So you wanna take your kids to Yellowstone National Park, right? You think those geysers and the animals will be a great learning experience? I totally get it. You've either never been there and want to take a family trip, or already love Yellowstone and want to share it with your little ones. I grew up visiting Yellowstone a lot. My dad is an experienced hiker and camper, so it was one of our favorite places. Recently, I went back as with my own children and realized that Yellowstone has a lot of things that parents need to be aware of. It's not a perfect family vacation spot. Seeing it through my "parental eyes" made me realize that it has some dangers and problems to be aware of. As parents, it helps to be prepared. So before you head out to Yellowstone, learn from these 10 things you should know before taking your kids to Yellowstone.
1. Limited cell service
The cell service is spotty. There is almost no cell phone service for AT&T, and the other carriers are limited as well. This can be good and bad. It's a blessing for everyone to disconnect from the business of life--no emails, texts, Wi-fi, or Facebook--and instead reconnect with the people right in front of them. The limited cell service can be bad if you have an emergency and need to get in touch with someone. It's also something to think about if you are in a large group and are trying to stay together. We are so used to communicating with our phones, so you'll have to go the old-school route and set meeting times and places.
2. Traffic jams
Be prepared for multiple traffic jams. Most of these jams are because an animal is in the vicinity and people stop to take pictures. Sometimes the animals are actually on the road causing a backup. We hit several traffic jams on our trip, so plan some time for that in your travels. Also, plan something for your little kids to do in the car while you wait to get through (because sometimes it's at a total stop).
3. Crowds of people
Yellowstone is CROWDED. The colder months may be less busy, but the summer months are very full! At any given site, you could easily be waiting in a long line to use the one little restroom with your kid who is about to wet his pants. Busloads of people visit the park each day, so keep the disposable underwear handy and never pass an empty bathroom without taking a pit stop.
4. Limited restaurants, stores, and towns nearby
Restaurants are limited in and around the park. There are cafeterias, nicer restaurants, and some small stores near all the tourist shops in the park. Be prepared for higher priced food and just regular quality. The best idea is to pack your food in. But if you get in a bind, the town of West Yellowstone (in Montana) has several chain restaurants and lots of stores, so that helps. Plus, there are plenty of snacks throughout the park. And you must try the delicious ice cream sold in Yellowstone Park, so keep an eye out for that.
5. Medical center
Medical help in the park is limited as well. They do have small medical centers for some urgent care needs and as a parent, that definitely brings some peace of mind. But if it's critical, you will be sent to one of the small nearby towns, which can be a long drive. They also do not have a pharmacy anywhere within the park. So take along that first-aid kit and any meds you need.
6. Campgrounds--it's not what you are used to
Family camping is one of my favorite things, but I learned that camping in Yellowstone is a totally different ballgame. First of all, when you reserve a spot (and you must reserve ahead of time), the host will assign you a campsite. They try to take in account your vehicle size and amount in your party. You get what you get. Some campgrounds do not allow tents, so be aware of that. There are showers for campers to use, but they get really crowded in the evenings. Also, don't forget that animal danger is ever-present. We had bison grazing in our campground for an entire day. They were right next to tents, picnic tables, and people. We were also told there was a bear in the early morning, but campground officials were able to get him to move on. Teach your kids to be "bear aware".
7. Limited parking and lots of walking
Some of the most popular sites are loaded with tourists and it can be hard to find parking. Towards the end I started to feel a little bit like we were in Disneyland with all the people there. My best advice is get to Old Faithful early. The benches around it fill up quickly as it gets close to showtime. There is also a lot of walking. You may have to park far away, plus most of the sites must be walked to. Take along a stroller or backpack for you little ones. They will get tired.
8. Hot pot danger
The hot pots and geysers at Yellowstone are fascinating. It's such a beautifully intriguing place. Be aware of the danger of these hot pools at all times. These sites have trails with boardwalks all along the way because the ground is unstable and the danger is real. Teach your kids to stay on the boardwalks and to not push or goof around there as many of the pots are only a few feet away. There have been injuries and deaths of people not following the park's rules. Keep a very close eye on your children.
9. If you've seen one, you've seen them all
Not matter how fascinating the hot pots are at first, kids will get bored if you visit too many in a row. There are several areas with hot, steaming, sulfur-smelling pools. One hot pot will start to look the same as another to your little kids, so you don't need to visit every single one. Vary your experiences by visiting the waterfalls and rivers. Go on a hike, listen to a ranger show, walk through the visitor's centers, and of course get some ice cream.
10. It's an unforgettable trip
I recommend waiting until your children are old enough to appreciate the magic and splendor of such a beautiful park like Yellowstone. We took our kids when they were young and the only thing they remembered was the sulfur smell. We took them again when they were old enough to understand it's unique qualities and it was unforgettable for them. They were in awe of it all. Either way you choose, it should be an unforgettable trip . . . at least for the parents.
I hope these tips help so you can plan accordingly and make your trip to Yellowstone an unforgettable one!