Traveling to Yellowstone, one of America’s great and popular national parks can be a memorable trip for any age. The toddler years are important for learning, and the setting of America’s Wonderland can be an eye-opening adventure for them. Here are seven tips for a fun and safe trip to Yellowstone with your toddler!
Tip 1: Stay Indoors
With all of the beauty Yellowstone National Park has to offer, it can be tempting to spend the night under the stars. Making and sleeping in a tent in one of the 12 campgrounds the park offers can be a rewarding experience. However, it can also be dangerous if not done safely, as there are plenty of bears roaming the park. Another excellent option is to rent a cabin or room in one of the lodges around the national park. From the beautiful Old Faithful Inn to the rustic Lake Lodge Cabins, there are over 2000 rooms to choose from. While it can be more expensive than camping, lodges will supply bathrooms, showers, and a warm bed each night.
If a campground is your style, but are concerned about sleeping in a tent, look into RV rentals or campers. More affordable than you’d think, renting a camper van allows you to get up close and personal with nature. An RV will keep all of your gear close at hand as you explore the 3500 square miles of Yellowstone.
Tip 2: Be Bear Aware
Over 200 species of animals call Yellowstone National Park their home, from the mighty grizzly to majestic bald eagles. Wolves, elk, bison, foxes, moose, and bears are frequently encountered by the park’s visitors. It can be a magical moment for a toddler to spot one of these creatures. However, it is important to be respectful and conscious of keeping a safe distance. While beautiful, these animals have been known to defend their space and young if they feel threatened.
Yellowstone park rangers urge visitors to keep at least 100 yards, ten bus lengths, away from all bears and wolves. It is true for all mammals, too; stay at least 25 yards away from bison, elk, and other wildlife. If you plan to hike, bring along some bear spray, which you can purchase at any visitor center. Try to hike in groups larger than three people, and make noise as not to surprise any bears. Assure your toddler knows these rules, and also never leave any food or wrappers outside the designated trash areas.
Tip 3: Take a Drive
Yellowstone National Park is big, as in larger than some US states! To see everything, you should certainly take a drive alongside the Grand and Wildlife Loops. These are two separate drives. Grand Loop offers views of Yellowstone Lake, Old Faithful, and the Yellowstone River. It gives access to many of the geothermal pools the park is known for, including the Grand Prismatic. Wildlife Loop is named for the frequent sightings of bison and elk herds along the Lamar Valley.
Remember, when driving by wildlife, always pay attention to traffic, pulling over at the many pull-offs when necessary. You can also see Yellowstone canyon and the park headquarters at the Mammoth Hot Springs. If you have the time, take a drive a little further south to the connecting Grand Teton National Park. Though separate, the Grand Teton doesn’t require an entrance fee if coming from Yellowstone, and vice versa. Just follow the Yellowstone river and enjoy the wide-open views, beautiful lakes, and the towering Grand Teton mountains.
Tip 4: Hit the Trail
The National Park has hundreds of different geysers and geothermal hot springs. An excellent short walk for you and your toddler is the Biscuit Basin loop. It is an enclosed boardwalk, showing dozens of beautiful pools, and is only a five-minute walk. It has a parking lot right off the road and is not normally crowded. Another great hike is to the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River. You’ll find a parking lot and a short walk to Inspiration Point, an uninterrupted view of the falls. There are many sights just visible from the road, or short trail, which is ideal for you and your toddler. If you want a more adventurous hike, talk to a ranger and ask what hikes may fit your child’s level. Remember to go over your hiking plans with a ranger, as they can offer sage advice about the trails.
Tip 5: See Old Faithful
The most well-known site in Yellowstone is the Old Faithful geyser. Located just off the Grand Loop, the geyser is surrounded by a visitor center, two beautiful lodges, stores, and restaurants. Inside the visitor center is a museum with hands-on exhibits, a gift shop, and the times for the geyser eruption. Just outside beyond a railing is the Old Faithful geyser, which goes off every 30 to 90 minutes. Be sure to wait for an eruption, as they can last five minutes and reach a height of 180 feet!
Tip 6: Go Shopping
There are nine general stores and gift shops throughout the national park, each selling food, clothes, and knick-knacks. Larger stores include the Old Faithful General and Basin stores, as well as the Roosevelt, Grant Village, and Mammoth stores. Each offers different views, food, and goodies for everyone to enjoy. Get matching Yellowstone National Parks t-shirts, sweaters, or perhaps a sticker or two. Pick up a book meant to teach your toddler about different park animals or history. In any case, these stores are just as much part of the park experience as the geysers and waterfalls. Be sure to stop in and see if anything catches your eye!
Tip 7: Learn Something
Yellowstone National Park is so rich in history and scientific marvels, so it’s impossible not to learn on your trip. Maybe it’s through reading the many placards and signs along the trails discussing how geothermal pools form—or taking a walk through the mammal museum at the Mammoth visitor center. Each of the visitor centers has hands-on activities for little ones to learn about everything from volcanoes to grizzly hibernation. A few of these centers have small theaters that play a movie on the history of the park. Only twenty minutes long, the film covers how the park came to be, and what it’s future will look like. These centers let children get up close and learn about the park in creative ways.