It probably depends on the kids too. But both my kids are not fans of sitting for long hours in their car seat.
When I planned for our Yellowstone National park (YNP) trip I researched quite a bit for kid hikes/activities and car activities. I have come to realize that more than anything keep plenty of snacks and juice.
A well-fed kid=A HAPPY kid!
Here are some tips for travelling with kids to YNP –
#1 Keep a set of swim clothes and towel handy.
Even though we did not venture into the water, it is legal to swim in the approx. 130deg F boiling water, at Boiling pot! The parking is by the 45th parallel sign between Gardiner town (right outside north entrance) and Mammoth hot Springs. It is about a mile hike.
Check out the writeup about the other legal swimming hole at Madison Junction –
Keep caps, sunscreen lotion, bug spray, other lotion, wipes in an organizer in the car.
Keep light jackets for the family.
Check this out for more pointers –
If you take an infant or toddler, do not forget the stroller. The rim around Canyon walks and a certain portion of the Mammoth Hot Springs is wheelchair accessible. You will thank yourself for bringing it along at the Old faithful area.
#4 Junior Ranger Program
As soon as you enter the park go to the nearest visitor center for the Junior ranger booklet.
Pros – Wealth of information, keeps them occupied in the car.
Cons – You have to attend atleast one ranger program. You would have to coordinate it. Check the program schedule online, beforehand.
End result – A beautiful patch/badge! Check out http://www.nps.gov/yell/forkids/beajuniorranger.htm
#5 Simple meals
It was a sandwich picnic aleast 2 days. There are plenty of picnic sites scattered all over, next to a gushing river! On other days, we had healthy meal of fruits, carrots, cheese and chips:) The few cafes were crowded but whenever we ate there (herbivores like us can find black bean burgers) were delicious.
After a long day we kept the dinner simple. I had taken some microwavable dishes (noodles, Indian curry, mac&cheese) supplemented by fruits, yogurt.
Most restaurants were crowded with long waits, even outside the park. One night we took pizza with us and had our supper by the riverside, followed a sunset stroll!
#6 Young Scientist Program @ Old Faithful
Age – 5 to 9 ; Cost – $5 for the booklet and the backpack with tools.
I think this program is for older kids too.
Devote a full day to this area (See the note below about the visitor centers). Check out the NPS website for the geyser eruption times. Plan accordingly. Get the booklet + backpack and have a field day with your kid!
The backpack contains the rock sample box, a laser thermometer to measure the geyser/pool’s temperature, a stopwatch to time the eruptions and predict when the next will happen as per a formula!
But filling the booklet + hike to different geyser +measurement will take atleast 2 hrs. We were short of time. We just could not fill out the booklet for the patch or key chain.
Kid-related activities –
To make the experience more interesting for the 7 year old, I collected worksheets, info, games etc.,mainly from the NPS website and education.com..
- Wildlife –
- State fun facts –
- Map –
- Car activities –
Here is more activities compiled at the ‘The Coupon project’ blog ()-
Our favorite – Wildlife spotting and counting!
- Hikes –
Yellowstone area – Trout Lake, 0.5 miles/way
Old Faithful – Lonestar Geyser Trail, 5 miles/RT on level ground
Norris – Artist Paint Pot Trail, 1 mile on a boardwalk, geysers and colorful mudpots..
- Visitor Centers –
Old Faithful – I particularly like this one. It is loaded with info about the different hydrothermal features and it teaches kids about them in a fun, interactive way.
Canyon – Info about the gigantic volcano with a park model
- Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center @ West yellowstone –
They house 2 packs of wolves, about a dozen grizzlies and a few birds. All of these animals/birds are injured and unfit to be released in the wild. The kids liked it, especially to pretend to be wolves in the play den! We parents got to unwind and rested our legs! The keeper program for kids 5+ was a hit. And I was rested after watching the documentary at the center!
You can easily spend about 2 hrs there.
Pros – Plenty of open space, keeps kids busy and benches for parents to rest!
- Roosevelt Stage Coach rides
We did not do this one. Might have been fun for the kids.
- Other activities –
There are a multitude of options for kids over 8 yrs old..
Longer hikes, horse rides, boating, fishing, white water rafting etc.
This is a good website to plan activities –
So are the kids keen on revisiting the park? The 7 yr old wants to but the 3.5 yr old is happy visiting the local parks for now!