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Yellowstone for Families

Gone Geyser Gazing
Yellowstone for Families
Memories to last a lifetime are made in Yellowstone, the perfect place for a family getaway. Kids love geyser gazing, Mom and Dad love lazy Sunday afternoon picnics, and the entire family will go wild for backcountry adventures.
Photo courtesy of Jim Peaco/Yellowstone NPS
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    Gone Geyser Gazing
    Gone Geyser Gazing
    Yellowstone is the world’s largest geothermal wonderland, home to more than 500 bubbling geysers. Always-reliable Old Faithful puts on an impressive show every 35 to 120 minutes; each can last nearly five minutes. In the Upper Geyser Basin, Riverside Geyser, located on the Firehole River, blasts water 75 feet into the air, often resulting in spectacular rainbows. Four and a half miles south of Norris, you’ll find the trailhead for the  Artist’s Paint Pots Trail, leading to some of the park’s most beautiful hot springs and mini geysers—and to many of Yellowstone’s animal residents.
    Photo courtesy of Jim Peaco/Yellowstone NPS
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    Life’s a Picnic
    Life’s a Picnic
    Yogi Bear is spoiled for choice when it comes to snatching picnic baskets—Yellowstone has 52 designated picnic areas scattered throughout the park. Each site has picnic tables and most have vault toilets. Camping stoves and self-contained charcoal grills may be used in designated spots, while campfires may be lit only in locations with fire grates. (FYI, it’s not cheating to arrive with a pre-packed picnic. Sweet Cheek Meats, in Jackson, makes huge custom sandwiches as well as prepared foods.) The Madison campsite (near Old Faithful and the West Entrance) is the only location with potable water; visitors are advised to pack in and pack out their water at all other locations. A picnic under the vertical rock columns of Sheepeater Cliff (south of Mammoth) is a unique experience and may yield yellow-bellied marmot sightings. The Yellowstone River Picnic Area is a great place to begin a wildlife excursion.
    Photo by Jader Alto/age fotostock
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    Chasing Waterfalls
    Chasing Waterfalls
    Yellowstone is home to hundreds of waterfalls, with many residing deep in the backcountry miles from marked trails. Good news for families with small kids, though: Some of the biggest, boldest, and most famous of the park’s waterworks are just a short walk from a parking lot or trailhead. The Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River are without question the park’s most remarkable water features, and star in countless postcard-perfect photographs every year. Gibbon Falls, in the northwestern corner of the park, plunges 84 feet down a dramatic rock face set against a mountainous backdrop. In Yellowstone’s southwestern corner, an area known as Cascade Corner for its number of waterfalls, there’s Cave Falls, at 250 feet the widest waterfall in the park. Moose Falls is the first waterfall visitors will encounter when approaching the park from the South Entrance.
    Photo courtesy of Jim Peaco/Yellowstone NPS
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    Cowboy for a Day
    Cowboy for a Day
    Call in at the Roosevelt Lodge and saddle up for an Old West cookout unlike any you’ve experienced. The three-hour program begins with either a horseback ride or covered wagon journey to Yancy’s Hole, where cooks stoke the coals and stir up hearty cowboy grub (steaks, Roosevelt baked beans, corn bread, and more). Old-timers regale the family with tall tales and flights of fancy, and then offer everyone an opportunity to join in an Old West sing-along. If that’s not enough rootin’-tootin’ fun, you can climb aboard a historic stagecoach at the Roosevelt corral and prime your pioneer spirit on a cowboy adventure.
    Photo courtesy of Jody Lyle/Yellowstone NPS
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    Easy Overnighters for the Family
    Easy Overnighters for the Family
    Camping in Yellowstone is a quintessential American experience that will make a lasting impression on the whole family, whether you choose to rough it on an overnight pack trip, car camp near one of the big attractions, or relax in the comfy confines of a new RV. Tower Falls Campground is popular with first-time visitors and families due to its proximity to the falls, Mammoth, and the Lamar Valley. Canyon Village Campground earns bonus points for its Yellowstone-central location and beautiful natural surroundings. Farther removed from the park’s main facilities, Norris Campground sits near the Solfatara trailhead and features an amphitheater where rangers present lectures. The Norris Geyser Basin is also nearby.
    Photo courtesy of Jim Peaco/Yellowstone NPS
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    Family-Friendly Treks
    Family-Friendly Treks
    Yellowstone features more than 1,100 miles of well-maintained trails, many of which are family-friendly. The Cascade Loop is an easy 4.5-mile trail that is most beautiful in June and July, when wildflowers paint the Cascade Lake meadows in brilliant colors. Observation Peak, three miles from Cascade Lake, presents tremendous views of Hayden Valley, Grebe Lake, and the Central Plateau. The Pelican Creek Trail, near the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center, is an easy one-mile loop that provides plenty of opportunities to spot Yellowstone’s many species of birds. Fit families can go after the park’s best views by hiking the 6.4-mile trail to the peak of Mount Washburn, in the Tower-Roosevelt area.
    Photo courtesy of Jim Peaco/Yellowstone NPS
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    Junior Ranger Journeys
    Junior Ranger Journeys
    Young visitors and honorary Wyomingites between the ages of five and 12 can become Junior Park Rangers by picking up a free activity booklet at any Yellowstone Visitor Center in the park. Becoming a Junior Ranger requires a youngster to review their bookwork with a full-fledged ranger, who will then award an official Yellowstone Junior Ranger patch. Students aged five and older can also become Yellowstone Young Scientists after completing the necessary field and study requirements outlined in the Young Scientist Program booklet ($5, available at the Old Faithful Visitor Center and the Canyon Visitor Education Center). Collecting both badges makes an excellent memento for show-and-tell back at school.
    Photo by Claudio Beduschi/age fotostock
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    For Knowledge of the Wild
    For Knowledge of the Wild
    The legendary park rangers at Yellowstone remain a wonderful source of information for all things wild and untamed, and can provided guided tours of some of the park’s most important historic sites and natural wonders. Among them are the Fort Yellowstone Historic District, which includes some of the oldest buildings in the park, and the Museum of the National Park Ranger, housed in the Norris Soldier Station. Yellowstone Forever, a nonprofit formed in 2017 when the Yellowstone Association merged with the Yellowstone Park Foundation, offers programs ranging in length from one day to three weeks for all ages, including the “My Yellowstone Adventure” series of expeditions, “Wolf Discovery” seminars, and classes like “Keeping a Travel Sketchbook,” “Snow Tracking,” and “High Country Wildflowers.” The Old Faithful Virtual Visitor Center is a great place to learn about hot springs, steam, lava, and brimstone.
    Photo courtesy of Jim Peaco/Yellowstone NPS
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    Meet the Bison (and Wolves)
    Meet the Bison (and Wolves)
    A self-guided drive through the famous Lamar Valley will often put you within sight of herds of bison, elk, and deer and even the occasional black bear, grizzly, or pack of wolves (obviously, don’t approach the animals and never offer them food). Hit the Lamar Valley in winter for the best chances of spotting wolves (winter is prime wolf-watching time because their often-dark coats stand out against the white snow). Hayden Valley is grizzly territory; the bears prey on young elk and bison in the spring and early summer in this region of the park. Hayden is also a prime stomping ground for the Yellowstone bison herd. Coyotes, bald eagles, trumpeter swans, and other residents of the park frequent the area, too. Sign up for Yellowstone’s Historic Yellow Bus Tour, a five-hour expedition for up to 12 passengers that’s designed to introduce visitors to the park’s most precious inhabitants in the safest way possible.
    Photo courtesy of Jim Peaco/Yellowstone NPS
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    Paradise Valley Playground
    Paradise Valley Playground
    Nestled under the wing of the Absaroka Mountains in Montana’s Paradise Valley and a 20-minute drive from the northern Yellowstone boundary, Chico Hot Springs are an opportunity for rejuvenation—and a must on any Yellowstone travel itinerary. Native Americans first used the bubbling springs for laundry and bathing. Today, the spring-fed pools are enjoyed by families year-round. Chico Hot Springs Resort & Day Spa features rustic log cabins, chalets, luxury cottages, and traditional suites. The resort can arrange horseback rides, rafting trips, dogsled treks, and more. Dinner in the Chico Hot Springs Dining Room is one of the finest Western cuisine experiences you’ll ever have, with local favorites like barbecue bison short rib ravioli.
    Photo by Megan Ahrens