Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park, WY, USA
Visit this wonderful family friendly park any time of the year!
Yellowstone is one of nature’s many miracles with a wide array of topography, colors, and wildlife.
While Old Faithful is fascinating and often top of visitors list, Yellowstone offers so much more. It is potentially worth seeing, but be aware, especially if you are trying to avoid crowds, it can be very congested at times. If your time is limited, do not feel it must be prioritized over other attractions.
Where to Stay
Located less than a mile from the Lake Yellowstone Lodge overlooking Yellowstone Lake, this spot is spectacular. The campground has four stars on Dyrt but we would call it a five out of five. The campsite has bathrooms and showers on-site with space for tent and RV camping.
We were in the F loop, which is strictly for tents, and our site overlooked Yellowstone Lake. Since I forgot to pack breakfast food (oops), we ventured to the Lake Yellowstone Hotel for breakfast. They had a solid children's menu with an extraordinary view. The Lake Yellowstone Hotel is also a beautiful, historic building and worth a quick visit for that reason alone.
On another stay, we checked out Under Canvas Glamping and loved every minute. The location is fifteen to twenty minutes outside of Yellowstone in West Yellowstone. The main lodge is lovely with modern boho decorations and a warm feel. They have various seating options and board games to enjoy as you unplug together.
Most impressive is the outdoor space to relax next to the fire-pit with unlimited S' mores and hammock swings. The amenities are top-notch. They have several room variations offering something for everyone. You can opt for a more low key vibe with twin beds and a wood-burning stove, or something that feels a bit more like a hotel with the Stargazer Tent (restroom and shower in the room).
They have a great restaurant on site where breakfast is served, complimentary with your stay. Dinner is wonderful as well with fresh fish, pasta, and burger options. It's picturesque and special in a million ways.
Where to Play
If you're going to Old Faithful, this is a worthy stop along the way, and, in my opinion maybe even more impressive. Grand Prismatic Spring is only a few miles north of Old Faithful. There are two ways for your family to go about it. You can either pull in at the first entrance, Fairy Falls TH, park, and hike out and back to the overlook, or drive a bit further to the viewing area and follow the boardwalk-like structure. We opted for the hike and it was well worth it, providing a unique view looking over the top of the Grand Prismatic Spring.
The hike gradually rose 105 feet over a distance of 0.6 miles. You can continue on to Fairy Falls, but it's a further hike and sadly we didn't have time. Our little ones happily trotted alongside us and sometimes even raced ahead as the terrain was mostly flat. It took us no more than twenty minutes to reach the viewpoint and was so worth it. The Grand Prismatic Spring and Midway Geyser Basin exploded with color and steam, a phenomenon I’ve never experienced before.
We left feeling satisfied and overwhelmed by the absolute unfathomable nature of our country's very first National Park. It's worth noting that there's no room for error when it comes to viewing these beautiful hot springs, they are beautiful but also very dangerous. I'm a nervous Nelly so I warned my daughter multiple times, almost always held her hand, and brought a backpack for carrying when needed.
The West Thumb Geyser Basin is an incredibly interesting and beautiful viewing area on the way to Old Faithful if you're driving from Jackson and Teton National Park. It's a great alternative to Grand Prismatic, or an addition worth considering. The geological features are magnificent. It’s the smallest of all of the geyser basins in Yellowstone, but it’s located next to Yellowstone Lake which adds to its aesthetic appeal.
It has the most to offer in terms of hot springs, pools, mud pots, fumaroles, and lakeshore geysers. Be sure to walk around the full loop to experience it fully. We recommend going right from the parking lot and looping around and finishing with the most dramatic scene, overlooking the massive Lake Yellowstone.
If you're strapped for time, I would recommend the Lower Falls. It's spectacular and we enjoyed the moderately challenging hike as part of the excursion. Thanks to a great tip from a friend, we found our way on our final Yellowstone trip of the season to the incredible Grand Canyon of Yellowstone via the Lower Falls, North Rim is a lookout point where you can view the canyon and waterfall at the same time (beautiful). The Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River is the largest and most famous in the park at 308 feet tall!
We chose to embark on the Red Rock Point Hike (a half-mile out and back). The hike to the Red Rock Point viewing area is a zig-zag downhill, mostly paved (but bumpy) and then a long set of boardwalk-like stairs down to a grand viewing spot where you see the powerful waterfall flowing.
Tips: Wear proper hiking shoes or footwear as there are many loose rocks and a steep downhill/uphill to access the hike.
If you want to feel like a National Geographic photographer, Hayden Valley will surely meet your needs. The safari like bison viewing in Hayden Valley along the Yellowstone River between the lake and canyon is something people travel to see from all over the world, and you’ll see why when you get there. Check out thousands of Bison along both the road and Yellowstone River.
You can’t miss it, cars all slow appropriately to respect the Bison, take pictures, and soak in the beauty. We enjoyed it twice on our out and back trip and it was marvelous from all directions. It almost looked like a new place seeing the difference in lighting early in the day versus at dusk. If you want to enjoy it for a longer period of time, bring a picnic and watch the bison from the Nez Perce picnic area before you get into the heart of the bison traffic.
Walking distance from the center of town, the town of Mammoth Hot Springs is a great place to grab an ice cream or a snack for your walk to the incredible Mammoth Hot Springs (there are two locations at the hotel and general store that are both great). There are no words to describe just how incredible this place is, but it does remind me of the ice castles Disney’s Frozen.
The colors, the shapes, and the fact that it’s been created over thousands of years in nature are all awe-inspiring. You can walk along the lower portion or make a day of it and hike the full three and a half mile loop (check out this route on AllTrails.)
Boiling River Hike & Water Activity is five minutes from Mammoth Hot Springs and is worthy of a visit. The hike is less than half a mile from the parking area (you may need to wait for a spot). It's a mostly flat path along the river winding to the Boiling River (where you'll normally see many people out enjoying).
This very interesting and fun one mile(ish) round trip excursion, along a mostly flat path next to the river is perfect for a family hike and soak. A Yellowstone favorite, it has about a hundred yard stretch of hot spring access (clearly marked).
When entering the river the water can be very warm so it is important to have parents check the temperature first because it can be startling if one is not prepared. You can elect to only experience the cold part on hot, sunny days or spend time in the warmer area mixing the two temperatures.
Take in a longer hike at Mammoth Hot Springs to optimize the enjoyment of where the water comes from and the chance to ‘earn’ your soak and relax time. Bring your own towel and water shoes. No alcohol or skinny dipping is permitted and it is closed during springtime due to runoff.
A Few Gems in West Yellowstone
Cliff & Wade Lakes
Just an hour outside of Yellowstone in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, are Cliff and Wade Lake. Wade Lake was a wonderful idea shared with us by our friends from Under Canvas. It is spectacular with colors on a par with Glacier National Park. It is remote, so a less-traveled location with options for paddleboard rentals and canoes.
We headed here during one of our trips to Yellowstone. It’s just outside of West Yellowstone and there is an interpretive nature trail worth checking out too. Cliff Lake is a little more tucked away and less accessible so while we stuck to Wade, Cliff is another option for further isolation. We loved the beach area at Wade, it’s a great spot to bring a picnic, beach toys, and hang for the day. There are rental options as well. It's the best during winter and fall but still accessible in winter!
Cascade Creek Lake
Thanks to a great tip from a park ranger in Yellowstone, we were pointed to the Cascade Creek Waterfall Hike. It’s a four-mile hike with some great options for shorter routes which include a great beach area and a lower flow waterfall area.
Option 1: The first play area is a beach area, about a half-mile in. This beautiful area is perfect for a picnic or some splash time with little ones.
Option 2: The second area, which we ultimately enjoyed for picnic time was three-quarters of a mile. The area had several small water holes and a slow running waterfall.
Option 3: Continue past the beach and the first waterfall for a total of four miles out and back. You will see cascading waterfalls that get larger as you climb up and down a mostly easy to moderately challenging hike. To see the falls, you’ll need to go a few feet off the trail. The drops down to the falls are very steep in most places so extra caution should be exercised. At the end of the hike, the trail naturally ends at a great spot for a picnic.
Driving directions: It can be a bit tricky to navigate. From the Flagg ranch ranger station entrance from Rockefeller Parkway (in between the entrances to the Yellowstone and Teton National Parks), it is a fun stretch of the park worth exploring.
Make a right and follow the road for twelve miles. This is a dirt and gravel road, so be prepared to drive slowly and enjoy all the beauty. You will wind past several primitive campgrounds along the Snake River, through previously burned woodland and then the Grassy Lake reservoir and over the dam on a bridge.
Grassy lake also has primitive camping spots which are first-come, first-serve. The trail is less than a mile from the dam and you’ll see a sign and possibly a few cars parked. When you park, it looks like there are two trailheads. Go to the one on the far left of the lot to access the full hike.