Travel planning with teens is challenging. Then add in the remote location of Yellowstone National Park, and parents planning an adventure to Yellowstone National Park with teens face the challenge of crafting a fantastic vacation without breaking the bank!

This comprehensive guide will share how we created our adventure and had some amazing “forced family fun”! 

Yellowstone National Park, the nation’s first national park, is an amazing park that spans three states Wyoming (96%), Montana (3%), and Idaho (1%). The tremendous geographic diversity of this park is nearly impossible to explain. From nearly barren geyser basins to the most beautiful waterfalls on the planet to a snowy mountain peak of nearly 8,000 feet, this national park has something for everyone!

Planning your adventure is critical unless you have unlimited PTO and can spend all summer in Yellowstone. It’s even more important when traveling with teens who rely on an internet connection for survival!

Yellowstone Family Adventure RecapPorcelain Basin at Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone

If you’re short on time but eager for the highlights of exploring YNP with teens, here’s the breakdown:

  • Don’t skip the iconic spots like Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic, with pro tips for extra fun.
  • Navigate Yellowstone’s expansive landscapes with the handy Guide Along app.
  • Choose camping in Yellowstone for an authentic experience.
  • Balance teen independence with family activities, ensuring everyone has a blast and stays safe.
  • Optimize travel times for fewer crowds and maximize your summer break for a full park experience.
  • Prioritize safety and respect for the park’s wildlife and natural beauty, following all park guidelines.

Traveling to Yellowstone with Teens

When we started our RV journey in the fall of 2020, visiting Yellowstone National Park was near the top of our bucket list. Initially, we thought we’d go out for a long weekend like the kid’s fall break. 

Then, we looked at a map did some quick calculations, and realized from our homebase in Louisville, KY, Yellowstone was over 1,700 miles…each way. With our average driving speed of 60 to 65mph when towing our camper, we realized Yellowstone is a long way from home!

We decided to “build up” our RV traveling skills before setting off on an EPIC journey like visiting Yellowstone. This gave us plenty of perspective to plan our entire Western States travel plan for our summer vacation.

10 Things to See and Do with Teens in Yellowstone

1. Old FaithfulOld Faithful

Perhaps the most iconic geyser in YNP because of its regularity, size, and accessibility. Old Faithful seems cliche, but turned out to be a family favorite. The beautiful rainbow certainly helped solidify Old Faithful as our favorite geyser.

Pro Tip: Stop in at the visitor center and ask the Ranger for some recommended hikes. Sometimes Rangers share “off the beaten path” recommendations that create amazing memories!

2. Grand Prismatic from Fairy Falls Trail Overlook

The boardwalks around Grand Prismatic are nice, but an aerial view is truly necessary to witness the beauty of the Grand Prismatic. Everyone seems to know about Fairy Falls, so visitors won’t have the overlook to themselves, but you still get amazing vistas!

3. Grand Canyon of YellowstoneGrand Canyon of YNP

Amazing! From the famous artist point to Lookout Point. Our teens like Lookout Point better than Artist Point because we had the view from Lookout Point to ourselves. Don’t skip out on the short but steep walk to the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River.

4. Norris Geyser BasinNorris Geyser Basin

This was one of my favorite thermal basins. I really appreciated the stark white landscape and the turquoise pools of water. In my mind, these were breathtaking!

5. Firehole FallsFirehole Falls

Without the Guide Along app, we would have missed this fantastic waterfall entirely. Firehole Canyon Road is a neat one-way road that winds through the canyon. The drive was beautiful. A giant osprey nest was situated close to the falls overlook, so we got an up-close look at this remarkable bird!

6. Travertine Terraces

At a distance, the travertine is so white it looks like snow! Logic takes over and rules that out because it’s hot outside (we visited in the summer). This feature was an area we rushed through because of a looming thunderstorm. We would enjoy spending more time in the Mammoth Hot Spring area on our next visit.

7. Mud VolcanoMud Volanco Basin

Grab your nose plugs because this area is super stinky. The Mud Volcano is neat because it’s bubbling mud from the earth. The thermal features of the park range from nearly heavenly like Grand Prismatic to downright yucky…Mud Volcano. This highlights the diversity of the park.

8. Old Faithful InnOld Faithful Inn with Clock (2)

The largest timber frame hotel in the world with a massive creek stone fireplace is a site to see. Moreover, we found the Old Faithful Inn a wonderful “throwback” to a time that had passed when hotels were filled with tourists enjoying each other’s company over a glass of iced tea or a cocktail. We recommend staying a night in this glorious Inn if your budget can handle it!

9. Gibbon FallsGibbons Falls

Gibbons Falls is a fantastic cascading waterfall that is directly on the way from West Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. A large parking lot is conveniently located next to the falls making for a quick stop on the way to the Grand Canyon. Our teens found this to be an excellent way to start our second day in YNP!

10. Drive the Grand Loop(s)

YNP includes a northern and southern grand loop that travels past most of the park’s notable features. We found the Guide Along app super valuable as we drove through the park. The loops provide plenty of opportunities to see Bison and other animals. Make sure you pack plenty of patience because these roads get crowded, and traffic moves slowly!

Helpful Resources for Families Traveling to Yellowstone

  • Old Faithful Education Center – Take advantage of the visitor center and the expertise of the park rangers. Park Rangers love YNP and want all visitors to have amazing adventures. Stop in for a few minutes and learn from the experts.
  • Yellowstone National Park History Film – In the visitor center, a video plays throughout the day that explains the history of YNP. Our entire family thought watching this video was a great use of 30 minutes. Plus, we dodged a rain shower while watching the film.
  • Plan ahead – Planning for snacks, lunch, drinks, weather changes, etc. can mean the difference between a fun and a terrible day to remember. The weather changes frequently. During our trip in June / July, we were rained on each day. We had our rain jackets handy, and we kept on enjoying our adventure. 

Pro Tip: We had the thermal features to ourselves in the rain! All the other explorers started melting and ran for their cars! Keep a rain jacket handy and enjoy smaller crowds!

  • We liked the Guide Along app. This app helped us understand exactly what we saw while driving through the park. It was like having a travel guide in our car in many ways.
  • Dirt In My Shoes provides terrific itineraries. Ash, the founder, is a retired Park Ranger who helps guide visitors through the parks to have the best experience possible during crowded seasons!

Getting to YellowstoneYellowstone with Kids

Visitors can take planes, trains, OR automobiles to Yellowstone National Park. Once at Yellowstone, you need transportation or a guide service. This park is huge!

Automobiles + Driving 

We love driving to our destinations. Although driving takes more time than flying, driving gives us a deep appreciation for the size of our country and varying geographic regions.

Traveling with teens on a multi-day journey to Yellowstone meant we needed to plan cool places to stop. We stopped in the Black Hills of South Dakota for about 5 days, serving as a “warm-up” to our Yellowstone adventure. We even camped one night in Billings, Montana, to cross Montana off our list of states. 

On the road, Sara makes sure the kids download movies, tee up their summer reading (thank you, Audible), include plenty of snacks, etc. Sara scoped out several podcasts from Dirt In My Shoes that provided a lot of history about Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Badlands, etc. This kept Mom, Dad, and the teens happy while in the truck for several days!

Planes

With six airports near Yellowstone, traveling via airline is easy. Although we did not fly on this trip, we learned on a trip to Glacier National Park that flying as close to the destination is super important. 

If your budget and trip align, the West Yellowstone airport may be an excellent option. If not, flying into Bozeman, Montana or Jackson, Wyoming are likely your best bets. Both of these airports should have daily flights from major hub airports.

Plan on renting a car at the airport for your adventure OR having a shuttle service to the park. We recommend having a car in Yellowstone because the park is so massive! 

Trains

Amtrack makes traveling to West Yellowstone possible via train from major cities like Chicago, Salt Lake, Denver, San Francisco, etc. Sara and I would not consider that type of trip with our teens. The novelty of the train would fade quickly!

Pro Tip: A car or truck is vital in Yellowstone National Park. The park is nearly 3,500 square miles. An E-Bike likely doesn’t have enough charge to get you all the way around the north or south loops!

When is the Best Time to Visit YNP with Teens?

Like most families with teens busy with high school, sports, friends, work, etc., we had to “squeeze” our Yellowstone adventure in during the summer. We visited at the end of June and the start of July. 

The park was busy. With patience and lots of planning, we had a fantastic time and saw all the major attractions.

We had friends who visited in early June, and they reported smaller crowds because a  number of schools were still in session. Visitors will find smaller crowds after Labor Day as well. 

Pro Tip: The West Yellowstone entrance is super busy. Arrive early (e.g., before 7 AM), and you will sail right through the entrance. If you arrive at 9 AM, you will be waiting in a long line to enter the park. 

Most visitors leave Yellowstone around dinner time, so plan to stay after 5 or 6 PM, and you will be rewarded with smaller crowd sizes. As a bonus, sunlight is visible until about 9 PM in the middle of the summer!

Yellowstone doesn’t close at night, so go at night for an entirely different experience! We did not out of concern for animals roaming the roads in the dark! And we were tired from exploring all day!

Camping at Yellowstone National ParkLone Star Geyser in Yellowstone

Thanks to its enormous size, nearly 3,500 square miles, numerous camping options exist. Yellowstone offers 12 developed campgrounds and over 2,100 “back-country” campsites inside the park. Keep in mind these campgrounds are not resorts and will lack many amenities you find outside the park, like WiFi, swimming pools, modern bathhouses, etc.

Fun Fact: 3,500 square miles is LARGER than Rhode Island (1,045 square miles) and Delaware (1,954 square miles) COMBINED!

We recommend checking out West Yellowstone and its developed campgrounds and RV parks for more luxurious camping. We stayed in Grizzly RV Park and found this park incredibly nice and well cared for. Our teens appreciated the strong Starlink signal, clean bathhouses, and the other amenities of Grizzly RV Park. 

Other campgrounds in West Yellowstone include KOA West Yellowstone, Pony Express RV Park, Wagon Wheel RV Campground, Fox Den RV Park and Campground, and many more!

Cabins and Hotels at Yellowstone National Park

If staying in a hotel or cabin is more your style, Yellowstone offers a number of hotel options inside the park. These include Old Faithful Inn, Lake Yellowstone Inn, Canyon Lodge and Cabins, Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, and Roosevelt Lodge Cabins. These locations fill up quickly, so plan early. We have heard cell signal is spotty, so plan accordingly and communicate with your teen in advance to avoid a nasty surprise when you check in!

Visitors will also find a number of hotel options near the entrances, with West Yellowstone having the most choices and amenities (e.g., restaurants, shops, etc.) nearby.


 

Considerations for Traveling with Teens to Yellowstone

Sara and I have found that traveling with our kids as they have grown up into teens is both more accessible and more challenging. Fortunately, it’s much easier most days than when they were under 5. We have learned it’s essential to keep a few things in mind.

  • Independence – teens are learning to become good decision-makers. We have to set expectations and then let Madeline and Jack figure out how they will meet them.

 

  • Surprises – Everyone loves good surprises like ice cream, and everyone hates nasty surprises like soggy PB&J sandwiches. We find communication is critical to avoiding nasty surprises. Everyone is happier when Madeline and Jack understand we will leave early and get in some hiking miles!

 

  • Down Time – Teens need time to recharge. As our energy level wears down, we get cranky. It’s essential to realize cranky people sometimes say things they don’t mean. So have some grace. Recognize the signs of tiredness and give your teens, and parents, some downtime to recharge.

 

  • Sleeping In – We let the kids sleep in on our last day in Yellowstone. We took it easy, walked around West Yellowstone until lunchtime, and headed into the park. This gave us all some alone time to recharge!

Yellowstone National Park is Not a Petting Zoo: Follow the Safety and Regulations

Yellowstone is an amazing park to be enjoyed by all. It’s a place where visitors can get a feel for the wild without extreme danger as long as they follow the rules outlined by the National Park Service. 

Visitors should stay on the boardwalks near thermal features. Keep a safe distance from the animals. Bison are huge and can run up to 30MPH! Crazy! 

Please also practice the leave-no-trace principle of taking only pictures and memories and leaving only footprints!

Wrapping Up Our Adventure in Yellowstone with Teens

Visiting Yellowstone with teens was so much more than a vacation; it provided our teens and family a chance to create unforgettable memories in one of the most serene places in America! We came for the geysers and left with an appreciation for how expansive this park is and the vast geological features found in YNP. 

Our adventure through YNP illustrated that visiting with teens is an enriching experience for parents and their teens! 

Guest Author: Mike & Sara began RV camping in 2020 and instantly loved the lifestyle. We found the thrill of exploring new places, breaking our vacation routine, and crossing off all those “one-day” trips was a blast! At Our Campfire Unplugged, we enjoy sharing our experiences to help fellow travelers live their best lives. 

Read Next:

7 Reasons to Explore Yellowstone National Park

6 Things to do in Yellowstone with Kids

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