A trip to Yellowstone National Park is certainly a memory that any child of any age will appreciate for a lifetime. With so many different geological formations, geysers, and an endless array of wildlife, there is certainly plenty to see during your time in the park. We have been to Yellowstone over a dozen times with our children at various ages and every trip to the park has created new and lasting memories. Obviously, you will want to visit all of the major sights within the park and the maps that you receive upon entering the park will highlight all of the places that should certainly be on your list of things to see while in the park. In order to maximize your experience in the park, especially if it might be your only time that you get to go to Yellowstone, here are a few tips that you should consider as you prepare for your visit with children.
- Go on a Ranger Led Hike – Taking the time to make arrangements to participate in a ranger led hike is something that will be something that the family will treasure forever. It is worthwhile checking on the availability of the ranger led activities in advance as some of them book out weeks in advance. Ranger led hikes allow limited numbers of participants, so you really get a one on one experience and learn things about the park that you never would otherwise. The rangers all have vast knowledge about the history of Yellowstone as well as everything to do within the park and they are enthusiastic to share that knowledge with you.
- Join the Junior Ranger Program – You can find information on the Junior Ranger program at any of the visitor centers or ranger stations and it only takes a few minutes to get the information necessary to join. We’ve had our kids participate in the Junior Ranger program at several national parks and earn the Junior Ranger badge at each of them and it truly is an excellent program. The Junior Ranger program is a great way to entertain the kids during some of the downtime in the park while also helping them learn about the park and the animals that reside there. They are given a booklet with several pages to complete (simple games like word find or match this animal to its environment, etc.) and when completed and returned to the ranger station, they are awarded their very own ranger badge.
- Visit the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center – While there is certainly a possibility that you might see a bear or wolf in the park, they are some of the more illusive animals to find. Going to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center not only provides a safe environment to see the animals up close, but also provides a wealth of information about how they survive in the wild. Not only will you learn about the animals, but you will also learn about how the wolves were reintroduced into the park and the controversary that it caused when the initiative was introduced.
- Rent a Boat on Lake Yellowstone – Renting a boat and going out onto Lake Yellowstone is a fantastic way to see the lake from a completely different perspective. For those that like to fish, you can certainly do that as well. Even if you just want to take the boat and enjoy the views, rentals are available by the hour for up to eight hours. Lifejackets are provided and the children must be at least two years old.
- Hike One of the Many Trails in the Park – Before hiking any trail within the park, it is always a good idea to visit the ranger station to learn whether bears have been seen in the area or if there are trails that they don’t recommend that you hike due to animal activity. They can also make recommendations on trails that are right for your family’s fitness and ages. It never ceases to amaze us at how many people cram into the walkways and viewing stations, but as soon as we step onto a trail, we’re virtually alone in the park. Some of the most beautiful sites in Yellowstone can only be seen by hiking to them and it also greatly increases your chances of seeing wildlife in the park. Because you never know when you’ll come across wildlife, the rangers recommend that you hike in groups of three or more, make noise, and carry bear spray for safety purposes.
- Don’t Approach the Wildlife – It is important to remember that all of the animals in park are truly wild animals and not domesticated in any way. So many of the people that visit the park think that somehow it is some sort of giant petting zoo where the animals are used to interacting with people, but that is pure foolishness. Almost every year at least one visitor is killed by one of the many bison in the park because they think that they are docile like a cow. Even worse, we have actually seen people approaching a baby bear in a dried creek bed near the road. Fortunately, a ranger showed up to move them away because where there is a baby animal, there is a protective parent nearby that won’t hesitate to attack you to protect their child. The safest place for your children to see animals in the wild is always from a safe distance.
- Provide an Incentive for Spotting Wildlife – There are many opportunities for seeing animals in the wild, but they often blend right into their environment. The only way to be sure to see them is to always be observant and scan the trees around you whether in the car or on a trail. Obviously, the attention span for children can be limited at times, so we have found that providing an incentive to spotting an animal is a great way to keep them focused. We used to provide a ranking the animals where they received a greater treat for something more illusive like a bear, wolf, or moose where they received something smaller if they were the first to spot an elk, bald eagle, or deer.
- Be Sure to Be in the Park at Dawn or Dusk – If you’re going to Yellowstone, it is likely that you’re hoping for the opportunity to see some of the wildlife that is abundant in the park. Although the bison and elk are easy to see in the park, especially in summer, other animals can be harder to find. It is well worth getting up early or staying late in the park because the wildlife is more active during those times. We’ve been fortunate to see bears, both black and grizzly, moose, wolves, elk, bison, bald eagles, coyotes, beavers, and many others during our various visits.
- Go Horseback Riding in Yellowstone – For a truly memorable experience, make arrangements for a private or group horseback ride in the park. It is a wonderful way to see the park in a different way and will have the kids feeling like they are cowboys and cowgirls. Not only can you go horseback riding in Yellowstone, but you can also go riding in the Grand Teton National Park, which is near the south entrance to the park.
- Plan for Full Days – Yellowstone is a large park and you will spend a lot of time traveling through the park, not all of it filled with fascinating sights. Be sure to have snacks, water, and other items to help keep the children entertained during your time in the park. Make sure that you know when and where restrooms as there can be large spans of time between opportunities to stop. Also, be sure to be sure to have something to capture any trash that you create so that you can dispose of it properly at a visitor center, ranger station, or parking area. Never leave food scraps out for animals to find and certainly don’t litter in the park so that is as pristine for other visitors as it was for your visit.
Regardless of these tips, be sure to enjoy your time in Yellowstone National Park. There are certainly few places on earth with as much natural beauty and diversity of wildlife in a protected area. Seeing sights like Old Faithful or the Grand Prismatic Spring will be something that your children will remember for all of their lives. A visit to Yellowstone should be a memory that the entire family will recount with each throughout their lives.