Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Traveling to Yellowstone National Park (with kids!)

Last year, we visited Yellowstone National Park in August and we had a wonderful trip with my in-laws. A lot of people are now planning their Spring and Summer vacation trips, so I'd like to offer you a few tips that we learned from visiting last year. We traveled as a joint family, with ages ranging from age 3 to 56. It was so interesting to see the geology and the geography of Yellowstone.

The cities of Jackson Hole and Bozeman are worth visiting
If you are going to go all the way to Yellowstone, you might as well visit these towns. Both towns had an artsy, eccentric vibe to them. We only spent half a day in each, but I would have loved more time there. If I was visiting again, I would liked 1-2 full days to enjoy these towns. They both have excellent restaurants, unique shops, and historic architecture. The Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman was amazing. Their dinosaur collection was truly remarkable. It is also a very kid-friendly museum and their gift shop has a lot of amazing dinosaur themed toys.

Yellowstone has a North Loop and a South Loop
If you look at a map of Yellowstone National Park, it kinda looks like a figure 8. There is a North Loop and a South Loop. Each loop is about a day's worth of driving, so plan to explore for a minimum of two full days.

Allow MORE time than you'd think
When exploring a huge park like Yellowstone, it is always wise to allow more time to fully explore it and take it in. You'll be constantly pulling over and stopping when you see wild animals or a beautiful vantage point. It's best not to rush, and really take your time going off the beaten path. The ideal time that I would say to explore just Yellowstone Park, would be about 3-4 days.

Accommodation books up fast
Accommodation in the park books up at least 6-9 months in advance because there are only a few hotels. Most of the hotels have restaurants, but the food is barely edible. There are also motels or Air BNB rentals located in the town of West Yellowstone, which is located on the West of the park, parallel to the middle of the loop.

There is hardly any vegetarian food available (and the food basically sucks!)
This is the main reason why we decided to stay at an Air BNB rental in West Yellowstone is because it was equipped with a kitchen. I am not a vegetarian, and I still found the food in Yellowstone to be god-awful. Even at the restaurants, they offer you packaged lunch meat with a side of potato chips - so gross! It is much easier to pack food for the day and stop at one of the many pleasant picnic areas and have lunch. All the picnic areas have bathrooms too.

Time your visit to Old Faithful
Just like clockwork, Old Faithful sure is predictable! It erupts about every 1.5 hours and you can check the timings that day. Allow extra time before to find parking, and peruse the gift shops.

Use a big comfortable car
The best thing we did was rent a giant SUV (Chevy Suburban) that made all the driving bearable. While exploring the park, you'd be driving for about 8 hours a day, so I loved having the SUV because it was such a smooth ride and tres luxe to sit my bottom in. We needed additional room in the car for husband-ji's camera equipment and our packed lunches, so it worked out perfectly.

Don't Forget Your Playlist for the Car!
We tried listening to the radio, but soon after it basically shorted out in the Park, as if we were entering the Bermuda Triangle. The same thing happened to all of our cell phones. Make sure to bring some great CDs or an iPod playlist with all your favorite songs for the ride. For us, it was all the Hindi Golden Oldies songs!

There is a lot of walking
Pack comfortable shoes and clothing suitable for long walks. Many of the sights require a lot of walking - at least 20 minutes minimum worth per detour. You will definitely get a lot of exercise!

Get children involved
Before we left for our trip, I got Maya a pair of kid binoculars that she became obsessed with. She loved looking at the natural wildlife with her special binoculars, and we would often play the "I Spy" game. It was a big adventure for her, and she couldn't stop talking about it for weeks after. When we saw a wild animal, we would ask her to observe it and tell what she thought it was doing or where it was going. The coolest thing was when we saw bison fighting! If you have a small inexpensive camera for them, you can also let them take their own pictures. We also kept her entertained in the car with coloring sheets, toys, and cartoons. For older children, there is an excellent Park Ranger program.

The souvenir shops are really cute
Throughout the Park, they have these cute little General Stores that have snack food and souvenirs available. Some of the stuff is very kitschy, but it makes for great souvenirs because they have a great selection. The kids' souvenirs are amazing - a wide variety of animal figurines, educational books, and adorable park ranger outfits. Not to mention, they sell ice cream!!!!

Be careful walking around geysers and hot springs
A lot of the area in Yellowstone is volcanic, with geysers spouting steam and bubbling water, so you need to be extra careful when walking - especially with small children. Most geyser areas have safe wooden pathways, but not all of them have railing, so you need to be very strict about children holding your hand while walking. If they are very young, you can just put them in a stroller/baby carrier. I let Maya walk on her own so it would tire her out, but I made sure to be adamant about always holding hands. Children can enjoy these attractions, but you just have to tell them that it can be dangerous.


Visiting Yellowstone National Park is an excellent road trip for families of all ages. I would recommend it as one of the must-see attractions in the USA if you appreciate natural wildlife.

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Dear readers, have you visited Yellowstone National Park?
What advice & tips would you give to people visiting?

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5 comments

  1. My husband and I did a very similar trip with my parents and in-laws over the summer- except we drove out with a camper in a much less comfortable vehicle all the way from the midwest and looped down through Arches passing through Utah and Colorado on the way back. Although the first half was alright, I can safely say that is never happening again! Good advice on planning lots of extra time and staying as comfortable as possible. How do your parents and in-laws get along? Mine can only speak very simple sentences to each other.. which actually made this trip a lot less stressful! Who knows how much worse things would've been if they'd fully understood what each other was saying....

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  2. Hindi Golden Oldies, eh? Who are we talking - Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar, Mohammed Rafi, Asha Bhosle? All good picks :)

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  3. These are actually great tips. I'm not planning on going anytime soon but when I do I'll remember especially that the food sucks and to burn some cd's! Thanks.

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  4. Great family vacation, just love these pictures. Good advice for people vacationing around that area. The scenery is beautiful, lots to see and do.
    Thanks for sharing.

    melissa

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  5. Husband and I went to Yellowstone. We stayed there for a week and we still felt like we could stay for more - there was so much to see!
    My tip is not to go in the summer - it's so crowded - most of the bears and other shy animals won't even come near the main roads! We went at the end of May and we saw SO many bears, moose, and elks!

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