A Family Affair: Vacationing in Yellowstone National Park

Family-Friendly Attractions in Yellowstone
  |  Gorp.com
Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park
Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

A park this vast—3,472 square miles—has an equally large list of outdoor activities for every age and ability. Xanterra is the lead concessionaire within the park—offering lodging, camping, guided tours, and other activities. The National Park Service also lists licensed tour operators on its website, including fishing, boating, nature, photography, bicycling, and winter activities. It’s tough to get bored here; there are more than 1,100 miles of trails to explore, for starters. Don’t pass up major areas, especially with kids—the vibrant and chaotic geology of this place is a magnet for curious tots.

Hot Springs
Located near the sign for the 45th Parallel between the north entrance and Mammoth Hot Springs, this is a must-do Yellowstone experience. Here, a three-quarter-mile river’s-edge hike leads to a swimming area joining a hot spring with the frigid waters of the Gardner River. The result? Nature’s perfect hot tub in an unparalleled setting. Boiling River opens after spring snowmelt has dissipated, usually in late June/early July.

The Old Faithful area attracts lots of crowds, but seeing this geyser erupt in its signature clockwork manner is still worthwhile, and there’s plenty to do and see nearby. Check the visitor center for estimated eruption times for Old Faithful and nearby geysers to help plan your time in the area accordingly. Front and center among throngs of tourists isn’t the only way to see Old Faithful sound off—grab a seat and a brew (or juice) on the outdoor second-floor balcony at the Inn at Old Faithful or hike the Observation Point Loop Trail for an eagle’s-eye view. Nearby Lone Star Geyser, which erupts about every three hours, is a three-mile hike or bike ride away (rent bikes at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, open June 1 through September 30).

Geology and Wildlife
The size and scope of the Mammoth Hot Springs mineral terraces are unlike anything you’ll find in the park—or in North America. Boardwalks twist and turn along the terraces, composed of mineral deposits made over time, with engaging exhibits describing the mineral formations and geologic activity that causes them. There are enough changes in elevation to get your blood flowing, but if you’re itching to explore further, take the five-mile Beaver Ponds Loop Trail from Mammoth Hot Springs. Hike through forests and open meadows to the beaver ponds, where wildlife-spotting opportunities abound. Pack a lunch and hang out with the family while the kids look for beaver dams and lodges, pronghorn antelope, elk, and moose, and get a sweet view of Mammoth from up high.

Paint Pots
Located near Madison just south of Norris Junction, Artist Paint Pots is a one-miler, but don’t pass it up due to its brevity, because it’s an even more fun example of Yellowstone’s unique geothermal features than Old Faithful. Great for all ages, but a surefire hit with kids, due to the giggle-inducing bubbling cauldron of clay at trail’s end. The trail traverses a previously burned area and the tender, bright-green regrowth that followed, and a boardwalk trail passes jewel-toned pools ringed with vibrant algae and steaming fumaroles (vents in the earth’s crust) on the way to the raucous mud pot finale. Pack a picnic and chill along the river near the parking area, which is across the highway from the trailhead.

Published: 26 Mar 2012 | Last Updated: 24 Oct 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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