Exploring Yellowstone with Kids
Our country’s first national park has so much to offer families and kids. It is a very unique park since it sits in a super active volcano so it has the highest concentrantion of geothermal activity. This super volcano underneath made me a little uneasy at first but as we were told by park rangers, it hasn’t erupted in 640,000 years so we’re most likely fine (for now). Comforting to know…
Attractions such as geysers, hot springs, mud pools and smoke were everywhere which kept our kids wondering how this all came about. It all felt a bit surreal. The variety of wildlife that greeted us as we drove through and explored the park was absolutely amazing.
It was quite large so it was best not to do too much in one day especially with the kids in tow. We decided to focus on the lower portion of the Grand Loop road (main road around the park) for this visit since we only had a couple of days. I can only imagine the number of cars and people on this road during its heightened season in the summer months. I’m glad we decided to come here during Fall where at times, we were the only car on the road for miles. There were so many turnouts, picnic benches by rivers and definitely plenty of scenic vistas for photo ops. It was a great way for kids to be up close and personal with nature and wildlife. Be sure to pack binoculars for the kids.
We came in through the West entrance in West Yellowstone, MT. This entrance is closed from November through April. We visited the Yellowstone Visitor’s Center where it also housed a Montana Visitor’s center offering plenty of brochures and travel planners. In the Yellowstone side was a table full of sample fur and hide from different animals found in the park. Another table had antlers, and husks of elks and bisons for the kids to touch. The walls were also decorated with mounted heads of animals found in the park. (i.e. bison, elk, deer) The kids loved these interactive areas.
This was a good pit stop since the little town had plenty of shops, an IMAX theater, and a grocery store with a deli to stock up for food and drinks before entering the park. There was also a Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center down the block from the visitor’s center. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to go there. it will definitely be on our list for next time.
Junior Park Ranger
The Junior Park Ranger program at national parks was developed to encourage children (ages 5-12) to learn more about the parks they were visiting through a series of activities that allowed them to explore and ask questions and interact with the rangers. My kids loved doing this so they could get their little badge in the end. The activities were simple enough and not time consuming that they didn’t lose interest in the process.
Unlike the other parks we visited where it was free, the junior ranger packet costs $3 here for the 12-page newspaper size activity paper called “Yellowstone’s Nature” and a pencil. We bought these together with the $25 park entrance at the West Yellowstone visitor’s center located in West Yellowstone, MT. There was a ranger at the desk who was very helpful with our Yelowstone questions.
The activity packet was geared towards different age groups so we got the 5-7 year old packet. I would have to update this once we reach the 8-12 year old bracket. Each child needed to complete 4 pages and 1 ranger-led program. These programs and schedules were printed on the Yellowstone Today newspaper given along with the map when we bought our ticket. Both were invaluable resources. Since the ranger talks were already over for the season, she said we just needed to meet a ranger at any visitor’s center where we could also turn in the packet.
Activities in the paper ranged from connecting dots, Bingo on hikes, drawing lines to animals they’ve seen through the park, coloring animals hidden in a big diagram. There were some pages requiring coloring so try to bring some crayons or colored pencils if you want to do this. We improvised by using their pencils for shading instead.
We turned our packets in at the new Old Faithful Visitor’s Center. I guess meeting a ranger didn’t qualify as an activity as we were told. Instead, the ranger told us we can substitute it by watching a movie in the auditorium. Luckily, we did because that movie theater was great with stadium style seating. The movie, Yellowstone Today, was pretty interesting and the kids actually stayed throughout the 15 minute movie.
The Junior Rangers receive a Yellowstone Park patch upon completion of the packet. My kids got the wolf track badge. This was a bit different from other parks which gave out little, plastic badges. They actually liked the patches and learned a lot including the geothermal activity and wildlife around the park. For more information on the National Park Service’s Junior Ranger Program, visit their website.
Young Scientist Program
Yellowstone also has a program called Young Scientist for children 5 years and older. The Toolkit, which has a thermometer, stopwatch, and other gear can be purchased at select Visitor’s Center for $5. The kids will receive an official Young Scientist patch or key chain after completing their tasks. This sounded great too which we’ll have to definitely do when we come back here. For more information visit, their website.
Restrooms throughout the park were usually available at each attraction in the form of a little shack and are unisex. There are no sinks but only a hand sanitizer dispenser. There were no toilet seat covers. Toilet paper was readily available. It was essentially a big port-o-potty over a hole in the ground. This might be a bit nerve racking for some kids who have not seen these. My then seven year old daughter, even after seeing these in various parks, still had a fear of falling down and won’t go in alone.