Things to do in Yellowstone with kids

There are so many things to do in Yellowstone with kids. It’s a park made for families to explore and things to keep kids interested. From seeing a large amount of wild animals to taking a hike, swimming near a hot spring, watching a geyser erupt, and experiencing an old west cookout Yellowstone has something for everyone.

Here is a list of things to do in Yellowstone with your kids:

Look for all the Wildlife

One of the reasons we went to Yellowstone was to see wildlife. It’s a park that offers a chance to see so many different species of wildlife in one area. Grizzly and black bears, elk, deer, moose, mountain sheep, mountain goat, bison, coyote, bald eagles, pronghorn, marmots, fox, and even wolf all call this park their home.

It’s exciting to see wildlife in their own environment and watch how they live and survive in nature.

Lamar Valley

herd of bison in Yellowstone National Park

Lamar Valley is the crown jewel of  Yellowstone known for its wildlife especially wolves, bears, and bison. It’s an amazing spot where you will see the most wildlife in one area anywhere in the lower 48 states.

Known as America’s Serengeti, it is located in the northeastern corner of the park. The 29-mile road is between the Tower Junction/Roosevelt area and the Northeast entrance of the park.

You will be amazed by what you will see here. You can see wildlife all day long but especially in the early morning or evening.

We went here almost every evening we were in Yellowstone, we were so amazed by the area. We were able to see a grizzly bear who had killed an elf feed for hours. It was across the river as many people watched in amazement. Cameras were lined up taking pictures and we saw a bison approach and literally walked around the people and cameras, wow what a sight it was!

Tips:

  • Caution is needed when driving in this area as the bison roam on the roads.
  • The animals you see in Yellowstone are WILD and you should NOT approach them at any cost. Although rangers try to be around where bears are, you should always stay at least 100 yards from any wild animal.
  • It’s hard to see wolves without a spotting scope. There is an area where everyone was lined up with their scopes (we didn’t have one) and a few people let us look at wolves through their scopes. So, I would recommend bringing a scope with you
  • We brought bear spray before entering the park. Although thankfully we didn’t have to use it, I wouldn’t go to Yellowstone without it.

Go swimming

The are two areas within the park where you can swim, Boiling River and Firehole River.

Boiling River

Boiling River in Yellowstone
Boiling River in Yellowstone National Park

About 2.5 miles north of Mammoth is the Boiling River. There is a small parking area with restrooms at the location. There is a short trail to the hot spring (about a 10-minute walk). The swimming hole is located where the cold water from Gardiner River and hot water from the Mammoth Hot Springs merge making it a comfortable warm temperature to swim.

There are signs where it is safe to swim where the river is shallow. This is a must do when in Yellowstone especially with kids.

Tips:

  • Wear water shoes as the riverbed is rocky and uneven.
  • There are no lifeguards, so you are swimming at your own risk
  • The parking area is small so come early on a hot summer day as it can get very crowded.
  • It is not well marked on the road so if you can’t find it, stop at the Mammoth Visitors center where they will give you exact directions.

Firehole River

Along the Grand Loop Road just south a Madison is a 2-mile one-way loop road which takes you along the Firehole River, passed Firehole Falls, and a natural swimming hole.

The water is warm due to the Geyser activity in the area but can be rough to swim at the beginning of the season due to high water (melting snow) and strong currents. The best time to swim in this fun place is in mid-summer.

If you are a good swimmer you can even jump off the rocks into the swimming hole. It’s a blast!

Tips:

  • There are (2) vaulted toilets in the parking area for your convenience.
  • Water shoes are recommended due to the rocks in the area.

Take a Hike

Kids love to hike as it gives them the freedom to run in the fields and through the woods. In Yellowstone, it’s great because you get to see many different things you can’t see anywhere else in the world.

Although there are over 1,000 miles of hiking in Yellowstone, here are a few that your kids will love. They are short and mostly flat filled with colors, bubbling water, geysers, and a good chance of seeing wildlife.

Biscuit Geyser Basin

Another great thing to do with kids in Yellowstone is to take the Biscuit Geyser Basin loop. This short hike (.65 mile) not far from Old Faithful has much to offer and the kids will love seeing the different thermals and colors.

Near the parking area is the red colored Rusty Geyser, followed by Sapphire Pool with its deep blue color, Black Opel Pool and Wall Pool, you will be sure to take pictures here. Then continue to Jewel Geyser and wait for it to erupt. You won’t have to wait long as it goes off about every 10 minutes.

Along the way, on this boardwalk, there are also many other small geysers and pools to see such as Black Pearl Geyser, Shell Geyser, Black Diamond Pool, Avoca Spring, Wet Geyser and Mustard Spring.  Although small, the geysers at this basin are very active and erupt frequently making it especially fun for the kids to see. This place is worth a visit during your trip to Yellowstone.

Tips:

  • You can continue on as many other trails are in this area. From the rear of the loop, there are side trails to Mystic Falls, Observation Point, Summit Lake, and the Fairy Creek trail. If you have more time to spare in the area, you can take one or many of these trails.
  • Stay on the boardwalk in this area and it can be dangerous to step off of it, so hold your young kids’ hands at all times.
  • This is a popular area and the parking area is not that big so you may have to wait for a parking space.
  • You also have a good chance of seeing bison in this area.

Grand Prismatic Spring

Grand Prismatic Springs is the largest hot spring in the United States with temperatures ranging from 160 to 205 degrees. It’s a rainbow of color with a sky blue center and green, orange, and yellow around the rim making it so beautiful to experience. This is one of my favorite spots in Yellowstone.

There is a boardwalk trail (.8 miles) that goes around the spring with nice views and you will feel the warmth from the spring. It will be steaming on cooler days. You must stay on the boardwalk as it is dangerous to walk in the geyser basin.

Also in this area (Midway Geyser Basin) are Excelsior Geyser, Turquoise Pool, Opal Pool, and a large geyser crater.

Best View

The best way to see the Grand Prismatic Spring is from above. You can do this in one of two ways. The first is that you can climb the hill opposite the parking lot for a good overall view.

Another viewpoint from above is to take the Fairy Falls Trail (from Biscuit Geyser Basin). Look down from the top of a small hill accessible off the trail for an incredible view. This is probably the best view you can get of this hot spring.

Tips:

  • This is a popular area so parking can be filled so it’s better to go early in the day.
  • This is a DANGEROUS area and you MUST be careful and MUST say on the boardwalk so keep your kids close to you. People have died falling into the spring. As a matter of fact, more people have died in this spring than grizzly bears and lightning attacks in the park.
  • If you are going to hike either viewpoint from above, hiking boots are highly recommended.

For more information on hiking, check out the Yellowstone hiking page on the government’s website.

See these related articles for more hiking in other National Parks:

Hiking Shenandoah National Park

Best Hikes from Bear Lake Trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park

Isle Royale National Park

Go see a Geyser

Old Faithful

The highlight for most adults of things to do in Yellowstone is seeing the geysers, but kids love seeing the water shoot up from the ground too.

In addition to the above-mentioned areas, the Biscuit Geyser Basin and the Midway Geyser Basin, Old Faithful is a MUST see in Yellowstone. It goes off every 45 minutes and is definitely worth the wait.

Go to the Old West Dinner Cookout

Your kids (and you too) will love an evening spent like you’re in the Old West. From the Roosevelt Lodge, you get to either take a covered wagon or ride a horse to a real cowboy cookout in the middle of nowhere. 

You will experience a 45 minute covered wagon ride or your choice of a 1 or 2-hour trail ride to the cookout. There you will have coffee over an open campfire and when the dinner bell rings, you will have a steak dinner with all the fixing made by cowboys including chuckwagon corn, baked beans, cornbread potato salad, coleslaw, watermelon, the best fruit cobbler you’ll even have and beverages.

You get to converse with the cowboys, western music will be playing and be sure to bring your dancing boots as there will be plenty of dancing too. It is an enjoyable evening and you will feel like you’re really in the old west.

You have a choice of a 2-hour horseback ride for $94 for adults and $86 for kids 8 to 11 or a one-hour trail ride for $87 for adults and $72 for kids. The return ride is direct and takes about 30 minutes. You must be 8 years old to ride a horse and at least 48” tall and weight under 240 pounds. All children 8 to 17 must be accompanied by someone 18 and older.

If horseback riding isn’t your thing, you can take a ride in an old-fashioned covered wagon to the cookout for $63 for adults and $50 for children (3 to 11).

Either way, you choose to get there you all met up to have a great outdoor dining experience with the music and dancing cowboy style.

We did this with our kids and really enjoyed a great evening. One of my kids wanted to take the covered wagon and the other wanted to ride the horse so me and my husband divided up and let the kids experience the way they wanted to. It was so much fun.

Tips: 

  • On the ride through the valley keep an eye out for wildlife, it’s the time of day you can see a lot.
  • Although it a little pricey, it is a must-do when visiting Yellowstone because it’s an experience you can’t get in most places you travel to.
  • Bring extra clothing as the nights get cool, even cold (depending on the time of year) in Yellowstone.

Participate in the Junior Program

Yellowstone National Park Junior Ranger Patch

Booklets are available at all the visitors center where for $3 you get your book which has different activities for different ages. While exploring the park, include these activities and fill out the book and when completed you can take it to any visitors center where your kid gets a forest ranger patch.

The 4 to 7 age patch has a geyser on it while the 8 to 12 patch has a bear. For kids 13 and up (including you) the patch has a bison on it. This makes a fun family activity to do while at the park and the kids get a special souvenir that they earned.

Get a National Park Passport

National Park Passport Book

A national park passport is great at any park and is a fun experience for the kids to keep track of where they have been. But it really is fun at Yellowstone since you get a different stamp at each visitor center. Yellowstone has 10 visitor centers, so one activity of your trip is to get a stamp at each one.

I’ve been to many national parks and regret not getting a passport sooner. The fact is I never knew about it until recently. In addition to the free stamp with the date that you get at each visitor center, you can purchase colorful stamps (that stick in your book) for only a few dollars. These stamps bring great memories of all your national park trips.

Final Thoughts

There are so many things to do in Yellowstone with kids that they will never be bored on vacation here. Just the large amount of wildlife in this park will amaze your whole family. But I feel the best part of a Yellowstone vacation is the memories that will last a lifetime.

Go Explore, Kathy xoxo

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Badlands National Park

Shenandoah National Park

Tips for Visiting the National Parks

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9 thoughts on “Things to do in Yellowstone with kids”

  1. Wow, this is unbelievable. Watching the geysirs and
    swimming in the hot springs, specially the Grand spring
    looks fabulous, the hot one. I am certain the kids had fun.

  2. Yellowstone National Park is on my bucket list. I’ve been to Denali and the grand canyon! I loved those and they are great for kids to explore!

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