Best Tips for Visiting Yellowstone National Park with Kids

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Best Tips for Visiting Yellowstone National Park with Kids

This summer as we embarked on our epic road trip to Yellowstone, we learned pretty quickly that a little planning would go a long way when it came to keeping the kids happy, safe and interested in the things we were seeing and doing.  Once we mastered the road trip activities that would keep the kiddos content in the backseat, it was time to focus on how to best manage our time in Yellowstone.  We spent 4 nights in Yellowstone National Park at Fishing Bridge RV Park and during our stay, we came up with these Best Tips for Visiting Yellowstone National Park with Kids.

Best Tips for Visiting Yellowstone National Park with Kids

1. Plan for delays and long days: If you followed our trip on Facebook, you might remember the day that we sat in a traffic jam inside the park for almost 2 hours (not exaggerating).  It’s tough because the roads are windy and many times you sit in traffic with no idea what the cause may be.  Most of the time it’s a safe bet that you are stuck on the road due to wildlife wandering all over the place up ahead.  We learned very quick that in Yellowstone, there really isn’t a fast way to get anywhere in the park.  There are only a couple of roads in the entire park and they become clogged with visitors (especially during the busy summer months).  Throw in some wildlife on the roads and scores of tourists who simply cannot refrain from pulling off the road to gape at animals (despite the many signs saying to NOT DO THIS).

Sometimes popular spots in the park (ie Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, etc) become so congested with traffic, the parking lots are closed temporarily until space opens up.

PLAN FOR DELAYS AND LONG DAYS by making sure you are well-supplied before you leave your campground or hotel.  Pack a cooler with plenty of snacks and drinks (we actually made up sandwiches each morning and had lunch at-the-ready each day which saved us money as well versus buying food at the hotel restaurants).  Bring along some boredom busters to keep the kids occupied.  And above all else, pack your patience.

Yellowstone Wildlife Sign

Biston in Road Yellowstone

2. Participate in the Junior Ranger Program.  Most (if not all?) National Parks offer a Junior Ranger program for the kids.

Pick up a Junior Ranger Program booklet at any of the visitor centers.  Yellowstone charges a small fee ($3 at the time of our visit in 2017).  Kids have to complete a certain number of pages in their book (number of required pages is based on age of child).  They usually have to attend a Ranger Program as well.  Check the park schedule to see when these will take place – there are usually at least a couple a day.

National Parks Junior Ranger Booklet

National Parks Junior Ranger Talk

Yellowstone Jr Ranger Booklet

When your kids have completed the necessary requirements for the program, you can return to the visitor center where a park ranger will swear them in as Junior Rangers.  It’s totally cute, entirely educational and the kids had a blast.  At Yellowstone they received REAL patches which was the icing on the cake – a very neat and unique souvenir for sure!

Fishing Bridge Visitor Center

Yellowstone Junior Ranger Program

Lake Yellowstone

We also really like Junior Ranger Activity Book which is full of puzzles, games and facts about the National Parks.

Junior Ranger Activity Book

3.  Utilize the Visitor Centers and Park Ranger Programs.  Piggybacking off of the Junior Ranger program, I can’t recommend the Visitors Centers at Yellowstone enough when you are traveling with kids!  Not only are they a nice air conditioned spot to cool off and use the restroom, they are great sources of information!

Some of them have specific areas just for kids (we loved the one at the Old Faithful Geyser Visitor Center!).  Visitor Centers are also the spot to get the daily schedule for any Ranger Programs that might be happening.

Fishing Bridge RV Visitor Center

4. Consider starting your day at the furthest point away.  As I already explained above, there is simply no quick way to get anywhere in Yellowstone.  If you happen to be staying at a campground or one of the lodges, you at least start off the day with the advantage of not having to drive into the park.  (Just to get from the East Entrance of the park, for example, to the very first visitor center (Fishing Bridge RV Park, where we stayed) you had to drive for about 45 minutes.

Since we started out feeling fairly fresh and well-rested each morning, we tended to pick the day’s starting point at the farthest destination and then spend the day working our way back to the campground.  So the day that we intended to get all the way out to Mammoth Hot Springs, we made the drive to that location first (it took a couple of hours).  We did not stop at any of the pull-offs or trails or loops or lookouts on the way.  After we explored Mammoth, we made our way back to camp, stopping as we desired at anything that caught our eye!

Using this technique eliminates a super long drive back to your campground/lodge after a tiring day of sightseeing.

kid binoculars

5. Keep the schedule loose and flexible.  The very nature of nature is well, its unpredictability.  Just as you need to pack your patience, you also need to be flexible with your time and have as laid back a schedule as possible when visiting Yellowstone.  Bison happen.  Bad weather happens.  Overcrowded parking lots happen.  We tried to “go with the flow” as much as possible during our week in Yellowstone and it helped to accommodate traffic jams, kids napping in the backseat, etc.


6. Helicopter Parenting is A-Ok in Yellowstone.  And by this I mean?  Hover, watch and KEEP AN EYE on your kiddos in Yellowstone.  Yellowstone is a DEADLY place, literally sitting on top of a giant volcano!  Cliffs, boiling thermal pools, the wildest of wild animals including bears and bison… all are realities of Yellowstone and more than likely, some of the main reasons you are there in the first place!  But play it SAFE.  Don’t just stay on the boardwalks that go across thermal areas – HOLD the kids hands.  Take the bear spray if you’re heading on a hike.  HEED the proper safety distances away from the animals.

Yellowstone is beautiful and dangerous.  You need to respect it and keep an extra careful eye (and hand) on the kids.

Yellowstone at Sunset

Yellowstone Animal Danger Poster

7. Make sure to stock up on any food, medicine, baby supplies, etc that you might need BEFORE you arrive.  Yellowstone is REMOTE.  Yes, there are gift shops loaded with all sorts of merch and even basic sundries and alcohol.  But it’s no Super Walmart and prices for things like medicine are definitely inflated.  If there are specific things you will need while in Yellowstone with the family, stock up BEFORE you drive into the park.  Formula, diapers, wipes, medicine – think about anything you would hate to be without and plan to arrive with those items already on hand.

Yellowstone Store

8. Many eateries in Yellowstone will give you water for free.  Dehydration is a real danger in Yellowstone.  You are at some really high elevations throughout the park and it’s easy to become dehydrated without even realizing it.  Your best bet to avoid dehydration is to drink lots of water all day long.  We found that many of the restaurants throughout the park would give you free cups of water!

Free Yellowstone Water

9.  Enjoy the epic adventure that you are in store for!  It’s true – Yellowstone is one of those epic, incredible, bucket list destinations.  It is full of amazing scenery and experiences and is something that will stick with you and your family for a lifetime.  Take advantage of the lack of cell phone signal to BE in the moment with your loved ones!  Experience it and make memories, for it’s experiences like this that will last far longer than the coolest toy your kids could ever ask for!

Yellowstone Animal Danger Poster Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook Trail


The Best Tips for Visiting Yellowstone National Park with Kids

Best Tips for Visiting Yellowstone National Park with Kids

Best Tips for Visiting Yellowstone National Park with Kids

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Best Tips for Visiting Yellowstone National Park with Kids

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