The family voted, and you’re headed Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming for the next family vacation. With activities galore and a park bigger than Rhode Island, families will rave about this trip for years. But let’s be honest, some moms don’t do nature. Don’t despair. The kids can hike around a supervolcano and find more geysers than Iceland. Dad can spot loads of animals with a chance at fishing. And the National Parks TravelingMom offers a solution for the luxe mom, where to find luxury in Yellowstone National Park at Lake Yellowstone Hotel.
Take a Family Vacation to Yellowstone National Park
Kids crave nature. Sure, they love video games. But in my car with three tweens and teens, they throw their phones into the seat back pocket when something better comes into view.
Their attention shifts and catching a glimpse of a wild animal is more interesting. Learning about a supervolcano and seeing a geyser shoot hot water over a hundred feet into the air is better. Staying in a cabin on the edge of the largest high-elevation lake in North America turns into a night they remember forever.
What to do near Yellowstone Lake
Visit the largest high-elevation lake in North America. With fishing or scenic boat cruises, spend some time near or on the water. If you can stay at the grand Lake Yellowstone Hotel or at least take a free tour. Since opening in 1891, it remains the oldest hotel in the National Park Service.
Photo Safari—Grab the morning light and find some animals with a photographer guide. Fee
Historic Hotel Tour–Take a historic tour of the Lake Yellowstone Hotel. Free
Nightly Ranger Programs—Yellowstone Park Ranger offer ranger programs at night at the Lake Lodge. Free
Historic Bus Tour–Climb in one of Yellowstone’s historic yellow buses for a scenic tour. Fee
Hiking near Yellowstone Lake
For family hiking find several trails near Fishing Bridge and Lake Village on Yellowstone Lake’s northern shore.
- Pelican Creek–.6-mile roundtrip trail, easy
- Storm Point—2.3-mile roundtrip trail, easy
- Natural Bridge—2.5-mile roundtrip trail, easy
- Pelican Valley—6.2-mile roundtrip trail, easy
Top Activities on Yellowstone Lake
Since Yellowstone Lake is the largest high-elevation lake in North America, boaters and anglers gather to enjoy it.
- Fishing–Yellowstone National Park allows fishing though a license is required for anglers over 16.
- Rent a boat—At the Bridge Bay Marina, visitors can rent outboard or row boats.
- Fishing Trips—Arrange a guided fishing charter at the Bridge Bay Marina. On a two-hour trip, fish for native cutthroat trout. And then have the lodge dining room cook up your catch.
- Scenic Cruise—Hop aboard the Lake Queen to see Stevenson Island and a shipwreck.
History of Yellowstone National Park
On March 1, 1872, Yellowstone National Park became the first national park in the world – an idea that’s flourished across the globe.
Yellowstone’s significance, however, began long before. Approximately two million years ago, a supervolcano erupted in Yellowstone, forming a caldera, or basin. Located in center of Yellowstone National Park, the caldera measures 45 miles across. Because of the geothermal activity, Yellowstone offers the largest concentration of geysers in the world.
Then the railroad arrived to the northern edge of the park in 1883. Next the first roads started to bisect the park, allowing visitors more access to the geothermal features and the animals. Since more people meant more building, Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Old Faithful Inn remain as the surviving early lodges.
Since Yellowstone was on the western frontier, the U.S. Army built a fort to keep the law and chase away the poachers. Then in 1978 Yellowstone was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Other Places to Explore in Yellowstone
In a national park larger than Rhode Island, families can explore several areas during a weeklong vacation.
- Old Faithful Inn
- Old Faithful Geyser
- Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
- Lamar or Hayden Valley
- Mammoth Hot Springs
The Animals of Yellowstone National Park
Some visitors enjoy the geothermal features; others want to see animals. Yellowstone National Park offers some of the best animal viewing in the U.S.
I recommend Hayden Valley or Lamar Valley, along the river. The best times to spot animals is dawn and dust when animals are most active. Check in with the Park Rangers who know where animals frequent or take a guided tour.
- Grizzly Bear
- Black Bear
- Bighorn Sheep
- Mule Deer
- Bring binoculars and a chair to get comfortable.
- The Junior Ranger Booklet includes animal spotting activities.
Bear Safety in Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park features two types of bears: black bears and Grizzly bears. Knowing the difference is important since each species uses different behavior.
Park Rangers offer some guidelines to reduce bear encounters.
- Hike in groups of 4 or more.
- Keep campsites clean.
- Make noise while hiking by wearing bear bells and talking.
- Carry bear spray. Keep it accessible when hiking and know how to use it.
Bear spray is advised and can be rented in the park. Visit a ranger station or visitor center for more information.
To find out more information, attend a ranger program to learn more about bears in Yellowstone National Park. I did and my boys loved the bear programs. And I felt more confident afterwards.
Kids at Yellowstone National Park
The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about a National Park Service site. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet.
Kids love Yellowstone and kids love animals. So buy a Junior Ranger booklet at the nearest bookstore. In Yellowstone the Junior Ranger booklets are $3 but kids who complete their booklets get a patch.
Yellowstone National Park divides the Junior Ranger booklet into three age categories, with age-appropriate activities. Kids 4 to 7, 8 to 12 and 13 and older each complete as many activities as their age.
Try to turn in your Junior Ranger booklet at Yellowstone’s National Park Junior Ranger Station. Located near the Madison entrance on the western side of the park it offers more opportunities for kids to learn about Yellowstone.
Where to Find Luxury in Yellowstone National Park?
In the southern part of Yellowstone National Park, I found the the most luxurious lodging along the northern shore of Lake Yellowstone. With a lodge and nearby cabins that scream family fun, Lake Yellowstone is an ideal location for multi-generational travel too.
Lake Yellowstone Hotel—The most luxurious lodging in Yellowstone National Park offers several layers of luxury, from presidential suites to standard hotel rooms. During a tour, I found marble bathrooms and in-room coffee and tea, along with plush robes.
Lake Yellowstone Hotel also features yellow-painted cabins with attached bathrooms, featuring showers.
Sandpiper Lodge—Located adjacent to the Lake Yellowstone Hotel, the Sandpiper Lodge offers standard lodge rooms.
Lake Lodge Cabins—Offering a main lodge with rocking chairs along the front porch, sit and savor the lake views. Built in the 1920s with logs, the Lake Lodge features a river rock fireplace and seating.
Western and Frontier cabins are plain on the outside though equipped with a private bath and function much like a modern hotel room. The Pioneer cabins offer more basic accommodations and only offer a sink.
All Yellowstone National Park lodging doesn’t offer air-conditioning, TVs or radios. Yellowstone boasts mild summers and the temperatures drop in the evening so air conditioning isn’t needed.
History of Lake Yellowstone Hotel
Stay in a suite enjoyed by former President Calvin Coolidge. As guests walk into the expansive lobby, musicians play in the sun room. Sit by the lobby’s fireplace while reading a book in a plush sofa.
In contrast, the Old Faithful Inn, the largest log building in the world, brings the forest indoors. The Lake Yellowstone Hotel offers guests a refined historic hotel, reminiscent of the elegant 19th century East Coast hotels. Then early guests arrived to the hotel on a steam ship from across the lake.
While building the Old Faithful Inn, architect Robert Reamer extensively renovated and expanded the Lake Yellowstone Hotel. Built in 1891, the original hotel lacked distinctiveness so Reamer added columns, a porte cochere and a lounge.
By adding refined details Reamer elevated the Lake Yellowstone Hotel for guests requiring more luxury. After several additional renovations, Lake Yellowstone Hotel maintains its title as the most luxurious hotel property within Yellowstone National Park.
Lake Yellowstone Hotel Dining
Dine overlooking the lake in the elegant Lake Yellowstone Hotel dining room. Or grab a snack in the log cabin general store along the shores.
- Lake Hotel Dining Room—On the shores of Yellowstone Lake, dine in luxurious dining room serving fresh fish and wild game. Enjoy white tablecloths and elegant white columns for a date night or family dinner. Reservations for dinner only and family friendly.
- Lake Hotel Deli–Offering take-out sandwiches, baked goods and espresso drinks. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Lake Yellowstone General Store—Serving light meals at its counter, my kids found little boxes of cereal and I grabbed a cup of coffee for breakfast. Or stop for a cold drink and the famous huckleberry ice cream in the afternoon.
- Lake Lodge Cafeteria—Offering hot entrees, deli sandwiches and prime rib in a family friendly cafeteria. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Lodge Lobby Bar—Stop by for a cocktail after dinner to enjoy next to the fireplace.
Our Stay in a Lake Yellowstone Hotel Cabin
The Lake Yellowstone Hotel caters to guests with smaller families. Since the majority of the well-appointed rooms feature king-sized beds along with bathrooms with over-sized tubs and marble vanities.
For my stay at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel, I reserved a Frontier Cabin. As a convenient option for families, the cabin felt like a free-standing motel room.
I found a pair of double beds, a coffee maker, a shower with a single vanity located outside the bathroom. Since the cabins open to a grassy area my kids 8, 11 and 13 played outside.
Within walking distance to the Lake Yellowstone Hotel and the Lake Yellowstone General Store, families can walk to eat. During our stay, my kids walked to the Lake Yellowstone General Store for huckleberry ice cream. Then we ate a simple breakfast the following morning.
For dinner we ate in the Lake Hotel Dining room with views of the lake. The seasonal menu features local flavors and sustainable ingredients. Reservations are requested though the dress code is casual and hiking boots are welcome.
Yellowstone Lake Camping
The Lake Village area doesn’t offer a campground. Nearby, find a site along the northern shores of Yellowstone Lake.
Fishing Bridge RV Park—Yellowstone’s only full-service campground and open to RVs only.
Bridge Bay Marina—Offers camp sites with a picnic table, fire ring and tent pad. Bridge Bay features restrooms with flush toilets though showers and self-serve laundries are not available.
Your First Visit
On my first visit to Yellowstone National Park, I made every newbie mistake.
- Didn’t make reservations.
- I camped in the same campground and didn’t move around the park.
- Didn’t research.
- Spend too little time in Yellowstone.
When the time came to plan another trip, I wanted to see more of the park. I planned a Grand Tour like the first visitors did over 100 years ago.
I started in one area and explored before relocating to another area. By minimizing the driving I maximized the enjoying.
Where’s Yellowstone National Park
It’s 320 miles northeast of Salt Lake City. Unless you arrange a tour, you will need a car to explore.
Two major airports serve Yellowstone National Park. I’ve flown into both and I prefer Bozeman for convenience, schedule and lower fares.
- Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN)—Bozeman, Montana, offers everything you need to outfit your family for a national park adventure, from food to equipment.
- Jackson Hole Airport (JAC)—The busiest airport in Wyoming is a regional airport. Jackson is a quaint town with an Old West flavor.
Yellowstone National Park offers cafes, general stores and restaurants. Though be prepared to picnic for lunch and grab some snacks and sandwich ingredients in Bozeman or Jackson.
Getting Around Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. Use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or purchase a 7-day pass for $30 per vehicle.
Yellowstone National Park offers five entrances.
- North Entrance—Closest entrance for Bozeman, Montana
- Northeast Entrance—Scenic highway to Billings, Montana
- West Entrance—For families trying to add to their state count. Enter or exit through the west entrance to add Idaho.
- East Entrance—Scenic highway to Cody, Wyoming
- South Entrance—The busiest entrance and gateway to Grand Teton National Park and Jackson, Wyoming.
Seasonal closures affect in Yellowstone National Park. July and August are the only months that all roads and facilities are open.