Visiting Yellowstone National Park is a must for your USA travel bucket list.
Yellowstone offers surreal views, constantly changing and surprising landscape and wildlife!
We had the opportunity to stay for an extended period of time in the employee campground with my sister and her family. At that time, I didn’t realize what an opportunity this was going to be.
We quickly realized that visitors do Yellowstone like they do Disney World. They schedule a plan to see just the major attractions leaving little time to relax and REALLY explore the park.
Supposedly, 90% of people visit Yellowstone National Park tourist attractions and don’t go more than 1/4 mile off the main road while there.
They’re missing out on so much!
SLOW DOWN and enjoy the park. Don’t worry about seeing every attraction. Instead, find a place you like and let the magic of Yellowstone sink in.
Tips for visiting Yellowstone National Park
Below are our insider tips on what to do in Yellowstone National Park Wyoming.
1. The Grand Prismatic
The Grand Prismatic is at the Midway Geyser Basin located a few miles from Old Faithful.
The stop won’t take you long, but it was one of the most amazing things we saw while at Yellowstone. It’s hard to believe it’s natural as it looks like someone has painted the colors.
There is a large parking lot that accommodates RV’s and parking along the road. It’s very busy during peak season (July – August).
There is a boardwalk around the area and if you need to bring a stroller you can. There are longer hiking trails in the area, however the trail up to views of the Grand Prismatic is closed.
Tips for visiting Grand Prismatic with kids:
- If it’s windy, leave your hat (or anything else that can flyaway) in the car. We saw multiple hats that had ended up in the basins. Once it’s there, you won’t get it back.
- The ground is a fragile crust that could give way to the boiling water underneath.
2. Old Faithful
You can’t visit Yellowstone National Park without seeing Old Faithful and for good reason. It’s really cool.
Every 45 minutes it erupts like clockwork and is awesome to see.
The Visitor Center has a sign that tells you the next time it’ll erupt – give or take 10 minutes. There’s a hotel, gift shop, visitor center, lodge, deli, cafeteria, bar and restaurant close by.
The Old Faithful Inn is a must see. It’s the original hotel for the area and a beautiful building inside and out.
Old Faithful is probably the busiest place in the park. We went on a Saturday and had to drive around to find a parking spot. There is RV and big rig parking, but space is limited.
We recommend watching Old Faithful multiple times and at different times of the day.
It’s amazing to watch in the middle of the day with the sun beaming down. It’s spectacular to watch when the sun is setting. And it’s magical to watch when dark with the stars and moon shining through!
This is another way of slowing yourself down and really appreciating it – rather than just checking it off your list and rushing through it.
There are trails and boardwalks for hiking around the area where you see multiple smaller geysers and prismatic pools. There’s a trail up a mountain for views of Old Faithful.
Tips for visiting Old Faithful with kids:
- Avoid the weekend and the middle of the day if there during the busy season.
- Grab some food and sit on the porch of the Old Faithful Lodge and watch it erupt.
3. The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
One word – beautiful!
Start by visiting Artist Point. This gives you an amazing view of the pastel yellow, pink, and orange canyon with a waterfall right in the middle.
It’s absolutely gorgeous and one of the best things to do in Yellowstone National Park!
There’s a parking lot about a 1/10th mile from the overlook. So it’s easy to access it.
Uncle Tom’s Trail
Once you’ve seen Artist Point, drive back down South Rim Drive and stop at Uncle Tom’s trail. This trail isn’t easy. But it’s worth the view.
- Head down the canyon on a trail and then walk down 300 steps. The steps are grated so you can see right through them – cool, but scary!
- There are a couple of spots you can stop to take in the view before you get to the bottom.
- At the bottom, there is a platform looking out at the falls. It’s really cool being right down in the Canyon!
- After taking in the view, the fun begins with getting back up to the top. We did it with kids on our backs so you can do it. Just take your time. There are benches throughout where you can rest.
There are multiple trails you can take around the Grand Canyon area.
There’s also Canyon Village with a hotel, gift shop, visitor center, lodge, deli, cafeteria, bar, and restaurant. You could easily spend a day exploring the Canyon area, especially if you take a hike or two.
Hikes are marked on the maps at Artist Point and Uncle Tom’s Trail.
Tips for visiting the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone with kids:
- If you’re going to hike down into the Canyon, make sure you’re ready for it.
- It’s a workout getting back up – but it’s short. So don’t plan too much. Just do it.
4. Mount Washburn
If you’re going to do only one hike when visiting Yellowstone National Park, this is the one I recommend. It’s not an easy hike, so you need to be in decent shape.
Park at Dunraven Pass to start your 3-mile hike to the top of Mount Washburn. While hiking up, you’ll see some of the most beautiful wildflowers that Yellowstone has to offer and experience wonderful views of the park.
Closer to the top, you’re actually above the tree line, so be aware of the weather. You do not want to be out above the tree line in a lightning storm!
Once at the top (10,000 feet up) there’s a fire lookout tower, and you can go into the 1st and 2nd floor. The 1st floor is all enclosed with windows around it. There are pictures in front of the windows showing you what you’re looking out at.
The views are amazing and well worth the hike. On the 2nd floor is a deck area. We walked out about 3 steps, looked around and ran back inside. It was very windy up there and REALLY high up.
We brought snacks and drinks and rested while hanging out with the resident ground squirrel, who ran around the room looking for crumbs.
After a bathroom break, we started our hike down.
On the way, a family of bighorn sheep walked right across the path in front of us. Further down the trail, there was a male bighorn sheep who was not going to budge.
We quickly scrambled up the side of the mountain and got out our bear spray. Luckily, he just walked by, giving us the stink eye and a grunt!
The downhill hike was much easier.
Tips for hiking Mount Washburn with kids
- Wear comfortable hiking shoes – so you don’t slip on the trail. The kids fell a couple of times on the loose gravel.
- Bring bear spray – if you don’t have any, you can rent it by Canyon Village.
- Pack plenty of water and snacks for hiking and celebrating at the top!
- Provide “Power Pellets” for the kids (aka Tic Tacs). It gives them a little burst of energy while hiking.
- If you have little ones, I recommend an Ergo backpack carrier or something like that. It’s a long way for little legs. Our 7 year old had no problems, but our 5 year old’s needed to be carried multiple times.
- This hike will take you a good 4 to 5 hours doing it with kids. It’s recommended that you go in the morning to avoid thunderstorms. But it’s busier then. We went in the afternoon and a storm did come through, but it blew over.
Hiking Mount Washburn is definitely one of the best things to do in Yellowstone National Park!
Read More: How to go hiking with kids AND enjoy it
5. Lone Star Geyser
Old Faithful is Old Faithful, but the Lone Star Geyser is a whole other experience.
It’s a 2-mile hike, or bike ride, on a wide trail to get to the Geyser. Once there, you can play in the crystal clear waters of a stream and have a picnic lunch while waiting for the Geyser to erupt.
It erupts about every 3 hours for 30 minutes!
We didn’t know when it was going to erupt so we headed over to the stream to play. Suddenly, we heard a noise and turned around, and it was bubbling – that lasted a couple of minutes and we thought that was it.
Luckily we hung out a while longer, and then it really erupted! It did last for a good 30 minutes and it was amazing as we were so close to it.
You could walk right up to the Geyser if you wanted to. Obviously, you wouldn’t do that, because you would get burnt. At Old Faithful things are much more controlled and touristy.
One of the coolest things to do at Yellowstone National Park with kids.
Tips for visiting Lone Star Geyser with kids:
- Take Bikes. There aren’t many bike trails in Yellowstone, so take advantage of this one.
- If you want to play by the stream, bring water shoes or sandals and a change of clothes for the kids.
- You really don’t know when the geyser will go off so plan a lot of time to get there and hang out. You don’t want to miss it!
6. Hayden Valley
We ended up with such a love/hate relationship with Hayden Valley and the bison.
Any time you drive through Hayden Valley, expect a traffic jam caused by either an animal sighting or bison blocking the road. At first, it was really neat. After about the 5th time, we just wanted to get to where we were going.
You have to experience Hayden Valley when you are at Yellowstone National Park. You just drive and view the wildlife from your car and you’re almost guaranteed to see bison. And if lucky, you’ll see an elk or even a bear!
The bison are everywhere in Hayden Valley and often on the road. They walk right next to and in front of your car. It’s also cool to see the bison herds with the baby bison (called “red dogs”).
We recommend stopping at one of the many pull-offs in Hayden Valley, and if the bison aren’t too close, get out of the car and set up a lawn chair to watch the Valley come to life in front of you. If the bison
If the bison are close, pull over and stay in the safety of your car to watch everything.
You’ll see the bison fighting, rolling around in the dirt and red dogs nursing. It’s really an amazing place.
Don’t be fooled by how docile the bison look. They can quickly turn aggressive, and if gored, you’ll be going to the hospital, which is a good 4 hours away.
Yellowstone National Park asks that you stay at least 25 yards away. I say, if you aren’t in your car, give them a good 50 yards!
Bears are much more a luck of the draw thing. Sometimes they’re in the woods and you can drive past and check them out. Other times, they completely stop traffic as they cross the road and run out into the field.
Drive slowly through the Valley and keep vigilant even before you get into the Valley – that’s where we saw a couple of bears.
Tips for visiting Hayden Valley with kids:
- Watch the sunset from a pull-off in Hayden Valley.
- Be prepared for it to take a good hour to get through Hayden Valley if you are driving.
- Morning and dusk may be your best bet for seeing bears. However, we did see them in the middle of the day.
7. Hike Storm Point Trail
We like this trail because it’s easier than Mount Washburn and has a changing landscape over the 2-mile hike.
You start by walking through a grassy field and then along Yellowstone Lake. There you can walk out on the rocks that make Storm Point. It’s a beautiful view of Yellowstone Lake.
Then you walk along the beach for a while before you enter the old growth forest. It was enchanting! As you walk deeper in, all you see are trees for what feels like miles and miles. Once in the middle it’s so quiet.
It was a great hike, and at just 2 miles and not much elevation, it would be possible for most people.
Tips for hiking Storm Point Trail with kids:
- Bring Bear Spray – always bring bear spray when going hiking in Yellowstone National Park.
- Bring snacks for when you are sitting out on Storm Point.
- Beware of bison. There was one on the trail when we hiked it, and we made sure to give it plenty of room.
8. Lake Butte Overlook
This is a perfect place to watch a sunset – put this on your list of things to do at Yellowstone National Park!
You drive up to the site, park and walk about 10 feet to get to the overlook. You look out over Yellowstone Lake and watch the sun set behind the trees. Even if cloudy, it makes the clouds amazing colors and is worth seeing.
Tips for Lake Butte Overlook with kids:
- Bring blankets or a sweatshirt – it gets cold up there at night.
- Give yourself about an hour to watch the whole sunset.
- There is an outhouse/bathroom at the top.
A trip to Yellowstone National Park with kids has so many great things to offer. You want to visit all the highlighted places, but make sure to look for the off-the-beaten-path spots, too!
It’s usually best to ask a concierge at a hotel or other employee if they have any recommendations. They live in the park for 6 months or more, so they know.
Best time to visit Yellowstone National Park
It’s hard to say when is the best time for visiting Yellowstone National Park since there is so much to see and the landscape and wildlife change monthly.
July and August are the main seasons when everything is open and the weather is usually nice – it is always cool at night. Actually, they have gotten snow in July!
If you go in May, you won’t be able to hike as much since a lot of trails are closed because of bears. But, the early months are when you can expect to see a lot of animals, and it’s not as busy.
September is when things start to close down after the busy season. If you aren’t worried about visiting every shop and restaurant, then early September would be a really good time to go.
October will be cold, but not busy and the animals are more active in the fall.
Remember the most important thing is to slow down and enjoy each and every thing you do. And make sure you get farther then 1/4 mile off the main road when you are there. It’s more than just the typical Yellowstone National Park tourist attractions.
I recommend downloading our FREE guide on 10 Unique Adventures To Do With Your Kids In Yellowstone National Park. It is a guide we put together highlighting adventures that most people don’t know about or don’t think about doing.
If you want to learn more about our adventure in Yellowstone National Park click here to visit our Yellowstone Page.
Plan Your Trip to Yellowstone National Park
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Are you planning a Yellowstone National Park vacation? Get excited!
If you have already been, do you have any tips for visiting Yellowstone National Park? Share in the comments below.
Share in the comments below.