sites typically fill up months in advance. One thing to note when you visit is that only five of the twelve campgrounds have reservable sites.
Therefore, if you want to reserve your site, you’ll want to start looking early and consider one of these campgrounds: Bridge Bay, Canyon Campground, Fishing Bridge RV Park, Grant Village, or Madison. If you want a first come first served site in Yellowstone, plan on getting into the park before 7am so you can be at your desired campsite as people pack up and leave. Also, if you want to camp in Yellowstone, you have a better chance of getting a campsite if you go in the middle of the week. If you can’t find a campsite in Yellowstone, you can head to the town of West Yellowstone, Flagg Ranch, or even to Grand Teton National Park a few miles to the south (campgrounds are significantly less crowded in Grand Teton).
8. Go Waterfall Hunting
There are many waterfalls in Yellowstone that kids will love, with some of the most famous ones being in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls are stunning. The most popular spot to view Lower Falls is from Artist Point, which is often very crowded. However, it offers a spectacular view of the falls that is popular among artists and photographers and is definitely worth a stop.
Besides these two, there are many more waterfalls to explore during your visit. Other options include Tower Fall, Fairy Falls, Gibbon Falls, Undine Falls, Osprey Falls, and Terraced Falls. Some of these are easy to access, and some are a little bit more off the beaten path, requiring a bit more work to access but with the added trade-off of peacefulness.
9. Attend a Ranger Program
Note: For the summer of 2020, there are no scheduled ranger programs due to changes in operations.
A great way to learn a little more about the park and get a “behind the scenes” viewpoint is to attend a ranger program. Typically, the park has programs on a wide variety of topics, including wildlife, geysers, history of the park, canyons, and more. There are even programs just for Junior Rangers.
Most ranger programs in Yellowstone happen at visitors centers, at main attractions or at campgrounds in the evenings.
10. Visit Old Faithful and the Old Faithful Inn
Last, but definitely not least, one of the best places to visit in Yellowstone with kids is the Old Faithful Geyser area. When you first arrive, head to the Visitors Center (or check the Yellowstone app) for the current geyser predictions to plan your time in the area.
Beyond Old Faithful herself, the other must-do in this area is the Old Faithful Inn. The moment you walk in the doors, it’s like you are transported back to the early days of the park where visitors danced on the floor of the Inn while the band played above.
Our kids loved climbing the stairs to investigate the Crow’s Nest, even though it is no longer open to get all the way into the nest.
Our kids still maintain that their favorite part of our entire Yellowstone itinerary was seeing Old Faithful erupt. It is truly incredible to witness.
Yellowstone National Park is a spectacular destination for families. If you choose a few of the activities above, you’re sure to have a memorable vacation that your family will remember for years to come.