Lodges and Glamping

How to See the Top Things in Yellowstone National Park with Kids

See Lamar Valley and the Yellowstone River when you explore Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Located in Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park attracts visitors from around the world since it is one of the top national parks in the U.S. And good reason: it’s a world-class outdoors destination with amazing scenery, top wildlife viewing, and lots of geothermal activity. In between outdoor exploring, you can visit its historic lodges. For more inspiration, read on for how to see the top things in Yellowstone National Park with kids.

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 National Park

I recommend visiting this top 10 national park in the U.S. for several reasons. It is huge, so Yellowstone doesn’t feel crowded outside of the Old Faithful area. Visitors can see lots of varied terrain like the geothermal features, Yellowstone Lake and grassy valleys home to wildlife.

Several popular national parks require timed-entry permits to enter, but Yellowstone National Park is not one of them in 2024. Though a Yellowstone vacation requires planning and lodging, activities and popular restaurants require reservations, so plan ahead.

This is one of the most developed national parks in the U.S., so visitors can stay for several days inside the park. Lodging or camping inside the park is unique and part of the Yellowstone experience. Camping is an option and is budget-friendly; however, visitors can find standard hotel rooms and more rustic cabin options.  I have camped and stayed in a cabin and some of the more unique lodges in the park. I enjoyed each, though you should research the bathhouses, running water and hot showers before reserving.

Top Things in Yellowstone National Park with Kids

  • See Old Faithful Geyser
  • Walk Through Old Faithful Inn
  • Visit Lake Yellowstone
  • Drive through Lamar or Hayden Valley at dusk for wildlife
  • See the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
  • Hike Mammoth Hot Springs
  • Visit the old Fort Yellowstone
  • Go to Roosevelt Lodge for the Old West Cookout
Top Things to Do at Old Faithful 
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

Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

Before the 1870s, the idea of preserving a parcel of land from development for future generations was foreign. In 1872, Yellowstone National Park became the first national park in the world.

In an area larger than Rhode Island, it’s home to the world’s largest concentration of geysers, like its Old Faithful geyser. It’s home to the largest log cabin hotel in the world–Old Faithful Inn. So iconic of an American destination, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The flora and fauna of Yellowstone are found at every turn, so roll down the windows and keep an eye out. Summer visitors will find wildflowers and lots of animals. The waterfalls are robust, and the fish are biting.

Old Faithful Geyser with a Rainbow. Old Faithful Inn with kids.
Spend an unforgettable family vacation at Yellowstone National Park. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Old Faithful Geyser

This area is one of the top things to do in Yellowstone National Park. You can spend a good portion of a day there or more.

I recommend hiking or renting  a bike) to see the Upper Geyser Basin and the world’s largest concentration of geysers. Yellowstone’s hydrothermal features demonstrate its volcanic energy with three powerful eruptions over the last two million years.

Since the magma is so close to the surface, see the water bubbles and boils away in the Upper Geyser Basin. Geysers are the star of the geothermal show when they blow mist and steam over a hundred feet into the air.

Old Faithful Geyser erupts on average every 90 minutes, though the range can be 50 to 127 minutes. With an eruption lasting for a little over a minute to over 5 minutes, each eruption spews at least 3,700 gallons of water over a hundred feet into the air.

Though Old Faithful isn’t the only show. Check out other interesting geothermal features in the Upper Geyser Basin.

  • Hot Springs—Pools of hot water in an array of colors
  • Mudpots—Hot sulfuric acid breaks down the rock into a smelly clay that bubbles on the surface.
  • Fumaroles—A steam vent without a lot of water

What to do around Old Faithful

  • See Old Faithful Geyser erupt
  • Walk through Old Faithful Inn
  • Hike to the Morning Glory Pool, a 2.8-mile roundtrip path
  • Walk through the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center

Old Faithful Inn

Old Faithful Inn flung open its doors on June 1, 1904. Built of local forest products, a young architect, Robert Reamer, dreamed up the idea of bringing the forest indoors. In the process, Reamer developed a new architectural style–Park Architecture and Old Faithful Inn is now a symbol of Yellowstone.

Personally, it’s one of my favorite hotel stays of my career. It’s a whimsical space, and I enjoyed spending the evening listening to the live music that fills the seven-story-tall cavernous lobby.

If you are not staying in the Old Faithful Inn, walk through it or, better yet, take a free tour. The second floor offers a coffee and cocktail bar. Grab a drink and head to the outside balcony to watch Old Faithful Geyser erupt.

Old Faithful’s Old Inn Review
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is a must for your visit. credit: Catherine Parker

Top Things to See in Yellowstone’s  Canyon Area with Kids

  • The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is a must.
  • See wildlife in Hayden Valley at dawn or dusk.
  • Check out the Mud Volcano.
  • Take in a Ranger Program at the Visitor Education Program.

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Arizona isn’t the only national park with a Grand Canyon. Yellowstone has one, too, and it’s more than 1,000 feet deep. And the Arizona Grand Canyon doesn’t feature a pair of waterfalls.

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is over 20 miles long and over 4,000 feet wide from one rim to another.

Hiking at Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon

Brink of Lower Falls Trail—A steep trail that drops 600 feet for a view of the Lower Falls.

Red Rock and Lookout Points—See the canyon from paved overlooks next to the parking lot.

Grand View—See the roar of the Lower Falls.

Inspiration Point—Climb down 50 steps to view the Lower Falls.

Brink of Upper Falls—Walk down the steps to see a water barrel over the Upper Falls.

Artist Point—The most photographed spot in Yellowstone.

Uncle Tom’s Trail—Down 300 steps to see the Lower Falls. Strenuous

Upper Falls Viewpoint—See two different viewpoints of the Upper Falls. Easy

South Rim Trail—Hike a 1.75 trail to see Uncle Tom’s Point and Artist Point. Partially paved.

Canyon Village and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

With its location in the on the insection of the north and south loop roads many first time Yellowstone visitors book all their lodging (or camping) in this area, I know I did on my first trip.

I caution visitors from this tactic since they will want to visit different areas of the park, and that requires more driving than many anticipate. This is a great area to explore for a day or two before moving on to another area of the park.

Guide to Montana’s Glacier National Park 
Explore the shore of Yellowstone Lake during your vacation to Yellowstone National Park. Photo Credit: Pixaby

Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone Lake is the largest high-elevation lake in North America. With fishing or scenic boat cruises, I recommend spending some time near or on the water. Walk through the grand, historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel, that opened in 1891. It’s the oldest hotel in the National Park Service.

What do at Yellowstone Lake with Kids

  • Take a free historic tour of the Lake Yellowstone Hotel.
  • Climb in one of Yellowstone’s historic yellow buses for a scenic tour.
  • Take a scenic boat cruise on the Lake Queen to see Stevenson Island and a shipwreck.
11 Top Things to Do in Yellowstone Lake
Mammoth. What to see in Yellowstone National Park with kids.
At the northern entrance, the Mammoth area of Yellowstone finds lots of grazing elk along with travertine rock formations. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Mammoth Hot Springs

At Mammoth, you can see the most protected travertine-depositing hot springs in the world. Visitors can climb through the different levels of the terraced limestone using a series of boardwalks and overlooks.

Water from runoff seeps into the fractures in the ground to be heated by a volcanic heat source. Then bubbles up to the surface with mineral-rich water. Over time the minerals deposit and make travertine, a form of limestone.

With its lower elevations and year-round access, the Mammoth Hot Springs area remains open year-round.

What to See in Mammoth Hot Springs

As the park’s headquarters, this area offers more than hot springs. In Yellowstone National Park’s early years, the U.S. Army patrolled to secure the park from poachers and rogue campgrounds. The assignment lasted 32 years, and the U.S. Army constructed Fort Yellowstone.

  • Tour the Albright Visitor Center
  • Walk through Historic Fort Yellowstone
  • See Liberty Cap
  • Walk by Palette Spring
  • See Opal Terrace
  • Walk along the boardwalks of Main Terrace
  • Climb the stairs to explore the Lower Terraces
  • Drive the loop of the Upper Terraces
  • Walk through the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel’s Map Room
  • Gaze on the grazing elk that munch grass in front of the hotel and visitor center.
Top Things to Do in Mammoth Hot Springs 
Tower Roosevelt in Yellowstone
The Tower Roosevelt area in Yellowstone offers trail rides. credit: Catherine Parker

Tower-Roosevelt Area

Located in the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park, this area is less visited and less developed. For visitors wanting a quieter Yellowstone experience, this is the place to visit.

For families, I love staying in the rustic Roosevelt Cabins. My kids saw a fawn exploring the area between the freestanding cabins and it was one of the best experiences in the park.

This is where the Roosevelt Coral is located with horseback riding and stagecoach rides. For an unforgettable experience, consider the Old West Cookout. I did, and it was a super fun experience for families. It starts with a covered wagon ride and ends with a steak dinner.

What to do in the Tower Roosevelt area with Kids

  • Explore the animal-rich Lamar Valley at dusk or dawn.
  • See  Tower Falls, a 132-foot waterfall on Tower Creek.
  • Take a look at the Yellowstone River.
  • Reserve the Old West Cookout for dinner
11 Top Things to Do in Tower Roosevelt
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. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Where to Find Animals in Yellowstone National Park

While some visitors enjoy the geothermal features, others want to see animals. Yellowstone National Park offers some of the best animal viewing in the US.

I recommend walking along the river in Hayden Valley or Lamar Valley. Dawn and dusk are the best times to spot animals since they are the most active. You can check in with a Park Ranger who knows where animals frequent or take a guided tour.

  • Elk
  • Moose
  • Bison
  • Grizzly Bear
  • Black Bear
  • Bighorn Sheep
  • Wolf
  • Mule Deer
  • Pronghorn
  • Coyote
  • Pika
  • Marmot
Top Things to Do in Grand Teton National Park 

Kids at Yellowstone

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 Rangers present them with after they complete their booklet.

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

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 each complete as many activities as their age.

Old Faithful Visitor Education Center also offers a Young Scientist Patch Program. Buy the $5 booklet at the visitor center’s gift store. The visitor center also checks out a pack of equipment needed to conduct experiments. This program is best suited for students spending a couple of days in the Old Faithful Area to finish.

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

History of Yellowstone National Park

On March 1, 1872, Yellowstone National Park became the first national park in the world, an idea that has flourished worldwide.

Yellowstone’s significance began long before. Approximately two million years ago, a supervolcano erupted in Yellowstone, forming a caldera, or basin. It is located in the center of Yellowstone National Park and measures 45 miles across. It is now home to the largest concentration of geysers in the world.

The railroad arrived at the northern edge of the park in 1883. Then, the first roads started to bisect the park, allowing visitors more access to the geothermal features and animals. More people meant more buildings, with Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Old Faithful Inn a few of the surviving early lodges.

It was on the western frontier, so the U.S. Army built a fort to enforce the law and chase away poachers.

Junior Ranger Guide

If It’s Your First Visit

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

  • Didn’t make reservations.
  • I camped in the same campground and didn’t move around the park.
  • Didn’t research enough.

When I visit Yellowstone now, I see more of the park. I plan a Grand Tour, much like the first visitors did over 100 years ago. I start in one area and explore it before relocating to another. It works out great, minimizing the driving and maximizing the enjoyment.

To enjoy Yellowstone, I recommend four days at least. Plan on one day in Old Faithful. one in Mammoth, one in Canyon and Tower Roosevelt and one at Yellowstone Lake.

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.
  • Make noise while hiking by wearing bear bells and talking.
  • Carry bear spray. Keep it accessible when hiking and know how to use it.
  • Keep campsites clean.

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

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

Where’s Yellowstone National Park

It’s 320 miles northeast of Salt Lake City. 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.

Top Things to Do in Cody, Wyoming

Getting Around Yellowstone

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.

Yellowstone National Park offers five entrances.

  • South Entrance—The busiest entrance and gateway to Grand Teton National Park and Jackson, Wyoming.
  • 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

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

Know Before You Go

  • Check-in at the Ranger Station to see the approximate geyser eruption times for Old Faithful, Castle and Grand geysers.
  • Stay on the paths and boardwalks in Yellowstone’s geothermal areas. Kids might be sensitive to the sulfuric acid smell.
  • When animal spotting bring binoculars and a chair to get comfortable.
  • The Junior Ranger Booklet includes animal spotting activities.
  • Parking can be an issue at popular destinations during the middle of the day.
  • Watch your children at all times, kids can climb over barricades.
  • Wild animals are unpredictable; give them space and don’t feed them.
  • Bring food and refillable water bottles for your visit. Food service can be limited.
  • Know your personal limits and the limits of your equipment.
  • Drones are not permitted at any NPS location.

Visit a national park as big a Rhode Island this year. Yellowstone National Park has the world's largest concentration of geysers, iconic lodges and some of the best animal viewing in North America. Use the guide to plan your trip with all the best sights along with what to do with kids when you explore the first national park in the world. What to do in Yellowstone National Park | Where to Stay in Yellowstone National Park #NationalPark #Yellowstone
credit: Catherine Parker


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.

Comments are closed.