When my kids were younger, both of them absolutely adored Yogi Bear and his pal Boo Boo, we even have a black Lab named Yogi and Maltese cross named Boo Boo thanks to them! That obviously means that Jellystone Park is ALWAYS on our list of fun summer destinations – no matter what we do that year. For those of you that don’t know – Jellystone Park is based on Yellowstone Park!
And whether you’re a Yogi Bear fan or not, and no matter how old you are, Yellowstone Park is one of those places that you absolutely have to visit at least once in your life! We usually stay outside the park for a week or more at a time, and of course we have our ‘pic-a-nic’ baskets stocked full of bait intended to lure Yogi from his cave and enjoy day tripping or a couple of nights in the park.
A friend recently asked me for inspiration so I’ve consulted with mine and put together a list of all their favorite places to go and things to do to help her out and make sure her kids have as much fun as mine always do.
My first word is to make sure you ALWAYS have plenty of water, a pic-a-nic basket with snacks and real food (cold chicken, sandwiches, fresh fruit, etc), sunscreen (even in winter), a change of clothes, towels, a small first aid kit and a phone with a fully charged battery. Whether you’re out on foot, or in your car – it is best to be as prepared for anything that might occur as possible! I usually get a list and stock up on my holiday supplies beforehand at such shops as Sears to make sure I have everything necessary in a time of need.
Go See The Old Faithful Geyser
I don’t care how cliché and ‘duh’ it is - you absolutely have to take your kids to see Old Faithful. Thanks to volcanism that is still bubbling away beneath the ground, Yellowstone is home to thousands of geysers, mud pots, hot springs, and things that bring a witches cauldron to mind (splash, bubble, hisssss, plop!). But none of them compare to the absolute awesomeness of a geyser that blasts up to 8,400 gallons of water as much as 185 feet in the air. And because those eruptions happen like clockwork you can time your visit!
It’s normally pretty crowded on the boardwalk surrounding the geyser so we usually combine a visit with a meal at the Old Faithful Inn. We sit on the upstairs deck, and enjoy the show from over the heads of the crowd while we munch on whatever takes our fancy that day and sip our favorite beverages. If the weather is not too friendly, we simply move indoors and enjoy the show through the windows.
Find Some Witches Cauldron Pools
Did I mention there are THOUSANDS of places where bubbling, splashing and hissing happens? All that volcanic activity has made for a landscape that is so utterly unique it is hard to describe to someone who has never seen it. But one of the most beautiful, eerie, and weird (therefore perfect for kids) things to see are the various multihued prismatic pools. They’re just water, but thanks to bacteria and acid they can be all shades of red, brown, yellow, green and even blue!
The Grand Prismatic Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin is the most colorful, and after a couple of days of sunshine it looks like Mother Nature has been playing with kaleidoscopes again. If you’re not fond of crowds then visit the Norris Geyser Basin. It is home to the Steamboat Geyser (tallest active geyser in the world), and features colorful hot springs and steaming pools that create a spooky lunar like landscape – especially at dusk!
Take A Bike, A Hike, A Horse Ride Or A Drive
Yellowstone is so big that it would take you about four days to see the highlights alone. But there are hiking, biking and walking trails – as well as roads that will take you to some breathtaking (and a few kind of boring) places. Some of the trails are better suited to older kids and parents who are more fit, others can be done by anyone. Some are quick and others will take as long as four or five hours. So make sure you choose wisely!
You can also rent bicycles (along with helmets and gloves) at the Old Faithful Inn, and if your kids are over 8, you can take a one or two hour ride on horseback to some pretty beautiful spots. There are also quite a few places that you can drive to, such as the lookout points in the Hayden and Lamarr Valleys where you can view wildlife including bison, bears and wolves right from the comfort (and safety) of your car. When we’re driving from place to place we play the number plate game, or enjoy audio books while watching the scenery.
There’s Lots Of STUFF To Do
There are ten museums, and information, visitor and education centers or stations and they all have something unique to offer. So, if you’re in the park and the weather is not really outdoor activity friendly then find out which of the ones close to you have an exhibit or other service that you and the kids might enjoy, then take a drive out there. Or else, take a drive to one of the more than twenty restaurants, dining rooms, cafeterias or stores inside Yellowstone and pick a souvenir or just enjoy a tasty meal.
There is also the Young Scientist Program which combines investigation in the visitor’s centers and in the field designed to help you solve some fun science mysteries. It is suited for kids of all ages and when you’re done you get a Young Scientist patch or key chain. The Junior Rangers program is also pretty fun and introduces kids to all the natural wonders of the park. And when you’re done, a ranger reviews your work and awards you with a special badge (my oldest has all three, even though he isn’t even 13 yet!).
So there you have all the things my kids love to do, but you can also visit the National Park Service website and use their ‘Every Kid in a Park’ section to plan your trip and check out some basic information, places to eat or sleep, things to do, places to see and even nearby attractions so you don’t waste a single moment of your trip!