Yellowstone National Park

Country: 
Kids: 
15 years
10 years
8 years
Author: 
Parent
Date: 
2013-08-25 to 2013-09-03
Description: 

The world's first national park, Yellowstone, offers families all the rugged beauty of the American West in a setting that will captivate young and old alike.  Geysers, hot springs, abundant wildlife, and a diverse landscape all come together for a vacation your kids will talk about for years to come.  With all the park has to offer, you will want to spend a full week here!  We stayed for ten days and did not run out of great things to do.

the Boiling RiverThe Boiling River

Everyone who knew we were planning our visit told us, "You have to stop for a dip in the Boiling River!"  Just after entering the park through the Roosevelt Arch in Gardiner, Montana is a small parking lot and a 1/4 mile hike down to the river.  This is where the chilly waters of the Gardner River and the superheated cascade from a hot spring come together to create a lovely spot just like a natural hot tub.  The best part is being able to move around to find a pool with water temperatures just to your liking.  We even saw a herd of elk cross the water, with the largest bull pausing to bugle to the females.       

Mammoth Hot Springs

Minerva Terrace, Mammoth Hot SpringsOne of the park's largest and most impressive thermal features is Mammoth Hot Springs.  Circled by a boardwalk and paved trails, the springs rise above the landscape and the steaming water cascades down the travertine formations created by years of activity.  The flow of the waters are constantly changing in both volume and direction, so that new lace-like calcium deposits form and sometimes overtake walking paths.  This is one of the best spots to witness the dynamic nature of our planet.  

The Mammoth Hot Springs area is also a hub of activity.  Here you will find lodging, dining, souvenirs, a clinic, gas, post office,  visitors center and the original buildings of Fort Yellowstone.  Church services are offered on Sundays at the Yellowstone Chapel.  The Terrace Grill offers affordable and tasty fast food options in a kid-friendly setting.  They also have excellent ice cream!

The Grand Loop

geyser basinThe main drive through the park forms a figure eight known as The Grand Loop.  Take two days to follow it to the park's most famous thermal features -- most are a short stroll along a paved path.  While very few of the geysers erupt on any sort of predictable schedule, hissing fumeroles and sputtering mud pots are a constant source of entertainment for kids.  One of our favorite spots was the Artist Paint Pots.  The small clear pools of hot water were brilliantly colored and the burbling and splattering mud was fun to watch.  The Dragon's Cauldron is the best fumarole in the park.  Due to its size (huge!) and the shape of its opening, its hissing can be heard long before you are within sight.  We all agreed that had we been among the first explorers in Wyoming and stumbled across this, we would have fled for our lives, certain that a dragon lived there.  

Old Faithful

bison holding up trafficThe most popular attraction in the park is Old Faithful, a 100 foot geyser that erupts roughly every seventy to ninety minutes.  A quick stop in the visitors center will give you the next predicted eruption time.  Plan to find a seat on the benches outside about fifteen to twenty minutes beforehand. Be sure to take time to check out the exhibits in the Visitor Education Center, too.  Besides a variety of informative displays, the center has a large science room with interactive learning centers just for kids.  

Wildlife Viewing

The Hayden and Lamar Valley areas are the best places to spot animals such as elk, bison, coyotes, moose and possibly wolves, but the animals here are so numerous you can count on seeing them just about anywhere.  We found Trumpeter Swans in the river on several occasions and more bison than we could count. The elk population surrounding the Mammoth Hot Springs complex is habituated and should be treated with caution - do no approach them, although they appear tame. As with any wildlife, mornings and evenings are the best times to find them.  

at the brink of the upper falls, Grand Canyon of YellowstoneCanyon Area

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is not as spectacular as the one in Arizona, but it is amazing nonetheless.  You can view it from an easily accessible walking path near the parking lot, or venture down the trail to the brink of the falls for an experience you won't forget.  The path is short but steep and ends at a viewing platform where you can look right over the edge safely behind a fence.  

Where to Stay

The town of Gardiner at the north park entrance is a good base for your visit.  It has several campgrounds, hotels, inns, a variety of dining establishments, outdoor gear stores, souvenirs, and a market, all within walking distance of each other.  We stayed just up the road at the Yellowstone RV Park and Campground and were comfortably close to town with a view clear to the Roosevelt Arch.  Inside the park there are ten campgrounds and lodging (hotel rooms or cabins) at Mammoth Hot Springs, Old Faithful, Canyon Village, Grant Village and Lake Village.  Most park lodging is open only from May through October and should be booked well in advance.  Check availability and rates at www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com.  We spent two nights tent camping in Madison where elk and bison sometimes wander through the campground.  On a clear night the stars are spectacular!

Peak season in Yellowstone is June through early August. This was our second visit, with our first having been during July.  We found the park less crowded this time and much more enjoyable overall. The weather was about perfect and all services are still open but not quite as difficult to book.  

Gallery: 
Minerva Terrace, Mammoth Hot Springs
the boardwalk at Mammoth Hot Springs
geyser basin
enjoying the drama of an Old Faithful eruption
interactive exhibits at the Visitor Education Center
the next predicted eruption will take place...
a ranger gives a talk on the park's wildlife
travertine formations around a hot spring
getting a steam bath at the Grand Prismatic Spring
a colorful hot spring pool
bison herd crossing the river
an example of the diversity of the landscape
Trumpeter Swan
bison holding up traffic
the Boiling River
at the brink of the upper falls, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
sunrise at Mammoth Hot Spring
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Article Type: 
In-Person Impressions

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