Geysers, hot springs, mountains, rivers and animals of all kinds make Yellowstone National Park a great place to bring the whole family for vacation. You'll find no shortage of fun kid- and adult-friendly activities, hikes and more, so keeping everyone in entertained is never a problem.
Since kids often become bored more quickly than adults, we've chosen Yellowstone highlights that aren't as time-dependent, leaving you able to decide for yourself whether you want to spend all day, half a day or just a few hours doing any one thing.
If you're bringing the kids to Yellowstone, camping out underneath the stars is definitely recommended to make the trip complete, because after a day of hiking and exploring, not much beats roasting hot dogs over a camp fire before crawling into a warm sleeping bag.
Even with a dozen developed campsites throughout the park, it's worth making a reservation in advance, especially during peak visitor seasons and holidays. If you'd rather not camp out, there are a number of hotels and lodges within Yellowstone National Park and even more in the gateway towns of Gardiner and West Yellowstone.
We definitely recommend bringing a vehicle to Yellowstone National Park, especially if your kids are with you. Due to the size of Yellowstone (almost 3,500 square miles) and the fact that most areas don't have roads crisscrossing through them, getting around the Park without a vehicle can be difficult. If you don't have the option of driving yourself, there are plenty of local rental agencies that can help you.
While kids may enjoy some shorter drives and the large elk, bison and other wildlife you'll probably see, they often become restless when asked to sit in a car all day. Try to pick one or two of the shorter scenic drives, and take advantage of the many opportunities to stop and explore.
If your family is already filled to the gills with anglers, you'll have no problem spending your entire vacation fishing the rivers and lakes for all the trout, grayling and whitefish you can catch. If your kids still haven't gotten hooked, this may be the perfect time (and place) to teach them a sport that you can enjoy together for decades. Our list of fishing locations can help you find a good place to start, or hire a local guide to take you out on the river and help you find the best holes.
It seems like most kids, and a lot of adults, have a fascination with horses, especially when visiting the West, where the cowboy mystique still has a life of its own. Come explore Yellowstone while riding through plains and forests, past rivers, geysers and herds of bison and elk. Guided horseback rides last anywhere from an hour or two to multi-day excursions into the Yellowstone backcountry.
There may not be any whitewater rafting within Yellowstone National Park, but just outside the Park borders are a number of first-class whitewater rivers and professional guides just waiting to float you down them. If whitewater rapids are a bit too much excitement for you or your family, there are plenty of mellow, scenic floats that reveal the sublime beauty of the Greater Yellowstone Area while treating you to a relaxing morning, afternoon or full day on the river.
Hike Through the Upper Geyser Basin
This relatively small area around Old Faithful has a ton of geothermal features to explore, making it the perfect spot to bring kids – no long hikes between geysers or boring waits for something to happen. While you're here, check out Old Faithful, Morning Glory Pool, the Lion Group, Ear Spring and some of the many geysers (eruption times vary for different geysers – check with a ranger to find out what eruptions may be occurring while you're here).
Explore Mystic Falls
The easy, 1.5-mile hike up to Mystic Falls reveals a 70-foot tall waterfall with numerous steam vents to either side all along the cascading water. If you opt to take the slightly longer (about 2 miles) trail to or from Mystic Falls, you'll find a great overlook of the Upper Geyser Basin.
Upper and Lower Falls
Seeing the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River is fun for both the young and old, and all ages will enjoy the view of the impressive Upper and Lower Falls, just a short walk from the car.
Kids love to learn, especially when they don't have to do it with a book. Join Yellowstone National Park's Rangers for one (or a few) of their fun and educational programs. Hike through geysers, explore the forest and more as your family learns about the natural history, geology and wildlife of Yellowstone National Park.
One of the best ways to get your children excited about all the different activities around Yellowstone National Park is the Junior Ranger Program. Pick up the activity book and go discover Yellowstone; once you've explored all the fun activities (hiked trails, talked to rangers and more), your children can receive an official Junior Ranger patch.
Similar to the Junior Ranger Program, the Young Scientist Program is designed for older kids who want to explore and investigate Yellowstone even more.
Boat on Yellowstone Lake
Bring the whole family to America's largest alpine lake for a few hours of boating, kayaking, canoeing or fishing. Boat rentals area available, and you're bound to have fun exploring the shores of this beautiful mountain lake.
Check out the Visitor Centers
Each of the eight Visitor Centers in Yellowstone National Park has its own focus, and the whole family can enjoy the movies, displays and more that highlight different aspects of the geology, wildlife, natural history and natural phenomenon that have helped to shape this area. Kids will have plenty of fun looking through the books, toys and more in the various gift shops, as well. Don't miss the new Old Faithful Visitor Education Center.
Nothing screams Old West fun like a rodeo. Join the action for some bronco-riding, cow-catching, lariat-lassoing fun (you may even get lucky and see some mutton-busting, as well). During summer, you can find the excitement at the Jackson Hole or West Yellowstone Rodeos.
Evening Ranger Programs
Often called Campfire Programs, these night-time ranger-led programs happen at campgrounds and visitor centers through Yellowstone National Park. Bring the whole family and gather around a campfire or telescope to hear stories, find constellations and learn more about the night-time workings of Yellowstone. More information on times, locations and topics can be found at the Visitor Centers.
Old West Cookout
Jump in the saddle or on the back of a covered wagon and ride out to your chuck wagon dinner, complete with cowboy entertainment.
Music in the Park
West Yellowstone's summer music series attracts families, both local and visiting, with its fun, outdoor (and free) concerts.
You may not want to take the kids to the finest dining establishment you can find, but there are plenty of family-friendly restaurants located around Yellowstone, West Yellowstone and Gardiner.
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