Yellowstone National Park was the first National Park in the United States and remains one of the most popular. If you’re planning to visit, start with this comprehensive Guide To Yellowstone National Park With Kids. Before you even begin planning, know that lodging reservations for the busy summer months, begin to fill a year in advance. Because Yellowstone spreads over such a large area, you’ll enjoy the vacation even more if you plan lodging and activities near each other. When you do, you’ll have more opportunities to take in Yellowstone’s natural beauty. Of course, you’ll want to hike, visit the geothermal features, and search for wildlife, but also consider adding extra ways to enjoy nature through horseback riding, white water rafting, or memorable experiences like a chuckwagon dinner. No doubt, a visit to Yellowstone National Park is a memorable vacation, so keep reading and discover family-friendly recommendations for your trip!
What to Know Before You Go
Together with the help of our community of traveling families, we’ve compiled important tips to remember before you head out on a Yellowstone family vacation. Given that you’ve got enough details to keep straight, read through these tips as you start to research with our Guide To Yellowstone National Park With Kids.
Best Time to Go to Yellowstone National Park with Kids
Deciding what time of year to visit Yellowstone National Park with kids is your first big decision. If you love snow and don’t mind cold temperatures, winter allows you to escape the crowds. However, the park will only be accessible from the Northern Entrance. Also, during the winter, many park facilities are closed and roads could be treacherous. Still, there’s a calm beauty between November-March. Most people visit Yellowstone National Park during the summer months (June-August). The weather is great for exploring and kids are out of school. Also, the park is fully open. While the weather in Spring and Fall is less predictable, these are great times to visit. Most facilities are open and you’ll avoid crowds. But know that roads to some favorite spots don’t open until the third Friday of April and sites begin to close in mid-October.
Plan Ahead to Avoid Large Crowds
As mentioned earlier in this Guide To Yellowstone National Park With Kids, the park is extremely popular and crowded in the summer months. Know this ahead of time and plan accordingly. Not only is it necessary to reserve lodging in advance, but also consider that parking spaces may be hard to find. When you simply want to escape crowds and soak in the nature you’ve come to experience, seek out the lesser-known spots. Of course, you’ll want to see Old Faithful, but the park is big and full of much beauty including other geysers. While it’s not well-known, the cone-shaped Lone Star Geyser is a quieter addition to your itinerary. Another less crowded spot with a fascinating landscape is Sheepeater Cliff which is a unique place to picnic. Here’s a secret tip: Sheepeater Cliff has a small family-friendly trail if you head to the right along the Gardner River.
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Schedule Your Days to Maximize the Adventures
As with any vacation, you’ll find that the best experiences at Yellowstone National Park will be amplified if enjoyed at the optimal time. For families who love watching animals, be sure to schedule your days so that you drive through Lamar Valley at either dusk or dawn. When you are here at these times, you’ll have the best chance to see herds of bison, elk, and possibly bear and wolves. Other features to schedule your day around are the geysers. The Yellowstone app has a geyser predictor for your help in planning. Because the middle of the day will likely draw crowds at the most popular geysers, look for eruption times early in the morning. If you plan to arrive early, you’ll be more relaxed and an added bonus for arriving early is that steam is more visible and dramatic in the cold morning air.
How to Get to Yellowstone National Park with Kids
Yellowstone National Park has five entrances. Because it’s so big, plan your entry point ahead. First, there’s the West Entrance at West Yellowstone, Montana for those coming from Idaho or western Montana. Here you’ll find an Old West atmosphere and the most lodging and dining options. It’s also the entrance nearest the geysers. Families who visit Yellowstone in the winter must use the North Entrance at Gardiner, because it’s the only entrance open year-round. Entering here puts you close to Mammoth Hot Springs and is a convenient entrance for visitors from the Pacific Northwest. For a close entrance to Lamar Valley, come through Montana to the Northeast Entrance. On the east side of the park, close to Yellowstone Lake is the East Entrance. Finally, the South Entrance is perfect if you’re flying into Jackson, Wyoming, and driving. Also, the South Entrance puts you close to Grand Tetons National Park.
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What to Bring to Yellowstone National Park with Kids
Along with all the clothes, gear, and snacks, here are specific suggested items to pack. For one, if you plan to hike at Yellowstone, carry an air horn, wear bear bells, or bring bear spray. Even experienced hikers have taken a bear by surprise, so make noise while you hike. As a note, if you’re flying to Yellowstone, purchase bear spray when you arrive. While you don’t want to take a large animal by surprise, you will want to see wildlife from a safe distance, so bring binoculars. Even better, bring kids binoculars. For sure, you’ll have your phone, so put it to use by downloading a few apps ahead of time. Many of our readers love the GyPSy Guide which narrates as you go, as well as the free Yellowstone National Park app. Because of patchy reception within the park, download maps and the geyser predictor for offline use.
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Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park With Kids
Yellowstone National Park is an outdoor exploration destination. No doubt, you’ll want to hike while visiting, but little legs get tired after a few hours of walking. For an optimal family vacation to Yellowstone, intersperse time hiking with other adventure activities, but don’t forget to build in time to simply soak in the beauty all around. As such, we have featured a few of our favorite things to do in the park in this Guide to Yellowstone National Park with Kids.
Go on the Best Family-Friendly Hikes in Yellowstone National Park
There are so many hikes at Yellowstone National Park and you can’t go wrong with any choice. Many people hope to see Old Faithful spout steam and view the beautiful colors of Grand Prismatic Spring. If these items are on your bucket list, plan ahead, know there will be crowds, and then soak in the beauty. However, also take time to explore other areas and hydrothermal features. For another hot spring in the Old Faithful region visit Morning Glory Pool. Further into the park find a feature that bubbles and spurts: the Mud Volcano which is basically a gurgling pot of mud, sure to awe your family! Then there is the Fountain Paintpot Trail. an incredible opportunity to see all of the hydrothermal features on one trail. Basically, this is a half-mile flat trail along a boardwalk where you’ll see geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles.
Perhaps the best view of Grand Prismatic is from above which you can access by parking at the Fairy Falls parking area and taking the Grand Prismatic Overlook Trail for a birds-eye view. As for other places to hike, go to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Here, your family can hike Uncle Tom’s Trail which is a little steep, but at .6 miles, is short. Also in that area is the North Rim Trail which is around 3 miles, but leads to a waterfall. If you like waterfall destinations, the 2.5-mile Mystic Falls Trail has a 70-foot waterfall at the end and is located near Old Faithful. Although there are too many trails to describe in this Guide To Yellowstone National Park With Kids, don’t forget to also check out the trails in the northern part of Yellowstone. Families specifically enjoy the Mammoth Hot Springs Trails.
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Alternate Overlooks and Thermal Features
While many people love the predictability of Old Faithful, some argue that other geysers in the park are even more fascinating. One such is Daisy Geyser which is near Old Faithful and along the path to Morning Glory Pool. Daisy Geyser is also fairly predictable but erupts at an angle. Another that families love to visit is the Grand Geyser which is the tallest predictable geyser in the world. After watching the geysers erupt and hiking, a great way to take a rest break is to drive near Mammoth Hot Springs for the 1.5-mile scenic loop of Upper Terrace Drive. For another way to soak in the park while taking a rest, spend time fishing at Yellowstone Lake. Or, maybe discover secret swimming holes at Firehole River or Boiling River. Even if you don’t swim, check out the two-mile Firehole Canyon Drive.
Embark on a Guided Experience or Tour
Many families who visit Yellowstone find they can maximize their time by taking a guided tour. Because the park is very large, you can gain from the expertise of the local guide companies who know the ins and outs of the park. If you decide to take one of these tours, be sure to consider the ages of your kids and their attention spans. Some tours can be long and maybe too much for younger children. One of the tours that our traveling families love is the Yellowstone Yellow Bus Wildlife Tour. On this tour, you’ll drive through Lamar Valley and spot all kinds of amazing animals. Another favorite tour is Yellowstone Guidelines Wildlife and Geyser Tour which is a great way to combine seeing the best parts of Yellowstone National Park. If you visit in the winter, take a snowmobile tour from West Yellowstone with Yellowstone Vacations.
Of course, Yellowstone National Park also offers fascinating tours and experiences led by rangers. Be sure to have your children complete the Junior Ranger Program to receive their Yellowstone patch. Parents love that the activities are age-appropriate so they are even engaging for older children. There’s a variety of Ranger Programs at Yellowstone which range from talks to tours to even art-focused experiences. Families Love Travel parents especially recommend the Canyon Rim Walk to the Lower Falls and the Touring Yellowstone’s Night Sky talks. Even if you don’t have time for a guided tour, stop by one of Yellowstone’s Visitor Centers or Educational Centers. There are eight visitor centers. Seven are located in the park, and the eighth is in West Yellowstone. No doubt, you could spend a half-day checking out all of the hands-on activities and exhibits at the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center alone.
More Time in the Area? Add These Adventures to Your Itinerary!
While this Yellowstone National Park Guide has focused on all of the things to do in the park, there are other amazing experiences to discover the natural wonders of this area. If you’re up for an adventure, try white water rafting in nearby Big Sky with Geyser Whitewater. Then, for another experience, saddle up and go horseback riding. Our families recommend Diamond P Ranch because of their experienced guides. Another memory-making opportunity on many bucket lists is fishing. You can bring poles and fish within the park, but if you’re looking for a guide, try Montana Angler. Finally, for a different kind of animal experience, visit the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center wildlife center. Here you’ll see grizzly bears, wolves, and otters up close. It’s good to know that there is an interesting indoor exhibit here as well for the winter months when you need a place to warm up.
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Where to Eat Inside the Park
While foodie experiences may not be the reason you come to Yellowstone National Park, you will need to keep your energy up while at the park. Sometimes, finding places to eat is a challenge when you’re outdoors. So, when you’re at Yellowstone, know that there are a variety of restaurants, snack shops, and even ice cream counters to choose from. One option to sit and have a fantastic meal is the Old Faithful Inn Dining Room. At Canyon Lodge Eatery, you’ll also find a number of restaurants including a family-friendly food court-style restaurant. If you’re looking to eat local specialties, be sure to try everything huckleberry, including a huckleberry latte! Because you’re at Yellowstone to enjoy the outdoors, plan to pick up food, (try the Fishing Bridge General Store) and have a picnic. There is a picnic area at Anglers Bluff that is a great choice for families.
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Where to Eat Outside the Park
The town of West Yellowstone has many dining options and you’ll for sure find so many choices there. This is a convenient town to stop and grab groceries to eat in the park. At Ernie’s Bakery, grab a quick breakfast and then pick out a boxed lunch to eat once you get into Yellowstone. Also, you can’t go wrong with pizza at Wild West Pizzeria & Saloon. However, for a memorable experience that may be a highlight of the trip, do the Old West Dinner Cookout. This incredible adventure starts by riding horses or taking a covered wagon out to the cookout site. When you get to the end of the trail, you’ll enjoy a cooked-to-order steak, sides, and a cup of coffee roasted over the fire. Don’t forget the cobbler, included with this meal. While you eat, you’ll be entertained by the singing cowboy.
Where to Stay Near Yellowstone National Park with Kids
When planning a trip to Yellowstone, it’s important to make your lodging reservations right away. Because this is such a popular vacation destination, hotel rooms, especially within the park, fill very far in advance. In fact, you will likely want to book your vacation rooms a full year before you go. Our Guide to Yellowstone National Park with Kids includes a variety of suggestions on where to stay as a family.
Where to Stay Inside the Park
There’s something special about staying within Yellowstone and you can choose from the park’s nine lodging options. One of the most historic is Old Faithful Inn. Even if you don’t stay here, stop and see the beautiful facility, located steps from Old Faithful. If you love geysers, this is the spot for you because you can sneak out at dawn and avoid crowds. Also, Old Faithful Inn has two restaurants. Another centrally located option is Canyon Lodge and Cabins which has lodge rooms and cabins. This is a great spot to be near the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Lower Falls. Also centrally located, the Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Cabins is the oldest of Yellowstone’s hotels, located right on Lake Yellowstone. Families recommend this hotel because you can book a large suite to accommodate your entire family. However, this hotel is only open from May – October.
For another option that’s convenient for those wanting to be near Old Faithful within the park and also at the South Entrance for easy access to Grand Teton National Park and airports, check out Grant Village Lodge. Families love these adorable chalet-style accommodations and the convenience of the on-site restaurant and lounge. If you visit Yellowstone in winter, one of the in-park options is the resort-like Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. Of course, this is also a perfect spot to stay in the summer. When you stay here, you’ll have easy access to outfitters and tour guides. Another year-round choice is the Old Faithful Snow Lodge with lodge-style rooms, cabins, and dining selections. As no surprise, many families choose to camp at Yellowstone. Again, there are a variety of campgrounds situated around the park with the most popular being Canyon Campground.
Please note: Staying within Yellowstone National Park will give you quick access to the park’s amenities and you certainly can’t beat the location, however, the inns and cabins within the park will not offer the same comforts as hotels outside of the park. If your family requires certain amenities or WiFi access, please verify and confirm your needs are met before booking.
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Where to Stay Outside the Park
Whether you are unable to find a room within Yellowstone National Park, or you simply prefer to have easy access to other area attractions, stay outside of the park. If that’s your situation, then consider staying in popular West Yellowstone which has all the choices from luxury to budget accommodations. One hotel we recommend in West Yellowstone is Kelly Inn. When you stay there, you’ll have easy access to parks and be within walking distance of restaurants. Also, families appreciate the kid-friendly accommodations here, with bunk beds. A couple of other hotels our traveling families recommend in West Yellowstone include Bar N Ranch, the Explorer Cabins at West Yellowstone, and the familiar Holiday Inn West Yellowstone. In addition to hotels, many families choose to stay at an AIRBNB in the area for a more secluded experience.
Of course, if you visit in the off-season, you need to enter at the North Entrance, near Gardiner. This is also the best place to stay anytime if you want to explore the northern part of the park. If you don’t stay at Mammoth Hot Springs inside the park, try Yellowstone Gateway Inn with its apartment-style suites, just five minutes from the entrance. While some recommend staying in Grand Teton to visit both parks, know that this choice means you’ll spend a lot of time driving each day. However many families love staying at Four Seasons Resort and Residences in Jackson Hole with its private balconies. As a final lodging option in this Yellowstone National Park Guide, Big Sky, Montana is also a charming place to stay. Staying there also means you’ll have a little drive to the park, but families don’t mind when there’s beauty all around.
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Thank You to Our Community!
A special thank you to the Families Who Love To Travel Facebook community who generously shared their travel recommendations for this Guide To Yellowstone National Park With Kids. We could not have compiled such a thoughtful and helpful list without their dedication to our community. Families Who Love To Travel is a group of amazing families who also love adventure and exploring through travel. For more family vacation recommendations and inspiration, be sure to join us on Facebook at Families Who Love To Travel. We’re a community of experienced traveling families who love adventure and exploring the world. Plus, follow us on Instagram (@families.love.travel) to connect with other families who love the unique experiences travel has to offer.
*Due to COVID-19, some of the activities, hotels, and restaurants listed on this Guide to Yellowstone National Park with Kids may also be closed or may be offering reduced services. Please ensure availability before making your decision.
*This post may contain affiliate links that may earn us a small commission, at no additional cost to you. Affiliate links in no way inform the hotels, sights, products, or other recommendations included in our articles. All opinions and recommendations expressed here are compiled from submissions submitted by the generous members of our Families Who Love To Travel community.
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