Last spring, we took a ten-day road trip around the western(ish) part of the United States: South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Wyoming (again), Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and Nebraska (on our way home to Iowa). You can read an overview of that trip by clicking here or you can keep scrolling to read about our two days at Yellowstone with kids.
PLANNING OUR TRIP TO YELLOWSTONE (+ LODGING)
When we first discovered that our 4th grader would be eligible for the Every Kid Outdoors pass, we checked out a National Parks guidebook from the library and started watching a ton of documentaries and YouTube videos to pick our destinations. Katie, our 4th grader, wanted to go to Yellowstone quite badly. I really wanted to go visit the Grand Tetons, and our older daughter was fascinated by Mesa Verde. My husband, who has always wanted to see the Grand Canyon, looked at the map and said, “This might be our best chance to go.”
Since we homeschool, we have the benefit of being able to travel during the off-season. But, we also knew we wanted to camp as much as possible — and late May was the earliest we could get a reservation in Colter Bay Campground at Grand Teton National Park. Unfortunately, by the time we started booking for our trip, there was no open lodging available inside Yellowstone National Park. We used a travel guide to get a room at the Three Bear Motel in West Yellowstone (Montana) for our overnight accommodations while we explored the park.
Non-Sponsored Review of Three Bear Motel (West Yellowstone, Montana):
We were only in the room for a hot shower and a short sleep, but it was clean and we felt very safe. Since we had camped the night before and would be camping the next two nights — it was great to have a comfy bed and plenty of room to lay out all our wet clothes to dry overnight. This is a great, relatively-affordable option for families!
MUST-SEES IN YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
We knew that there was no way we were going to be able to see everything in Yellowstone in one short day (our original itinerary), and we were okay with that. So, we prioritized what we really wanted to see, which was:
- Old Faithful
- Grand Prismatic Spring
- wildlife (bears + bison)
While looking at a guidebook, I realized we could drive through the park on our way from Billings to our hotel in West Yellowstone (instead of going around). That gave us an unexpected afternoon at Yellowstone! We decided to add in a stop at Mammoth Hot Springs and some driving around to spot more wildlife.
WEATHER AT YELLOWSTONE IN LATE MAY
We experienced quite a bit of winter weather while we were in Yellowstone National Park. It was grey and overcast, with occasional snow storms and even short bursts of hail while we explored with our kids. Despite the cold, wet weather, there were still quite a lot of people in the park. We were thankful for our winter coats, hats, and gloves — even our face masks kept our cheeks warm.
There was a lot of slipping and sliding on the wooden walkways in our sneakers. We wished we had invested in warm boots with traction. (It warmed up quite a bit when the sun came out at Old Faithful, so definitely dress in layers!)
ARRIVING AT YELLOWSTONE WITH KIDS
Stopping at the grocery store before beginning our trek, we drove in from Billings. We loaded up on fresh fruit, lunch meat and cheese, granola bars — anything that was quick and easy to eat in the car. We drove west on Interstate 90 and paused for a quick lunch in Livingston before heading south on 89. The scenery heading toward the North Entrance gate was some of the most beautiful I have ever seen!
After showing our Every Kid Outdoors pass to the Park Ranger at the North Entrance, we drove around the old fort area (closed due to pandemic protocols, unfortunately). We did get a map and our Junior Ranger book before heading to Mammoth Hot Springs. Because of the weather, there seemed to be a lull in traffic. Finding a parking spot right in front was a great sign!
We walked the boardwalks exploring the cool geological formation, eventually making our way to the top via a LOT of stairs. (Note: we saw MANY young children crying on the way up. Be prepared to carry your toddler or preschooler at least part of the way.)
DAY 2 AT YELLOWSTONE WITH KIDS
After a warm, cozy night at our hotel in West Yellowstone, we started day 2 from the West Entrance. We drove south to Grand Prismatic Spring, the place I was most excited to see — all those vibrant colors! Unfortunately, it was another grey morning in Wyoming. We shuffled along the icy boardwalk (no handrails in many places) to get a truly unique look at a famous landmark.
The water at Grand Prismatic Spring was so clear, and you could see all the beautiful colors close up. What a gorgeous place! We then continued our way down toward Grand Teton National Park, stopping to see Old Faithful. After a quick pit stop, we headed to the gift shop for souvenirs before the next eruption. (We decided before we left what we wanted to collect. Our youngest got a pin at each stop, which she has displayed with her Junior Ranger badges. Our oldest got a postcard or two at every place. I got magnets for our fridge, and Adam got a few t-shirts for his collection.)
Interestingly, the power was out at all the buildings near Old Faithful. We were so glad to have our flashlights and cash with us. (I would have been so sad if we couldn’t buy souvenirs at Yellowstone.) We caught the next eruption with a small crowd of people behind us. I decided not to record it and just enjoy the moment without my phone.
At that point, we had seen everything we wanted to see (and we were rather tired of the long lines of cars everywhere), so we decided to continue south on the Rockefeller Memorial Parkway to Grand Teton National Park, where we would be camping for the next two nights. Along the way, it started snowing as we crossed over the Continental Divide (not once, but twice).
The beauty almost seemed unreal. We had a family snowball fight at this scenic overlook. We also had a kind stranger take a photo of the four of us in front of the Continental Divide sign while the snow fell down all around us. It was like something out of Narnia! I think it might be my favorite Yellowstone memory, because it was so unexpected.
Less than two hours after leaving Old Faithful, we arrived at the entrance of Grand Teton National Park and found our campsite for the night. I’ll have another blog post coming soon about our adventures there.