Visiting Yellowstone and Grand Teton with Kids

Picture of the waterfall in Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

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.

a bison at Yellowstone National Park

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!

Grand Prismatic Spring at Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone Lodging:

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.

Day 1:

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.

Old Faithful Erupting

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.)

Day 2:

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.)

Day 3:

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!

One of the barns on Mormon Row in Grand Teton

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

Day 4:

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.

Day 5:

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!

picture of the mountain range in Grand Teton National Park


Tips for Planning a Trip to Glacier National Park with Kids

A view of Lower Grinnell Lake at Glacier National Park

If your family enjoys hiking and exploring the outdoors, this is a trip you will want to take! 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 were age 10, 8, and 5. My 5 year old was able to keep up and do everything the older 2 did, so I’d say it was the perfect age for our youngest to be. There were younger kids walking on some of the shorter trails and on the harder trails there were younger kids in hiking backpacks. But if you want your kids to be able to walk some of the more challenging hikes, 5 is probably a great baseline! For further guidance, if you’ve been to Custer State Park, last year at 4 my youngest was able to hike Sunday Gulch Trail. She has strong little legs and good endurance.

(See this post for more details about planning a trip to the Badlands and Black Hills area.)

View looking out over the rocks at Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park

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.

(If you want tips for taking road trips with toddlers, this post will help you out!)

National Parks have been getting busier over the last years. We decided to wait and go right after Labor Day. The ticketed Going to the Sun Road entry would have ended earlier that week and 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 left our house September 10th and got home September 27th. 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!

Note: Be sure to check out the ticketed entry requirements when you are planning your trip and if you are going early or late in the season if the trails you will want to do are likely to be open!

Glacier National Park with Kids

We spent 6 nights at Glacier and I am so glad it wasn’t any shorter. If this is your only destination, I would recommend staying even longer if you can. But it’s so beautiful, that whatever you can fit in is worth it. (Even if it is just a few days.)


You have 2 options at Glacier. You either stay in one location your entire visit and do a lot of driving or else you split your trip up and stay part of the time on the West side and part on the East. We stayed only on the West side. We spent hours driving most days, but the scenery was so beautiful that none of us minded. (Do note, we left our campground between 4:30 and 6 the majority of our mornings there so we would be sure to get parking. Splitting up your lodging would mean you could sleep in slightly longer.) We were happy with our decision to stay in one location for this visit. If we return again, we will likely stay in 2 locations.

We stayed at West Glacier KOA and had a great experience and would stay there again if we return. The bathroom and shower building was nice and clean. The kids enjoyed the playground and pool.

The west side is closer to large grocery stores (Super 1 in Columbia Falls was 20 minutes from our campground) and the town of Kalispell (45 minutes from the KOA) which has a Wal-mart, Costco, and other major chain stores. If you stay on the east side, know that it is a much more rural area and you will have smaller, local stores available. You might want to make sure you double check your list and not forget anything if you stay on the east side.

I would not want to stay further away than West Glacier on the west side. Staying in Kalispell or Whitefish would have added around 45 minutes to our commute each day. (But again, we loved Glacier so much that if that was your only options, it’s still definitely worth going!)

Hikes (and areas to explore)

Lake McDonald Area:

Lake McDonald. We didn’t hike here, but did spend time wandering around the creek and lake. The colored rocks were a hit.

Fish Creek. We did this on our last day. The kids loved wading and playing in the water.

John Lake Trail. This was a short, very easy hike we did on our first afternoon. We called it a “warmup” hike for the longer ones that were coming later in the week.

Avalanche Lake (with Trail of the Cedars). My kids all loved this hike! It was about 6 miles long, round trip. The kids loved walking by a waterfall, huge boulders in a more forested section, and then arriving at the lake. They loved the lake. This would be a great place to bring a picnic lunch and let the kids play and wade in the water. Do note, this is a popular area and unless you arrive early, finding parking will take time and luck. We stuck it out and drove around a while and finally found one. (Pit toilet available near the lake.)

Many Glacier:

Iceberg Lake: This hike was a little over 10 miles, but I would consider it an easy hike. This hike turned into one of our big adventures on the trip because it started pouring (and sleeting) on us just as we arrived at the lake. In nicer weather, we would have enjoy exploring the lake area a bit more. You can park in the Swiftcurrent Inn parking lot. (Pit toilet available near the lake)

Grinnell Glacier: This was my favorite hike. In fact, the favorite that I’ve ever been on. It was challenging but the views were totally worth it and I would do it again. This was over 11 miles and rated hard on AllTrails. All three of my kids conquered it and say they were glad they did it. We arrived early in order to finding parking near the trailhead (bathrooms are available there as well). I’m glad we did, because it was 9.5 hours before we got back to the van and we had to drive back to the campsite. (Pit toilet available shortly before reaching the glacier.)

St. Mary and Logan Pass

St. Mary and Virginia Fall: This hike was another homerun. The kids loved these waterfalls (and the unnamed fall between them). This hike is going to be around 3 miles or more, depending on where you find a parking place. Again, parking is limited so you may have to park nearby and walk a little extra.

Highline Trail: This was a fun hike. You are on the side of the mountain and at one point on a cliff over Going to the Sun Road. You can go the entire 11.8 miles to The Loop or to Haystack Butte and back is a little over 8 miles. I didn’t want to push my kids on too many long hikes, so we just went a couple of miles out and came back. It’s a pretty hike being able to look down into the valley. The 3/10 of a mile on the cliff at the beginning of the trail did terrify my 8 year old. He crossed it and I had him go a little further but he was still panic-y, so my husband and he went back to the visitor center and the car. The 10 and 5 year old did fine crossing the cliff and kept going. Highline Trail and Hidden Lake share a parking lot at Logan Pass. Both are popular hikes so this lot will fill up fast, especially during peak months.

Hidden Lake: This is another popular hike we were going to do after Highline Trail. Unfortunately, it was closed for bear activity during our time at Glacier. We were able to see a momma bear and her 2 cubs hanging out near the visitor center.

Two Medicine

I really wanted to do some hikes in this area, but we ran out of time. It’s on my list for our next trip!

As you are planning your hikes, be sure to check out these sites for information:

Plan for back up hikes each day incase parking lots are full or trails are closed because of bear activity.

Here is how our itinerary went while at Glacier:

  • Day 1: arrive early afternoon. Hit up some gift shops in West Glacier waiting for check in time. Set up tent and head to the park. Went to Lake McDonald and John Lake Trail.
  • Day 2: Left at 4:30am to head to Grinnell Glacier. Got back in time for a late supper.
  • Day 3: Went on the Going to the Sun road, doing all of the pull offs we wanted to on the way to St. Mary Visitor Center. Went to St. Mary and Virginia Falls. Back to our campground for supper.
  • Day 4: Arrived at Logan Pass before 7. Hiked part of Highline (would have done Hidden Lake had it been open). Went to Hungry Horse Dam. Got back to campground in the afternoon and the kids played and swam.
  • Day 5: Iceberg Lake followed by ice cream in Apgar Village and dinner at the campground.
  • Day 6: Avalanche Lake followed by letting the kids play in Fish Creek before heading back to the campground to let the kids play at the playground, make supper, and starting organizing to leave.
  • Day 7: Left for our next destination.

Look down from Highline Trail at Glacier National Park

If you are making the same loop we did, here is my post on our visit to Yellowstone and Grand Teton! If you have any questions, let me know. We loved Glacier National Park and all say we want to return.

For another fun family trip idea, check out this post on the Black Hills and Badlands National Park.


What I Read in 2021

A stack of books I read in 2021 sitting on my swing.

Before we get started, I will say reading is something that I do to relax. I find it lifegiving – it’s not a chore. I also see it as a way to continue learning and exploring.

Since reading is something I want my kids to grow up loving, I invest time in reading chapter books aloud to them as well as picture books. (And audiobooks are great for roads trips with the kiddos. We utilized several on our 5400 mile trip this fall!)

Last year I read 68 books on my own and then read aloud/listened to the audio book of 38 books to/with the kids.

2 books on CD and other books I read in a pile on a front porch

Most of the books I read I either already own, where given to me, or I check our from the library or find used. Very few I purchase new to read.

I straight up like books so it can be hard for me to pick favorites. I most always learn something or see the world from another culture or perspective. Sometimes books are comfort reads too. Different books also speak to us more in different seasons of life. (So let me know what you like or are looking for in a book, and I can make a recommendations for you from this list!)

That said, I will try and narrow down my top picks in each category. I will have them all asterisked in my main book list so you can check them out!

Pile of books on a swing

Favorite Non Fiction Reads:
(Keep reading for links and the entire list!)

  • Experiencing God
  • How to Really Love Your Child
  • Prayer
  • Weep With Me
  • Delighting in the Trinity
  • Raising Worry-Free Girls
  • A Gospel Primer for Christians
  • In His Image
    (If you are struggling with tech boundaries in your house, I would highly recommend The Tech-Wise Family as well.)

11 of the books I read in 2021

Favorite Biography/Memoir/History Reads:
(Keep reading for links and the entire list!)

  • All Creatures Great and Small (I love reading his books!)
  • The Story of Christianity Volume 1 and 2 (on my list to re-read and take notes/dig into more to help with retaining the material)
  • Until We Meet Again
  • Reading Promise
  • Carved in Ebony
    (If you are a Gilmore Girls fan, be sure to read Talking as Fast as I Can. It’s a fast, fun read – perfect for taking on your summer vacation. I’m not even a fan girl of Gilmore Girls, but still enjoyed it!)

A small stack of books I read in 2021

Favorite Fiction Reads:
I’m trying to branch out and read modern fiction as well as classics (which is my go to).

  • The Chronicles of Narnia (still love these books)
  • We Were the Lucky Ones (fiction but based on a true story)
  • Sweep
  • The Girl With the Louding Voice
  • Orphan Train
  • Scottish Chiefs
    (I am also always a fan of anything George MacDonald, so those books rank high as well. And in high school I read all of Thomas Hardy’s books so it was fun to go back to Far from the Madding Crowd)

7 books I read stacked on a swing

Favorite Reads with the Kids:

  • All of a Kind Family
  • The Hundred Dresses
  • Twenty and Ten
    These first 3 were all books I loved as a kid and it was fun to read them with the kids.
  • The Rats of NIHM
  • The Warden and the Wolf King
  • The Summer of the Monkeys

You can keep reading for links to these books and to see everything I read last year!

A stack of books and audio books to read

What were some of your favorites?

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Non Fiction:
All That’s Good *
Lies Women Believe
Experiencing God *
The Great Divorce
The Tech-Wise Family
How to Really Love Your Child *
The Explosive Child
Prayer *
None Like Him
How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth
Gentle and Lowly
Weep with Me *
Flirtation Experiment
Delighting in the Trinity *
Raising Worry-Free Girls *
The Millionaire Next Door
A Gospel Primer for Christians *
Mama Bear Apologetics
The Creative Habit
Calm My Anxious Heart
You Can’t Make Me
In His Image *
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

All Creatures Great and Small *
The Story of Christianity Volume 1 *
The Story of Christianity Volume 2 *
This is Chance!
Autobiography of a People
Home Work
Talking as Fast as I Can
Until We Meet Again *
The Kidnap Years
The Reading Promise *
The Last Lecture
Carved in Ebony *
Flag of Our Fathers

2 stacks of books I read on a swing.

The Printed Letter Bookshop
We Were the Lucky Ones *
The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe *
Prince Caspian
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Silver Chair
The Horse and His Boy
The Magician’s Nephew
The Last Battle
Thirteen at Dinner
The Westing Game
Sweep *
The Kite Runner
The Girl with the Louding Voice *
Orphan Train *
The Scottish Chiefs *
Wuthering Heights
Listening for Lions
Pilgrim’s Inn
The Farthest Away Mountain
The Giver
Gathering Blue
The Maiden’s Bequest
The Baron’s Apprenticeship
Far From the Madding Crowd

Read with the Kids:
The Cabin Faced West
Ramona Quimby, Age 8
The Warden and the Wolf King* (8)
The Hundred Dresses * (5)
All of a Kind Family  * (8,10)
The Golden Goblet
Sarah Whitcher’s Story (5)
The Littles (5)
The Long Winter (10)
Twenty and Ten* (10)
Treasure of the Snow (10)
Sled Dog School  (8)
Number the Stars* (10)
Magic Treehouse 1-4 (8)
Flora & Ulysses
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM * (8)
The True Gift (8)
The Sign of the Beaver (8)
Mary Poppins
Farmer Boy
Hatchet (8)
Peter and the Starcatchers  (8)
Mara Daughter of the Nile (10)
Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg
My Father’s Dragon (5)
Choice Stories for Children
Puppy Lost in Lapland (8)
Pick of the Litter (8)
Meet Felicity (5)
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
The Tanglewood’s Secret
Fridays with the Wizard (5,8)
The Dog Who Thought He Was Santa (8)
Summer of the Monkeys *(5,8)
The Green Ember (8) (We listened to this on our road trip, and when it was done my husband said “that was a good story”)

I asked my kids their favorites from this list. They are marked above with their ages and also listed below:

My 5 year daughter’s favorites were: The Littles, Meet Felicity, Sarah Whitcher’s Story, Summer of the Monkeys, Fridays with the Wizard, My Father’s Dragon, and The Hundred Dresses.

My 8 year old son’s favorites were: Sled Dog School, Summer of the Monkeys, Dog Who Thought He Was Santa, Warden and the Wolf King, Hatchet, Magic Treehouse, Pick of the Litter, Puppy Lost in Lapland, Green Ember, Fridays with the Wizard, Sign of the Beaver, The True Gift, Sign of the Beaver

My 10 year old daughter’s favorites were: Warden and the Wolf King, Green Ember, All of a Kind Family, Mara Daughter of the Nile, Twenty and Ten, The Long Winter, Treasures of the Snow

If you need even more ideas, check out these posts from previous years:

a graphic that says list of 106 books I read in 2021

Planning a Trip to the Badlands and Black Hills

Picture of the presidents carved at Mount Rushmore

Are you planning a trip to the Badlands and Black Hills area? We went the summer of 2020 and had an amazing time! This post has what we did, tips, and information to help you plan your visit!

If you’ve already been to the Black Hills, be sure to check out these posts all about:
Glacier National Park
Yellowstone and Grand Teton

When To Go to the Badlands

There are no trees of any kind in the Badlands. Even though South Dakota is in the northern part of the US, it still gets hot during the summer. We went in June and some days were pleasant and others quite warm. I’d recommend May and June or waiting until mid to late September.

Custer State Park has many trees and lakes to enjoy. If you want to enjoy the water, wait until the weather warms up some, but not too much. (Or just know your day or 2 in the Badlands will be warm but enjoy the water and shade in Custer State Park the other days) 🙂

What Age Is Best for Kids

We went with my husband’s parents and his brother’s family. The ages ranged from 4 all the way to late 70s. All of my kids loved the trip (ages 4, 7, and 9) and so did the adults. When we left, everyone wanted to go back to the area again. My 4 year old was able to do all of the short hikes in the Badlands and was even a trooper and did a 4 mile one (rated difficult on All Trails) in Custer State Park.

This post has tips to help you road trip with toddlers!

What To Do in the Black Hills Area:

The following is what we did on our trip to South Dakota. This is a huge tourist area, so there are countless other things you can find to do as well. You can research to find things to fit your children’s interests and your family’s budget. I would have been more than happy just getting to explore the Badlands and Custer State Park on this trip, so if you are on a budget – you will still be able to make great memories.

The Mammoth SiteWe did this on our first day in the area. If your kids are into fossils and such, they will love getting to see an active dig site! The grandparents also paid for all of the kids to do the Paleontologist Excavation Program. (My 9 year old did the advanced program and the 4 and 7 year old the junior one.)

Reptile Garden: This is the place for reptile lovers. Lots of snakes and lizards. We happened to be there shortly after they fed they snakes and got to see several snakes in the process of swallowing mice. There is also a fun playground outside for younger kids. The huge tortoises were also outside and my 3 enjoyed that and a bird presentation was also going on as well. (We did this and Bear Country USA on the same day.)

Dinosaur Park: This is free and nothing fancy, but young dinosaur loving kids would probably enjoy a short stop. You walk up a hill and pass large dinosaur statues on the way.

A bear swimming at Bear Country USA in Rapid City

Bear Country USA: My kids thought it was a lot of fun getting to see so many bears and then other animals around the car as you are driving. There is also an area you can walk around that has animals once you complete the drive through. If our trip to South Dakota had been a year later, after we explored Glacier National Park and Yellowstone area and saw a dozen bears and numerous other animals in the wild, we could have done without Bear Country. But last summer the kids loved this.

Wall DrugThis is one of those places I would say is a tourist trap. It is free to walk around and the kids would say they liked it but I would say it’s okay to skip if you are short on time. Lots of souvenir shopping, if that’s your thing. There’s also a restaurant if you need to grab a bite to eat. Wall Drug is also known for free ice water and 5 cent coffee. We ate there, the kids shopped for souvenirs and enjoyed taking pictures on some of the structures in the Backyard.

Minuteman Missile Site and Visitor Center:  We stopped by this visitor center and one of the missile silos on our last day. It was free and worth a quick stop. I didn’t know much about this part of history, so it was interesting.

At one of the lookouts at the Badlands!

Badlands National ParkMy family loved the Badlands! This was such a fun place to explore. Parts of it felt like we were on the moon. This and Custer State Park were my 2 favorite parts of the trip. As I said earlier, there is no shade here, so if you do go in the hottest summer months plan to go early in the day. We went late June and spent the day here and were fine. We didn’t do any of the long trails, but I would recommend going on all of the short trails we did. Also, plan on driving all of the way through the park and stopping at the overlooks on each end!

Trails We Did:

  • Door Trail (short, easy hike that the kids actually did twice)
  • Window Trail
  • Notch Trail (A lot of fun! The hardest part is climbing the rope ladder)
  • Cliff Shelf
  • Saddle Pass (This hike is only .7 miles but was our favorite! You definitely want hiking shoes and maybe even your hiking poles because it is slippery on the way down and easy to lose your footing. We saw a rattlesnake on this hike)
  • There is also a .4 mile Fossil Exhibit Trail that was closed when we were there.

You can easily do all the above trails in 1 day and enjoy both lookout areas. There are also longer trails (4 mile and 11 mile and more) that you can look into. Notch and Saddle Pass were our 2 favorites. Watching a sunrise or sunset would also be gorgeous!

See this AllTrails link for information on the hikes!

Another view at Badlands National Park

Mount RushmoreThis was a pretty fast stop and I thought it was underwhelming. Maybe part of that had to do with the fact that the Avenue of Flags and Presidential Trail were both closed when we went. We walked around a little bit and went to the ranger talk at the Sculptor’s Studio. You probably want to go just because it’s an iconic landmark, but don’t overestimate it.

The faces carved at Mount Rushmore

Wind Cave National Park: This was closed when we went, but had it been open we definitely would have gone!

Custer State Park: loved Custer State Park (the kids did as well)! It was such a beautiful and relaxing area and a complete contrast to the Badlands. Highly recommend. If we were on this trip ourselves, I would have spent more time here.

Places to drive: Needles Highway, Iron Mountain Road, and the Wildlife Loop Road (similar to driving something like Lamar Valley at Yellowstone).

Hikes: Again, I didn’t get to spend as much time doing this as I liked but the one hike we made time for was at Sylvan Lake. Sylvan Lake was a beautiful area (and quite busy). We did the Sunday Gulch Trail (and you can easily include Sylvan Lake Shore Trail like we did) which is 4 miles and AllTrails rates it as challenging. My 4 year old was able to walk the entire way with some handholding and hosting to get her across the boulders. I highly recommend this trail!

Check out AllTrails for Custer State Park for more info on this and other hiking options! We want to go back and explore more. This Trail Pocket Book from Custer State Park also has good information.

Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway and D.C. Booth Historic Fish HatcheryThis was an easy and pretty drive! We stopped at the Bridal Veil Falls to take pictures and also did the short hike to Spearfish Falls.

My kids love fish hatcheries, so this was a fun and free excursion for them. We went June of 2020, so the museum and house were still closed to visitors. We did do the short hikes they have on the property.

Mt. Moriah Cemetery: We drove through the city of Deadwood and stopped at Mt. Moriah Cemetery because my father in law wanted us to see Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane’s graves. There is a $2 entrance fee and we spend some time walking throughout the cemetery.

Broken Boot Gold Mine: The kids all wanted to tour a gold mine, so their grandparents took everyone here and the 4 kids did the panning for gold as well. It was a fairly short tour and was fine, but I don’t know that I would do it again.

Picture of Broken Boot Gold Mine

Pirate’s Cove Mini Golf: We did this one evening because my kids and nephew really wanted to. It’s a nice course that you can find at several locations around the USA.

Other Options On Our List: These were other ideas my mother-in-law had that we did not make it to:

  • Air & Space Museum
  • Storybook Island
  • Rush Mountain Adventure Park
  • Main Street Square Splash Park

View looking into the Badlands

Where to Stay When Visiting the Black Hills

Anything in the Rapid City area would work. Also, look in the surrounding cities. We rented a house in Summerset and it worked fine. It was about 10-25 minutes to the different attractions in Rapid City and an hour to Badlands, Mount Rushmore, and Custer State Park and less than 45 minutes to the hatchery.


Everyone in our group had a great trip! Our family has talked about going again, especially to explore Custer State Park more and see Wind Cave. We’d definitely go back to Badlands for a day as well.

This is a great possibility for a family vacation! Kids as young as 4 will be able to participate and hike most everything. But it would still be fun with younger kids, you just might end up carrying them a bit depending on the trails you do. It’s also fun for older kids and adults! So many interesting places to explore.

Again, you can do this on any budget. Stick to the state and national parks to keep things frugal and you will still have a great trip. Add in a tourist attraction or two if your budget and time allows. Either way, you will love exploring and creating memories.

A year later we went to Glacier National Park and Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. These posts have all the details of what we did and where we stayed there! They were the perfect following up to the Black Hills.

Easy 5 Ingredient Instant Pot Recipes

Collage of 4 5 ingredient Instant Pot Recipes

Do you have an Instant Pot and are looking for some new recipes to try? Check out this list of 5 Ingredient Instant Pot Recipes!

That’s right, 5 ingredients. (And full disclosure, I’m not counting salt, pepper, water, and oil for sautéing as ingredients! That would be a little too extreme and not enough flavor!)

Dinner will be fast, easy, and even budget friendly. Many of these easy Instant Pot meals use ingredients you most likely already have in your kitchen. That’s a lot of wins!

Add in a salad, roasted veggies, or even just some baby carrots and cucumbers and you are ready for supper.

Keep scrolling to the end of the list and there are a couple options you could even use for breakfast for dinner.

For all you Instant Pot pros, what 5 ingredient Instant Pot recipes do I need to know about?!

[For more budget friendly dinner ideas, check out this list of 27 Kid Friendly Meals under $5]

15+ 5 Ingredient Instant Pot Recipes

5 Ingredient Instant Pot Spaghetti 

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 pound spaghetti noodles
  • 2 24 ounce jars marinara sauce
  • 3 cups water

Check out the Recipe Critic for all of the details!

5 Ingredient Instant Pot Chicken Noodle Soup

  • 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 carrot peeled and chopped
  • 1 stalk celery sliced
  • 2 oz uncooked extrawide egg noodles about 1 cup dry
  • 4 cups Chicken Broth

See Instant Pot for the details!

5 Ingredient Instant Pot Tomato Soup

  • 2 28 ounce cans whole tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

See Grace and Good Eats for the recipe!

5 Ingredient Instant Pot Mac and Cheese

  • 1 pound uncooked elbow macaroni
  •  4 cups water
  •  4 tablespoons salted butter
  •  ¾ teaspoon salt
  •  ½ teaspoon dried mustard powder
  •  3 cups shredded cheese
  •  1 1/4 cup whole milk or half and half

Check out Little Spice Jar for the details!

5 Ingredient Instant Pot Pulled Pork

  • tablespoons butter
  • to 4 lb boneless pork shoulder
  • cup chicken broth 
  • tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • tablespoons soy sauce
  • 10 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1teaspoon salt

Check out Pillsbury for the whole recipe.

5 Ingredient Instant Pot Broccoli

5 Ingredient Instant Pot Salsa Shredded Chicken

  • 3 pounds boneless chicken
  • 1 1/2 cups salsa
  • 4 ounces diced green chilis
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

See Never Ending Journeys for the details.

5 Ingredient Instant Pot Enchilada Casserole

  • 1 pound ground beef or turkey
  • 1 (15 oz) can enchilada sauce
  • 1 (4.5 oz) can green chiles
  • 10 (6 inch) soft corn tortillas
  • 1 ½ cups grated sharp or medium cheddar

365 Days of Crockpot has the recipe for you!

2 Ingredient Instant Pot BBQ Chicken

  • 3 chicken breasts
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup bbq sauce

Veronika’s Kitchen has the details.

5 Ingredient Instant Pot Teriyaki Chicken

  • 15 ounces teriyaki sauce
  • 1.5-2 pounds boneless chicken
  • 1 cup pineapple
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce

See The Typical Mom for the recipe.

5 Ingredient Instant Pot Chili

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cans kidney beans
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes with green chilis
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • salt and pepper
  • hot water

The full recipe is at My Freeze Easy.

5 Ingredient Instant Pot Whole Chicken

  • Whole chicken
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

You can find all the details on Snug and Cozy Life.

5 Ingredient Instant Pot Carnitas

  • 2 1/2-3 pounds boneless pork shoulder
  • 1 tablespoon Mexican seasoning
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • black pepper
  • Juice of 2 oranges
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tablespoon ghee

Find the instructions at A Calculated Whisk.

5 Ingredient Instant Pot Fried Rice

  • 2 cups rice
  • 2 1/2 cups broth
  • 2 carrots
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 2 medium eggs
  • salt and pepper

The recipe is on Happy Foods Tube.

3 Ingredient Instant Pot Oatmeal

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 2 cups almond milk
  • pinch salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup

Check out Fit Foodie Finds for the details!

5 Ingredient Instant Pot Egg Casserole

  • 6 slices bacon
  • 2 cups hashbrowns
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • pepper

The full recipe is on Kitschen Kat

If this list of 5 ingredient Instant Pot recipes isn’t enough, check out these other Instant Pot Ideas:

pictures of 4 different 5 ingredient Instant Pot recipes