Family Vacations to Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone was the first national park, not just in the U.S., but in the world. Much to the amazement of kids and adults, much of Yellowstone sits on an active volcano. That geothermal activity is what gives Yellowstone it’s amazing geysers, colorful pools, and steaming vents.
Yellowstone is huge. It’s bigger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. Don’t let its size intimidate you though. Make sure to explore everything the park offers, like it’s very own Grand Canyon and the wide range of wildlife, including black and brown bears, nearly 300 species of birds, amphibians, reptiles, the endangered Canada lynx and the iconic bison (American Buffalo). Maybe you’ll even get stuck in a bison jam – a classic Yellowstone experience! And of course, Old Faithful.
Where to Go
There are plenty of places to stay in Yellowstone. There are over 2,000 rooms available across nine lodges, including three right near Old Faithful itself. Three lodges are along the 132 square mile Yellowstone Lake, including the beautiful and majestic Lake Hotel, the oldest operating hotel in the park. Only two of the nine are open in the winter. Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Old Faithful Snow Lodge will keep you warm.
Camping is an incredible way to experience Yellowstone. There are 12 campgrounds, five of which take reservations and the rest are first-come, first-serve. Most of the campgrounds accommodate RV’s of various sorts, but there are some length restrictions depending on the site. There’s also trail access to over 300 backcountry campsites. Beyond the park gates, there are nearby communities with lodging options.
What to Do
The options here are practically endless. There are a number of kid-specific programs like the Junior Ranger program, the Wildlife Olympics, and the Young Scientist program. There are also longer term programs like the 5 or 6-day Expedition Yellowstone program for middle-schoolers and the month-long residential program for youth ages 15-18 called the Youth Conservation Corps. Only 62 teens are accepted into the YCC and they even get paid! No previous wilderness experience is necessary but a willingness to work is required for this physically active program.
There are many guide services in the park that offer fishing, wildlife viewing, backcountry exploring, day hiking, boating, and cycling, as well as horseback riding, packing llamas, scenic driving, and photography and art workshops too. Naturally if you bring your own gear and skills you can do many of these things on your own without a guide. There’s also plenty to do in the winter, like ski touring, sleigh rides, snowmobile tours, snowshoeing and more. No matter how long you plan to be in Yellowstone, you’re going to need more time.
Visitors are mostly in their own vehicles while visiting Yellowstone. But with all the guided tours and shuttle options, it’s easy to park the car or RV and leave it for the duration of your stay. The major airports near Yellowstone are Salt Lake City, Utah, Denver, Colorado, and Billings, Montana. Smaller and closer airports with commercial service include Bozeman in Montana and Jackson and Cody in Wyoming. Each of these towns have shuttle options to the park as well as car rental facilities. In the winter some roads are restricted to snowmobile and snow coach use and in the summer there are usually various construction projects around the park, so be sure to check road conditions on the park website before travelling.
Adventure Correspondent Cameron L. Martindell is a freelance travel and expedition writer, photographer and filmmaker focused on family and adventure topics. He and his wife Jordan are based in Boulder, Colorado, and are parents to Rosie, 3, and Rey, 3 months. Visit Cameron’s personal travel page Off Yonder.