Of all the places we were traveling to during our summer road trip to South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana, Yellowstone was one of the parks I was anticipating most. I talked to everyone I knew who had been there, read every online trip report I could find and also bought several books to help plan our itinerary. (Some of my favorites were Moon Yellowstone & Grand Teton: Including Jackson Hole, National Geographic Guide to National Parks of the United Statesand Fodor’s The Complete Guide to the National Parks of the West. I especially like the second two because I have used them on several other trips to National Parks, so much so that my copies are worn and dog eared.
Because Yellowstone is a huge park and there is a ton to do and see, it is easy to get overwhelmed when planning a visit. These books were invaluable in helping me narrow down what we would focus during our 4 days in the park. Since we were traveling to Yellowstone with kids, I also utilized National Geographic Kids National Parks Guide U.S.A.: The Most Amazing Sights, Scenes, and Cool Activities from Coast to Coast! to plan things to do that would be especially interesting to them. To get the kids even more excited, I packed goodie bags for the road trip with children’s books about the park including Yellowstone National Park, “Hey Ranger!” Kids Ask Questions About Yellowstone National Park and Who Pooped in the Park? Yellowstone National Park: Scat and Tracks for Kids. These were great books at their level and really helped to prepare them for our visit. I also read to them the stories from It Happened In Yellowstone each night on our way there. Whew! With all that research, we were ready!
Yellowstone With Kids-
Cody Night Rodeo
It is impossible to not be amazed at the diversity of both the landscape and wildlife in Yellowstone. While parts of the park are unbelievably beautiful, parts of it are so unusual and so unlike any place I have ever been that it feels like you may actually be wandering around Mars. The kids and I arrived in mid June after driving across the country from Cincinnati with several stops along the way to break up the long journey, including Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore, and Grand Teton National Park. Because Dave couldn’t take so much time off from work in a row, he flew into Cody, Wyoming a couple of days into our trip to meet up with us while we were in Yellowstone. We’ve taken several trips like this so that Dave’s work schedule can be accommodated, and it works for us, but I was really looking forward to seeing him and also glad to be able to tag team parent once again!
When planning our trip, we chose to stay in the bustling Canyon Campground mainly for its proximity to Cody, where Dave was flying in and where we saw the Cody Night Rodeo the evening of his flight. It’s a wonderful campground and we were happy with our choice. Close to the beautiful Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, it also had daily Ranger Programs, shower and laundry facilities, bathrooms with running water and was close to stores, restaurants and a Visitor Center which was perfect for our visit to Yellowstone with kids. It is a huge park and many of the must see attractions are spread out and far away from each other so I was glad to minimize the driving by having things conveniently located near our campsite. The campground is beautiful with large and flat wooded sites spaced nicely away from neighbors. Each site had parking and a bear box to store our food and while the campground was pretty full, it never seemed crowded. There are several campgrounds to choose from inside the park and over 2000 front country campsites so even though Yellowstone is heavily visited, with advance planning you should be able to get a spot. Visit the NPS site to find campground information and to make reservations.
Yellowstone with Kids: Safety-
One of the concerns I had about visiting Yellowstone with kids was keeping us all safe. Before our visit I read a fantastic book by Lee Whittlesey Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park. While it may sound morbid, the book is fascinating and it actually reassured me quite a bit. It is much easier to keep your family safe when you are aware of the dangers! Because there were so many accounts of children hurt or killed in the park from falling in and even jumping in the boiling waters of the caldera region, I made sure to impress upon the kids the importance of staying on the walkways on these hikes. I may have gone a little too far since Garrett flat out refused to go on the first walk we wanted to take at Mud Volcano. After reassuring him he would be safe if he followed the park rules, he calmed down and enjoyed our hike. I wanted the kids to have a healthy fear of the park and it worked! It really is a great book. To keep us safe in the event of a bear encounter, I carried Counter Assault Bear Deterrent Pepper Spray on every hike and I made sure to have it handy and not stuffed in my backpack. I also made sure to keep food stored in the campsite bear boxes and away from our tents. We also attended a Ranger Program at the campground about staying safe in bear country that was really informative. Sadly, we didn’t see any bears while in Yellowstone.
Yellowstone with Kids: An Unforgettable Experience-
With beautiful hiking, abundant wildlife, geysers, crystal clear lakes and awe inspiring mountains, Yellowstone has something for everyone! You could spend weeks here and never run out of new things to experience, and our four days passed too quickly. I really can’t wait to go back for an extended visit.
Yellowstone with kids:
If You Go:
1. Pack clothes for all weather– It can be cold at any time of year so plan accordingly! During our visit in June we spent some days in shorts and tanks and some days in winter coats so make sure you are prepared for any weather.
2. Be prepared for a lot of driving– Yellowstone is a huge park and as a first time visitor we had many things on our list of must see attractions- Old Faithful, Mammoth Hot Springs, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Lamar Valley and Yellowstone Lake to name a few. It takes time to travel to all of these places so account for this in your trip planning. Even with 4 days in the park we felt like we spent too much time driving from place to place and our next visit would be much longer so that we could spend a day or two in each area to reduce the rushing around.
3. Expect Crowds– Yellowstone is heavily visited and it gets crowded during school vacation times. Our visit took place in early summer and restaurants, Visitor Centers, stores and hiking trails were quite crowded. Traveling at times other than school breaks would be ideal but if you do arrive during the middle of summer be prepared to deal with crowded roads and attractions and allow for extra time.
4. Respect the wilderness– With the crowds, people seem to forget that Yellowstone is a wild area and treat it like a theme park. I can not tell you how many people I saw walking up to Bison to pose for pictures or stepping over fences into thermal areas to get a better camera angle. The animals are not props and the terrain is not a set. Follow the rules that are made to protect you and the park!
5. Do the Junior Ranger Program– Yellowstone’s Junior Ranger Program was great! The kids learned a ton from completing their booklets and attending several Ranger led programs. National Park Rangers have a wealth of information and are a great resource for a successful visit to Yellowstone so take advantage of them.
Yellowstone National Park is a fantastic park for kids and I can’t wait until we can go back!
You can see our 4,000 mile road trip itinerary which we did over the month of June by clicking here.