Looking for the ULTIMATE Yellowstone with kids guide? In this guide we tell you everything you need to know for planning a trip to Yellowstone with kids, where to stay and the best things to do in Yellowstone with kids.
Yellowstone National Park is at the top of many people’s National Park bucket lists. But is Yellowstone a good National park to visit with kids?
Our answer is undoubtedly yes, however it does definitely take some planning in order to make the most out of your trip.
In this guide we will first examine how to plan a trip to Yellowstone with kids including how to get reservations, accommodation and what to pack for your Yellowstone family vacation before looking at the best things to do in Yellowstone with kids.
Planning a Trip to Yellowstone with Kids Tips
Make Reservations Early
I can’t tell you how important it is to make reservations for Yellowstone National Park early. Before the pandemic you could definitely try and do a last minute trip to Yellowstone. Though it definitely would have cost you $$$.
However nowadays it is really important to make your reservations early for several reasons.
Yellowstone is not currently one of the national parks that you need timed reservation tickets to get into (Arches and Moab parks are however if you plan on visiting these on the same trip).
However accommodation does get filled up very quickly, especially if you want to get one of the coveted in-park lodges.
Reservations for the lodges that are inside Yellowstone open up up 13 months in advance. So if you can start planning your Yellowstone vacation 13 months in advance it is recommended.
By staying inside the park you will greatly reduce your travel time getting to the main park sights.
Try and Stay in the Park
Staying inside the park has several advantages including:
- you can get in the park early before the crowds
- Less travel time to sites
- Better for those prioritising wildlife spotting
- Easier to take a break in the middle of the day.
However as I mentioned above reservations get fully booked 18 months in advance.
There are a total of nine lodges in the park:
- 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
I would personally select Old Faithful Lodge with kids if you can get a reservation as this is most central to most of the major attractions.
Best Places to Stay Outside of Yellowstone with kids
If you can’t stay inside the park, it is really important to pick the best outside of park accommodation.
There are 5 main entrances to Yellowstone, which are:
- North Entrance
- North East Entrance
- East Entrance
- South Entrance
- West Entrance
and it can be confusing knowing where the best place to stay is. I personally recommend staying near the West Yellowstone entrance where possible.
The reason for this is that West Yellowstone is the closest town to a Yellowstone entrance. It is also the town with most hotels and the town itself is only a few minutes drive from the entrance itself.
Please note: that from the West Yellowstone entrance it is still around a 40 minute drive to Old Faithful Geyser.
This entrance is open and permitted to be used by cars from the third Friday of April at 8:00 until c. November 1st. This town also has a lot of family friendly attractions and restaurants that will appeal to visitors with kids.
Some of the best things to do in West Yellowstone with kids include the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Centre which is a great place to see these animals if you haven’t managed to see them in the wild in the park.
When we visited West Yellowstone 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.
However there are plenty of other hotels in West Yellowstone that offer great family friendly accommodation. To check out West Yellowstone accommodation click here.
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 several other cars 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 and toddlers then I would definitely advise going on out of the school holidays. If you can visit outside of school holidays you will definitely be rewarded with fewer crowds., However I would advise those traveling to children to stick to the shoulder seasons and summer.
Winters in Yellowstone can be harsh and many entrances and local amenities are closed so it can be harder to visiting Yellowstone with kids in Winter.
Plan Your Day but Don’t Overplan
Itinerary planning is an important part of your Yellowstone vacation prep. Yellowstone is a massive park and the distances between the main Yellowstone attractions are huge.
It is therefore really important to plan your itinerary so you use your time most efficiently.
Although you can’t plan for the traffic jams or bison jams as they are commonly called in Yellowstone, you can make sure that you know the best route around the park.
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!
We recommend the best amount of time to see Yellowstone is 4 days. This will allow you to tick off most major sites, do some hiking and see some things that are overlooked by many Yellowstone travellers.
For our 4 day Yellowstone itinerary check out this post.
Buy an America the Beautiful Pass for this trip?
America the Beautiful Pass is an 80USD pass that grants you access to all the National Parks and some national monuments. If you plan to visit several national parks alongside Yellowstone i.e Badlands, Grand Tetons etc. then it may be a cost saving for you to buy this.
Get in the parks early
We recommend getting into the park very early every day during your visit. The reasons for this are:
- there are less crowds the earlier in the day you go
- wildlife is most active early in the morning and at sunset. If you want to view wildlife getting in early will reward you with better sighting opportunities.
- traffic is lighter early in the day.
What to Pack for Visiting Yellowstone with Kids
We have a complete Yellowstone Summer Packing List here. However everyone knows that packing for children is a whole different list.
We recommend adding the below yo your Yellowstone with kids packing list.
It gets very cold in the park even during summer months especially if you are entering in the park for sunrise or sunset. Therefore layers are essential.
Hiking boots with a good sole
To make the most of your trip, we recommend taking on 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.
This is an essential for keeping everything you need for your day in the park.
The weather can change quickly in Yellowstone, especially if you are heading into the park at sun up and plan to spend the whole day in the park. A light compact waterproof is therefore a great addition to your packing list.
This one is really only for parents who are traveling to Yellowstone with toddlers. I know toddler reins are a divisive issue but if you have a toddler who doesn’t like to be in a carrier or stroller, reins are for me are an essential.
Although Yellowstone is a beautiful place, it can also be a dangerous place especially for toddlers. Especially around teh geysirs and hot springs. Therefore it is a good idea to have some reins with you so your toddler can walk but you have a hold off them.
I personally don’t like reins that attach to children’s wrists so opt for a backpack style rein instead.
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.
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
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. We do recommend you use toilets whenever you see them as you never know when you will be at another.
However be warned that the toilets are hole in the ground style so it is worth preparing your little ones for this if they haven’t been to a national park toilet again.
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. For this reason we recommend having something that will keep your child entertained for theses times – I recommend something non noisy to help save your sanity.
Car Seat / Booster
There is a lot of time spent in cars during a Yellowstone vacation and we know kids 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!
Just be sure to check your little one’s car seat or booster before travel to make sure they can see out of the window during your Yellowstone road trip.
For info on great toddler travel car sears check out this post!
Although out in nature we like to reduce screen time. However as the driving time can be long, and bison jams only add to this, we do have an Ipad in the car for the end of the day for when everyone starts to get tired.
Car Sickness Medication and Bracelets
If you have a child that is prone to car sickness, like I do, then be sure to pack car sickness medication or anti-sickness bracelets. We also recommend packing a clean up kit just in case the worst happens.
If you have a wildlife lover in the group having a decent pair of binoculars with you will greatly enhance your trip/
Should 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.
Tips For Visiting Yellowstone with kids
So now you know what you need to prep before you set off to Yellowstone, here are out tips for being in Yellowstone with kids.
Toilet Breaks Driving Around Yellowstone
Traffic and distances between stops in Yellowstone 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.Visiting Yellowstone with toddlers and babies
Best Things to Do in Yellowstone with Kids
So now you know how to prepare for your Yellowstone family vacation here are our favorite things to do in Yellowstone with kids.
See the Colors at the Grand Prismatic Spring
One of the most colorful sites I have ever seen is the waters at Grand Prismatic Spring. And it is certainly the most colourful place in the whole of Yellowstone.
You can hike round the spring to get a good view, but to fully appreciate all the colors 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.
For the best colors at the Grand Prismatic Spring we recommend going in the afternoon. It is far less steamy in the afternoon so you will have a much better view of the colors than if you go in the morning.
However just be warned that you may need patience finding a parking spot in the afternoon. THis is a very small parking lot that gets very packed.
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: the 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 declared 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?