Top 10 Must-See Stops in Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park, if not already, should be on everyone’s bucket list. Located mostly in Wyoming and a small part of Montana and Idaho, it’s home to the famous Old Faithful Geyser among hundreds of other geysers, plus hotsprings, canyons, rivers, forests, bison, bears, elk, antelope, wolves and the beautiful lake Yellowstone. It’s basically a giant pressure cooker, fueled by one of the most massive supervolcanoes on Earth.
My husband Will and I just returned from a 5-day road trip through both the Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. We took our 9 month old son with us, rented a car and stayed in a different cabin/hotel each night we were in Wyoming. Now, these parks are very spread out. Yes, the packing and unpacking each day with a baby was not exactly the most fun part of the trip, but I can say there was no better way to see it all in the short amount of time we had. Check out my post on top things to do/see in Grand Teton National Park here.
I recommend grouping your stops based on their locations in the park. We started in Jackson Hole, headed up the right side of the Yellowstone figure 8 on the first day and did the left side on the second day. Below is the Map I went by, and the order of each stop we took. You can also find a link to the “brochure” map with a more clear picture through the official Yellowstone website here: https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/maps.htm
The following top 10 MUST-SEE sites are in order of location, not necessarily in order of our top favorites.
1. West Thumb Geyser Basin (near Yellowstone National Park Entrance)
This is a great first stop inside Yellowstone National park as its got an awesome view of Yellowstone lake as well as will be your first Geyser sighting coming from the south entrance. It’s a 1 mile trail on a stroller friendly boardwalk.
2. Mud Volcano
James was definitely over being in the car once we reached Mud Volcano so it was a great stop for an hour long hike around the geysers. These were much more “steamy” than the West Thumb. Yes, it is true that most of the geysers smell like rotten eggs. This bison was also our first wild life sighting! There was another one on the other side of the trail and they kept growling at each other. Will kept “reassuring” me that all he would have to do was outrun me, and then he and the baby would be fine…so not to worry.
3. Hayden Valley
There’s plenty more bison where that came from! If your goal is to see bison, just drive through Hayden valley. There’s so many that you will constantly have to stop to let them cross the road and sadly it will even start to get old. Lots of other wildlife as well.
Our hope is to travel as a family as often as we can (at least as often as our work schedules allow us).
Click HERE to learn how we use points and miles to expand our travel budget. A step by step guide is included for you.
4. Grand Canyon of Yellowstone in Canyon Village
This is a definite must-see. I was so excited about hiking Uncle Tom’s trail. The trail leads you 200 steps down to see the lower waterfall up close. Unfortunately they had closed the trail for renovation. We did get to walk up to Artist point….amazing view from there! Even if there are points of interest around the canyon that are closed for renovation, you still must stop here! You can even see awesome views from the parking lot.
5. Tower Fall
Tower Fall is located in the far upper right corner of Yellowstone National Park. By the time we reached the area, it was getting late. So we unfortunately did not make it up this side of the “figure 8” to see the falls due to baby and bedtime schedule. But based on research and reading reviews, this, along with the Lamar Valley (right near there) are also top must-sees. This just gives us a reason to come back one day!
6. Mammoth Hot Springs
We stayed in Gardiner, MT by the north entrance of the park, and Mammoth Hot Springs is just minutes from this entrance, so naturally this was the first stop on the itinerary for the day. Definitely worth seeing the terraces, especially Canary Spring, view-able from the upper terrace drive. Note/Tip: If you are traveling with a baby, this site is not ALL stroller friendly. I highly recommend wearing a baby carrier like this one. We used it through out our trip and it saved us in more ways than one!
7. Norris Geyser Basin
Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest and most changeable thermal area in Yellowstone National Park. And you can feel it. I have to honestly say this was the least favorite of my favorite stops, only because there is very little shade on the boardwalk combined with hot steam from the springs and geysers and a hot sunny afternoon in July with a baby strapped to you, I wasn’t able to enjoy the sights quite as much as probably on a cool morning. With that said, there are 2 1/4 miles of trails here to explore the world’s tallest active geyser and colorful hot springs in one of the most extreme environments on earth. Still worthy of the top 10 must-sees!
8. Gibbon Falls
Gibbon Falls is really just a pull-off/overlook of a river and waterfall but worth it if you have an extra 5 or 10 minutes. There seemed to be plenty of parking and a rest area as well.
9. Midway Geyser Basin
If I had to pick my very favorite thing we saw in Yellowstone, the Grand Prismatic at Midway Geyser Basin would be it. It just felt so random, this massive rainbow colored thermal pool in the middle of forest and trees. I also think we lucked out on the lighting…it was late afternoon and there was not a cloud in the sky which I think made the colors more vibrant. Either that or it’s just showing off like that all of the time.
10. Old Faithful & Old Faithful Inn
Last and most definitely not least is Old Faithful…..Yellowstone’s most famous geyser that erupts every 45 to 90 minutes or so. This happened to be the finale of our Yellowstone stops and we were lucky enough to have reserved a room from a last minute cancellation at the Old Faithful Inn, which I highly recommend going inside to see even if you aren’t staying there. Our room overlooked Beehive Geyser which we caught erupting early the next morning…which was somewhat lucky since it only erupts twice a day with more random timings.
Old Faithful Inn:
So there you have it! What did I miss? Have you and your family been to Yellowstone National Park? Share your tips in the comment section below….we do plan on going back one day when the kids are older as it truly is a great educational experience for both kids and adults.
**Lazy Lauren’s Travel Tips before you go:
- Go to grocery store before entering park and stock up on water and snacks for long drives.
- Always get gas when you see a place with gas…long distances along with potential hour long waits for bison to cross the road can lead to a sticky situation.
- Cell phone service sucks. There are a few places with average service at best, so when you see a couple of bars and need to take care of whatever business…do so, because your next chance could be 5 hours away.
- Where to stay: We flew into Jackson Hole (just an hour south of the Yellowstone South Entrance) and stayed there our first night before heading to Yellowstone the next morning. We stayed in Gardiner, Montana at the Black Bear Inn after our first full day in Yellowstone. Great location, rustic vibe, and walking distance into the cute little town with plenty of Restaurants and shopping. As mentioned, we also stayed at Old Faithful Inn our last night in Yellowstone. I would check it out, regardless of whether or not you stay there, as it’s a national historic landmark and overall just an enchanting lodge to see.
- If you are traveling with a baby, bring a baby Carrier like this one. You may have noticed in many of our photos that we had James in the carrier instead of the stroller. Often times, the trails around several of the sites were not stroller friendly. I highly recommend this Carrier as it easily adjusts depending on who is wearing the baby (myself or Will) and has great back support, unlike most cheap carriers. It will also grow with him up to 2 to 3 years of age.