Last year we got to tick one of the big items off our National Park bucket list – Yellowstone National Park! But is Yellowstone with kids a good holiday? We love visiting National Parks with kids so our answer will obviously be yes, but it definitely takes some planning to make the most out of your trip! In this guide we will help you with our Yellowstone tips and tricks to help you make the most of your time in Yellowstone and let you know all the best things to do in Yellowstone with kids!
Top Tips for Visiting Yellowstone with Kids
The key to this is as far in advance as possible says the woman who booked her trip six days in advance!
Accomodations get booked up quickly and early so to have your pick of the best spots you need to be
Try and Stay in the Park
The Yellowstone lodges and campgrounds open up for bookings 18months in advance. There are nine lodges within Yellowstone itself and while it is not essential that you stay on site it would greatly help reduce your time taken to get to the major sites.
We all know that children can get grumpy in cars so being in the park will greatly reduce your commute time to the park! It will also help you be see more wildlife it allows you to be in the park very early and in the evening – peak wildlife watching times and least busy in terms of tourists.
The nine lodges in the park are:
- Old Faithful Inn – a really centrally located lodge which is one of the better located lodges for those travelling to Yellowstone with children!
- Old Faithful Lodge Cabin
- Old Faithful Snow Hotel and Cabins
- Canyon Lodge and Cabins
- Grant Village Lodge
- Yellowstone Lake Hotel and Cabins
- Yellowstone Lake Lodge Cabins
- Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins
- Roosevelt Lodge Cabins
We stayed in West Yellowstone, as we booked too late to get into any of the in park lodges.West Yellowstone is the closest town to a Yellowstone entrance, with most of the hotels only a few minutes drive from the entrance to Yellowstone! However please note that from the West Yellowstone entrance it is still around a 40 minute drive to Old Faithful Geyser.
The town of West Yellowstone also has other appeals for those travelling with kids as it has a good range of restaurants and ice cream parlours and attractions such as the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Centre – a great place to see these animals if you haven’t managed to see them in the wild in the park!
We stayed at the Days Inn West Yellowstone. While the rooms were nothing fancy they were clean and spacious and the hotel had a pool with a good slide which is great for littles that need to blow off some steam at the end of the day! It is also conveniently located at walking distance from everything in the centre of West Yellowstone itself and minutes from the Park entrance. !
For more information on places to stay near Yellowstone check out this post!
Best Time to Visit Yellowstone with kids
I love all national parks and being the oldest I thought Yellowstone would hands down be my favourite – however there is one thing that prevents me from saying this – it was so just busy! Even when we were in the park before the 5am sun up we were always with another car and we were visiting in September! We even got stuck in early morning traffic jams (Not even caused by bison but by roadworks) Therefore if I had to do my trip again I would definitely visit in low season and avoid the summer school holidays like the plague!
If you are travelling with pre-school aged children then I would definitely advise going on out of the school holidays!
Plan Your Day but Don’t Overplan
We knew Yellowstone was big before we went but I don’t think we realised HOW BIG! And we certainly hadn’t budgeted enough time for traffic jams caused bu construction, congestion and of course the famous bison jams! It is really important to have a plan for your Yellowstone itinerary!
There was a statistic I read before our trip to Yellowstone that upwards of 75% of people don’t see more than the main spots during their trip to Yellowstone National Park which I think is a real shame, as just going for a short hike will get you away from the crowds and allow you to see more amazing things!
My tips for making the most of your day are be sure to get in the park early, allow your self plenty of time to get between places but also leave plenty of time to explore the area in more depth – trust me you won’t regret it!
Especially if you are travelling with kids, you will want to make sure you schedule enough time out of the car.
What to Pack for Visiting Yellowstone with Kids
It gets very cold in the park even during summer mornings. Layers are essential
- Hiking boots with a good sole
To make the most of your trip, we recommend taking some trailheads and getting away from the crowds to do this you will need to be sure the whole part are wearing good hiking boots!
Essential for keeping everything you need for your day in the park!
The weather can change quickly, especially if you are heading into the park at sun up. A light compact waterproof is an essential
- Toddler Reins
I know people hate them but for me they are an essential at Yellowstone. There are so many dangerous spots near geysers etc so you need to make sure you keep a good hold of your kids. For me the reins were a must! We had backpack reins which my toddler calls her adventure pack!
- Packed Lunches
I’m going to be honest, we weren’t that impressed with food in any of the lodges. We took our own packed lunches with us which definitely helped as it meant we didn’t have to rush to be back at lodges at certain times and maximised our time at attractions. But do keep your food in bear proof containers.
- Bear Spray
If you are planning to do any of the hikes, especially in the northern quarters you will definitely need to carry bear repellant with you
- Portable Potty
You will be spending a lot of time in the car and away from facilities so it is definitely good to have a portable potty with you!
- Car Toys
Even with all of the amazing things you can see out of the car window at Yellowstone children are likely to get bored during some of the longer drives and bison jams! Have something that will keep your child entertained for theses times – I recommend something non noisy to help save your sanity!
Toilet Breaks Driving Around Yellowstone
Traffic and distances between stops can be big! If you have small children or freshly potty trained children I advise making sure you use a toilet whenever you see them and carry a portable potty with you in case you get desperate.
Tips For Visiting Yellowstone with toddlers
When we travelled to Yellowstone we had out 2.5 year old with us! Now a road trip to Yellowstone might not seem like the most toddler friendly holiday we had a great time. But here are some tips for travelling around Yellowstone with toddlers
- Make sure you have a car seat that allows them to see out of the windows!
There is a lot of time spent in cars during a Yellowstone vacation and we know toddlers bore easily! We found however that my daughter was fine in the car as there was so much to see – particularly bison out of the window!For info on great toddler travel car sears check out this post!
- Have entertainment
Some days in Yellowstone are long and with the best will in the world if you get stuck in a super long bison jam you will be glad to have some toddler entertainment with you!
- Stop at the toilets
If you see a toilet and your child is potty trained be sure to stop! Also make sure you have packed a portable potty with for those in car emergencies!
- Have snacks
We always find long hikes and long car journeys are always more bearable for kids when there are plenty of snacks! No one wants to travel with a hangry toddler!
- Car Seats
One of the top tips I have for any road trip with young children but especially for places like Yellowstone is ,are sure the car seats you have your child in allows them to see out of the window! Boredom will be kept at bay far longer if they can easily see all the roadside attractions as you go! The bison never failed to entertain my daughter!
Visiting Yellowstone with toddlers and babies
Yellowstone is a good holiday no matter what age your child is! We went yo Yellowstone with toddler in tow and we all had a great time!
The biggest concern for me about travelling with kids of this age was definitely connected to the safety aspects both around the geysers and springs and the wildlife! We used reins on the trails which I would definitely recommend.
And if your child allows then definitely use a carrier or a hiking backpack, especially if you are doing some of the more strenuous hikes! Our toddler won’t go in the carrier anymore so this wasn’t an option for us!
Travelling to Yellowstone with a baby – can you take a stroller to Yellowstone?
Although on the boardwalk trails you could take a stroller – the boardwalks are fairly wide and flat I personally wouldn’t recommend this (unless you are there before anyone else and even then I probably wouldn’t)!
The boardwalks can get busy quickly and I wouldn’t personally want to have to manoeuvre a stroller on a busy boardwalk for fear it would get knocked! I think i would also become frustrated quickly having to navigate other people!
If your child has a favourite toy they like to travel with I would also not recommend taking this on a boardwalk with you because if they drop it there is no way of retrieving!
When Not to Go to Yellowstone with Toddler or Baby
I personally think Yellowstone is a great family friendly vacation however if you have a child that gets car sick it might be worth waiting until they have passed this phase!
Best Things to Do in Yellowstone with Kids
See the Colours at the Grand Prismatic Spring
One of the most colourful sites I have ever seen and is certainly the most colourful place in Yellowstone. You can hike round the spring to get a good view, but to fully appreciate all the colours I would recommend you hiking the short and doable Fairy Falls Trail. This takes you to an overlook just over the spring and has the best view!
Top Tip for Visiting: If want to see colours go in the afternoon when less steamy otherwise all you’ll see is this! However, this will require patience in the car park. Going in the morning the colours aren’t as great but the car park is easier to navigate!
Top Tip for Visiting Yellowstone with Toddlers and babies: You can walk the boardwalk around the Grand Prismatic Spring with a stroller but I would advise leaving the stroller behind to go on the Fairy Falls Trails.
If you are visiting on a windy day be sure to leave the hat in car or keep it tied on as we saw many hats in the water.
See Old Faithful Erupt
This is perhaps the most well known feature of Yellowstone and as such one of the busiest places in the entire park. However don’t let this fact deter you – children will love watching the eruption and there is a great seating area around the edge of the geyser.
Tip for visiting: Old faithful actually erupts every hour and twenty minutes (plus minus ten minutes either way)! You need to know times to plan your day! As this is one of the most popular stops in the whole of Yellowstone I recommend planning to do this in the early morning so you can easily get a seat and also find a parking spot! Though Old Faithful had the largest parking area that we saw in the park believe me, in the afternoon it fills up.
On top of Old Faithful other great geysers to see are:
- Castle Geyser
- Grand Geyser
- Beehive Geyser
- Riverside Geyser
- Steamboat Geyser
- Daisy Geyser
- Grotto Geyser
- Morning Glory Geyser
For more information on the best geysers in Yellowstone click here!
Visit Old Faithful Inn
Old Faithful Inn is a great place to take a rest and grab a few souvenirs from the park. We headed inside the lodge after watching Old Faithful erupt and had a quick coffee and donut stop! I wouldn’t advise relying on stopping at the lodges for lunch however as the queues can get really long!
We got our obligatory Yellowstone souvenir at this stop and I think it has the best merchandise in the park!
Watch for wildlife in the Lamar Valley or Hayden Valley
We entered Yellowstone from the Beartooth highway and this was our first stop. You need to get here first thing in the morning or late afternoon to maximise your wildlife viewing possibilities.
Bison are prolific here but to be honest we saw them everywhere. The main attraction in the Lamar Vallery is the chance to see bears and wolves!
One thing we have had problems with when road tripping with toddlers has been the need to use iPads and electronics as a diversion. However, the quantity of wildlife meant our toddler was engaged for the whole trip ( well most of the trip)!
Tips for viewing wildlife in Yellowstone: Go early morning or for dusk for the best chance to view!
Wildlife Safety Tip: he clue is in the name – these animals are wild – please exercise caution and keep a reasonable distance. The guidance for viewing wildlife in Yellowstone tends to be stay 100 yards from bears and wolves, and 25 yards from all other animals at least.
Also be sure if you are going on hikes to take all of the necessary bear precautions with you such as spray and bear bells! To find more packing information check out this post!
See the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Although everything we saw in Yellowstone was amazing, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone was one of my favourites! I love travelling to see waterfalls, but I think the Grand Canyon was one of my all time favourites.
Unfortunately when we went the Uncle Tom’s Trail was closed for maintenance! This trail is great to see the grand canyon of Yellowstone and I am told is also doable with kids.
Spend time on Lake Yellowstone & Lake Butte Overlook
Lake Yellowstone is vast! Spend some time on the lake. One of the most appealing activities on Lake Yellowstone with kids has to be going kayaking!
Also, if in the park for sunset the Lake Butte Overlook is one of the best places to see it.
Go Swimming at Boiling River
Boiling River was once a hidden gem in Yellowstone but not so much anymore. It has a mix of hot and cold water means that even kids can bathe in the water here! However, if with children I would definitely recommend staying on the edges of the river where the temperatures are cooler and also to protect children from the strong currents that can be here.
Be sure to check the temperature before allowing the children to get in!
Visit the Mammoth Hot Springs
A unique set of hot springs that are well worth a visit. There are lots of boardwalks in this area so it is easy to do with kids however we arrived in the middle of the day and it was difficult to get parking and the crowds were immense. I would recommend trying to visit early or late in the day! This is a great trail to do with kids as the walk is very easy.
Top Tip: It is very hot at the mammoth hot springs – be sure to bring plenty to water and shade
Drive the Yellowstone Loop Road
I always love driving loop roads in National Parks. The Yellowstone loop is no exception and the great thing about Yellowstone is there are actually two loop roads! It would be near impossible to actually do both loop roads in one even two days, especially if you want to get out and explore further afield. If I was pushed my favourite loop road is the North Yellowstone Loop as it takes in The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Mammoth Hot Springs, the Boiling river and the north geyser basin. But the south is still spectacular covering the Fountain Paint Pot Trail, Grand Prismatic Spring, Morning Glory Pool, Biscuit Basin, Old Faithful and Yellowstone Lake.
The only downside to driving the loop roads at Yellowstone is getting stuck in the traffic! I would advise stopping as often as possible, be sure to look out for toilets, and having in car entertainment in case you like us got stuck in one jam for over an hour!
Join the Junior Ranger Program
The Junior Ranger Program is something I can’t wait for my little one to be old enough to join. The Yellowstone Junior Ranger program is suited for children aged 4-13.
Join the Young Scientist Program
The Young Scientist Program for ages 5+ can be collected from The Old Faithful Visitor Education Centre or the Canyon Visitor Centre where children can borrow equipment to conduct experiments!
Yellowstone is a great place to stargaze as there is very little light pollution! Depending on when you visit, there are organised Yellowstone stargazing programmes.
As well as the kayaking on the Yellowstone Lake, there are loads of ways to get your kids active (other than the obvious hiking), in the park. Some of the best ways to get your kids active in Yellowstone include
- Horse Riding
- Fly Fishing
Things to do Outside of Yellowstone with kids
If you are staying outside of Yellowstone in West Yellowstone and have had no luck with seeing the rarer animals then I would recommend visiting the Grizzly and Wolves Centre in West Yellowstone! It is a very family friendly attraction in west Yellowstone!
Fun Yellowstone National Parks Facts For Kids
- Yellowstone is the world’s largest national park in the world! It was declated a national park in 1872 by President Ulysses Grant.
- The park is over 9000 square kilometres.
- It splits across the states of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho
- Yellowstone has the largest concentration of geysers in the world!
Further Yellowstone National Park Reading
- Yellowstone Itineraries -1-4 Days
- Yellowstone Packing List
- Where to Stay Near Yellowstone National Park
- Best Things to Do in Yellowstone with Kids
- National Park Bucket List
Have you been to Yellowstone with kids? What was your favourite thing to do?