There are so many things to do in Yellowstone National Park, but we narrow it down to the best Yellowstone attractions for kids and families: including the best hikes in Yellowstone for kids, the best geyser basins to visit with kids, and a Yellowstone itinerary that’s right for your family. Here’s what to do in Yellowstone National Park.
Top 10 Things To Do in Yellowstone
On your first trip to Yellowstone, you want to make sure you don’t miss a thing, but you also don’t want to get overwhelmed by the crowds and abundance of Yellowstone Park attractions.
It’s a big park and there is a lot to do. Think of this as your Yellowstone family vacation planner (and if you want an in-depth Yellowstone trip planner, start at the Planning Your Trip to Yellowstone page and then check out my Yellowstone itineraries).
Depending on how many days in Yellowstone you have scheduled, you may or may not be able to see everything on this list. These 23 family activities in Yellowstone are in geographic order, not in order of importance. They are all awesome!
There are even more summer activities in Yellowstone over here.
Best Time To Visit Yellowstone With Family
Personally, I think Yellowstone in winter is magical. It’s less crowded, the big animals are down low, and the park can be explored on skis or snowshoes. In the video, I mentioned Yellowstone Expedition’s Yurt Camp at Canyon and staying at the Snow Lodge at Old Faithful in winter. You can also ski around Mammoth, Tower, and West Yellowstone.
That said, most people come in summer. The roads are open; temperatures are moderate and mostly warm. For an iconic Yellowstone vacation, you need to come in the summer. Just be prepared for crowds. There are a lot of things to do in Yellowstone in July and August. You can get much farther into the backcountry on foot or horse and see the trout spawn (and the otters eat them) at Trout Lake.
Spring, after the roads open, can be really nice, but it will probably be cold and wet. You will likely see lots of baby animals, though, and that’s pretty special. We love seeing the baby bison or “red dogs” each spring and early summer. A great time to bike in the park is in April before the roads open to regular traffic.
Fall is also a great time to visit Yellowstone. The crowds thin out after Labor Day, though not nearly as much as they used to, and roads to the Yellowstone top attractions are open. The weather can be sunny or warm in autumn or it can snow.
- 1 Top 10 Things To Do in Yellowstone
- 2 Best Time To Visit Yellowstone With Family
- 3 Must-See Yellowstone Attractions
- 4 Take a Family Photo at the Roosevelt Arch
- 5 Soak in the Boiling River [CLOSED]
- 6 Mammoth Hot Springs
- 7 Hike the Beaver Pond Trail
- 8 Go Horseback Riding
- 9 Yellowstone Visitor Centers
- 10 Gaze at Undine Falls
- 11 Learn About Fire Ecology on the Forces of Nature Self-Guiding Trail
- 12 Eat a Wild West Chuckwagon Dinner
- 13 Explore Calcite Springs Overlook and Tower Falls
- 14 Watch Wildlife in the Lamar Valley
- 15 Hike to Trout Lake
- 16 Norris Geyser Basin
- 17 Picnic in Yellowstone
- 18 Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
- 19 Get Ice Cream
- 20 Watch Old Faithful Erupt
- 21 Ride a Bike to Morning Glory Pool or Lone Star Geyser
- 22 Cross the Continental Divide Twice
- 23 Yellowstone Lake
- 24 West Thumb Geyser Basin
- 25 See the Natural Bridge
- 26 Listen for the Dragon at Mud Volcano
- 27 Things To Do Near Yellowstone
- 28 More Tips for Visiting Yellowstone
Must-See Yellowstone Attractions
Take a Family Photo at the Roosevelt Arch
When you enter the park through the North Entrance from Gardiner, Montana for the first time, you must see the Roosevelt Arch. Drive through the arch and park just beyond it, then walk through it to stage your family photo. Watch for cars!
Bonus- Use the Yellowstone National Park entrance sign as a backdrop for another photo.
Soak in the Boiling River [CLOSED]
EDIT: The Boiling River is closed, probably permanently. The flood in June 2022 washed out the road to the parking area and changed the river and the springs.
One of the Yellowstone National Park attractions that has become very popular in the last five to ten years is the Boiling River between Mammoth Hot Springs and Gardiner, Montana. It’s one of two front country locations in the park where you can get into hot water. The other is the Firehole River, which is more warm than hot.
When you are thinking about how to visit Yellowstone, consider the Boiling River as a place to visit in fall or winter. The area is closed in spring and early summer when the Gardner River is high and floods the soaking pools. Summer is absolutely nuts, with both parking lots filled and cars parked up and down the road. I don’t know that you can even fit that many people in the soaking area.
If this is on your list of places to see in Yellowstone and you are only coming in summer, try to get there as early as possible in the morning (it’s open during daylight hours).
I wrote a lot more about how to visit the Boiling River in another post if you want to see how things used to be.
Mammoth Hot Springs
Get oriented at the Albright Visitor Center and learn about the park’s wildlife (each visitor center has a different theme!). You can also pick up or turn in a Junior Ranger packet here and then explore the Mammoth Terraces.
We always stop for ice cream at the Geyser Grill after a day in the park. (Ice cream is so important to my family that it has its own section below.)
Hike the Beaver Pond Trail
One of my family’s favorite hikes has always been the Beaver Pond Trail. It doesn’t have anything super spectacular like waterfalls or geysers, but it is lovely and quiet. We’ve seen bison, bears, otters, and other wildlife along the trail or in the ponds.
The first 0.75 miles of the trail is uphill, but after that, the trail undulates gently for a total of 5 miles. Even though it is close to all of the hubbub of Mammoth, it doesn’t get a lot of traffic and you feel like you are “out there.”
(The trail is a little less wild after the Park Service moved the North Entrance Road following the 2022 flood. They moved the electric lines as well – closer to the trail. I think the trail will recover in the upcoming years.)
See other hikes for kids in Yellowstone (or anyone that wants an “easier” hike) in my 20 Family-Friendly Hikes in Yellowstone book.
Go Horseback Riding
There are a couple of places to ride horses in the park and several outside the park in Gardiner, West Yellowstone, and Cody.
Kids and families can ride horses in Yellowstone from the Roosevelt Corrals around Roosevelt and Canyon. Don’t forget to make reservations in advance, as these tours can be in high demand during the busy summer season.
Yellowstone Visitor Centers
To get maps and learn more about what to see in Yellowstone, stop by one of the visitor centers. This is also the place to learn about Yellowstone National Park activities and the Junior Ranger program. The rangers at the desk can make sure you see the best of Yellowstone.
Visitor Centers enrich your Yellowstone Park trip in another way—education. Each center has a different theme.
You can read about the ten Visitor Centers and their interpretive topics here.
Related: Get Your Kids Ready For Your Yellowstone Trip (games, books, and videos)
Gaze at Undine Falls
An ‘undine’ is a water nymph or sprite who could become human only when she fell in love with a mortal man. However, if the mortal was unfaithful to her, he was destined to forfeit his life, according to Greek mythology. See if you can spot any in the falls.
Learn About Fire Ecology on the Forces of Nature Self-Guiding Trail
Formerly the Children’s Fire Trail, interpretive signs along a short boardwalk trail describe the role of fire in the Yellowstone ecosystem. Plus, there are fun rocks and logs to climb on.
Eat a Wild West Chuckwagon Dinner
For a real Western experience, ride a horse or in a wagon to an Old West Dinner Cookout. Steak, beans, corn muffins, and more make up a dinner cooked by wranglers. Enjoy a campfire and a singing cowboy, as well. Make a reservation as this fills up.
Explore Calcite Springs Overlook and Tower Falls
From the short boardwalk trail, you and your kiddos can look down into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone at some hot springs by the river. Even more exciting, according to my kids is that you can often see osprey and peregrine falcons hunting above the Yellowstone River. A peregrine falcon has been nesting in the rocks across the river every summer for years, so keep an eye out for her and her chicks.
Watch Wildlife in the Lamar Valley
Standing around or driving up and down the valley looking for animals can be a little boring for kids. Make it fun for the family by picking up a wildlife checklist at an entrance kiosk or visitor center.
My kids always appreciated wildlife watching with a guide. The guides are great at finding animals, so there is less driving around trying to figure out where they are. And guides have great stories and information that make the whole day more interesting.
Take a shorter wildlife-watching tour like Xanterra’s Wake Up to Wildlife, which includes snacks. Some tour companies, including Walking Shadow Ecology Tours of Yellowstone, specialize in kid and family-friendly tours. As with most activities in the Yellowstone area, make a reservation!
Hike to Trout Lake
The hike to Trout Lake is short with a big payoff. The 0.05 miles from the trailhead to the lake is steep, but before you know it, you are at a lovely lake surrounded by wildflowers. In late June/early July, trout spawn up the shallow inlet stream, their fins above water as they struggle their way up. Often a family of otters is nearby, playing and occasionally eating the fish. We’ve also seen bald eagles hunting trout here.
Norris Geyser Basin
One of the best places to visit in Yellowstone National Park, in my opinion, is Norris Geyser Basin. It is so much mellower than the other geyser basins in the park, probably because it requires a little walking. The tallest geyser in Yellowstone (Steamboat Geyser) is there, but you are unlikely to see it erupt.
Norris Geyser Basin is very acidic. (The acidity of a thermal area depends on the rock that hot water travels through to get to the surface.) I’ve heard, but not confirmed, that the rangers there have to replace their boots more often than in other places in the park due to the acid levels in the soil eating away at their soles. However, you should be safe on your Yellowstone Park vacation since most of the walking here is on boardwalks.
Another fact that makes Norris one of the cool things to see in Yellowstone National Park is that it is so hot. The highest temperature found in any of Yellowstone’s geothermal areas was measured here: 459°F (237°C) just 1,087 feet (326 meters) below the surface! There are very few thermal features at Norris under the boiling point (199°F at this elevation).
There are two parts of Norris Geyser Basin—Porcelain Basin and Back Basin. A ¾ mile trail takes you around Porcelain Basin and past beautiful hot springs and gurgling pools. A 1.5-mile trail loops through Back Basin and the trails can be connected.
Also, don’t miss the small museum. The Norris Geyser Basin Museum is one of the original trailside museums built in the 1920s and 30s as part of Civilian Conservation Corps projects. You can get Yellowstone information here and visit the adjacent bookstore.
Picnic in Yellowstone
One of my favorite things to see in Yellowstone is a picnic bench; that’s because it means it’s lunchtime. The reason that picnicking made the “Top Things To Do in Yellowstone” list is that most of the picnic areas are scenic. It’s so nice to stop, relax, and just soak in Yellowstone.
If you watched our video above about what to do in Yellowstone National Park and are wondering which picnic area we ate it is the Virginia Cascades Picnic Area. (47 on the YNP Picnic Area Map.) It’s on the one-way road that passes Virginia Cascades. I think it’s one of the best places in Yellowstone for a picnic both because it’s lovely and because it’s between Norris Geyser Basin and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. It’s a great spot for a break between two popular Yellowstone sights.
Warm Creek (37) is my absolute favorite picnic area. It’s all the way out near the Northeast Entrance, so you need to be out that way to make it worth a stop. There are seven picnic tables set in the trees along a creek.
The picnic areas all have picnic tables, most have vault toilets, a few have fire grates, but only Madison Junction (2) has potable water. More on Yellowstone National Park picnic areas on the Park Service website.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
A Yellowstone “must see” that’s right up there with Old Faithful is the Yellowstone Canyon. Start with a visit to the Canyon Visitor Education Center to get a lay of the land. In addition to learning about the geology of Yellowstone, and specifically the Canyon area, they can tell where to go to see the Yellowstone points of interest at Canyon.
I wrote about my favorite places in Canyon here.
If you get to the east side of the park when you are visiting Yellowstone National Park, you’ll want to allot a few hours to the Canyon area. The Yellowstone River cuts through the canyon creating two waterfalls and exposing colorful, thermally altered canyon walls. Take time to see both the North Rim and the South Rim.
On the north side, the Brink of Lower Falls is a Yellowstone National Park “must see,” if you can handle the short, steep walk. On the south side, don’t miss Artist Point. It will be nuts with people, but still worth that view. We also like to take the 2-mile walk to Ribbon Lake, which leaves from Artist Point. It is remarkably uncrowded.
Get Ice Cream
I told you I would get back to this! We always get ice cream when we visit Yellowstone in summer. In winter we get hot chocolate.
There is a place to buy ice cream by the scoop in every village and at Tower Falls. Plus, the General Stores and other markets sell packaged ice cream. A fun treat is to visit the soda fountain in Canyon Village.
Watch Old Faithful Erupt
One of the best things to do in Yellowstone National Park and one of the “Yellowstone Top 10” is a visit to Old Faithful Geyser.
It’s crowded and crazy, but it’s one of the reasons we have a National Park System and it’s the iconic Yellowstone attraction.
I wrote a lot about visiting the geyser and the Old Faithful Lodge Yellowstone in another post, so suffice it to say, it is one of the top things to do in Yellowstone National Park and you should make it happen at least once.
Ride a Bike to Morning Glory Pool or Lone Star Geyser
There are only a few places in Yellowstone that are safe and legal to ride bikes, and two of them are at Old Faithful. Rent bikes at The Bear Den in the Snow Lodge at Old Faithful and ride to Morning Glory Hot Springs or Lone Star Geyser.
They run out of bikes, so get there early! Get all the details about biking in Yellowstone.
Cross the Continental Divide Twice
If you have a geography and map lover in your family like I do – hi, Anders! – you will want to drive from Old Faithful Area to West Thumb over Craig Pass. Because of the way the mountains turn and bend, you cross the Continental Divide twice!
The Continental Divide separates the watersheds that drain into the Pacific Ocean from those river systems that drain into the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.
Stop at Isa Lake at the western crossing of the Divide to stand on both sides, take a photo with the Continental Divide sign, and picnic at the pretty lake (more of a pond).
The Park Service says, “Isa Lake at Craig Pass was, at one time, probably the only lake on Earth that drained naturally backwards to two oceans, the east side draining to the Pacific and the west side to the Atlantic. If this still occurs, it is only at the peak of snow melt after winters with deep snowfall.”
There are many Yellowstone highlights, but not everyone gets to Yellowstone Lake—the largest alpine lake in the United States. This is definitely one of the quieter sections of the park. Much activity centers around the Lake Yellowstone Hotel, a recently renovated, but beautiful old building on the shore of the lake. (Make reservations if you want to eat here or at any of Yellowstone’s other dining rooms.) You can also stay at the cabins at Lake Lodge Yellowstone, behind the hotel.
See my post on Where To Stay in Yellowstone for more lodging options.
At Lake, you can hire a Yellowstone guide for a scenic boat tour or Yellowstone Lake fishing. There are several lovely hikes in the area. I mentioned Storm Point in the video, but other short, hikes include Natural Bridge and Elephant Back where you can see Yellowstone Lake from the top.
Also, stop at the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center and stroll or lounge in the sand behind it.
West Thumb Geyser Basin
One of the fun things to do in Yellowstone with kids is stop at West Thumb Geyser Basin. West Thumb is a section of Yellowstone Lake that is a caldera within the bigger Yellowstone caldera. West Thumb is home to at least nineteen major hot springs, geysers, and fumaroles.
There is a small nature center where you can learn more about this and other Lake Yellowstone sites. The boardwalk loop is an easy walk past colorful hot springs, and dormant geyser cones, and has a nice view of the lake. When you are looking for things to do in Yellowstone Park that are quick (30 minutes), but have a big impact, this is one of them. Especially, if you are coming in or heading out the South Entrance and want to get out of the car for a bit after/before a big drive.
See the Natural Bridge
It’s not the most exciting natural bridge I’ve ever seen – if you’ve spent time in southern Utah, you may be disappointed by this bridge. I still love this little walk with kids and there are lots of rocks to climb around on. Get all the details for hiking to the Natural Bridge here.
See other hikes for kids in Yellowstone (or anyone that wants an “easier” hike) in my 20 Family-Friendly Hikes in Yellowstone book.
You can also ride a bike to the Natural Bridge on the bike path. There aren’t any bike rental places nearby, so you will need to bring your own.
Read about biking in Yellowstone here.
Listen for the Dragon at Mud Volcano
Early explorers to Yellowstone described the features at Mud Volcano as a “most repulsive and terrifying site,” and it smells like rotten eggs, so your kids are going to want to see that!
Mud Volcano is a hydrothermal area at the southern end of the Hayden Valley and full of mud pots, hot springs, and fumaroles, and is a resurgent dome. It’s the
Find the Dragon’s Mouth Spring and discover why it was named that.
As I said, there are many more things to do in Yellowstone with kids, but this is a start!
Things To Do Near Yellowstone
- Things to Do Beyond Yellowstone’s Borders from a talk I gave at the Yellowstone Summit.
- Things to Do Near Yellowstone (Livingston, Gardiner, Paradise Valley)
- Things to Do in Cody, Wyoming
- Things to Do in Cooke City, Montana in Winter
- Visiting Gardiner Montana in Winter
- Beartooth Highway Itinerary
- Things To Do On The Way To Yellowstone National Park
Once you know what you want to do, check out my favorite places to stay near Yellowstone National Park or Glamping Near Yellowstone or RV Parks Near Yellowstone.
Want more details on planning your Yellowstone trip? Check out our guidebooks.
More Tips for Visiting Yellowstone
- Start Here! Planning a Trip to Yellowstone