We recently asked the teens to think back on all our family trips and choose the one they would most like to revisit. Without blinking they said it would have to be Yellowstone National Park. Yes, Yellowstone beat out Disney, Hawaii, South Dakota, the Jersey Shore, San Diego, Bermuda, a cruise, the Bahamas and many other destinations. Why? Because it truly is a one of a kind experience that can’t be had anywhere else. If you haven’t been there yet, make sure you take your teens and tweens to Yellowstone before they go off to college. Yellowstone is the stuff that lifetime family memories are made of.
Established as the country’s first National Park in 1872, Yellowstone is located in the northwestern corner of Wyoming with small tracts of adjoining land in Montana and Idaho. The Park contains over 300 geysers and 10,000 thermal features as well as thousands of buffalo, elk, bear, wolves and more. It encompasses over 3,400 sq miles which is just about equal to Delaware and Rhode Island combined. We think it is more than worth the money to stay in the Park’s lodges or campgrounds as driving in and out of the park each day can be time consuming and some of best times to enjoy the most famous attractions are early and late in the day when the day trippers are gone. During the peak hours for crowds, get off the roads and take a hike or go swimming in hidden away thermal warmed streams.
Thinking back on our visit, we came up with our top five favorite experiences. If you need some encouragement to start planning your family visit to Yellowstone, here they are:
- Yellowstone’s amazing geysers and thermal features: If you didn’t know it, Yellowstone sits directly on top of an active volcanic caldera. Its about 10,000 years overdue for an explosion but don’t let that stop you from visiting! The heat from deep underground powers an amazing array of geysers, hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles. Be sure to get beyond the congested viewing area at Old Faithful and walk the trails of the Midway Geyser and Upper Geyser Basins. Take the time to stop and walk the boardwalks of the Mud Volcano trail as well as any other interesting features you see from the side of the road. You definitely don’t have these at home!
- Yellowstone’s awesome wildlife: Despite the fact that wolves, bears, moose, elk, coyotes and many other animals live their lives pretty much the way they have been for thousands of years, suburban teens are likely to enjoy some unexpected up close and personal encounters with the wildlife. We encountered a buffalo parade created when about 20 mom, dad and baby buffalo decided the nights were getting chilly and it was time to move to winter quarters near Old Faithful. Elk are a common sight in the northern sections of the park and many other animals can turn up at unexpected times and places.
- Swimming at Firehole Falls: Much of Yellowstone is located at a 7,000+ foot high elevation, so you wouldn’t be surprised to see cold, clear mountain streams. What is a surprise is to see steaming, near boiling water running out of thermal areas – be sure not to touch. Neither the cold nor the hot makes for ideal swimming conditions, but, if you have a sense of adventure and are up for a little exploring off the beaten path there are a couple locations where hot meets cold to create some truly amazing swimming holes. We still talk about our afternoon at Firehole Falls which is located on the Firehole Canyon Drive, off the Grand Loop Road just south of Madison Junction. Stairs provide access from the road above, but this is definitely a swim at your own risk location — no lifeguards here. We spent an afternoon floating in the current and enjoying the water.
- Fishing on Lake Yellowstone: The waters of Lake Yellowstone are hundreds of feet deep but if you go with a guide the fish are easy to find. Keep all the invasive lake trout you catch but throw back the native cutthroat trout. We booked a half day trip with a guide, leaving from the Bridge Bay Marina. They provided all the fishing tackle, bait, and life jackets required, as well as critical insight as to where the fish were biting that day. Don’t want to actually touch the bait or the fish? They will even deal with the that too!
- Family Hiking off the Beaten Track: it really isn’t hard to get away from the crowds at Yellowstone. Ask a ranger or consult a map to find a trail that will work for your family. We took a 5 mile hike around Beaver Pond, but you might also prefer exploring the 2.5 mile boardwalk system at the Mammoth Hot Springs thermal terraces in the evening when the crowds are gone. Make sure the teens leave the headphones back at the lodge and you are in for all kinds of interesting conversations.
We stayed for 6 days and felt like we just scraped the surface, just like this article barely communicates the wonders of Yellowstone and the great family experiences we enjoyed together. Want to learn more? Click the links in this article to visit many other posts we have done on Yellowstone and start planning your trip. We divided our time between the Old Faithful Lodge and the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. Both were very comfortable. Whether you go for a day or a week, camp, stay in a lodge or opt for driving in from one of the gateway towns be sure to put Yellowstone on your family vacation bucket list!