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Heading to Yellowstone with kids? Visiting America’s oldest National Park is definitely an epic adventure full over geysers, hot springs, and amazing wildlife.
But a trip to Yellowstone National Park with kids will probably look a little different than a trip with just adults might. Here are the best things to do in Yellowstone with kids, plus our tips for visiting this huge park and keeping everyone safe!
Want to read about Yellowstone before you go? Check out these books about Wyoming!
Where to Stay in Yellowstone with Kids
When visiting Yellowstone, you have two options: staying in the park itself, or staying outside the park.
Inside Yellowstone National Park there are 9 lodges and/or cabin areas and 12 campgrounds. Of course, one of these spots will be most convenient. BUT you do need to book them up to 13 months in advance.
Another option is to stay in one of the small towns that sits just outside one of the park’s entrances. During our visit we stayed in West Yellowstone. And while we did have to drive a bit more each day to get to our destination, we also liked having WiFi and nearby stores.
West Yellowstone is a small town sits right outside of the West Entrance to Yellowstone. There are hotel options in West Yellowstone or choose a West Yellowstone VRBO to share with a larger group. This is a convenient town for visiting Old Faithful and the Geyser Basins, plus you’ll be near the Grizzly and Wolf Discover Center!
Things To Do in Yellowstone with Kids
Pick Up a Junior Ranger Activity Book
Traveling to Yellowstone with kiddos? Kick off the adventure by picking up a Junior Ranger Activity Book from any of the visitors centers.
The activities here let kids become a Junior Ranger, which is such a fun way to keep kids engaged while also making sure they learn something.
The Junior Ranger Activity book at Yellowstone is fantastic! There is a guide at the front telling kids what pages they will need to complete (based on their age), and even I as an adult learned so much. One of my favorite pages was about how they calculate the eruption predictions for Old Faithful.
To become a Junior Ranger, your child will have to:
- Attend a ranger talk or program
- Take a hike in Yellowstone (boardwalks count!)
- Complete the correct number of pages
- Show their completed pages to a ranger at the visitor’s center and share what they’ve learned
Once they’ve completed all the steps, they can be sworn in as a Junior Ranger. But of course, it’s also totally fine to just grab the book and complete the pages they want to without worrying about getting the Junior Ranger badge. (Although the badges are pretty cool!)
Collect Stamps at the Visitor Centers
One thing I love about visiting National Parks is collecting cancellation stamps in my National Parks Passport book. (Yes, cancellation stamps is a confusing name. But it’s basically a specially dated stamp saying you were at the park on that day.)
And my kiddo loves collecting them too! You can get your child either a regular National Parks Passport book, or a kid’s version. Or just collect stamps in some other book (there aren’t rules and the stamps are out for everyone to use!).
There are lots of places you can get cancellation stamps at Yellowstone! You’ll find stamp spots at all the Visitors Centers and some of the Ranger Stations. They are usually out in the open at a little counter.
Visit the Grizzly and Wolf Discover Center in West Yellowstone
One of my favorite things to do in Yellowstone with kids isn’t actually inside the National Park! It’s the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, which is right outside the West Entrance.
Here your family can see wolves and grizzlies, as well as otters and birds of prey. This is a SUCH a great place to see these Yellowstone animals! The wolves especially were so cool to see, so active, and so close to the viewing area!
I also loved the otters. They were so playful, swimming toward us and bouncing off the glass right in front of us. You can tell that the animals here are so happy and well taken care of.
Most of the bears here are bears that had to be removed from the wild because they were becoming a threat to humans. Most of the wolves came from another facility that was unable to keep them. It’s also AZA-accredited, which means it’s held to the highest standards of animal care.
It’s a small zoo, so it won’t take more than an hour or two. But it 100% worth doing!
See Old Faithful Erupt
Witnessing Old Faithful’s eruption is probably the most iconic thing to do in Yellowstone. And if you’re traveling with kids, you of course can’t miss it.
When you arrive at the Old Faithful Visitor Center, they will have signs posted with the next predicted eruption time. If you just missed it, explore the Upper Geyser Basin (see the next item on this list). But if the eruption is happening soon, head out to the viewing area.
There is a huge platform in front of Old Faithful with seating, but it will fill up fast. So plan to grab a spot early for the best views. (And while kids wait, maybe they can work on those Junior Ranger Activity Books!)
Explore The Upper Geyser Basin (Old Faithful Area)
While Old Faithful is the main attraction at the Upper Geyser Basin, there are a lot of other geysers to explore in this area!
Set off on the boardwalk trails in the area. You can make a loop that is as short as .5 miles or as long as 5 miles (if you want to go all the way to Biscuit Basin). It’s all interconnected and loops back at several points, so you can choose your own adventure! Some of the popular features in this area are Morning Glory Pool, Castle Geyser, and Grotto Geyser.
It’s an easy “hike” in Yellowstone, and there is enough variety to keep kids entertained. Plus, in certain spots you can see Old Faithful going off in the distance if you time it right!
Visit the Old Faithful Inn
The Old Faithful Inn is a must-see for any Yellowstone visit, even if you aren’t staying there. It’s a historic hotel, with a massive log structure and a huge fireplace. And kids will love exploring!
I definitely recommend pairing a meal here with a visit to Old Faithful. You can eat lunch in the Old Faithful Dining room. You don’t need a reservation; it’s first-come-first-serve. So line up before 11:30 for lunch and you can enjoy the buffet in this historic inn.
See Grand Prismatic Spring (Midway Geyser Basin)
You know that body of water you see all over social media with the bright blue rainbow colors in Yellowstone? It’s most likely Grand Prismatic Spring!
Grand Prismatic Spring is Yellowstone’s largest hot spring, and it’s famous of its vibrant colors, thanks to the microbial mats around its edges.
There are two ways you can enjoy the spring. The first is the boardwalk, which has you walking over parts of the hot springs.
But for the best views, you’ll want to go to the Grand Prismatic Spring overlook. You can get here by hiking on part of the Fairy Falls trail, but cutting uphill part of the way through to go to the overlook. The parking lot for this trail is just down the road from the Grand Prismatic Spring overlook parking lot.
Pro Tip: For lower crowds, visit earlier in the day. However, the colors are usually best later in the day, once the mist coming off the water burns away. So ideally, I’d time this for mid-morning, although be prepared that you may have trouble finding parking, so pack your patience.
Walk the Fountain Paint Pots Boardwalk (Lower Geyser Basin)
The Fountain Paint Pots in the Lower Geyser Basin (which, confusingly, is the northern-most geyser basin in this trio) is home to mud pots, geysers, hot springs, and fumaroles—all the major thermal features at Yellowstone.
The boardwalk is an easy half-mile trail that’s perfect for families, as its not quite as lengthy as some of the other hot spring boardwalks.
Visit Norris Geyser Basin
Norris Geyser Basin is known for being one of the hottest of Yellowstone thermal areas, and it truly looks like another planet.
There are two main basins here: the Porcelain Basin and the Back Basin. You can walk both of them or pick one.
The Back Basin is home to Steamboat Geyser, which is the tallest active geyser in the world. But even being active, it still only erupts occasionally. In fact, it was dormant for several years, and then became active again in 2018. However eruptions are rare, and not always major.
When we visited, we walked the Back Basin and saw Steamboat Geyser (which was quiet). Then we stopped at an overlook to see Porcelain Basin. I think you get a prettier view of it from above than actually being down in it actually!
See Wildlife in Hayden Valley
While Hayden Valley is not the best place to see wildlife in Yellowstone (that would be Lamar Valley below), Hayden Valley is more convenient for lots of families because it’s closer to Old Faithful and some of the other more popular Yellowstone attractions.
In Hayden Valley you can see bison, elk, and sometimes even bears and wolves. The best time to see animals is in the early morning or late afternoon when they are more active.
And of course, remind kids to never get close to the animals!
Hike to Brink of the Lower Falls at Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
There are several hikes you can take at Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, but Brink of the Lower Falls may be my favorite. It’s a bit of a challenging hike, so it may be better for families with old kids or kids who are already used to hiking.
Here, you’ll go down a series of switchbacks until you are standing at the viewing platform at the top of the roaring Lower Falls. It’s INCREDIBLY powerful and the view is amazing. And while the hike may be a challenge, the reward is worth it.
Visit Artist Point at Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
There are lots of overlooks at Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone where you can park your car and then take an easy path to viewing points. Artist Point is the most well-known stop though, and it’s also my favorite.
The view here is amazing: you can see the Lower Falls in the distance and the orange and yellow canyon walls leading to it. It’s truly majestic and you can understand why it’s called Artist Point because of how it has inspired artists to paint it.
Of course, you can also make lots of other stops along the rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, but if you have to pick one I’d pick Artist Point. Plus the trail to get there once you park is short, perfect for younger kids.
See Wildlife in Lamar Valley
Lamar Valley is the BEST place to see wildlife in Yellowstone. But it’s also a little harder to get there, being in the Northeast corner of the park. But it’s worth making your way there if you can!
It’s a beautiful wide valley, honestly it’s worth visiting for the scenery even if you see no animals. But animals are so prominent here that you are almost guaranteed to see something, especially all those bison that Yellowstone is famous for.
You can see bison, elk, pronghorn, and even wolves here. The best time to see wolves is at sunrise, so if you want a change of this, you’ll have to get there early.
Visit Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs is an area of calcium carbonate terraces that, again, make you feel like you are on another planet. They’ve been sculpted over centuries, and now springs flow over the terraces and create pools of water that can change colors with the light.
There’s a lot to explore here, and kids will love walking over the formations on the boardwalks (and maybe pretending they are on the moon?). The best parts here are at the beginning though: Palette Spring at the front of the Lower Terraces is just incredible.
You can also walk the Upper Terrace Loop for more views. This used to be an area you could drive through, but when we visited it was closed to vehicles.
One thing to note: There are lots of stairs here! So younger kids may tire out faster.
Go Swimming in Boiling River or Firehole River
One incredibly unique thing to do in Yellowstone with kids is to go swimming in the Boiling River or Firehole River. Both of these rivers are naturally heated by geothermal activity, making them a comfortable temperature.
Boiling River is located near Mammoth while Firehole River is located near north of the Lower Geyser Basin.
Of course, make sure you are safe! Only swim in designated areas and follow all posted rules. And be aware that the current can be strong in some places, so stay aware and keep kids closer to shore if you see reason to be concerned.
Take an Old West Stagecoach to a Cowboy Cookout
One of my absolute favorite things we did in Yellowstone was the Old West Dinner Cookout! It’s amazing experience, and kids (and adults) will love the novelty of it.
It starts out with a ride in a stagecoach pulled by horses. You’ll cross through a Yellowstone valley, possibly see some animals, and hear about the history of the area on your way.
When you get to your destination, you’ll have a chuckwagon dinner cooked by cowboys: steak, potato salad, cornbread, baked beans, and more. There’s a campfire, cowboy games, storytelling, and you’ll get a chance to visit with the horses pulling your stagecoach.
This is such a fun way to spend an evening, and it lets families step back in time and imagine what Yellowstone was like before it became a America’s First National Park.
Go Horseback Riding
Horseback riding is another great way to see Yellowstone in a less traditional way. You can take a 1 or 2 hour horseback ride from Roosevelt Corral that will take you through Yellowstone’s sagebrush flats and let you see some areas of the park that are off the main roads.
The trails are suitable for all skill levels, although kids must be at least 8 years old and 48 inches tall to ride.
Get Out on Yellowstone Lake
Yellowstone is SUCH a huge space! And while you’re up with the geysers around Old Faithful and the landscapes of Lamar Valley, you may not image there is also a huge lake in the heart of Yellowstone.
Getting out on Yellowstone Lake can offer you a different perspective on the park and a serene experience. (Wait….nevermind…we’re talking about Yellowstone with kids so scratch the serene part!).
Visit West Thumb Geyser Basin
Out of all the geyser basins in Yellowstone (and believe me, there are so many you may get sick of them), West Thumb Geyser Basin is my favorite!
West Thumb Geyser Basin is actually set right next to Yellowstone Lake. So you get the interesting geothermal features of a geyser basin, while admiring the sweeping views of the lake (with mountains in the distance!) as you walk the boardwalk.
One of the most fun things to see here is the Fishing Cone. This is actually a geyser set in in the lake, and it got it’s name because as people fished on the lake, they used to just drop their fish down into this geyser to cook it.
Check Out the Gift Shops
What kid doesn’t love a gift shop? And there are LOTS of them in Yellowstone. My kiddo is a gift shop magnet, so I think we visited just about every one possible.
You’ll find gift shops in the areas with visitor centers, and there are definitely some fun things you can find. They have apparel, stuffed animals, books about Yellowstone, Christmas ornaments, and all kinds of other fun souvenirs.
And if you’re kiddos are getting a little tired of seeing *another* geyser, stopping by a gift shop can break up the monotony. Plus I’m not above a bribe sometimes….so maybe promise an extra souvenir for good behavior? Hey….we do what we can as parents.
Safety Tips for Visiting Yellowstone National Park with Kids
Animal Safety in Yellowstone National Park
Every year there are stories about people getting gored by bison in Yellowstone, or worse. Animal safety is SO important on your trip! Remember: these are wild animals and you are in their home!
Here are a few safety tips to make sure your family follows:
- Never approach any wild animal.
- If there are animals nearby, stay in your car.
- Always stay at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves, and 25 yards away from all other animals.
- Carry bear spray with you, and make sure it’s super accessible (don’t pack it down in the bottom of your backpack). Also, make noise while hiking, especially in more remote and less crowded areas. Bears generally want to avoid you.
The National Park site has more animal safety tips here.
Geyser Safety in Yellowstone National Park
Because of all the thermal activity in Yellowstone, following safety guidelines and staying on trails is super important. Here area some safety tips:
- Stay on the boardwalks and designated trails. If you are visiting Yellowstone with toddlers, there are definitely areas where you will want to be holding their hand. Keep kids close.
- Never touch thermal features or their runoff. It can be, as we like to say in our house, melt-your-face-off hot.
More Tips for Visiting Yellowstone with Kids
Yellowstone is SUCH a huge National Park, so you’ll need to plan for longer driving times from point to point and be prepared.
Plan for Picnics
While there are some great places to eat at the various inns and hotels in Yellowstone, you’ll probably also want to plan to have picnics on some days. There are lots of picnic areas around the park, or you can just picnic from your car.
Just be sure to pack out all your trash and leave no trace.
Plan for Driving
Yellowstone has 310 miles of paved roads. So you’ll be doing a lot of driving!
Be prepared with games for kids, snacks, and anything else you might normally have in the car for a road trip. You might also want to bring a change of clothes for the kids (and yourself!) just in case. (We got caught in a rainstorm once and definitely wished we had extra pants for everyone!)
Plan for Time Without Internet or Cell Service
Speaking of driving, a lot of the roads you will cover don’t have cell service. If you are caravanning in multiple cars with other family members or friends, plan on getting some walkie-talkies so you can communicate.
Also, note that the inns at Yellowstone do not have WiFi. So if you are going to need internet connection during your trip, maybe plan to stay in one of the towns near a park entrance, like West Yellowstone or Gardiner.
Bathrooms in Yellowstone National Park
When traveling with kids, especially when you’re going to be in the car for a long time, bathroom locations are always a concern.
Thankfully, Yellowstone has done a good job of spreading available bathrooms throughout the park.
There are, of course, available bathrooms at all the major Visitor Centers, so whenever you are near one, definitely take advantage of their restrooms.
When you are driving around the park, there are also bathroom buildings along the roads and at a lot of the major trailheads. Just know that the experiences here can vary though. Some will be bathrooms with a flushing toilet, while others will be more primitive (aka a kind of glorified port-a-potty).
Prepare for Traffic
Traffic can definitely be a problem in Yellowstone, especially during the more crowded summer time. And when bison decides to stand in the road and create and bison-jam? Well, let’s just say traffic can be unpredictable.
Here are a few tips to prepare:
- Always make sure you have snacks and water in the car.
- Make sure your kids use the bathroom before you get in the car. (Same goes for you honestly.)
- Pack your patience and leave early if you need to be somewhere at a certain time.
More National Parks Resources
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