Hello Fellow Adventurer!
Are you planning a trip to Yellowstone National Park? We love Yellowstone!
Every other year, we take a 3-4 day trip to Yellowstone as a family, and we love every second of it. We love the scenery, the animals, the hiking trails, and the geysers. There is so much to see and do in this amazing National Park that is can be a little overwhelming.
After all our trips to this park, we consider ourselves Yellowstone experts, and we'd like to share a little of our expertise. Here's our advice on where to go and what to do when you visit America’s First National Park.
Junior Ranger Programs
First, start at a Visitor Center. There are many Visitor Centers throughout the park, and all have interesting information, but you want to pick up your Junior Ranger booklet and get the kids working on the program. It costs $2, but it is well worth it as you will learn about the park together and earn a unique patch. Each age group has a different patch.
There is also a secret Young Scientist Program. This program can only be done at the Old Faithful Visitor Center, so most people don’t know about it. When you visit Old Faithful, which is a must do, stop in and ask for the Young Scientist backpack. The backpack comes with some tools, such as a laser thermometer for checking the temperature of geysers. We had a lot of fun completing this booklet as we walked around Geyser Basin. It costs $5, and is for children ages 5+. There's a spiffy patch that comes with completing the program.
Most people visit Yellowstone in hopes of spotting animals, especially bears. There are a few things we have found over the years that help us find animals more effectively, and we've never had a trip that we spotted fewer than three bears. But remember that animals are unpredictable so sometimes you have to be a bit lucky.
Go Early. Most animals are active early in the morning, and then again later toward evening, so you are most likely to see them if you are willing to get up early for your animal drive. We have been known to leave our cabin at hours beginning with 4 in order to catch bears.
Our favorite spot for seeing animals is LaMar Valley. This valley lies northeast of Roosevelt. We have the best luck for seeing bears in this area. Black bears usually hang around Roosevelt along the main road within a few miles on each side. We have seen them along the road on every trip. If you head from Roosevelt up into LaMar Valley you have a chance at seeing foxes, coyotes, wolves, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, badgers, and many other animals. Keep your eyes open. We have written specific instructions on how and where to see animals in Yellowstone.
When viewing wildlife, always remember to keep your distance. There are warnings all over about the danger of the animals, but we always see people in the park taking unnecessary chances. These are wild animals. Yellowstone is not a zoo, so stay the appropriate distance away from these beautiful creatures, and enjoy them from your car, the side of the road, and with a good zoom lens on your camera.
Yellowstone has lots of beautiful scenery, and hundreds of waterfalls. If your family is anything like ours, your children will enjoy seeing different waterfalls throughout the park. Just driving through the park offers lots of chances for gorgeous views. Don't miss the following beautiful spots in the park.
Everyone has to visit Artist Point. This is the iconic viewpoint of Lower Falls in Yellowstone. This waterfall is very majestic in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone as it gushes next to the yellow rock for which Yellowstone is named.
Undine Falls is a fun waterfall because it’s right along the road as you leave Mammoth and head toward Roosevelt. You will want to stop and walk the few feet from the parking area to see this waterfall. It is always rushing, and is a perfect spot for a family picture.
Yellowstone Lake is big and beautiful. We love to hike near the lake, but we also enjoy Gull Point Drive. This short, 2.0 mile drive runs along the shore of the lake. Our favorite part is when you drive a causeway with water on either side. We usually stop and let our boys throw some rocks just for fun.
Next to animal sightings, geysers are the second most popular stop in Yellowstone. Yellowstone is full of bubbling pots and shooting geysers. There are lots of different places to walk and see the colorful pools, so sometimes it’s hard to choose which to visit.
Everyone has to see Old Faithful. This geyser is the most predictable, but even then, the rangers usually give a range of time. When you arrive at Old Faithful, check the signs for the next predicted eruption. Be there about 15 minutes early so you can get a spot to see the geyser.
Depending on when Old Faithful is erupting, we enjoy walking the boardwalk through Upper Geyser Basin. There are many other geysers, and hot pools of all colors to see. Pick up a map, as there are many loops through the basin. You can choose the length appropriate for your family.
One other stop that we have always enjoyed is the West Thumb Geyser Basin. There are some beautiful blue pools here, as well as some geysers right in the lake. You can even see where Mountain Men claim to have caught a fish and cooked it right on the line. West Thumb is not as busy as other places in the park which we like, too.
Yellowstone has hundreds of hikes, and many are family friendly. We love getting away from the crowded roads and geyser boardwalks to take a stroll into nature. If you love hiking, you will love Yellowstone. Our five favorite hikes are:
- Trout Lake: Located in LaMar Valley, this hike is a steep ½ mile to the lake, but it is well worth it to see the beautiful lake. We often see otters, too.
- Wraith Falls: Located between Mammoth and Roosevelt, this hike is 1 mile round trip and takes you to a beautiful little waterfall.
- Storm Point: Located near Fishing Bridge, this hike is 1.5 miles and takes you out along Yellowstone Lake. We love the marmot colony along this hike, so watch for these fun little creatures.
- Duck Lake: located near West Thumb and only 1 mile round trip with a gently incline up to a beautiful, secluded lake.
- Ice Lake: Located near Norris, this trail is flat and is only 0.6 miles roundtrip. The hike to this lake is very quiet. In fact we've never seen anyone along the path!
If you want more information about hiking in Yellowstone, you can visit our post about family friendly hikes in Yellowstone.
We know you will fall in love with Yellowstone National Park the minute you drive through the gate. Enjoy!
Good to Know
Where: Yellowstone is located in Wyoming. There are 5 different entrances to Yellowstone National Park.
When: Year-round. The park is open all year, but the only road open in the winter runs from Mammoth to Cooke City. The most popular times to visit are June-October. Our personal favorite is June when the baby animals are still tiny.
How Much: $30 per vehicle for 7 days
Amenities: visitor centers, gift shop, bathrooms, picnic areas, camping, hotels, cabins, restaurants
Close By: If you visit Yellowstone National Park, you might consider spending some time in Grand Teton National Park, too. It’s only about 30 miles between parks.