My family (then just the three of us) ventured to Yellowstone National Park several years ago.We visited Yellowstone with a preschooler; I believe she was around two years old at the time. She had a few moments of meltdown, but she also really enjoyed seeing some sights that could not be found at home. Visiting Yellowstone with children is absolutely worthwhile. There is so much to see and do with a variety of family-friendly lodging.
GETTING TO Yellowstone:
Unless you live within driving distance, you will need to investigate various airports and airfares that suit your needs. Jackson, WY is probably your best bet for flying into, as it is slightly under a 2-hour drive to Yellowstone National Park. You can also see the Grand Tetons on your way, and Jackson Hole is a great little town! We flew into Jackson and stayed a night in Jackson Hole before venturing through the Grand Tetons (with a morning hike where we saw a moose) on our way to Yellowstone. Cody, WY is another option to investigate when searching for airports near Yellowstone National Park.
LODGING IN Yellowstone:
There are many varieties of lodging to choose from in Yellowstone - but make sure to book very far in advance, as some of the most popular ones book almost a year out. Summer lodges include the well-loved Old Faithful Inn, Old Faithful Cabins, Roosevelt Lodge and Cabins, Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins, Lake Yellowstone Hotel, Lake Lodge Cabins, Grant Village, and a couple more. Yellowstone is so large, you may want to consider booking two different lodges/cabins on opposite sides of the park. That will allow you to really experience one area before immersing yourself in another area. It's amazing how different various features can be, all within one park! While the smaller cabins are not generally fancy, we tend to select them for the separation from other guests (kids can be noisy, you know) and quaint, outdoorsy feel (cabins with bathrooms are my "camping"). Yellowstone lodges and other accommodations are managed by Xanterra; you can browse Yellowstone accommodations and make reservations here: Yellowstone Park Lodging
EATING IN Yellowstone:
Dining in Yellowstone is as varied as the lodging. Fine dining, casual restaurants, and snack shops are scattered throughout the very large park. A couple times, we stopped in a little market and bought picnic supplies to eat outdoors. It is important for families to understand drive times within the very large park and where food is located, as kids get hungry. Often. Dining facilities in Yellowstone National Park
FAMILY FUN in Yellowstone:
Yellowstone spans an area of over 3,000 square miles! Yes... it is huge. Yellowstone National Park visitors enjoy wildlife sightings, canyons, scenic drives, jaw-dropping hikes, views of geysers and other geothermal features, and even more. Most paths are paved or boardwalks, so it is surprisingly stroller-friendly. For children, these are some of the top must-see sights and must-do activities:
- Evening or morning wildlife drives - Children love animals, and Yellowstone National Park is home to many bison, elk, wolves, coyotes, bears, bald eagles, and hundreds of other birds, reptiles, and mammals. We saw several bison and elk daily, two bears, and one coyote from very far away (across a long field). Early summer is a good time for wildlife viewing as the frozen areas are thawed and animals feast.
- Junior Ranger Program - most U.S. national parks offer a Junior Ranger program, Yellowstone included. Our daughter was too young for this at the time, but if you are traveling with a child over age five, it may be fun to follow along with the suggested activities and adventures to earn a Junior Ranger patch and certificate.
- Old Faithful area - The Old Faithful geyser at Yellowstone National Park is one of the most impressive (and prompt!) sights I have experienced. Kids enjoy the anticipation and eventual eruption of tall, powerful water from the viewing area, complete with many benches (and a crowd of people). There is a easy 1.5-mile boardwalk loop trail from this geyser where we viewed some of the most colorful geothermal features in the park and more erupting geysers. The Anemone Geyser along this trail generally erupts every 5-10 minutes.
- Mud Volcano area - Dubbed "stinky water" by our daughter because the sulfur smells like rotten eggs, this area has some of the most odorous of the geothermal features. The mud volcano itself isn't very active, but kids enjoy seeing the steam and bubbling from Dragon's Mouth and holding their noses at the Sulfur Cauldron overlook.
- Canyon Visitor Education Center - This visitor center is a newer attraction within Yellowstone National Park, and another good option for kids to explore and learn. Models, a giant lava lamp, and computer-generated exhibits are some of the offerings within the center for touching, watching, and investigating.
The National Park Service website has a plethora of information on each U.S. National Park, including Yellowstone. Definitely study the maps and do some planning ahead before you take the family on this big vacation. Yellowstone for kids is awesome - but it's huge and you can easily get overwhelmed with so much to see.