With its bubbling geysers, rushing waterfalls, and charismatic wildlife, Yellowstone is a kids’ paradise. There’s no better way to experience the region than out on the trails—just follow these tips for family-friendly fun.
How Far Can Kids Hike?
- Don’t overdo it. Most children can handle hiking about half a mile for every year of age (so your 6-year-old can probably hike 3 miles). Expect to hike more slowly than you’re used to, especially if you’re gaining elevation.
- Offer a great payoff. Kids don’t care about gorgeous views as much as you do, but they’re wild about rocks to climb on, lakes and rivers to splash in, and bugs to examine.
- Pack treats. M&Ms, trail mix, Skittles, and granola bars are time-tested motivators for tired legs. Try bringing snacks the kids don’t normally get at home to make hiking even more of a treat.
Backpacking with Kids
- Have kids participate. When planning, ask what they want to do and see. On the trail, even small children love carrying their own light daypacks (pack them with a few layers or snacks. In camp, ask kids to help gather firewood, set up tents, or prepare dinner.
- Gear up. Make sure each child has her own sleeping pad and sleeping bag. And they’re not essential, but kids love wearing their own headlamps.
- Play games. Pack a deck of cards (or Uno) for tent tournaments. Or play word games such as I Spy or scavenger hunts.
Here are the top trails for kids in Yellowstone:
1. Upper Geyser Basin
(Recommended for ages 8 and up for entire distance)
Old Faithful is one of the most famous geysers in the world and is a definite must-see for anyone visiting Yellowstone. Go beyond this crowd-pleaser by exploring the Upper Geyser Basin behind Old Faithful. Wind among hot springs and waterspouts on this 6-mile round trip boardwalk trail through the world’s largest concentration of geysers and colorful hot springs such as Beehive Geyser, Riverside Geyser and Morning Glory Pool. Go as far as your young one is interested then turn around to head back.
2. South Rim Trail
(Recommended for children 10 and up)
This flat, 5-mile (round-trip) trail traces the edge of the stunning Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and offers views of immense Upper and Lower Falls. Keep a close watch of children near the edges of the canyon.
3. Wraith Falls Trail
(Recommended for children 5 and up)
Even young children will love this easy 1-mile (round-trip) hike through sagebrush to the foot of a pretty 69-foot waterfall along Lupine Creek. At the end of the trail, take the wooden bridge across the creek and then step up a few stairs to a fenced viewpoint about 200 feet from the base of the falls. Wraith Falls can sometimes be a seasonal waterfall with the best time to visit in early summer when it’s fed by snowmelt. In other months, the falls can be a small trickle.
The Wraith Falls trailhead is east of Mammoth Hot Springs and a half-mile east of Lava Creek Picnic Area on the Grand Loop Road. Pack a picnic as a treat for after the hike.
4. Trout Lake
(Recommended for children 5 and up)
A short uphill climb might leave you breathing heavy but this 1.2-mile lollypop trail leads you to and around the tranquil Trout Lake. This is a popular trail for fishing and wildlife watching so it may be a busy during peak season. The Lamar Valley location is a haven for wildlife such as otters, swans, ducks, elk and bison. Bring a picnic and spend time looking at the lake’s reflections of the blue sky and mountains. Park on the small pullout about 1.5 miles south of Pebble Creek Campground on the Northeast Entrance Road.