I spent a lot of time on this list of things you must see in Yellowstone with Kids. It’s hard to narrow things down. Plus, taking kids in to account changes things a bit. I tried to keep this list to short hikes, and many of them can be done with a stroller if you need to, although I would recommend something like a child backpack or letting them walk as far as they can, because pushing a stroller uphill with tons of people around isn’t fun. That, and packing a stroller takes up a lot of room too.
To tell you the truth, I was scared for my children’s lives the first time we went to Yellowstone and we scared them to death warning them 100 times about all the dangers. I swear they thought they were going to fall off a cliff, get thrown in the air by a buffalo or fall in a geyser at every turn. They were relieved when they found out that if you just follow the rules, you’ll be fine. Not only that, they LOVE Yellowstone. They always ask when we are going back and talk about it a lot and compare all other family vacations to it saying how it wasn’t as good of a vacation because it didn’t have this or that, that Yellowstone had.
These are what I think are the places you must see in Yellowstone with kids. You may or may not agree with me, but I’m going with what I think are the best things.
If you want to learn more about each location, click on either the title or the photo and it will take you to a page on our blog with a map of where it is, more photos, reviews, etc.
Just writing this post makes me want to go back to Yellowstone right now. Our whole family loves Yellowstone and we love to go back over and over. We always discover something new. The next time we go we want to go in the early fall when it’s still warm but most of the tourist will be gone. It just gets so busy. Plus, we’re thinking there is a lot better chance of seeing wildlife when it’s cooler and they are getting ready for winter. The only problem is that time of year isn’t exactly family-friendly with children in school. . .
I would love to know what you think of my Yellowstone with kids list. Did I miss something? Do you agree with the places I picked for the top ten?
Honorable Mention – Jr. Ranger Program
Becoming a Jr. Ranger deserves an honorable mention. One of the times we went to Yellowstone we stayed in the Old Faithful area for three nights and we needed something to do other than walk and look at geysers all day. We found the Jr. Ranger program fun. It took several hours for them to complete the program and they got to do a lot of fun activities that were put on by the rangers and got to do things they wouldn’t normally get to do. So if you have a little time, I recommend you go to a ranger station and ask about becoming a ranger. My children love their fabric badges they got and were so proud of themselves.
10. Moose Falls – South Entrance Road
This is just a pull off on the side of the road and doesn’t have any facilities. But we loved it because we were the only ones there for about half time, it has beautiful surroundings in trees and greenery, it is a very short hike (we’re talking maybe 1/4 a mile, but it isn’t stroller-friendly) and you can get close to the falls. Most of the waterfalls in Yellowstone you look at from a distance, so they aren’t as impressive for young children. But our children wanted to stay here forever. You can get pretty close. That and there was some creature hiding under the huge boulder at the end of the path and our children spent forever waiting for it to poke it’s little head out so they could take a picture.
9. Fountain Paint Pots in Lower Geyser Basin
I know this doesn’t look like much on the photo above, but I really enjoy the paint pots, or mud pots, is what we like to call them. This area can be really busy though and really hard to find a parking spot in the summer. This area isn’t super-fantastic, but I think it’s something you should see at least once and it’s family-friendly because you just loop around on a boardwalk and it’s only half a mile round-trip and you can view four types of hydrothermal features: geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles. My children like the mud pots. They are fun to just sit there and watch bubble.
8. Yellowstone Lake Boat Ride
7. Lost Creek Falls in Roosevelt Area
This is not very well known. We stayed at the Roosevelt cabins for three days though and we just love this area of the park. Roosevelt really is out of the way. It takes at least an hour to get there from Canyons over the Mt. Washburn pass. The drive is gorgeous and there’s a pretty good chance you will see wildlife. Our favorite was a fox on the side of the road with a bird in it’s mouth. Oh, and the time we saw a black bear mom and it’s cub just north of Roosevelt (see photo above) was pretty awesome too.
But we love the Roosevelt Lodge because of the feeling when you are there. It’s so much quieter than the rest of Yellowstone and has an old west feel. They serve fried chicken which doesn’t have much flavor, but it’s really good and actually tastes fresh, unlike much of the food in Yellowstone. Our children love the huge rocking chairs on the front porch.
After you have lunch or dinner there, you should take a little time and go on the Lost Creek Falls hike. The path isn’t even really marked and it’s a single lane path. It’s one mile out and back and begins behind Roosevelt Lodge. Head south of the lodge about a tenth of a mile until you get to a bulletin board and then keep left and follow the creek. Keep walking along the narrow path, keeping an eye out for deer and black bears. You’re in a narrow canyon that’s super-green from all the water and not much light. The trail can be a little slippery. Near the end of the trail you can see the waterfall and then scramble up closer to it if you want. I loved the peaceful feeling we got when we were there. We only saw one other group of people on the hike.
6. Lamar Valley
If you want to really see thousands of bison/buffalo in their natural environment, this is the place to go. It’s the perfect place for bison and other animals to live and there are always thousands of bison there. You can see lots of babies and just see them doing something besides standing there behind a fence, like fighting. I think my favorite part is watching them run. They just look so happy and free. You are also almost guaranteed to get in a “bison traffic jam.” Sometimes when we’ve been there, it’s taken up to half an hour to go a mile or so. The road just gets full of bison trying to cross to the other side. It’s pretty awesome for children when wild bison are walking on the road right in front of you or beside you. Hey, if nothing else, we got our children to be quiet for a while because we told them they had to be quiet so they didn’t scare the bison. . .
You may be able to see other wildlife too – such as large birds like raptors, wolves, bears, deer, pronghorn, deer, beavers and ducks. We’ve seen all those except wolves there, although we sat for a long time waiting for one once because we were told it crossed the road a few hours back and it would eventually come back to go to it’s nearby den. Not the most exciting thing for children and when it started to get dark, we left. In short, if you see other people pulled over to the side of the road, pull over too. The best time to go is early in the morning or at sunset/dusk. The one time we spotted a black bear we were was just north of Roosevelt junction, which is close to Lamar Valley. We spotted him around 9pm one night as we were driving home from Lamar back to our cabin at Canyons, thinking we didn’t have much luck that day. Just goes to show that you should never give up looking for animals in Yellowstone.
5. Old Faithful in Upper Geyser Basin
Old Faithful is the most popular attraction in Yellowstone for good reason. It goes off every 60-90 minutes. The prediction times are listed in the ranger building, gift shops and restaurants in the area. Or, you can just watch the crowds. The more people there, the closer it is to time to go off. During peak day times, several hundred people are there to watch each eruption. Part of the reason I like to stay in hotels right by Old Faithful is because you can go at dusk and it’s not nearly so crowded because all the tour buses have left for the day.
One of the main reasons this is family-friendly is because it’s so predictable. You can watch it, get some food and watch it again. Hundreds of people people watch it during peak hours in the day. There are lots of fun places to watch it from too. We had fun staying at the Old Faithful Inn and going out to the balcony to watch it. It’s farther away, but you get a good panoramic view and, if you’re lucky, a comfy chair to sit in. The above photo was taken from that balcony. It’s also quite impressive how high it goes. It really would be a shame to go to Yellowstone and not see Old Faithful. I’m sure it’s the #1 tourist destination there, and for good reason. It’s also just a short walk from the parking lot and has several hotels, restaurants, gift shops and a ranger station right near it.
We’ve been to Yellowstone three times with our children and Old Faithful is always a highlight. One of their favorite things in the area every time we’ve gone are bison. One year we stayed at the Snow cabins and a bison walked right under our window. If there wasn’t a screen, we could have reached out and touched the bison. We knew it was there because we could hear it grunting. Of course, our oldest daughter was two at the time and all she wanted to do was pet the bison. The seem so harmless just standing there ignoring all the humans, but I sure wouldn’t want to make one mad. I’ve seen videos of bison throwing people up in the air.
4. Grand Geyser in Upper Geyser Basin
Grand Geyser is our family’s favorite in Yellowstone. Why? It’s so GRAND. It’s a lot bigger than Old Faithful and you can get a lot closer to it. It lasts a long time, like maybe 10 minutes. It only takes about 20 minutes to walk out to it on a fairly level boardwalk. The problem of it is that it isn’t nearly as predictable as Old Faithful so, unless you are really lucky, you will need to wait for it to go off. I think we waited about an hour and a half the first time we saw it go off. For our young children, this was not a small amount of time to wait. There are a few benches near it, but those fill up quickly, so we had to stand and wait (actually we found a little shade and sat on the boardwalk and waited most of the time.) I was surprised by our children. They were ages 4-10 at the time and we kept asking them if they wanted to leave and they kept saying they wanted to stay a little longer, even though it was past lunch time.
You see, this geyser teases you. It’s very entertaining to watch because of the anticipation that happens.It’s eruptions are less often (8 to 12 hours) and the eruption window is wider (+-75 min). Grand is in a group of geysers – Grand, Turban and Vent are the main ones. How they are behaving gives a clue to when Grand will go off next. Check at the Old Faithful Visitor’s Center for the eruption time and window and get there at the beginning of the window. Grand is the big Pool Turban is the higher mound to the north and vent is to the north of Turban. Turban should be having small eruptions about every 20 minutes or so giving you something to pass the time. Even after Grand is done Turban and Vent will continue sometime for up to two hours.
Grand’s pool will begin to fill. When it overfills, Turban should erupt +/- every 20 minutes. If Turban’s eruption empties Grand’s pool, you have another +/- 20 minutes to wait. If Grand’s pool remains full during Turban’s eruption and waves appear in Grand’s pool, an eruption will usually occur. Turban, Grand and Vent usually go off at the same time. Once Grand’s eruption dies down, don’t leave because Grand may have as many as four bursts and many people say that the second burst is the best. Turban and Vent can continue to erupt after Grand is finished for as much as two hours.
So your anticipation builds and builds as you’re watching and waiting. When it finally goes off, it’s just amazing. It really is tall. The picture above doesn’t really look like it’s tall, but it’s zoomed back. Look at the hill behind it to get a perspective of how tall it is. The above picture was actually the second time we saw it, which was the day after waiting 1.5 hours. We just happened to be walking back from River Geyser and Grand went off right before we got there. Our 6 year-old daughter was so excited and was just hugging me and saying how happy she was that we took her to Yellowstone to see the geysers.
3. Artist’s Point View of Lower Falls
Artist point is located on the south rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. It offers a good view of the Lower Falls although more distant than Red Rock Point or Lookout Point. The parking lot for Artist Point is located at the end of south rim drive. It is just a short walk from the parking lot, in fact, you will most likely walk further in the parking lot unless you get lucky and catch someone up close pulling out.
The entire Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is just beautiful. When you’re on the rim, you can look down in to the canyon hundreds of feet down with beautifully colored rocks and sand and it’s just so breath-taking. But my favorite place to get an overall view of the entire canyon is Artist’s Point. It’s impossible to for pictures to due the views justice because you can’t look all around you with a photo. Hopefully the view above gives you an idea of how beautiful it is there. If nothing else, you need to go there to get a beautiful photo.
2. Brink of the Lower Falls in Canyon Area – Yellowstone National Park
The parking lot for the Brink hike is the first one you will come to while driving along the North Rim Drive. Be aware that during peak times this parking lot is usually full. This trail is paved and made up of switchbacks. You drop about 600 feet in about a half a mile. The tricky part is that you start high, see the falls and then have to hike back up. Standing on the platform you can feel the power of nature. Look for the rainbow that is created by the mist from the falls.
Our 3 and a half year old made it one year with a little whining – but she did it. One year my wife and I did this hike with two strollers, not the smartest or funnest thing to do, but we made it. Let’s just say that I don’t recommend that. Besides having tons of people you have to contend with, it’s back breaking labor. So not fun. A backpack would have been so much easier. But it’s all worth it at the brink.
1. Red Rock Point View of Lower Falls
Red Rock Point has one of the best views of the Lower Falls but it does require an investment of energy to reach. The trail is not long – less than a mile round trip but is steep in places and has wooden stairs part the way. But, the hike itself is beautiful and the view of the canyon and the Lower Falls cannot be beat. I would think anyone in good health should be able to make it. With the proper supervision, my four year old made it without to much trouble.
It’s relatively unknown, but we like this hike because it’s not too hard or long, isn’t very busy, is shaded on part of the trail and has a really good view of the lower falls. We’ve been on it several times because it’s perfect if you just want something to do between dinner and bed or if your husband is addicted to hiking and your children can’t hike one more step so you chill in the car with the kids for a while and eat some snacks while your husband goes on a quick hike. And if you were having a snack and bathroom break and your husband took a little longer than you thought, you could even go to the Lower Falls lookout point that’s right there in the same parking lot and have a great view to look at while waiting for said husband. Some of the things that make this hike unique are that it has pine trees and near the end there is a red rock and a boardwalk/bridge/sidewalk thing you have to walk out on to get to the good view. Not the scariest thing ever for someone like me who is terrified of heights, but I did take it slow and didn’t look down.