A recap of our trip to Yellowstone National Park and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I’m sharing the highlights of our trip, what we packed, the best time to go, and how we prepared our children for the trip.
For our summer vacation this year, we took a trip to Yellowstone National Park with our three kids. It was the most magical few days. I had so many questions about this trip, so I wanted to share what we did, where we stayed, and other details that made it an amazing trip.
The best time to visit the park
Late spring, early summer.
This my third trip to Yellowstone. My first trip was when I was twelve or thirteen and honestly I don’t remember any of that, the second trip was in 2008 with Philip’s family.
The trip with Philip’s family was in the late spring, early summer, just like this one, and I think it’s the best time to visit Yellowstone.
I think the best time to visit the park is right after the south entrance opens. This year it opened on May 10th (you can see the schedule HERE). I recommend going so early because the crowds haven’t come yet and the weather is warm enough for a lot of animals to come out but cool enough to be very comfortable hiking and exploring.
July and August are the busiest months of the park, plus they’re the hot months. My recommendation would be be to stay away from those months, if you can.
The exact dates of our trip were June 1-4, and the park was very empty, we saw tons of animals, and the weather was perfect.
Where we stayed in Jackson Hole, Wyoming
We flew into Salt Lake City, picked up a rental van, and drove up to Jackson hole for our first night. We stayed in the Wort Hotel in Jackson Hole.
There’s not much to do in Jackson Hole for more than a day, but the hotel was gorgeous – an old western casino feel (it used to actually be a casino!), and we took a horse drawn carriage ride, walked through the shops in the square, took pictures in front of the famous antler arches, and ate in the Silver Dollar Grill inside the Wort Hotel (get their famous corn chowder — it’s unreal amazing!!)
Where we stayed in Yellowstone National Park
The next morning (day 2) we drove through Grand Teton National Park, and then into the south entrance of Yellowstone National Park. We didn’t stay in Grand Teton, just drove through and stopped at a few lookout points to take pictures.
We stayed at the Canyon Lodge at Canyon Village, and although it was pricey (everything in the park is pricey), it was a great central location that allowed us to easily get to everything in the park.
We used it as kind of the center of a wagon wheel and then went out each day in a different direction to explore parts of the park.
Hotels in Yellowstone, especially the cabins, can book up a year in advance, so reserve your hotels EARLY!!!
Things you shouldn’t miss in Yellowstone
- Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley.
- These are the two big valleys where you’re going to see the most animals. We drove all through these areas, especially Hayden Valley, several times over the four days we were there, and that’s where we saw 14 bears, lots of elk, tons of bison, two bald eagles, two moose, and even a black wolf!
- The best time to spot animals was in the early morning, usually between 8-10am because we all slept in everyday, and then right after dinner around 7pm. We definitely saw animals in other parts of the day, but most of the bears we saw were around this time. And we saw the wolf after dinner. He was spotted by some people with scopes, and they’d been tracking him for about an hour. We got lucky and he came way closer about 10 minutes after we got there.
- Mammoth Hot Springs
- This is a fun area in the corner of Yellowstone that’s kind of tucked away. There’s a little downtown with a post office and shops and restaurants. Lots of deer and elk roam freely throughout this area, so you can get pretty close to them.
- We ate dinner at The Mammoth Hotel Dining Room, which doesn’t take reservations for dinner, but is first come first serve. So we showed up just before it opened for dinner and got right in. The food was good and we watched the deer and elk roam around right outside the windows.
- The hot springs themselves are spectacular and were some of my favorites! Definitely don’t miss those.
- Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
- If you want to go hiking, this is the best place to do it. There are tons of good hiking spots, for all hiking levels. Follow the maps and the signs to determine which hikes are best for your group. But there are plenty of good kid friendly ones!
- Also the views are unreal amazing and there are lots of gorgeous waterfalls. Plus there are lots of lookout areas if you don’t want to hike but still want to see the canyon.
- We didn’t do a ton of big hikes since we had Sanny (who’s only 3), so the longest one we did was 2 miles, I think. And we ended up carrying him a good amount of the way. We brought a stroller, but not all hikes were great for strollers. He refuses to go in a baby carrier, but if your child will I’d definitely recommend bringing one.
- Grand Prismatic Springs
- We visited Grand Prismatic Springs on our last day before we went out the West Entrance into Rexburg, Idaho. This was SPECTACULAR. Do not miss this!
- There’s a 2 mile hiking trail that takes you up to a viewing point above the springs, and by that point my boys were all hiked out so we skipped it and just went to the lower area where we could walk around the springs. But the higher viewpoint would have been insanely amazing and I wish we would have done it!
- Norris Geyser Basin
- Norris was one of the major highlights of our time in Yellowstone. We went there right at sunset and there were literally two other people in the entire basin. It was so quiet, some of the geysers were going off, the sunset was reflecting off the white basin ground, and it honestly felt like we were on another planet. It was incredible. I’m sure if it was crowded and daytime, it would have felt like any other of the basins, but going in the early season at sunset was straight up magic. I mean, just look at that photo below of B on the boardwalk.
- Old Faithful
- Of course you have to visit Old Faithful, because it’s so famous. We loved walking through the Old Faithful Inn, and there were a few hikes around Old Faithful that we did. This was by far the most crowded area, and felt the most touristy, but we still enjoyed it. The highlight of Old Faithful was when we were sitting, watching the geyser go off, surrounded by hundreds of other people, and Sanny yells, “DAD! This is a geyser!!” And everyone burst out laughing. So funny.
How did we spot so many animals?
Of course a lot of it is luck.
But we also spent a lot of time driving around looking for animals. We drove several hours everyday, and we always drove for at least an hour in the morning and in the evening when the animals were out the most.
Whenever we saw a group of people, parked on the side of the road, we knew there was an animal sighting. We would pull off the road as quickly as possible and ask people what they were seeing so we could spot it too.
There are usually people with scopes at sunrise and dusk in Hayden Valley watching for wolves. They do the work for you and wait for hours to see one. If you can find some of them, your chances of seeing a wolf is definitely greater.
How much did we plan out and how much did we just go with the flow?
Philip plans the itinerary all of our trips, and he likes to plan out the day pretty thoroughly so we are efficient with our time and hit all the spots that we want to. So we go in with a pretty detailed itinerary, but we are always very flexible once we’re on the trip. If we want to stay longer somewhere, or if we sleep in til 10am, or we find a good spot to eat on the fly, we go with it.
I feel like going in with a plan but staying flexible is the best way, so you’re not spending your travel time researching or planning, but you can always adjust as you go as needed.
If you’re interested in seeing our detailed itinerary (and using it for yourself), you can check it out RIGHT HERE.
Books we read to prepare the kids for Yellowstone
- The Mystery in Yellowstone National Park
- This was a great little book that taught the kids about the different highlights within the park, how to respect the park, and how it was a national treasure. It was a fun read with cute characters, and they loved it
- Wolf Stalker
- This book started a little slow, but turned out to be about the wolf conservation program that happened in Yellowstone in 1995. So it’s fictional characters, but based off of a true event. The wolf in the story is named Silver, and my boys got super attached to him. Especially Sanny, who is only three! He was dying to find Silver in the park, and that kept him very attentive on long drives as we watched for a gray wolf. Thankfully on our last night we finally spotted one and it was the highlight of Sanny’s life. Watch for it in our video below!
- What I Saw In Yellowstone
- I bought a copy of this book for each of my boys and we loved using it as a reference as we went throughout the park. It teaches about different locations and animals you’ll see in the park, so we would read it together right before we saw something. Your kids will enjoy the park so much more if they understand what they’re seeing!!
What to bring in the car while you’re in Yellowstone
- You do a lot of driving when you’re in Yellowstone. A lot. Like hours and hours. Bring some audiobooks or a really good playlist. I would recommend not doing a movie while you drive around because it’s harder for kids to pull their attention away from the screen when you see something out the window. With audiobooks, they can look out the window while they listen.
- Coloring books/Stickers/Car Activities
- We brought lots of coloring books to keep those little hands busy while we drove. I brought a 3-ring binder for each of the boys and a zipper pouch inside filled with markers and pencils. I put paper and coloring books inside the binder, and that helped them color easily in their car seats. We also brought sticker books and other activity books that kept them occupied day after day with different things. They each had one backpack with all their own books and activities so they were each carrying their own stuff.
- I bought kid binoculars for each of the boys before we went to Yellowstone, and then stupidly forgot to pack them. I spent the whole trip wishing we had brought them, because the animals are often pretty far away and it’s always more fun to be able to see them up close.
- My boys took many naps in the car as we drove around, and having a small stuffed animal or their special blanket helped them sleep easily in the car. I know not every kid sleeps well in the car, but having something snuggly helps!
- Lots of snacks/lunch to go
- Since we were flying to Salt Lake and then getting a rental car, we decided to buy snacks once we arrived in Salt Lake. This helped us have less stuff on the plane. We stopped by a grocery store, loaded up on road trip snacks, and having something to eat and snack on was amazing during those long drives.
- Also, we bought picnic items (we did meat, cheese, bread, jam, chips, and fruit) for the few days we were in the park. The weather was cold enough that we could keep it in the car unrefrigerated. We bought enough at the grocery store before we went into the park, and purchased enough for lunch for all three days we were in the park. There are a bunch of picnic areas throughout the park so it’s easy to find a spot to stop and eat. There aren’t a lot of restaurants in the park, and the restaurants they do have in the park are pretty spread out, so it’s nice to have your own meals ready to go whenever you’d like to stop and eat.
Is it a good idea to take little kids to Yellowstone?
I think it totally depends on your kids. If you have little kids who hate sitting in the car, or kids who run away from you and could fall off a cliff into the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, then I obviously wouldn’t recommend going until they’re older.
But if your kids are a little more cautious and are good in the car, I think it’s an incredible experience. My kids loved it. I’m a firm believer that there’s nothing better for kids and families than travel. But they have to be prepared and expectations should be set, so it’s an amazing experience for them too. That’s why we read books about Yellowstone and talked about the trip countless times in the weeks that led up to the trip. If we had showed up to a hot pot or geyser for the first time without any context or information, my kids would have had a much different experience, and probably would have been majorly underwhelmed.
What did we pack for our trip to Jackson Hole and Yellowstone?
Of course, check the weather before you go.
Layers: We brought coats and beanies for everyone because the temperatures were in the thirties at night and in the fifties during the day. I bought THIS JACKET for myself. It’s not super warm, but kept the wind out and was never too heavy when the sun came out.
Tops: sweaters, sweatshirts, t-shirts for layering in case it warmed up
Bottoms: leggings for hiking, comfortable jeans for walking and driving
Shoes: I brought a pair of LACE UP BOOTS that I wore the entire time. They were great for hiking and walking and driving in the car. We brought NIKE SNEAKERS for the boys and those kept them comfortable for hiking and driving.
Do you have any other questions about our trip to Yellowstone? Leave a comment!