Tips for a Drama-Free Yellowstone Vacation With Kids [Infographic]
Yellowstone With Kids
Yellowstone National Park is a perfect family-friendly vacation destination. Kids will love exploring Yellowstone’s trails and lakeshores, spotting wild animals, and marveling at the geysers and hot springs in the park, while Mom and Dad delight in capturing memories that will last forever.
If it’s your first time visiting Yellowstone with kids, we have a few tips to share that will make your trip easier and more fun for the whole family.
There’s going to be a lot of driving, so plan accordingly! Yellowstone is huge – 3,000 square miles, in fact – and it can take a couple of hours of driving to get from one attraction to another. There’s plenty to look at, from breathtaking scenery to wildlife, but keep in mind you’ll be spending a lot of time in the car. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to enjoy and experience the park as you traverse it. Make frequent stops to give kids the chance to walk trails, take pictures, or draw things they see. Encourage kids to keep a journal of their park experience, or pick up books about Yellowstone in the visitor center bookstores or park gift shops for them to read during long stretches in the car.
Grab a Wildlife Scavenger Hunt Sheet
As you enter the park, ask the ranger at the station for a kids’ wildlife scavenger hunt sheet and turn your sightseeing into a game! (This can also help you pass some of the long hours in the car, too.)
Pack Snacks and Lunches
On that note, be sure to pack snacks and lunches. With so much space between food service stations, you won’t always be able to hop out of the car to grab some trail mix and bottled water. If you have room in your vehicle, fill a cooler with lunches and snacks and enjoy your meals at some of the well-marked picnic spots. There are plenty of places to buy ice and water supplies. Deli lunches and to-go food can be purchased at the park’s restaurants, snack shops, and delis.
Establish Basic Safety Rules
Kids have a tendency to want to get as close as they can to animals. Of course, when those animals are wild, this isn’t a safe option. Make sure your kids keep a safe distance from any animals you spot during your exploration. National Park Service rules recommend staying at least 25 yards from most animals (elk, bison, moose, coyotes, etc.) and 100 yards from bears and wolves. A good rule for your kids is to stay on the path and not run ahead – everybody sticks together!
Go Off the Grid
Remember that you’re going off the grid. In Yellowstone, there’s no TV, radio, and limited wifi and cell service (wireless internet is available for a fee at select lodging facilities), so kids should be prepared for what will likely be a drastic change from their everyday lives. But there are plenty of ways to keep busy! Kids can use their smartphones or tablets in different ways, such as taking photos to create photo collage souvenirs or collecting video clips to make a movie of their adventure. In the evenings, you can play board games in the lobbies of historic lodges like the Mammoth Hotel, Old Faithful Inn, and Lake Lodge, or attend the evening Ranger programs, most of which are free.
Check out the Junior Ranger program
Designed for kids ages 4 and up, the self-guided Junior Ranger Program is a great way to introduce kids to the natural wonders of Yellowstone. Booklets are available for just $3, and upon completing the age-appropriate activities listed inside the booklet, participants will receive an official Yellowstone Junior Ranger patch that’s modeled after the National Park Service patch.
Give the Young Scientist Program a Try
Suited for kids age 5 and up, the Young Scientist program encourages kids to explore both the visitor centers and the park itself to solve age-appropriate science mysteries. Program booklets can be purchased for $5 at the Canyon Visitor Education Center or Old Faithful Visitor Center. Participants who complete the program’s requirements will receive either a patch (ages 5-13) or a keychain (ages 14+).
If your kids are 3 or younger, bring a stroller. Little legs get tired quickly and with so much ground to cover, you might not make it very far down the trail before you hear, “I’m tiiiiiired!” Err on the side of caution and bring a stroller along.
Looking for a day-by-day itinerary? Check out our 3 Ideal Days for Families in Yellowstone Itinerary.
Here are a few tips to keep the kids busy (and the parents sane!) while you visit the world’s first national park.
Yellowstone is full of magic for explorers young and old.
Trails and lakeshores. Bison and bears. Geysers and hot springs. With so many natural wonders to see, and so much ground to cover, here are a few tips to keep the kids busy (and parents sane!) while you visit the world’s first national park.
- Road Trip
Yellowstone is huge.
You’ll be spending a lot of time in the car getting from one highlight to another. How to keep the kids busy? Make frequent stops to walk trails, take pictures, or draw things they see. Have them to keep a journal of their park vacation or read books along the way.
- Don’t Explore Hungry
There won’t always be a place to grab some trail mix and bottled water. Pack a cooler with lunches and snacks and enjoy them at a picnic spot. Grab some ice, water, and supplies to go. Deli lunches and to-go food can be purchased at the park’s restaurants, snack shops, and delis.
- Safety First
Yellowstone is full of animals. But wolves and elk are not like the puppies and kittens your kids might be used to. Make sure they know to keep their distance from the animals they spot. A good rule? Have kids stay on the path and not run ahead-stick together!
It’s time for nature and family to replace Snapchatting and texting. With no TV or radio, and limited Wi-Fi and cell service, kids can use their smartphones or tablet s in different ways. Take photos or collect video clips to make a movie of their adventure.
- This Is How We Roll
“I’m tiiiiiired!” is not the call you want to hear in the wild. Little legs tire quickly and with so much to explore, you might not make it very far down the trail or see everything you want to see. Err on the side of caution and bring a stroller or baby carrier along for little ones three or younger.
- Junior Ranger Program
Meet the natural wonders of Yellowstone. Get yourself a booklet and complete the age-appropriate activities listed inside. Once finished with the self-guided program, your little ranger will receive an official Yellowstone Junior Ranger patch, kind of like the National Park Service patch!
- Young Scientist Program
Encourage kids to explore both the visitor centers and the park itself to solve age-appropriate science mysteries . Participants who complete the program’s requirements will receive a patch (ages 5-13) or a keychain (ages 14+).
- Wildlife Scavenger Hunt
Tum your wildlife sightseeing into a game! As you enter the park, ask the ranger at the station for a wildlife checklist and have some fun spotting all of the awesome animals of Yellowstone. This can also help you pass some of the long hours in the car, too!
- Western Adventures
Climb aboard a replica Tally-ho stagecoach for a stagecoach tour, just like the pioneers. Or saddle up for a horseback ride through valleys and streams, across meadows and creeks, and see the park from a whole new perspective (for kids 8 years and older, riding with an adult). Giddy-up!
- Ranger Programs
Learn about Yellowstone’s wildlife, geysers, history, and more, in a variety of talks, tours, and family programs. Hear one of the many fascinating stories of the park. Find out what mudpots and hot springs reveal about Yellowstone’s past and future.
For more travel experiences to Beautiful Places on Earth™ available from Xanterra Travel Collection® and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.
Want to experience Yellowstone in-depth? See what makes Yellowstone National Park a great place to work for a season or longer!