What to do in Yellowstone National Park with Kids
Taking a family trip to Yellowstone is on lots of family bucket lists. It’s one of the most unique places in the world and has so many incredible areas to explore. While many visitors simply take a day’s drive through the park to see the major attractions, if you have time to slow down, there are so many amazing things to do in Yellowstone National Park with kids.
Go For A Hike
The absolute best thing you can do with kids in Yellowstone is to go hiking. The park is filled with trails of all difficulty levels, so you can find the perfect one for your family. And what could be more rewarding than admiring the park’s incredible scenery together?
One of the most important things to remember when hiking in Yellowstone is to stay on the trail. Yellowstone is packed full of geothermal activity, which is often unmarked, so going off the trail can be very dangerous in many places.
When you’re hiking in Yellowstone, always carry plenty of food and water, bear spray, a basic first aid kit, and a pocket knife.
Here are the best hikes with kids in Yellowstone:
Grand Prismatic Overlook Trail
This 1.2-mile trail will give you some of the best views of Grand Prismatic Spring from above. This trail has a gradual incline that will give you an eagle’s eye view of one of the most popular attractions in Yellowstone.
Trout Lake Trail
This trail is perfect for all ages and is only 1.2 miles long. It’s a great place to get out and get moving but without serious mileage. The trail starts with a short hill and then loops around Trout Lake. This is a great place to have a picnic!
Lone Star Geyser
This trail is 5 miles long and is one of the best places to see an active geyser with few other people around. Lone Star Geyser erupts every few hours so plan your hike accordingly. Even when it’s not fully erupting, the sputters in between major eruptions are fun to watch. This trail is also open to bikers, so it’s a great place to bike in Yellowstone.
Lost Lake Trail
This trail is a 3-mile loop and provides excellent opportunities to see wildlife. The trail is mostly flat (after an initial hill) and meanders through a forest before arriving at Lost Lake. This is a great place to spend some time fishing or just taking in the quiet beauty of the park.
Get Up For Sunrise
Sunrise in Yellowstone is absolutely amazing. Not only is the park at it’s most calm, but it’s the best time for wildlife viewing in Yellowstone.
You might see elk, bison, bears, and even wolves if you’re an early riser.
The best way to experience sunrise is to get up early and drive to a good spot for wildlife viewing. The Lamar and Hayden Valleys are the best place to go to look for wildlife. Bring a spotting scope or some binoculars and then get really patient, because you’ll likely be waiting a while. You’ll also want some kids camping chairs and maybe some card games to make being patient a little easier for the kids (baby camping chairs are great for helping contain and entertain little ones while you’re looking for wildlife).
We like to hurry and get out of bed, get to a good viewpoint and then feed everyone breakfast once we get there. Mornings in Yellowstone are usually pretty cold, so make sure to bring a few extra layers to stay warm. If you have young kids, grab a Morrison Outdoors wearable toddler sleeping bag to keep them extra warm and still be able to use their arms.
Camp In Yellowstone
Camping in Yellowstone is a unique experience that you won’t find anywhere else.
There are several campgrounds in the park, but they fill up quickly, so make sure to reserve your spot well in advance (bookings open a year in advance and fill quickly).
While there are a few first-come, first-served camping sites in Yellowstone, they fill incredibly quickly and are hard to get.
While you’ll have to plan far in advance for a Yellowstone camping trip, it’s worth the effort. Since the park is so massive, it takes a long time to get around and see different places, with many main attractions taking over an hour to get to from the entrance. When you camp in Yellowstone, you’ll significantly cut down on driving time because you can stay in a central location. This will allow you to easily get up early and look for wildlife, and even come back to camp for breakfast and a quick nap. In the evening, you can be back at your campground for dinner and then listen to a ranger presentation in the evening. The benefits of camping in Yellowstone are amazing.
Tip: Yellowstone can get very cold at night, even in the summer, so make sure to get warm kids sleeping bags, so that you can keep the kids warm while camping.
If you can’t find a place to camp inside of Yellowstone, there are lots of good places to camp in Montana and nearby Idaho campgrounds that can be great for families with kids.
Find A Bison Herd
Seeing bison up close is one of the most unique experiences to have with kids in Yellowstone. The animals are massive and roam freely throughout the park, so there’s a good chance you’ll spot one on your trip.
While bison do roam anywhere they want, the best place to look for bison is in the Hayden Valley. Nearly every time we’ve visited Yellowstone, we’ve found a large herd in that area. Sometimes they’re off in the distance and we need binoculars to see them and other times they’re standing in the middle of the road.
If you’re looking for another active bison viewing experience, consider heading up to Lamar Valley. This valley is known as the “bison corridor” because of the large number of bison that live and travel through it.
The Lamar Valley is also the area with the best chance of spotting a wolf (though they are quite rare), so there’s a chance of seeing two incredible animals from one spot.
Safety Around Bison
Bison are unpredictable animals and you should always keep your distance. If they start to move towards you, back away slowly. Keep a distance of at least 25 yards between you and any bison.
Bison can also be protected by practicing safe driving. Every year there are several collisions between bison and cars, so always be alert on the road.
Take A Soak In The Boiling River
This geothermal feature is a bit of a hidden gem in Yellowstone.
The Boiling River is located about two miles north of the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. It’s a short walk from the parking lot to the river and it’s free to soak in!
The water temperature is about 102 degrees, so it’s not the most refreshing swim, but it is a unique experience. Make sure to wear sturdy outdoor sandals that stay on your feet or water shoes for kids to make walking on the river rocks easier.
Where the Boiling River flows into the Gardner River and the two rivers mix, there’s a designated swimming area.
Be aware that the water is very warm here, but come prepared because there are no changing facilities.
Watch Old Faithful Erupt
No trip to Yellowstone is complete without watching Old Faithful erupt.
The geyser is located in the Upper Geyser Basin and is one of the most popular attractions in the park.
Old Faithful usually goes off every hour and a half, so you’ll have plenty of chances to see it, and the predictability of the eruptions makes this a very popular stop for visitors.
Mid-day crowds can be quite large, so if you want to have a more peaceful viewing experience, try arriving early or late in the day.
While many visitors just stop to see Old Faithful and then leave, the Upper Geyser Basin is worth exploring. There are dozens of geysers and hot springs to check out in the area.
For an extra bit of fun, you can bike from the Old Faithful Lodge down to Morning Glory Pool. The path is paved the whole way and is the fastest way to get around the Upper Geyser Basin. While you can’t bike on the boardwalks to get to other geysers, there are easy bike parking areas where you can park and walk the short boardwalk out to view them.
Visit Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs is one of the most popular destinations in Yellowstone and for good reason.
The area is filled with hot springs, limestone terraces, and waterfalls.
The terraces are constantly changing, so you can visit time and time again and see something different.
There’s also a Visitor Center with exhibits on the area’s history and wildlife.
You can easily spend an hour or more exploring Mammoth Hot Springs, so it’s a great place to stop for a break from hiking or driving.
Go For A Scenic Drive
While there are plenty of hikes to do in Yellowstone, sometimes you just want to take a leisurely drive and take in the scenery.
There are several scenic drives in the park, but one of the most popular is The Grand Loop.
The road circles the entire park and provides access to all of the major attractions.
You can drive the entire loop in a day, but it’s more enjoyable to split it up and spend a couple of days exploring different areas.
If you only have time for one scenic drive, make sure to take the road to Artist Point.
This viewpoint offers some of the most amazing views of Yellowstone and is a must-see for any visitor. Since the scenic drives in Yellowstone are on the longer side, we recommend bringing your camping cooler full of food, so you can easily stop and explore anything that looks interesting to you.
Get A Junior Ranger Badge
If you have kids with you, make sure to stop by a Ranger Station and get them a Junior Ranger Book. The Junior Ranger Program at Yellowstone is excellent and is one of the best ways to get kids engaged and excited about all there is to learn and do in Yellowstone.
Kids can earn a badge by completing activities in the book, and there’s something for everyone, no matter how young or old they are. Yes, even adults can be a Junior Ranger.
Ranger Stations can be found throughout the park, so make sure to stop by one during your visit to grab a book. When you have completed the book, return to any ranger station to be given your Junior Ranger badge and sworn in as a Yellowstone Junior Ranger.
Whether you have 2 days or a week to spend in Yellowstone with kids, you can always find fun new things to do and places to explore. We recommend always traveling with lots of food for the day and water, since stores are few and far between.
Jessica is an outdoor loving mom of 5 kids, raising her family in the mountains of Utah. You can follow some of her best outdoor advice at KidsCampingTips.com.