Lodges and Glamping

From Mud Pots to Boat Rides: 11 Top Things to Do at Yellowstone Lake

Explore the shore of Lake Yellowstone during your vacation to Yellowstone National Park. Photo Credit: Pixaby

Yellowstone National Park offers unique geothermal features, free-roaming wildlife and stunning scenery. One of the most picturesque places in the park is Yellowstone Lake. In between the South and East Entrance, Yellowstone Lake is located in the southeastern corner of the park. It is the largest high-elevation lake in North America and it offers land and water activities to enjoy and a historic hotel. Here are the top things to do at Yellowstone Lake with kids.

Table of Contents

Top 11 Things to Do at Yellowstone Lake with Kids

  • Stop by the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center
  • Enjoy a hike.
  • Take a Guided Tour departing from Lake Hotel.
  • See the Sunset from Lake Butte
  • Cruise to Stevenson Island and See a Shipwreck.
  • Earn a Junior Ranger Badge or Attend a Ranger Program
  • Travel to Mud Volcano
  • Take a Free Historic Tour of the Lake Yellowstone Hotel.
  • Sample some Huckleberry Ice Cream.
  • Picnic Along the Lake.
  • Camp in a Cabin.
Family Guide to Yellowstone National Park 

Yellowstone  At a Glance

Year Established: 1872
Located: Northwestern Wyoming, Idaho and Southern Montana
Size: about 3,471 square miles
Top Features: Geothermal Geysers, Wildlife Viewing and Historic National Park Lodges

Why Visit Yellowstone Lake

Since it’s at 7,733  feet, Yellowstone Lake is the largest high-elevation lake in North America. With its location close to Yellowstone’s  Eastern Entrance, it is easy to explore the Lake area.

This area offers scenic tours and the picturesque Lake Hotel, the most refined property in Yellowstone. For anglers, fishing is allowed on Yellowstone Lake. There are also several scenic trails in the area. Before departing, visitors should stop by Mud Volcano to see its sputtering mud pots.

Stop by the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center

This historic visitor center was built in 1931 and made of local stone and timbers. Visitors can see through the building to the lake beyond. It was declared a National Historic Landmark.

Inside, visitors will find exhibits on the ecology of the lake area along with information about birds. Park rangers are located in the visitor center for maps, information and a bookstore.

The Fishing Bridge Visitor Center is open from Memorial Day weekend until mid-October from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (9 a,m, to 5 p.m. in October).

Enjoy a Hike in the Yellowstone Lake Area

Hiking is one of the best ways to see Yellowstone National Park in the Yellowstone Lake area.

Pelican Creek Trail—A .8-mile (.9 km) easy loop trail.

Storm Point Loop Trail—A 2.5-mile (3.7 km) easy loop trail.

Natural Bridge Trail–A 3.1-mile (4 km) in-and-out trail.

Elephant Back Mountain Trail--A3.6-mile loop with a 793-foot elevation gain.

Take a Guided Tour 

Yellowstone National Park offers a variety of guided tours, including photographic tours and scenic sunset tours of Yellowstone Lake. Guided tours include transportation from the Lake Hotel.

Picture Perfect Photo Tour

Your guide will pick you up before dawn and drive you out to the best spots for early morning wildlife viewing in and around Hayden Valley and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

Departs between 5:45 and 6:30 p.m. Adult rate is $122, and kids are $61. The tour is five hours long, and you must provide your own camera.

Circle of Fire Tour

This is an all-day guided adventure that circles the lower portion of the Grand Tour Road. Along the route, participants will see geysers, hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles.

It departs at 9:45 a.m. and returns at 6:30 p.m. The Adult rate is $113, and kids (3 -11) are $56.50.

Yellowstone Lake Butte Sunset Tour

This tour takes visitors on an evening tour of the Lake Area, then venturing to Lake Butte at 8,348 feet for sunset. This tour uses the historic yellow buses.

It departs between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m., depending on the month. This tour takes a little over two hours. The Adult rate is $51, and kids (3 -11) are $25.50.

Lake Yellowstone Hotel Tour

During its season (May until September 30), free tours are available of the oldest hotel in the National Park Service. A more refined option than Old Faithful Inn, tour participants learn about the architectural details and renovations over the years.

Departs at 4:45 p.m. Free

See the Sunset from Lake Butte Overlook 

You can take a guided tour for sunset to Lake Butte or you can drive there yourself. As you leave the lake, driving east to the East Entrance, there is a road on the left called Lake Butter Scenic Drive.  At the end of the road is the overlook with a vault toilet.

Top Things to Do at Yellowstone’s Mammoth Springs 

Boating on Yellowstone Lake

As the largest high-elevation lake in North America, the best way to enjoy Yellowstone Lake is on the water. You can take a scenic cruise, rent a boat by the hour or day or bring your own watercraft.

Boat Cruises

Take a one-hour guided scenic cruise on the Lake Queen that departs from the Bridge Bay Marina. The cruise glides past the Lake Area Historic District with views of the Lake Yellowstone Hotel. Passengers will also see Stevenson Island and the shipwreck SS E.C. Waters. Yellowstone Lake is a haven for birds and other wildlife as well.

Adult admission (12+) is $21, and kids (3 to 11) are $12.50. Cruises operate from early June until mid-September. From early June through mid-September, cruises depart at 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. There is a 5:30 p.m. cruise from June to Labor Day and a 7 p.m. cruise in June and July.

Rent a Boat

For those who would like to see Yellowstone Lake on their own, rental boats are available. Rent a 40-horsepower, 18-foot motorboat at the nearby Bridge Bay Marina. Boats are available from mid-June to mid-September. Boaters can rent for one to eight hours ($68/hr), and fuel is included.

Launch Your Own Boat

For boat owners, you can bring your boat to Yellowstone Lake. An invasive aquatic species inspection is necessary, along with a 7-day boat permit. These regulations also apply to paddle boards and kayaks. For more information about the process, check the Yellowstone webpage.

Note: The boating season starts Memorial Day weekend and extends to October 31 yearly. As a lake that freezes over the winter, the water in Yellowstone Lake is cold year-round and warms up to the 50s Fahrenheit during the summer. Swimming is not recommended.

Fishing in Lake Yellowstone 

Anglers can take guided fishing charters on Yellowstone Lake to fish for native cutthroat trout and non-native lake trout. Each charter is two hours long and includes all gear. The rate is $240 per trip for up to six people. Reservations are recommended. Anglers over 16 must secure a fishing license before the charter, which is available online.

Visit Mud Volcano

Mud Volcano is home to some of the park’s most acidic geothermal features. There are actually mud pots that spew murky and stinky mud into the air, which smells of sulfuric acid. This area features a walking trail and boardwalks. Mud Volcano Trail is a .8-mile trail with a 100-foot elevation gain.

Top National Parks to see Volcanoes
Junior Ranger badge. Things to do at Old Faithful with kids.
After completing the requirements for a Junior Ranger badge, turn it at the Junior Ranger Station near the Madison entrance. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Kids at Yellowstone National Park

The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about a National Park Service site. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges the Park Rangers present them after completing their booklets.

Kids love Yellowstone and kids love animals. So buy a Junior Ranger booklet at the nearest bookstore. In Yellowstone, the Junior Ranger booklets are $3 but kids who complete their booklets get a patch.

Yellowstone National Park divides the Junior Ranger booklet into three age categories with age-appropriate activities. Kids 4 to 7, 8 to 12 and 13 and older (and adults) each complete as many activities as their age.

Try to turn in your Junior Ranger booklet at Yellowstone’s National Park Junior Ranger Station, located near Madison on the western side of the park.

Junior Ranger Badge Guide 
The Lake Hotel Dining Room. What to do at Lake Yellowstone with kids.
The dining room at Lake Yellowstone Hotel offers a locally sourced menu. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Where to Eat at Yellowstone Lake

With several options, dine overlooking the lake during your stay.

Lake Hotel Dining Room

Inside the hotel, the upscale dining room features a diverse menu of locally sourced entrees. Enjoy white tablecloths and elegant white columns for a date night or family dinner. Serves breakfast and dinner with options for gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan along with a kids menu. Reservations recommended for dinner.

Lake Hotel Deli 

Located inside the hotel, find take-out sandwiches, baked goods and espresso drinks. Open for breakfast and lunch.

Yellowstone Lake General Store

The octagon-shaped building, built in 1919, is located along Lake Loop Road. It offers a traditional soda fountain counter, where we enjoyed Yellowstone’s famous huckleberry ice cream one day. My kids found little boxes of cereal, which they liked one morning, and I enjoyed a cup of coffee for breakfast.

Lake Lodge Wylie’s Canteen

Located in the Lake Lodge, find hot entrees, deli sandwiches and prime rib in a family-friendly cafeteria. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Huckleberry ice cream is available on most dessert menus and at the general stores throughout Yellowstone.

Picnic Areas Near Yellowstone Lake

You can find developed picnic areas around Yellowstone Lake.

  • Hard Road to Travel Picnic Area
  • Pumice Point Picnic Area
  • Spruce Fir Exhibit Picnic Area
  • Sand Point Picnic Area
  • Gull Point Picnic Area
  • LeHardys Picnic Area
  • Cascade Picnic Area
  • Steamboat Point Picnic Area
  • Sedge Bay Picnic Area
Lake Yellowstone Cabin. what to do at Lake Yellowstone with kids
The Lake Yellowstone cabins offer comfortable interiors along with a bathroom. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Lodging in Yellowstone Lake Historic District

Opening in 1891 Lake Yellowstone Hotel remains the oldest hotel in the National Park Service. A departure from the rustic style of the NPS parkitecture, Lake Yellowstone Hotel wanted to attract Victorian tourists from the East Coast with a more refined hotel.

You can find lots of lodging options at Lake Yellowstone, including the most luxurious rooms in Yellowstone National Park and cabins that scream family fun. Lake Yellowstone is an ideal location for multi-generational travel.

Lake Yellowstone Hotel

The most luxurious lodging in Yellowstone National Park offers several layers of luxury, from presidential suites to standard hotel rooms. During a tour, I found marble bathrooms, in-room coffee and tea, along with plush robes. The Lake Yellowstone Hotel offers a presidential suite, suites and deluxe lakeside rooms along with nearby standard rooms and cabins.

The standard rooms are located in Sandpiper Lodge, next to the Lake Yellowstone Hotel

Open from early May until the first week of October.

Lake Yellowstone Hotel’s Cabins

Steps from the hotel lobby, the yellow-painted cabins feature all the amenities of standard rooms, including free-standing bathrooms with showers. This is an excellent option for families.

Lake Lodge Cabins

This is a rustic option at Yellowstone Lake. Its main lodge faces the lake and is lined with rocking chairs. Built in the 1920s, the Lake Lodge features a river rock fireplace and seating. It offers several types of cabins.

Western Cabins–Built in the 1960s with a mid-century look. The Western Cabins are the largest cabins at Lake Lodge and feature two queen-sized beds.

Frontier Cabins–Built in the 1920s, they offer one or two full-size beds along with a private bath (shower only). The cabins function much like a modern hotel room.

ProTip: Yellowstone National Park lodging doesn’t offer air conditioning, TVs or radios. However, the park boasts mild summers, and the temperatures drop in the evening, so air conditioning isn’t needed. Fans are available.

Planning Guide for Old Faithful Area

History of Lake Yellowstone Hotel

Originally built in 1891 and older than Old Faithful Inn, the Lake Yellowstone Hotel is the Grand Old Lady of the Lake. Where Old Faithful Inn brings the forest indoors, the Lake Yellowstone Hotel offers guests a refined historic hotel, reminiscent of the elegant 19th-century East Coast hotels.

The earliest hotel guests arrived on a steamship from across the lake or on a stagecoach, like former president Calvin Coolidge. Today, like years ago, guests walk into the expansive lobby while musicians play in the sunroom. And the lobby’s fireplace offers the perfect place to read a book in its plush upholstery.

While building the Old Faithful Inn, Robert Reamer extensively renovated and expanded the Lake Yellowstone Hotel. Since the original hotel lacked distinctiveness, Reamer added columns, a porte cochère and a lounge.

By adding refined details, Reamer elevated Lake Yellowstone Hotel’s level of luxury. Lake Yellowstone Hotel still maintains its title as the most luxurious hotel property within Yellowstone National Park.

During my stay in the Lake Yellowstone area, I took the Lake Yellowstone Hotel tour, which is a must for lovers of national park lodges and history buffs.

Old Faithful Inn Review

Camping near Lake Yellowstone

Yellowstone Lake and the Lake Village area don’t feature a campground, though you will find camping nearby.

Bridge Bay Campground 
  • Seasonal campground–Open from mid-May through Labor Day.
  • 431 sites without hookups
  • Restrooms with flush toilets and cold running water (no showers)
  • Dishwashing stations at the Restroom buildings
Fishing Bridge RV Park
  • Seasonal campground for hard-sided RVs only open from early May until mid-October
  • 310 sites with 30 or 50-amp service
  • Dump station
  • Showers and Laundry

Our Stay at Yellowstone Lake

The Lake Yellowstone Hotel caters to guests without families. The majority of the well-appointed rooms feature king-sized beds and bathrooms with oversized tubs and marble vanities.

For our stay, I reserved a Lake Yellowstone Hotel’s Cabin. A convenient option for families, the cabin felt like a free-standing hotel room.

I found a pair of double beds, a coffee maker, and a shower with a single vanity located outside the rest of the bathroom. Grouped together, the cabins opened to a grassy area so my kids 13, 11 and 8 played outside with a ball.

Families can walk to eat at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel and the Lake Yellowstone General Store. Cooking is not allowed in cabins.

Grand Prismatic. What to see in Yellowstone National Park with kids.
See Grand Prismatic Spring when exploring the Yellowstone National Park, near Old Faithful. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Your First Visit to Yellowstone National Park

On my first visit to Yellowstone National Park, I made every newbie mistake.

  • Didn’t make lodging or camping reservations in advance.
  • I camped in the same campground and didn’t move around the park.
  • Didn’t research activities or tours.

When the time came to plan another trip, I wanted to see more of the park. So I planned a Grand Tour as the first visitors did over 100 years ago.

First, I started in one area and explored it before relocating to another. This minimized the driving and maximized the enjoyment, and it worked out great.

Top Places to Explore in Yellowstone

  • Old Faithful Inn
  • Old Faithful Geyser
  • Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
  • Lamar or Hayden Valley
  • Mammoth Hot Springs
Find animals. What to see in Yellowstone National Park with kids.
Find a bison on your trip to Yellowstone National Park, though keep a safe distance and use a zoom lens to get up-close photos like this one. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Yellowstone National Park’s Animals

Some visitors come for the geothermal features, others want to see animals. Yellowstone National Park offers some of the best animal viewing in the U.S.

I recommend Hayden Valley or Lamar Valley, along the river. The best times to spot animals are dawn and dusk when they are most active. Check-in with the Park Rangers, who know where animals frequent, or take a guided tour.

  • Bison
  • Moose
  • Elk
  • Grizzly Bear
  • Black Bear
  • Wolf
  • Bighorn Sheep
  • Mule Deer
  • Coyote
  • Pronghorn
  • Pika
  • Marmot

Bear Safety in Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park features two types of bears: black bears and Grizzly bears. Knowing the difference is important since each species uses different behavior.

Park Rangers offer some guidelines to reduce bear encounters:

  • Hike in groups of 4 or more.
  • Keep campsites clean.
  • Make noise while hiking by wearing bear bells and talking.
  • Carry bear spray. Keep it accessible when hiking and know how to use it.

Bear spray is advised and can be rented in the park. Visit a visitor center or ranger station for more information.

To find out more information, attend a ranger programs to learn about bears in Yellowstone National Park. I did and it’s a great way to learn about bears. My boys loved the bear programs and I felt more confident afterwards.

Where’s Yellowstone National Park

The majority of the park is in the northwest corner of Wyoming. Unless you arrange a tour, you will need a car to explore.

Three airports serve Yellowstone National Park.

    • Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN)—Bozeman, Montana, offers everything you need to outfit your family for a national park adventure, from food to equipment.
    • Jackson Hole Airport (JAC)—The busiest airport in Wyoming is a regional airport. Jackson is a quaint town with an Old West flavor.
    • Yellowstone Regional Airport (COD) in Cody, Wyoming, is a regional airport located east of Yellowstone.

Yellowstone National Park offers cafes, general stores and restaurants. Though, be prepared to picnic for lunch and grab some snacks and sandwich ingredients in Bozeman or Jackson.

Getting Around YNP

Yellowstone National Park is open 365 days a year and 24 hours a day. You can use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or purchase a 7-day pass for $35 per vehicle.

Note: Yellowstone National Park doesn’t require timed day pass entrances like some other parks.

Yellowstone National Park offers five entrances.

  • West Entrance—For families that are trying to add to their state count. Enter or exit through the west entrance to add Idaho.
  • North Entrance—Closest entrance for Bozeman, Montana
  • Northeast Entrance—Scenic highway to Billings, Montana
  • East Entrance—Scenic highway to Cody, Wyoming
  • South Entrance—The busiest entrance and gateway to Grand Teton National Park and Jackson, Wyoming.

Seasonal closures affect Yellowstone National Park. Only July and August are the months when all roads and facilities are open.

All About National Park Passes

Know Before You Go

  • Keep safe by remaining on boardwalks and following posted rules.
  • Keep 25 yards between people and wild animals. And keep 100 yards between people and bears.
  • Yellowstone National Park is a top national park destination. Reservations are available 13 months in advance.
  • Since the most popular hotel rooms were sold out, I secured reservations by checking for daily cancellations.


Catherine Parker has a passion for travel and seen all 50 U.S. States. As a former flight attendant with one of the largest airlines, there isn't a North American airport that she hasn't landed in at least once. Since clipping her professional wings after 9/11, she combines her love of the open road with visiting architectural and cultural icons. She is based out of Central Texas dividing her time between writing and restoring a pair of 100-year-old houses. She shares her life with her three kids and her husband.

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