Old Faithful, a geyser that erupts about every 92 minutes, should be on your itinerary at Yellowstone National Park.
But visitors rarely say it’s the highlight of their day, said Jason Williams, founder and CEO of Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris. For families especially, there’s much more to see.
At America’s first national park, kids of all ages will enjoy mild adventures and educational opportunities across nearly 900,000 hectares of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Williams, who has been guiding tours of the park for 14 years, attests that the experiences below are the ones that really resonate with kids.
1. Spot Bears and Wolves
“Kids tend to report that seeing the wildlife is the highlight of their trip,” Williams said. The northeast corner of Yellowstone sees very little tourist traffic, but it has some of the best chances for animal sightings. The animals spotted most often are bears and wolves, and the park is also one of the few places in the world where you can see free-roaming bison.
If your kids love nature, sign them up for the Yellowstone National Park Junior Ranger Program!
Tip: Take a tour. The guides know where to look for resident wolf packs and bears. “We know where bears have been day in and day out, so generally we’re going to have a higher success rate than personal trips,” Williams noted.
For a better chance of spotting wildlife, visit the northern parts of the park. More remote areas see more animal activity.
2. See the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Carved by volcanic activity, melting glaciers and erosion, this 32-kilometer-long canyon will take your little ones’ breath away. “Of all the [geological] and scenic stops, this isn’t one to miss,” Williams said. “It’s easily a couple-hour endeavor.” It’s also in a less-crowded section of the park (about an hour’s drive northeast of Old Faithful), so you’ll have solitude and clear vantage points all around you.
Tip: Explore trails that lead to beautiful overlooks, and make sure your camera is ready!
The impressive Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was carved by the Yellowstone River. Traveling more than 950 kilometers, the Yellowstone River is the longest undammed river in the continental United States.
3. Take Advantage of Ranger Talks and Walks
“For visitors who can make it work with their schedules, these talks are a great free resource,” Williams said. Check any of the main visitor centers for information on ranger-led programs.
Tip: Junior Ranger and Young Scientist programs give kids ages 4 to 10 an educational way to view park locations and earn a patch at the end of the day. You can pick up a guidebook at the park’s visitor centers (US$3 or US$5) before exploring the park on your own or on an organized tour.
Your kids will love learning more about the park's incredible sites and unique wildlife from Yellowstone park rangers.
4. Old Faithful Inn
While you wait for the geyser to erupt, check out the biggest log hotel in the world, which was built in 1903–1904. Its large stone fireplace and copper, wood and wrought iron clock are reminders of an era long ago.
Tip: What family outing is complete without ice cream? Stop in the gift shop and visit a traditional ice cream counter. Taste the huckleberry flavor, which is very popular out West.
The Old Faithful Inn, a national historic landmark, offers tours and educational programs for kids.