My kids and I had the opportunity to explore Yellowstone National Park in July. This was my first time in the park in 20 years (oh my gosh, I feel so old all of a sudden). I last visited the park in 1995 with two college friends. I know I was there, yet somehow I don’t remember very much about the trip (except that we camped out in a tent inside the park).
The park is huge, covering more than two million acres across Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. We had just two days to see the park, and between the geysers, the mud pots, the hot springs and the wildlife, I knew we weren’t going to be able to see it all (or even come close).
To make the most of your visit, enter the park from the West Yellowstone (Montana) or Flagg Ranch (Wyoming) entrance, both of which are convenient to must-sees like Old Faithful and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Take a look at 10 things you absolutely must do as a family at Yellowstone National Park. Have fun. 🙂
1. Stay Near the Park Entrance. If you aren’t planning to stay inside the park, stay very close to the entrance. We stayed in a cabin at the Yellowstone Park / West Entrance KOA. It’s six miles from the West Yellowstone entrance, so it was only a 15-minute drive. The park is very popular, so not only do you want to stay nearby, you want to get there early (before 10 am) or you’ll end up in a back-up of cars.
The views from our cabin at the KOA were absolutely beautiful. As a bonus, there’s a lot to do at the campground when you’re not exploring the national park. Look for bike rentals, mini-golf, a children’s playground and an indoor pool. There’s even a Koffee Kabin for a morning boost and a fudge shop with all different flavors of fudge, including watermelon.
2. Let Bubbling Mud Pots Entertain You. Stop to watch bubbling, blooping mud pots throughout the park, including Fountain Paint Pot and Artists Paint Pots. We loved watching the mud pots bubble. It’s a short loop walk around the mud pots, which can easily be done with small kids in tow.
3. Watch Old Faithful Erupt. This is a must, especially for first-time visitors. Park at the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center and check inside for the day’s predicted eruption times. We arrived just as Old Faithful was starting to erupt and we saw the display again about an hour later. Old Faithful erupts ever 35 to 120 minutes. While there, be sure to check out the Old Faithful Inn.
4. Attend a Ranger-Led Program. It’s a must to attend a ranger program. You and your kids can learn about bear safety, geology, history and native animals. There are even ranger-led hikes and campfire programs. Pick up a park newspaper when you arrive or go online ahead of time to check out the schedule for the day(s) you’ll be at the park.
5. Explore Upper Geyser Basin. From Old Faithful, walk along the one-mile boardwalk through Upper Geyser Basin to check out a variety of hot springs and geysers, including Morning Glory Pool. Take one of the short hiking trails that branch off the boardwalk to explore the geysers from a new vantage point.
6. Be Awed by the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. While Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon may not be as large as the Grand Canyon in Arizona, it’s still a must-stop that will impress your kids. Park near North Rim Drive and take the Brink of Lower Falls trail. It’s short, but very steep. However, it’s worth the walk for the views of the Lower Falls.
7. Become a Young Scientist. At the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center, kids can check out a Young Scientist Toolkit, which includes a thermometer, stopwatch and more, to investigate the area around Old Faithful. Also, pick up and complete an activity booklet to earn a Young Scientist patch or key chain (for kids ages five and up).
8. Get to the Park Early for Animal Watching. Yellowstone is well-known for its wildlife, including elk, moose, bison and bald eagles. Arrive at the park early when the animals are most active and bring along binoculars for some prime wildlife viewing. We saw a bison as we were driving into the park (he came within a few feet of our car!).
9. Stamp Your Passport (Multiple Times). First, buy a Passport to Your National Parks. You can buy one online for $8.95 or you can buy one at the park visitors center or bookstore (same price). Then, keep your eyes open for cancellation stamps. There are a handful of stamps, including stamps that can be found at the Old Faithful Visitor Center and the Canyon Visitor Center.
10. Become a Junior Ranger. My kids love earning badges and patches at various national parks through the Junior Ranger program. You can pick up an activity booklet at any visitors center inside the park (while booklets are free at most national parks, they’re $3 each at Yellowstone). Complete a certain number of activities depending on your child’s age and receive a pretty nice patch.