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Yellowstone Road Trip With Kids-Itinerary Thoughts?

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Seattle, WA
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Yellowstone Road Trip With Kids-Itinerary Thoughts?

Hi, all

This is a first post, but I've been lurking here for a while reading all your informative and thoughtful posts.

My husband and I are planning a road trip this June with our six and four year old boys. We live about an hour south of Seattle. I know this is a lot of driving, but the boys are pretty good in the car, and they chose this trip over Disneyland. The older one, in particular, is a nut for dinosaurs, geysers, and anything science. We would love your input on our itinerary, particularly if there are any must-sees for young boys to add and/or if there is anything we should skip. TIA!

Day 1-Drive to Missoula overnight in hotel

Day 2-Drive to Bozeman See museum of the Rockies

overnight in hotel

Day 3- Drive to campground near West Yellowstone

* We know it would be better to camp within the park, but as this is a somewhat last minute trip, we're thinking we'll just find a campground near the west entry for our base camp. We have a small pop-up tent trailor.

Explore Yellowstone-

Day 4-Explore Yellowstone

Day 5-Explore Yellowstone

*Thought about seeing the Tetons on this day but think that might be too ambitious

Day 6 Day trip to Virigina City

*Is this close enough to West Yellowstone to stay at the same campground?

Day 7-Drive to Missoula or?

*We'd like to break up the drive back, but we're flexible about where.

We could also probably add a day somewhere in this trip.

We don't have any reservations yet, so we're still flexible in that regard. We know much is booked, but looking online I've found some availability at campgrounds in West Yellowstone and also near Gardiner.

Thanks again for taking the time to share your wisdom with us.

Bemidji, Minnesota
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for Yellowstone National Park
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1. Re: Yellowstone Road Trip With Kids-Itinerary Thoughts?

Instead of camping in West Yellowstone, call Xanterra and try to reserve a campsite in Madison. You will find this to be more convenient to explore Yellowstone Park. You must call to make the reservation, it isn't available on the internet.

Since you have a small pop-up trailer, you could camp in two or more different campgrounds to make the tour of the park a little easier, but Madison isn't badly situated either.

You will likely find that 2 days is awfully short for Yellowstone so if you can add a day, this is the place to add it.

Calgary, Canada
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for Waterton Lakes National Park, Nelson
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2. Re: Yellowstone Road Trip With Kids-Itinerary Thoughts?

In answer to your Day 6 question, it is 85 miles from West Yellowstone to Virginia City, so I'd say it's a pretty easy day trip.

Santa Fe, New Mexico
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for Santa Fe, Mesa Verde National Park, Boulder, New Mexico
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3. Re: Yellowstone Road Trip With Kids-Itinerary Thoughts?

I prefer camping inside the park, you would have a great time at Madison. But RV parks in West YS will be nice as well, with showers, electricity etc. I would not stay in Gardiner, just too far from the main Yellowstone sights. Also in West YS is the Grizzly/Wolf Center, might be fun for the kids.

Day 1 To Missoula

Day 2 To Bozeman. About 3 hours of driving. Maybe stop and see Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park before getting to Bozeman. See the Museum of the Rockies. Stay in Bozeman.

Day 3 Consider driving to Gardiner MT and enter YS park at Mammoth Hot Springs. See that area and then drive through the park to West YS. By then you should be able to check into your RV park, get camp set up etc.

Day 4 Do the lower loop, Old Faithful are geyser basins, Yellowstone Lake, Hayden Valley and Canyon, then back to West YS.

Day 5 Canyon, Tower Falls, Lamar, back to West YS. See Grizzly/Wolf Center, maybe the IMAX.

Day 6 Drive down to see Tetons and Jackson. Back to West YS.

Day 7 Leave West YS, drive to Virginia City area. See Earthquake Lake and Ennis MT on the way. Get to Missoula for the night.

Day 8 Back home.

Ennis MT
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for Yellowstone National Park, Ennis
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4. Re: Yellowstone Road Trip With Kids-Itinerary Thoughts?

You've gotten some good feedback already.

I just wanted to second a couple of Casa's suggestions. I think your boys would really like the Lewis and Clark Caverns - it would be a nice place to stop between Missoula and Bozeman too. You can either take a picnic lunch with you - or there's a small lunch counter in the store there.

Also, I agree about V. City. Stopping there on the way back to Missoula would give you an extra day in the Park. Although it's close enough for a day trip, it would be a long day, especially if you go to Nevada City too - and stop at Earthquake Lake and Ennis. This way you have Day 6 to do more YNP exploring.

If you haven't checked it out already, I think your boys would enjoy the Junior Ranger program. This page has links to both that and some online activities for them to do before the trip: http://www.nps.gov/yell/forkids/index.htm

Have fun - and come back with any further questions!

Seattle, WA
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5. Re: Yellowstone Road Trip With Kids-Itinerary Thoughts?

Thank you all so much!

I had assumed it would be too late to get reservations in the park, but based on your suggestions, I went ahead and called, and I was pleasantly surprised that they had spots available in most of the areas.

We went ahead and reserved four nights at Madison.

I will revise our itinerary some more based on your ideas and post again!

I so appreciate your time and expertise. The boys are excited already.

Ennis MT
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for Yellowstone National Park, Ennis
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6. Re: Yellowstone Road Trip With Kids-Itinerary Thoughts?

So glad you were able to get a spot at Madison - and thanks for letting us know.

Look forward to hearing from you again!

western WA
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7. Re: Yellowstone Road Trip With Kids-Itinerary Thoughts?

Lewis and Clark Caverns IS fun. There are two fun things to do in Butte, too. The Mining Museum is cool and you learn a lot about what life was like in a mining-company owned city.

The Mineral Room on campus is also a fun and short stop. It should have fossils and amber in the collection. For local food, go to Pork Chop Johns, Joe's Pastys or 4B's (famous for tomato soup and custard).

Decatur, Alabama
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8. Re: Yellowstone Road Trip With Kids-Itinerary Thoughts?

By the way, Madison campground does not have showers, but you can use showers at other locations such as Grant, Mammoth, or Canyon. I believe all showers in these campgrounds are coin operated. The Grizzly and Wolf Center in West Yellowstone might interest your family. It's very educational, not a tourist trap, and quite possibly the only opportunity to see either a bear or a wolf up close. Ask a Ranger at any of the park visitor centers about where the larger mammals are more likely to be found that day. The bison herds do move around, and it's quite stunning to see a herd of dozens or hundreds! Elk often come down to the river by Madison campground in the evening...easy viewing! Check out the Junior Ranger program. It may be geared for children somewhat older that yours, but could have at least some interesting activities and materials.

If you do get down to Grand Teton National Park, the Colter Bay visitor center has some nice displays about the local Native American tribes. A boat ride across Jenny Lake might be fun, or a scenic float trip on the Snake River (many tour operators, nearly identical trips).

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9. Re: Yellowstone Road Trip With Kids-Itinerary Thoughts?

One thing to do if you enter through Gardiner is to check out the Boiling River inside the park (it's well before you reach Mammoth) It's a short super easy hike where you can sit in the natural hot springs. You'll see where little pools have been formed by rocks. Bring your sandals, bathing suit and towel.

Seattle, WA
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10. Re: Yellowstone Road Trip With Kids-Itinerary Thoughts?

Hi, all! We just got back and since you were kind enough to give us some guidance, I thought I'd give you a little report!

As you'll see below, we ended up scaling back our plans quite a bit, but we felt like we saw all the highlights, and we all had a Great time. The boys are already talking about going back. The big thing we'd do differently is add more days to the trip, as we would have loved more time to explore some places in Montana-the first state we've ever been to where both my husband and I thought, "We could live here!"

Anyway, in case others are planning a similar trip with little ones, I've included some details below. It will probably be dull reading for everyone else! Thanks again for sharing your wisdom.

Day 1-We drove from our house near Tacoma, WA to Missoula. We made just a couple stops, but it was still a good 10 hour drive.

Make sure to start early in the day if you're planning a similar route. We got a late start and had to do some mountainous roads in the dark, which is not fun. Plus, you'll lose an hour switching to Mountain time.

Day 2-We headed to Bozeman. Didn't end up doing the caverns as we decided the walk was too much for our just-turned 4 year old.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn, which was Fantastic. The kids had a great time in the indoor pool.

Day 3-We toured the Museum of the Rockies. Definitely a must-see. We all loved the dinosaurs, but the kids really got a kick out of the living history farm. We got to talk to the "blacksmith," and the kids got to gather eggs from the chickens.

After the museum we headed to our campsite in Madison, set up camp, and did the Fountain Paint Pot trail, where we were lucky enough to see Fountain Geyser go off (my favorite moment of the whole trip), and we also did the Firehole Lake Drive (I'm probably messing up some of the names of stuff here).

Day 4-We saw the Lake area, Midway Geyser Basin, and ended the day on the porch of Old Faithful Inn where we enjoyed some drinks, while the boys had ice cream.

Day 5-We didn't plan it, but this ended up being quite the marathon day. We drove almost the whole loop and saw just about all the other major sites. A highlight was the drive through the Lamar Valley. We saw tons of bison, elk, big horn sheep, and a black bear.

Day 6-We had a slow morning around the campsite, the boys and their dad fished in the Madison River, and we returned to the Old Faithful area to get our older son's Junior Range patch.

We spent about a full day here and then returned to Bozeman to break up the drive home some.

Day 7-We drove back to Missoula. We all loved Missoula, and the kids got to ride the carousel and play at the park. We also did a quick stop at the Rocky Mountain Elk museum, which I thought was quite good for a place of its size.

Day 8-Looooong drive home.

Lessons learned: Check the weather (especially if you're going in June)! Except for the first day, we had Glorious, sunny skies, but boy-were the nights cold! Remember that whatever the "Low," is, that's what you'll be sleeping in!

Pack more snacks! I thought I had enough granola bars, water, and so on, but we could easily have used twice that amount. Especially in the morning, it was so cold that no one wanted to fuss with making breakfast. It was really nice to throw the kids in the car and give them some granola bars. For the most part, we spent very little on food-mostly using the dining areas for snack and ice cream breaks.

If you want to do a hike, plan your day around one.

We did quite a few boardwalk trails, but not really a day hike like I hoped. If you want to do one, plan on arriving at the trailhead early, before it's crowded and/or hot.

Definitely bring a portable dvd player for the car and some books on cd-these were real life savers for us!

Remember that if you have kids as young as ours, they'll probably want some time to just sit in the dirt and play!

All in all, it was a wonderful family trip. We thought Madison was a great location, and we really only felt like it was crowded during our last stop at Old Faithful.

You locals are lucky to have such a place in your backyard! Take care and thanks again!