close up view of old faithful erupting

Yellowstone with Toddlers & Babies: Everything You Need to Know!

You might be wondering if Yellowstone is a family friendly place to visit. And the answer is YES it can be! If you take the appropriate precautions and protect yourselves, your kids, and the park while you are visiting. Is it the most kid friendly National Park? Probably not, especially with young kids. However, it’s a stunning park and it’s definitely possible to enjoy yourself going to Yellowstone with toddlers and babies. Here are some ways you can keep your family safe while visiting Yellowstone National Park – while protecting the wildlife and nature as well.

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Yellowstone With Toddlers: The National Park Lodges

The lodges in Yellowstone National Park can be a great way to explore the park if you’re not ready to camp yet with your baby. Since Yellowstone is also the world’s oldest National Park, these lodges have a lot of interesting history and beautiful architecture. We loved staying at the Old Faithful Inn, one of the largest log structures in the entire world.

1. Call Ahead of Time to Arrange a Pack n’ Play!

This will definitely save you some hassle if you choose to use a pack n’ play provided by the Yellowstone National Park lodges. I called about a week in advance and they had to make sure they had availability at each place we were staying. This was an excellent (and also free!) option that saved us time and was one less thing we had to carry from our cars to the lodge. I also had to remind staff at check in but they did get the beds to our rooms promptly in every case.

2. Check in isn’t until 4 PM at most of the lodges in the park

Keep this in mind if you are coordinating your day around nap time. We ran into a bit of a sticky situation with our overtired toddler, and not having a place for him to nap until way later than normal. They do have an option for early check in, but it’s not something you can arrange ahead of time. We had to keep coming back to see if our room was ready, and were able to get in about an hour early.

3. The dreaded bison toy

Each room we stayed in had a bison stuffed animal front and center as we walked in. It was available for purchase at a “discounted” price of $20. We learned quickly that we should run in and hide the thing before our kids saw it and it became an issue. Just don’t forget to unhide it before you check out so you don’t get charged.

Staying Safe in Yellowstone with Toddlers

1. Be mindful of the altitude

Yellowstone National Park is situated at an elevation above 6000 feet. There are parts of the park near Canyon Village and Lake Yellowstone that are almost 8000 feet. And if you drive over the Continental Divide, you will be at an elevation of over 8300 feet! You may feel this a bit, especially if you are coming from much lower elevation or sea level.

A ranger gave us a tip to make sure to keep the kids (and ourselves) hydrated to avoid any altitude sickness. It also would be wise to not do any long hikes at the beginning of your trip until you get acclimated. If you’re coming from sea level, it may be wise to take it slow and not head to the high elevation parts of the park on day 1.

2. Keep Your Distance from Wildlife

This is SO important for a number of reasons. Number one is your safety and your families safety. The animals in Yellowstone National Park are WILD and should be treated as such. While the animals are incredible and majestic, resist the urge to approach wildlife for the sake of pictures. This happens way too frequently, which unfortunately has devastating consequences for both people and the wildlife.

The rules are to always stay at least 100 yards (91 m) away from bears and wolves, and at least 25 yards (23 m) from all other animals including bison and elk. Never ever feed the wildlife including chipmunks and other small animals. While visiting Yellowstone with toddlers, this is a great opportunity to teach them how to respect wildlife.

Use this opportunity to get your kids a pair of binoculars or grab a nice pair for yourself! It’s a fun souvenir for the parks and something they can use for future adventures as well.

3. Never Leave the Paths or Boardwalks

Yellowstone with toddlers has a ton of safety risks when you go off the paths or boardwalks, not to mention it’s illegal. Leaving the trails can have serious risks for you, the wildlife, and the delicate landscape of Yellowstone National Park. On many of the paths you’ll need to watch your children closely because they may not have rails and falling or walking off the side could literally land them straight in a hot spring.

Yellowstone is a beautiful place, but it’s not the place where you can let your kids roam free! Make sure they have their clothing secured as well (like hats and backpacks), so they don’t fly off and land in a hot pot. There is a ton to see from the boardwalks, so stay on them and everyone will be safe.

4. Do Not Leave your Kids Unattended

Despite the commercialization of Yellowstone National Park, it is still an incredibly wild and dangerous place. There are hot springs, wildlife, and huge crowds of people which can all be hazards for your little ones. This is definitely not the park to let them go run and play without close supervision. It’s easy to lose your kid in the mass of people that visit Yellowstone, we almost lost one of our kids here when we turned our heads for a second. Stay vigilant!

5. Pack up Your Camping Supplies/Food When You’re Away

If you’re camping while in Yellowstone National Park, it’s important to pack up your camp when you’re away seeing the sights. If you leave food or other things out while you’re away, wildlife could end up in your camp and destroy your things. This also causes wildlife to become habituated to humans which is a bad thing for them AND us.

Tips for Seeing the Sights

1. See the highlights early in the morning or during sunset

Yellowstone is a VERY busy place, and for good reason. It’s actually the 4th most visited US National Park and was visited by 4.5 million people in 2023. Visiting the highlights at peak times can significantly increase the stressfulness of traveling with kids and let’s be real, visiting when there are hundreds of people around you takes some of the magic out of it. This goes for all destinations generally, but especially Yellowstone.

Since most kids wake up early anyways, just try to get everyone out the door if you plan to hike and then come back to check out or clean up camp afterwards! We got to watch Old Faithful erupt at sunrise and it was the highlight of our trip.

old faithful at sunrise looking like fire

2. Don’t forget sunscreen or shade!

Most of the trails and boardwalks in Yellowstone are not shaded. Make sure you have a hiking backpack with shade if you have a baby, sunscreen, or a sun hat. The air is also very dry in Yellowstone, so don’t forget to pack lotion!

3. Download maps or the Yellowstone National Park App

A good chunk of Yellowstone doesn’t have cell service or wi-fi (yay for being off the grid!) There were a lot of areas that were lacking signage also so it’s a good idea to download a park map or the Yellowstone app ahead of time.

4. Make reservations ahead of time for Restaurants

Restaurants in Yellowstone fill up with reservations quickly because it’s such a busy park. If you are set on eating at some of the nice restaurants like the Lake Yellowstone Hotel Dining Room, Grant Village Dining Room, or the Old Faithful Inn Dining Room, I would consider making reservations a few weeks in advance at least. If you drop the ball, don’t worry – there are several of the other restaurants are first come first serve. Or at the worst case scenario, there’s always a PB&J!

5. Book your Vacation Ahead of Time

Yellowstone was the first National Park in the entire world, so to say it is a popular place is an understatement. There are a lot of international visitors as well as people coming from all over the United States to see the wonder that Yellowstone has to offer. To get the accommodations you want, I would highly recommend planning your trip far ahead of time. There are many places to stay around Yellowstone, but they do book up quickly! And sometimes you can get a better deal if you book early.

6. Don’t LImit Yourself to One Spot

Yellowstone is massive National Park (actually the 8th largest US National Park!) It covers over 2.2 million acres. While a lot of that is backcountry that is a bit difficult to explore with kids, there is so much to see and do here. Depending on how much time you have, I would recommend choosing at least a couple different areas to explore. If you have a long vacation (or less time but don’t mind driving), you can drive the whole Grand Loop road and see a huge variety of different sights.

Other Yellowstone Safety Tips

1. Put Out Your Campfire

Putting out your campfire is incredibly important when you are visiting Yellowstone or any National Park. Wildfires can be absolutely devastating and having a fire responsibly is your duty when visiting the National Parks.

  • If your campfire is hot to the touch – do NOT leave it or go to sleep
  • If the coals are whitish or gray they can still retain heat for a long time
  • Make sure to douse your fire with plenty of water when you are ready to go to bed or leave for the day.
  • If you don’t have access to water, you can spread the ashes and coals out and then put sand or dirt over them. If you use this option, make sure to continuously stir this until all the heat is gone.

If you plan to camp while you’re there, make sure to check out our free printable packing checklist for camping with a baby or toddler!

2. Bring Bear Spray

Having bear spray is a good idea when visiting Yellowstone National Park. If you’re only visiting the major traffic areas in the middle of the day when there are hoards of other tourists, you probably don’t need it. However, if you’re going on hikes or visiting places early in the morning, it’s a good idea to carry bear spray.

3. Pull Off the Side of the Road to Watch Widlife

If you see wildlife in Yellowstone, DO NOT stop in the middle of the road to look at it. Use the pull outs to stop and view animals and stay in your car. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT, chase after wildlife with your camera or phone to get a closer picture. See my tips above for how close you can get to the wildlife. If there is a wildlife jam in the middle of the road, do not get out of your car. Just look through your windows and move forward as traffic allows.

4. Don’t Feed the Animals

I hate that I have to say this…. but please do not feed the animals, big or small. While some of these animals might look cute, they are not your friends or your pets. They are wild animals and let’s treat them as such!

5. Give Yourself More than One Day to Explore

Visiting Yellowstone in just one day is not ideal. While you can explore one little section of the park if you have a day, I would highly recommend spending more than one day in this park.

If you’re headed out on the trails, check out our guide to What to Pack for a Successful Day Hike with Kids (+ a free printable checklist)!

6. Read this Book

I don’t want to scare you, but as I’ve said several times, Yellowstone is a wild place and it needs to be respected. This book, Death in Yellowstone, highlights the major risks and will help you avoid some of these hazards to keep your family safe!

death in yellowstone book cover

If you’re looking for other (maybe lighter) reading material for both adults and kids about Yellowstone – check out this post of 9 Must Read Books about Yellowstone National Park (for kids and adults!)

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Yellowstone Good to Visit With Kids?

Yes! Yellowstone has a ton of easy boardwalk hikes, stroller friendly trails, and fun things to explore. While there are some hazards to avoid, you can definitely have a fun family vacation here! Yellowstone with toddlers is not for relaxation, but as long as you follow the safety tips above – you’ll have a great time.

Which Part of Yellowstone is Best for Kids?

If you’re looking for part of Yellowstone that has less hazards, Yellowstone Lake would be the easiest place to bring your kids. But every part of Yellowstone has fun things to do with kids including the Old Faithful Area, Mammoth Hot Springs, Canyon, and more!

What is the Best Age to Take Kids to Yellowstone?

Taking a baby (who isn’t yet mobile) or a kid just above the toddler stage (who can listen and follow rules a bit) would be the best ages to take kids to Yellowstone. However, you can bring whatever age kid you want to Yellowstone and you’ll still have a blast.

How Many Days Do you Need in Yellowstone with Kids?

I would recommend taking 4-5 days if you can make that work. You really could explore Yellowstone for longer and not get bored if you have more time to vacation! If you only have a couple days, I would recommend sticking to one or two areas so you don’t spend your whole vacation in the car.

Can You Use Strollers in Yellowstone?

Yes! A lot of the boardwalk trails in Yellowstone are perfect for strollers. While some of them have stairs or other obstacles, many of them are perfect to bring a kid in a stroller. I would recommend asking a ranger for specifics on each trail you plan to do when you get there!

Planning Your Trip to Yellowstone?

We have a ton of resources to help you plan your trip! Check them out below:

Happy travels!

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