We decided to cram in as MUCH of Yellowstone in 3 days as humanly possible. We are excited to share with you the MANY photos and tips during our time inside the park in the next few weeks. However, there are a few things that are MUSTS before you go to Yellowstone.
Get The App
Don't just install the Yellowstone App on your phone, make SURE you download the app for use while there's no service. Much of Yellowstone doesn't have cell service so this app is crucial to finding out not just where you are, but where everything and information about all of the things they have to offer. It was especially helpful in answering the always loved "are we there yet?" question or where a bathroom was for littles.
Make A Rough Itinerary
Also when you have the app PLAN out your stops in advance. This way you'll know exactly how long it takes to get to each section. We basically looked at the map of Yellowstone using the app & cut it in 4ths. We decided to see them in sections. Day one was the top left section, day two was the top right section and day three was the bottom left section. This allowed us to stay local and only make a drive to the east side once. For example we knew we wanted to go to Lamar Valley to see the wildlife. Since we were parked at the West Entrance we knew it would take about 2-2.5 hours to get to the east side of the park. This meant that we would need to throw the kids in the car all snuggled up and pass through the gates around 6am. By late afternoon the animals are pretty much done roaming so doing things like going to the wildlife areas early made seeing animals possible. If you have an itinerary plan what you most want to see for early and first thing in the morning.
That being said remember that hot springs steam. If you are wanting to see something like Grand Prismatic you will need to go late morning when the steam has cooled off a little. By then there are definitely going to be some major crowds. We did try to see it early around 8am in the summer and it's just too steamy to see it as well as later.
Planning Helps Avoid Crowds
The biggest key to avoiding the inevitable crowds is getting a head start on things early. Most days we crossed the gates at about 7am which was extremely helpful. We saw about 3/4 of the park and it didn't really get busy until the mid to late afternoon. We went to all of the most popular spots really early in the morning and hit the less traveled sites later when the crowds all arrived at the must see sites. This allowed us to actually enjoy a lot of the areas and see them without massive crowds. Even on Labor Day Weekend we really didn't see crowds except at Old Faithful.
Keeping Little Kids Safe!
The other thing you need to know is there is a LOT of places that are not safe for little kiddos to be running around. Even more so, areas that are extremely dangerous for kids to not be contained. Before going we decided that we were going to bring a framed backpack for our 2 year old who's a constant runner. We did consider a leash (don't knock it until you have kids), but we knew even that would cause frustration for him being able to run and not being able to reach things. There are incredible hot springs which are boiling temps at all times within feet of the trail or boardwalks. Also there are a lot of beautiful lookout areas that don't have the best barriers for tiny tikes who like to climb. That being said our youngest spent most of his time either in the backpack, ergo or the car, but still loved every minute of it. There are lots of grass areas and things to let them run around before you start hiking. Speaking of hiking I will also say that we decided to time our long hikes each day with nap time. This allowed us to enjoy the park without being rushed and without him realizing he's stuck in the pack for over an hour.
The backpack proved to be extremely helpful because we could put water bottles, lovies (for nap time), an extra pacifier, hats, camera, maps and other things we needed. Most of the sites involved hiking from an area farther out than the over stuffed parking lots so we needed to have everything in the pack. We ended up packing TONS of extra water because there are some areas that don't have drinking fountains even at the trailheads with visitor centers.
Food & Snacks
Lastly. If you have very tiny kids like us understand that there are bear warnings around most places. Food is recommended to stay in places it won't attract wild animals. While most of the places we went to were pretty populated we did decide to keep snacks in the car. If you have tinies that are constantly hungry like ours it does take a bit of explaining that they need to eat an extra big breakfast and make sure to eat snacks in the car just before they head out. On the days we had to leave really early we had breakfast in the car which proved to be much easier. Some kids are hungry right away but ours are not usually the ones that can wake up and down a huge breakfast. We always made sure to have a cooler in the car with lunch and lots of snacks for once we got back in. There are restaurants and stores within Yellowstone we just decided to bring our own food as a way to save on money.
Grace & Relax
Most importantly I tried to remember everyone who was there is trying to see the same things I was. There are crowds, kids get tired, animals may not appear, life happens. In all of our days traveling I will say our kids were rockstars. Our 5 year old hiked probably around 15 miles. However, that's not typical of a lot of kids his age and we understood at some point he was going to be done. Right before we went on a short hike to see Grand Prismatic from the top both kids decided physically and emotionally they were done with life. We still got to see it, but it involved suckers and the short boardwalk where you got to see only a part of it. And it was great. There were meltdowns and multiple bathroom stops and endless requests for snacks or to be put down by our littlest. The thing to remember MOST about Yellowstone is that you are there with your family. Whatever you see, count as a blessing. Whatever you don't see, don't worry about it. Have grace for any kiddo traveling and any parent going with them.