Let’s create a hypothetical plan for a trip with two kids, ten and seven years old. First, a word of caution. Although I will mention here things to do on each of seven days in Yellowstone and the Tetons, no itinerary should be too full either of miles to cover or of things to see and do, because the unexpected experiences may take over—and may be the most memorable.
Let’s suppose your family is approaching via Interstate 94 from North Dakota, and has nine or ten days altogether, two of them spent driving to and from the Yellowstone area. Arriving from the northeast, stay in Red Lodge, Montana, to be poised for your first sightseeing day.
Day 1Traverse the Beartooth Highway (U.S. Hwy. 212), climbing to the 11,000-foot summit by way of switchbacks, passing endless fields of wildflowers (in July and August) stopping to throw snowballs and enjoy the amazing views. Enter Yellowstone through the Northeast Entrance and start watching for the animals: moose, pronghorn antelope, wolves, and bison may be in view.
If you start early enough, you may find a campsite available at Pebble Creek or Slough Creek campgrounds, or you may need to seek one at Tower Fall campground. The Tower-Roosevelt area is a good one for spotting black bears. It’s clever to reserve a cabin at Tower-Roosevelt for that first night just in case. Any reservations need to be made months in advance through Xanterra Parks & Resorts: 866-439-7375.
While in the Tower-Roosevelt area, stop at the ranger station to pick up copies of the Junior Ranger newspaper. This directs the kids to specific activities, provides checklists of the animals and park features they’ve learned about, and lets them get a badge and become Junior Rangers when they turn it in.
Get an early start to see wolves along the Northeast Entrance Road (the way you came in) or go west from Tower-Roosevelt Junction and stop for waterfalls, short hikes, and certainly at Mammoth Hot Springs to walk around the travertine terraces. Go south from Mammoth to Norris Campground to secure a campsite for the next three nights.
Days 3, 4, and 5Enjoy the geysers and hot springs at Norris Geyser Basin and also hikes and short drives in the vicinity and as far south as Madison and Old Faithful Village. You’re very likely to see elk in this part of the park. Plan to spend at least one of the days around Old Faithful, since there is so much to see in that area.
Early on Day 5 you’ll want to go to Lewis Lake Campground to secure a campsite for the next three nights—or, if you’ve reserved in advance, you can arrive later in the day at the Grant Village or Canyon campground.
Days 6 and 7Even without reserving a place to stay in Grand Teton National Park or Jackson, you can spend most of one day viewing those beautiful peaks or hiking in them from your base at Lewis Lake. Jackson, for the record, is the most expensive gateway community near Yellowstone, but the Tetons have several pleasant campgrounds that are inexpensive.
The other day gives you time to see West Thumb Geyser Basin, the lakeshore, Hayden Valley with all its bison, and the trail along the rim of the incomparable Canyon of the Yellowstone River.
Leave by the East Entrance, enjoying more time along the lake and climbing over another mountain pass. Be sure to make a note of all the things you want to see on your next visit!
CREDITS: All photos on this page are by Bruno Giletti.
IN THE GUIDEBOOK: Find more travel tips on pages 356–68 of Yellowstone Treasures.
Copyright Janet Chapple. All Rights Reserved.