Yellowstone National Park & Grand Teton National Park with Kids
If you missed our post on the Glacier National Park portion of this trip, here are the general details before we dive into how Yellowstone went down.
This vacation to Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Grand Teton National Park was incredible! It was beautiful, peaceful, breathtaking, hard, awe inspiring and just so good.
Hopefully these tips will help you plan your trip! Included is when we went, where we stayed, and what we did at all of the parks.
As we talk about hikes and activities, it will be helpful for you to know that my kids are age 10, 8, and 5.
The planning for this trip started with wanting to make a trip to see my sister in Washington. If we were going to drive that far, we figured we might as well turn it into a long road trip and see some sights along the way. A long road trip it was – we finished having driven 5,400 miles. Our first stop, Glacier National Park, is 23 hours of actually driving from our home.
For tips on taking road trips with kids, check out this post!
National Parks have been getting busier over the last years. We decided to wait and go right after Labor Day. We hoped maybe slightly fewer people would be there. We didn’t want to go any later because mountain weather is unpredictable and we wanted to still have pleasant temperatures.
We ended up loving the time of year we took our trip. We arrived to Yellowstone September 21 and left for home September 26th. The nights and mornings were cold but the afternoons were perfect (60s and even a few days in the 70s).
We needed to do this trip on a bit of a budget. Our nights at hotels were a travel day on the way there and home and then for 4 nights at my sister’s. Otherwise we tent camped. A huge hit with the kids!
That also meant, we didn’t go out to eat except for pizza in Jackson. We packed lunch each day and ate late suppers back at the campgrounds with plenty of snacks in between. Because we didn’t have long in these parks, it also meant we had more time to explore instead of having to eat in restaurants.
We only had 5 nights total, between Yellowstone and Grand Teton. That means, nope, we didn’t see everything and we went from area to area rather quickly but I felt like we got a good overview of the area!
Night 1: I managed to find a cancelation and we stayed at Mammoth Campground in the park. It’s near Gardiner/the north entrance. This was my son’s favorite place to stay. It was dark, animals were around us, and they loved exploring & finding animal scat. No showers, but there were bathrooms with running water. If I hadn’t found a site at Mammoth we would have stayed at Yellowstone RV Park or Yellowstone Hot Springs.
Night 2: We stayed at West Gate KOA which is a few miles from West Yellowstone. The pool was already closed for our stay. It was a nice campground, but the highway noise was a bit loud. We preferred West Glacier KOA over this one, but again it was fine.
Nights 3,4, & 5: We stayed at Headwaters Campground at Flagg Ranch. It is on the very north part of Grand Teton so was a great location to go to after being at Yellowstone. I also looked for places at Jenny Lake and Colter Bay in the park, but was unable to find any cancelations. We enjoyed staying here. At the lodge they have a gas station with small store, gift shop, a great water bottle filler we took advantage of many times. Our campsite was good sized and the bathrooms clean. (Not as new as the KOA in Glacier, but still good.)
Areas and Sites to Explore at Yellowstone with Kids
Please, make sure, with little kids especially, everyone knows how important it is to stay on the path and to be sure to hold onto all your belongings. We saw many hats and masks that had blown into different geothermal areas.
One other note, during our trip the road from Tower-Roosevelt to Canyon Village was closed so this order of sightseeing made the most sense for our trip and where we wanted to end up.
We drove from Washington to Yellowstone and entered the park through Gardiner and set up our tent. Afterward we stopped at the petrified tree and drove through Lamar Valley. On our way back, we walked around at Mammoth Hot Springs.
The petrified tree was a quick stop, but my son thinks petrified wood is cool, so it was worth it.
Driving through Lamar Valley we say a ton of bison, elk, and mule deer.
Mammoth Hot Springs was a great introduction to the geothermal activity we’d be seeing the next few days. The little town of Mammoth Hot Springs was also fun to drive through. A lot of original buildings.
We finished our day taking pictures at the Roosevelt Arch and Gardiner entrance sign.
(We would have done the Boiling River as well, had we had time.)
We started our morning taking the short walk to Sheepeater Cliff. Again, this was a fun and short hike for the kids to see a geological feature they never had before.
Afterward we headed to Norris Geyser Basin. This is an easy, boardwalk, trail. We walked the small loop and the bigger loop and were here over 2 hours. While at Norris, I realized I greatly underestimated the amount of geothermal activity at Yellowstone! Wow, this place is incredible. Almost like being on another planet. Lots of bubbling and little eruptions. The kids loved this.
Next up was a very short drive to Sulpher Caldron followed by Mud Volcano which is just across the road. This is a quicker stop than Norris Geyser Basin but still a lot of fun and impressive. Sulpher Caldron is 10 times more acidic than lemon juice and Mud Volcano was probably the smelliest area we went to. We were probably at these 2 areas around an hour.
A bit of a scenery change for our next stop at Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. This was beautiful. We did lots of looking at over looks at the canyon and waterfalls on the north rim and south rim. Definitely drive around this area and makes stops to hike. We didn’t do any long hikes here (2-3 miles was probably the longest), so there is definitely a lot more we can do when we return. But the short ones for all the canyon and water fall views were worth it!
We finished our day hiking the 1 mile trail at Artist Paintpots. Another fascinating area to explore. the kids loved watching and comparing all of the bubbling. Then we headed to West Yellowstone to set up our campsite and have supper. We went into the town of West Yellowstone after dinner to check out some gift shops. (It was my least favorite of the towns we were in.)
We started off at Grand Prismatic which is Yellowstone’s largest hot spring! Next time I would definitely take the time to climb the overlook.
Afterward we explored Upper Geyser Basin which is where you find Old Faithful. This is probably what everything thinks of when you say Yellowstone, so don’t miss out on this. Plus, with Old Faithful, you are guaranteed to see a geyser.
We happened to arrive shortly before Old Faithful erupted, so we waited for that (glad we saw it first, because it would have been less impressive at the end of the day) and then spent a while walking around the geyser loop. This is a short walk, so a must do. There are so many geysers and we just happened to be there when Beehive Geyser erupted, which the kids though was amazing (one of their highlights of the trip)! It shoots 150 feet into the air and being close to the path meant they ended up soaked!
After spending over 3 hours at the Upper Geyser Basin (and seeing Old Faithful erupt 3 times) we drove to West Thumb Geyser Basin and walked the path there. This is right next to the lake and is gorgeous.
Because we consulted the geyser scheduling before leaving, we knew we wanted to head back to Old Faithful to see 2 of the other predicable geysers erupt. Returning to see Castle and Grand Geyser erupt was definitely worth it.
We finished the day grabbing an ice cream bar at the gift shop and went to our last campsite of the trip, Headwaters Campground at Flagg Ranch.
(Had we more time, we would have explored at Yellowstone Lake as well.)
Areas and Sites to Explore at Grand Teton with Kids
First things we went to Jenny Lake and played in the water and hiked. This area is popular and the parking fills up fast. Get there first thing in the morning or wait until later in the afternoon. There are some great hikes to do in this area and are on my list to do when we go back, but since I pushed so much to get my must do hikes in at Glacier I felt like it was better to let the kids lead on the Yellowstone and Grand Teton portions of our trip. (Cascade Canyon and Jenny Lake Trail being 2 of them.) So we ended up just walking partway around Jenny Lake and turning back and detouring down to Moose Pond.
There is also a boat you can take across the lake, which would cut down on hiking distances.
After this we went to Craig Thomas Visitor Center. This was the best of all the visitor centers we were at on this trip to Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton. The kids enjoyed looking around and completing a scavenger hunt.
We finished our day driving to Jackson and explored some of the shops and got a pizza for dinner.
On our way to String Lake we stopped at a few pull offs to enjoy the views. Once at the lake we completed the String Lake Trail (rated moderate and 4.4 miles on AllTrails) and we let the kids play in the lake for a long time at the end. (Playing in the lake was probably another highlight of the trip for the kids – and it was relaxing and beautiful to watch them.)
Mormon Row was up next, and the kids loved this more than I thought they would! They loved exploring outside of the buildings and walking down the road and all wished they could go inside.
To finish our day we went to the Snake River Overlook (more pretty views and fun signs to read) and then to Schwabacher Landing. The kids loved getting to see a massive beaver dam. It was a another quick stop, but worth it for the kids!
We finished our day with supper at the campsite and prepping to head home then next day.
That ends our family trip to Glacier, Yellowstone National Park, and Grand Teton National Park! It was a great experience and we’d all do it again. Worth every hour spent in the car. I feel like we barely hit the surface on what there is to explore in these areas, but it’s still definitely worth even a day or 2 if that’s all the time you have or explore for a week or 2 if you are able.
For another fun family vacation destination, be sure to read this post all about the Black Hills area including the Badlands and Custer State Park!