What to Plan for on Your Family’s Trip to Yellowstone

Everything you need to know to get the greenlight from your family on an amazing visit to Yellowstone.

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Yellowstone National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the country. It’s also one of the largest at more than 3,500 square miles. Yellowstone is home to wolves and bears, geysers, and ravines. It’s breathtaking and beautiful—but also untamed and wild. So, before you visit, plan, especially if you plan on visiting with your family. Here are 10 tips for planning your family trip to Yellowstone and how to get the most out of one of the “most” parks in the country.

Family Trip to Yellowstone

Image: Getty

One: Plan (Far) Ahead

Like I’ve said before, Yellowstone is a POPULAR park, especially now with the surge in attendance as a result of reopening after the Covid pandemic. As a result, you’ll want to look up reservations for sites up to a year in advance. However, if you don’t have that kind of time, you can always continue to check for openings as a result of cancellations. Speaking of reservations …

Two: Plan to Stay in the Park

If you want to make the most of your family trip to Yellowstone, you’ll want to actually stay in Yellowstone. If you don’t, you’ll add about two hours each day commuting to and from your lodging outside the park to in. And, let’s be honest, with a family of young kids to wrangle, you’ll probably spend even more. If you can’t get a reservation or lodging in the park, you can always say at West Yellowstone (45 minutes from Old Faithful( or at Jackson Hole.

Three: Plan on Having Enough Time

Remember how I said Yellowstone is one of the largest national parks? Well, a park that big will take some time to explore. Give yourself enough time to see all there is to see at Yellowstone. Three to four days is a good amount of time for a visit but you can definitely stay longer and have no problem finding more to see and do in Yellowstone if you choose to.

Four: Plan on Unplugging

Yellowstone is untapped wilderness. So, you won’t find a cell tower springing up among the hot springs. That means little to no cellular service in the park. Prepare your family for this fact so they won’t be surprised or throw tantrums when an episode of “Peppa Pig” won’t load or a video game can’t be streamed. Remind them instead that there are real, live animals to see and streams and rivers to explore in the park itself! And, you can always pack along a cell signal booster for the evenings when a little internet browsing (in moderation) is ok.


Image: Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park

Five: Plan on Having a Picnic

What could be more on-brand for a family trip to Yellowstone—one of the quintessential American national parks—than having a quintessential family picnic? Plus, the farther out you go with your clan exploring, the less likely you are to come across food options. Plan a picnic packed with everyone’s favorites and enjoy being out in nature while enjoying a good meal. Speaking of a picnic …

Six: Plan on Cleaning Up After Yourself

Yellowstone is far removed from the world of sidewalks and traffic lights, and also trash bins. So, when having a picnic, make sure to clean up any trace of it. That includes napkins, plates, but also food refuse. Wild animals really shouldn’t develop a hankering for fruit snacks or white sandwich bread. Make sure to leave every picnic site or trail as you found it and you’ll do everyone, including your family, a favor.

Seven: Plan on Staying on Path

Before you trek into the park, have a powwow with your family (aka your kids). Explain to them the importance of staying on the designated paths and trails—for their safety and the safety of Yellowstone’s ecosystem. After all, Yellowstone is home to bears, hot springs, geysers, and sits on top of a supervolcano. So, it’s not exactly bubble-wrapped for safety. As long as you keep a close eye, and maybe even hand, on your kiddos and stay on the designated paths and boardwalks when you visit geyser basins or geothermal features you’ll all be happy, safe, and amazed.

Eight: Plan on Plenty of ‘Potty Breaks’

The Charmin Bears might use toilet paper and commodes but the ones in Yellowstone definitely don’t. So, anytime you see a bathroom, use it and encourage every member of your family to do the same. Because, getting nature’s call when you’re in the middle of nature, isn’t exactly fun or even safe. Remember, you want to stay on the path, and veering off to “do your business” can get you into some unsafe situations fast. Also. pack along with some hand sanitizer and maybe even some travel toilet tissue for those bathroom settings that leave a lot to be desired.

Nine: Plan on Taking Your Time

Nature doesn’t adhere to a schedule. From bison moseying across roads to Old Faithful deciding when it’s finally going to blow, you and your family need to plan on waiting. You’ll also need to plan on waiting because, as I mentioned, Yellowstone is popular with a capital “p.” There will be long lines to see Old Faithful, to eat at the dining establishments, to go to the bathroom, to even get in the park. Make sure everyone, including you, is well versed in patience and consider brushing up on some games or easy things to do to pass the time while you wait.

Ten: Plan on Things Not Going Perfectly as Planned

This is true of any trip, with or without kids, with or without being in an expansive, wildlife-teeming, hot springs and geysers streaming, national park. Remember that you can’t plan perfection and that it’s ok. You’re still making memories your family will cherish for a lifetime even if some of them are when you accidentally ate the wrapper on your sandwich or one of your kids relieved himself out in the open. Brush it off, keep going, keep exploring, and keep trying to stick to your plans, with room for an occasional detour or two, and that, more than anything is the best way to prepare for your family trip to Yellowstone, well maybe aside from stocking up on some bear spray.

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