Family Vacations to Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Yellowstone National Park Wyoming
Yellowstone National Park (PhotoDisc)

Yellowstone National Park Highlights

  • Watch Old Faithful erupt, spraying steamy water more than 100 feet in the air.
  • See the park's many other geysers as well as bubbling mudpots, fumaroles, and hot springs.
  • Explore the massive Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
  • Hike to thundering waterfalls.
  • Horseback ride through sage-covered valleys.

No family member has any excuse for grousing boredom in a national park as diverse as Yellowstone. Powerful geothermal forces bubbling underground create the park's hot springs, fumaroles, mudpots, and geysers, of which Old Faithful is the most famous. This icon erupts with near clocklike regularity, spraying steamy water 100 to 180 feet into the air. But that there's much more to Yellowstone than one celebrated geyser, as the park's massive two million acres attest. Explore canyons, hike through forests to waterfalls, go boating, fish for trout, or just look out your car window to see bison, moose, and bighorn sheep in their element. Spring, summer, and early fall (before the snows arrive) are the best times for families to visit (though winter is prime wolf-watching season, and a great time to experience the park without the crowds). In spring, wildflowers dot the meadows, while the changing leaves of fall add color. Yellowstone is most crowded in the summer, but you can still enjoy your visit, particularly if you get out of your car and off the beaten path.

The Grand Loop road cuts a figure-eight loop, unfurling for 142 miles through the park and taking you by most of the major attractions. You could easily spend a week in Yellowstone, but if you have time for just the highlights, the most famous features are the geysers and hot springs, as well as the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. While Old Faithful doesn't disappoint, the overbuilt and overcrowded area around this park attraction does. Get away from the waiting hordes lined up near the Old Faithful Inn by walking onto the boardwalk trail. Old Faithful looks even more dramatic when you are not shoulder-to-shoulder with other visitors.

On the road from Old Faithful to Mammoth Hot Springs, stop at Fountain Paint Pot to see the bubbling mudpots, fumaroles, and hot springs, some of which have turned shades of pastel pink and blue because of algae and bacteria. Further on, Gibbons Meadows is a favorite grazing spot for bison herds. In the Mammoth Hot Springs, near Yellowstone's northern border and minutes from Gardiner, Montana, you see colorful terraces of calcium carbonate created by the acidic hot-spring water as it passes through the limestone.

Yellowstone's Grand Canyon, 20 miles long and up to 4,000 feet wide, is dramatically striated with bands of pink, yellow, and orange. Two waterfalls cascade into the misty depths. Good lookout and picnic spots are situated along the western shore of Yellowstone Lake, North America's largest high-altitude lake. The Tower-Roosevelt area offers the simple serenity and peaceful company of forests, meadows, and streams. Tower Fall Trail here is a rewarding and not-too-difficult, half-mile hike to a waterfall that cascades 132 feet. Deer often rest on the rocks at the riverbed, where the tumbling waters create a thunderous symphony. Near the Roosevelt Lodge, you can board a stagecoach, a replica of those used to bring early visitors to Yellowstone, for a 30-minute ride, or ride a horse through the sage-covered valleys (minimum age eight; horseback rides also depart from Canyon Lodge). Book ahead to guarantee a ride.

Tip: On a multi-day family program with the Yellowstone Association Institute (, naturalists lead hikes and give special insight into the region's geothermal features, wildlife, and history. Reserve these summer programs well in advance.

Recommended Side Trips: Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole, Cody's resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 3 Oct 2007 | Last Updated: 8 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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