Yellowstone, Grand Tetons & Glacier National Parks

Parent Q&A

  • Hi BPN community,

    Our family of four (two kids 13 and 10) and our small dog are planning to visit Wyoming, Montana and Idaho next summer in late July/early August. We expect to spend about 10-12 days total. We'd like some advice on the best way to approach this trip. We're open to camping if towing a rented pop up camper makes sense. Concerns with this are how easy it is to find campgrounds, whether the dog is welcome, and whether the crowds will make this difficult and not relaxing. Other options include glamping (where?) and finding motels or hotels or airbnbs along the way, or really figure out our trip ahead of time and book lodging in advance. If anyone has done this kind of a trip recently and could share an itinerary or lessons learned, we would be grateful! We'd love to understand what is a reasonable amount of driving to take on each day or few days, how long we should allow for places like Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone and other sights, etc. We would like to do some fishing, horseback riding, river rafting and hiking. Would also appreciate tips from anyone who has done this with a dog...does having a dog prevent any of these activities or severely limit access to the parks? Thank you so much for your insights! Laura

    We drove from NY to CA this past summer with our 4 yr old and two small dogs. We stayed in Yellowstone (one night near the geyser and one night in the north of the park then one night in town - all pet friendly cabins) and had no trouble booking accommodation with our pets. There are a lot of good tips for visiting national parks with dogs on their websites. Yellowstone has a video to watch about pet safety in the park as there are a lot of risks. Feel free to reach out directly with specific questions. 

    Fun! We did a very similar 10-day trip last August with our 4-year-old. We didn't have a dog with us and we didn't camp, so I'm not sure how relevant this will be, but I thought our itinerary really worked out well in terms of having just enough time in each place. 

    We flew from SFO to Jackson and then rented a car for our whole trip. We spent four nights in Grand Teton, four nights in Yellowstone (which is a very short drive from Grand Teton), made a quick diversion down to eastern Idaho to catch the eclipse, then drove to Helena, MT for a night just to take a break from the driving. From there, we went up to Glacier National Park for four nights and then flew home out of Kalispell's airport. The driving in Montana was the most tiring, as it is such an enormous, sparsely-populated state. That said, if you're not planning to go all the way to Glacier (which is right on the Canadian border), it might not be so long. I was also surprised by how much time we spent driving in Yellowstone, as the highlights are very spread out throughout the (enormous) park. I was glad we opted to fly to and from, as trying to drive to any of those places from California would have eaten up several days of the trip. 

    We booked our lodging in National Parks hotels, but you usually have to do that about a year in advance (especially in super-popular parks like Yellowstone), so you would probably need to look at hotels in nearby towns if you end up opting for hotels rather than camping. Or you could try Airbnb; I have a friend who rented an amazing house in Montana at a very good price for a Yellowstone trip last summer. No matter what, I would recommend trying to book something in advance as these places are very, very crowded in the summertime. 

    Overall, we really liked Grand Teton and the nearby town of Jackson. The Rockefeller wilderness area that was recently added to the National Park was definitely a highlight. Yellowstone was amazing in some ways, but overwhelmingly crowded at times. Glacier was stunning, but again, a long way from everything. Since our kid is so young we didn't do a lot of the activities you're interested in, but we did hike almost every day. Don't forget your bear spray! 

    Have a wonderful trip! 

    It was some years ago we did this, on a +/- National Parks circle tour that hit the Golden Spike in Utah, Tetons, Yellowstone, and Craters of the Moon in Idaho. We camped most nights with motels at a few spots to do laundry and regroup.  We did this in a prius with a car top carrier for the camping gear at the peak of summer with two kids.

    For us it worked well to make reservations in advance for Yellowstone and Tetons where campgrounds fill up way in advance.  After that we were able to play it by ear and find spots at BLM or Forest Service campgrounds as we went (those might not have been weekend nights though) - they were were nothing fancy but worked fine for a quick overnight on the road.  We stayed multiple nights at the parks we were most interested in.  Craters of the Moon seemed off the beaten path so it may not fill far ahead but I think it is worth the drive - it's an unusual spot. I recommend calling the visitor center to see how far in advance you need to reserve.

    For us this allowed a good mix of certainty that the spots we wanted most were booked ahead, with the ability to alter the trip as we went for the other nights.  We didn't make any of the motel reservations in advance (I think we stayed in motels in Winnamucca, Salt Lake City, Boise, and Klamath Falls).  I think we did our trip in about 10 days, but it might have been two weeks.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Questions

Yellowstone vacation with 3 young kids?

April 2010

We'd like to do a vacation in Yellowstone and/or Glacier National Park this summer. We have three young children, ages 8, 6, and 1, so driving there and back would take up most of our vacation! If we fly, where do we fly into? Is it too late too book lodging for August--already filled up? Any other ideas or suggestions or warnings about this trip? Travelin' Mama


Yellowstone and Glacier are both great places to go with kids. For Yellowstone you can fly into Bozeman, MT(BZN) and then drive to the park. For Glacier you can fly into Kalispell, MT(FCA). An Airport that is between the 2 parks in Missoula, MT (MSO). Finding reservations in the parks might be difficult depending on the days that you are going and how flexible you are but there are many hotels in West Yellowstone which is right on the park border. At Glacier there are hotels in Columbia Falls (15-20 min), Kalispell (30-45)min or Whitefish (30 min). If you are thinking about going between the 2 parks expect that it is days drive.

I am from MT and take my 4 & 6 year old there every summer. We went to Yellowstone 2 years ago and go to Glacier every year. There is a plenty to do at both parks and you could easily spend a week at either place but you can also hit the highlights of both in a week depending on your nature.

Feel free to contact me if you have questions or want more info Teresa


Having lived in Montana near both Yellowstone and Glacier, I thought I'd chime in. As to how to get there, if you choose to fly, to visit either park you will need to rent a car in Montana to access either park. To get to Glacier you can fly into White Fish, Great Falls or Missoula. White fish is closest, though Missoula is the coolest town (college town, kind of a Berkeley feel). To get to Yellowstone fly in to Bozeman (another college town, but very cowboy in nature)

As far as transportation it is easier to get to Yellowstone, ie a shorter drive from the nearest airport,

Yellowstone has Old faithful, though the mountains and well, glaciers, at Glacier are more breathtaking. Both parks have many trails that are accessible for young hikers and in both parks you'll likely see buffalo, moose, elk, coyote and possibly even a bear. I think that Glacier is slightly less full (ie less traffic congestion, and yes this is a problem....) though if you call asap I am sure you can get lodging either within the park, or in cabins very near to either park. So I can't make up your mind for you, but if the shortest drive is important for your family, go with Yellowstone, but if you would rather be awestruck by nature, head to Glacier.

Have a great vacation! Angela


I have used a fabulous website for recommendations on family travel and they have a whole section on Yellowstone! The website is www.funfamilyfieldtrip.com

We used them for guidance on a great trip we took to Utah and the guidance they gave was very very helpful. It is very well written and researched and free!! Tricia


Spending a week in Yellowstone - where to stay?

March 2010

Two families will be flying to WY to spend a week in Yellowstone. There will be 4 kids under 7. Can you recommend an economical place to stay for all of us? We are open to tent cabins too but not tent camping because we are flying and don't want to bring/buy any camping equipment. We will have a car but prefer to be as close as possible to the park. Any must see/must do stuff while we're there? Finally, is 6 or 7 days too much in one park? Should we spend half the time in the Grand Tetons? If so, where to stay there? Thanks!! wanna go to yellowstone


I can't recommend accom. since we car camped, but I can tell you that a week is way too long in Yellowstone. A few days is enough. We saw all of the major sites and had enough geysers after 2-3 days. The Tetons are so beautiful. You should definitely spend some of your time there. We preferred it. We were there about 3 years ago. Good luck!


Yellowstone with extended family - good location to rent a house?

June 2008

My extended family - grandparent, kids and grandkids - is planning a trip to Yellowstone National Park. We want to rent a house for a week that accommodates about 15 people. I'm looking for information on the optimum location to rent the house. The houses listed on VRBO that are big enough for our crowd are in Gardiner on the north edge of the park, Paradise Valley further north, and West Yellowstone in the - you guessed it - west. Does anyone on this list have experience with travel to Yellowstone and recommendations for the most convenient location to base our visit? It's a big park - we may consider splitting our stay between two locations. Thank you much. Rebecca


We stayed in Yellowstone last summer and Gardiner is convenient to whitewater rafting trips suitable to my 7 and 11 year olds, horseback trail riding on a ranch (also suitable), visits to the nearby valley in the park where others who got up early (430ish) saw great wildlife including wolves. I might split my time between there and W. Yellowstone with more of the fumeroles, etc.


Camping Trip to Yellowstone

Jan 2007

I want to do a long camping road trip with my Family (I will have a 4 and 6 year old at the time) this summer and was thinking of going to YellowStone and Montana (glacier national park). I am curious of other peoples experience. I am also debating about taking my tent trailer, renting a small RV or just tent camping do to large amount of driving I plan to do.

I would love to hear all stories and suggestions regarding routes to take, camping,lodging. RV rentals in bay area, etc.... thanks, Scott


We went to Yellowstone about 3 years ago and were not impressed with the camping at all. it was crowded and noisy and right next to a freeway. it was also packed and this was in October! if you plan to camp there get reservations and bring your own food that wasn't so great either. the park itself is great - lots of places to walk and sites to see. we didn't stay long enough for ranger talks and other activities.

Glacier park is beautiful but we stayed in a rented house south of the park. as long as your headed to that area, consider checking out Craters of the Moon in Idaho. really interesting volcanic area. good hiking. US traveler


We spent last summer in Yellowstone with our 7 year old boys. We took our tent and found the campsite to be very clean (bathrooms included). There were also great ranger led programs at night where our boys participated and through a series of hikes (we did these on our own) and other evening programs they earned a Junior Ranger badge. The weather was perfect. Not too hot but hot enough to play in Yellowstone lake (it is snow melt so we did not linger); it has a black sand beach and we had the beach to ourselves. The touristy sites were crowded, i.e. Old Faithful, but overall I didn't feel the park was too crowded (we were there end of July/Aug). Hope you have fun! Stefanie


Family trip to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks - avoiding the crowds

Jan 2006

We are going to a family reunion in Utah this summer and would like to extend our vacation by going north to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. Our kids (7,9,11) are pretty intrepid hikers, and love animals and natural wonders. Any suggestions for what to do, where to stay and what to avoid? We prefer to avoid huge crowds and do not need luxury accommodations (although the kids always love a swimming pool, or lake or river nearby), funky is fine. We would rather something be less crowded, and are willing to also have it be less convenient in order to achieve that...What are your favorite sites, day hikes, and places to stay? Thanks! Wondering about natural wonders


I travelled through Glacier and Yellowstone when I moved out here from Michigan. Yellowstone's campgrounds were absurdly crowded, as were the Grand Tetons (Yellowstone's neighbor to the immediate south). Yellowstone was bumper to bumper traffic, but once you park and hike you're allright.

We found a terrific little state campground just 15 minutes east of the national parks. there was a river that ran through the campground. between the campground and the parks was a public geothermal bath. There was a small donation requested. The way we avoided the crowds was to rent a canoe and paddle around the lake in front of the tetons, which are truly spectacular mountains.

Glacier was completely uncrowded and I stayed at the Nat'l Park campground. Have a great time! David


In Glacier NP there is a beautiful and pretty simple hike to Cracker Lake on the east side of the park. We went late summer so everything was pretty quiet, but this one seemed particularly quiet and the Lake is beauiful - pack a lunch then hike around the lake to find the mine. jane


GO! Whatever you have to do, Yellowstone is my favorite place in the whole country. You will have a lengthy drive from Salt Lake City, start early in the a.m. and shoot for the West Entrance to Yellowstone. There used to be a funky little cabin rental place on Henry's Lake, about 15 miles before the West Yellowstone entrance. I think it was Rose's or Wild Rose Cabins. Get online and look, but you can find many places to stay at the West Entrance. I have not been to Yellowstone for a decade, but we went to Henry's lake every year growing up for some of the best trout fishing I have ever had. Then, plan on spending 2-3 days in the park, completing each loop in about a day. On each loop there are so many places to stop and hikes to take and geothermal things to look at, it is really cool. The Old Faithful Lodge is an amazing place, don't know how the reservations are- but give it a try. You can always stay in a motel at one of the Entrances, and drive in each day. You could drive up to Glacier, but that is slow going, will take a lot longer and add days onto your trip. It is such an interesting place that it is worthy of its own vacation anyway. Another great place to go is down to the South entrance past the Lake and into the Grand Tetons and Jackson Hole. There are some great hikes there, and you could loop back to Salt Lake that way to catch your plane. Have a blast, I envy you guys! Want to go, too


I spent a summer working at Roosevelt Lodge & Cabins in Yellowstone National Park. It's in the NE corner of the park, which is by far the least visited. (So many people stay in West Yellowstone, the very commercial area just outside the park, and just drop into the park to see Old Faithful and leave).

You need reservations WAY in advance to stay anywhere inside the park, even the campgrounds, but Roosevelt is the quietest & cheapest (non-campsite) lodging in the park. It's also the closest place to the Lamar River Valley, which has the best wildlife viewing in the park, especially around sunset. And it's not too far away from many other interesting areas of the park to stay there and visit many other areas as day trips. When you're staying at Roosevelt, you can see the stars from right outside your cabin door, and it's completely quiet at night. Not so true near Old Faithful or at Canyon Village.

For geothermal stuff, I recommend spending most of your time away from the Old Faithful area, because it's just too crowded. There are some really nice geothermal areas near the Lake (Paint pots, etc.), and there's also the Norris Geyser Basin. It's also worth visiting the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, where you can see how geothermal activity has weakened and discolored the rocks in the canyon.

One other thing--food inside the park is expensive and not all that great. If you have the car space, buy some groceries before entering the park. Just keep everything very well sealed so that it can't be smelled--bears are as intelligent as raccoons, and much stronger. Elizabeth


Trip to Grand Tetons and Yellowstone

April 2004

I'm planning a driving trip to Wyoming in August--Grand Tetons and Yellowstone with my two sons, ages 7 and 11. Does anyone have any suggestions for places to stay (either camping, cabins, or moderately priced motels/lodges) or particular things to do/see? I'd also appreciate hearing from anyone who has made the trip from the Bay area with kids and whether it makes sense to just go through Nevada(shorter) or up through Oregon (probably longer, but maybe more interesting?) Thanks. anonymous


The Old Faithful Inn, located inside Yellowstone Park and adjacent to its eponymous geyser, is a wonderful old wilderness lodge and a great place to stay!! The rooms in the historic section of the Inn are not very expensive (@55/night when we were there a couple of years ago), have sinks in the room, but showers and toilets down the hall. Anon.


We actually flew into Spokane, rented a car, and drove through Montana to get to Yellowstone and down in Grand Tetons. It was a fabulous trip and we enjoyed it with our 11 month old son. In yellowstone we stayed in various old lodges within the Park itself. They were just fine and not expensive...$55 (four years ago) and lots of atmosphere. In Grand Tetons we splurged a bit more and stayed in the Main Lodge again (not the fancy one for couples)It was great to be right in the parks. I'm glad we flew into Spokane ($59 each way on southwest!) because the drive across the Idaho panhandle and Montana was gorgeous plus we got to spend more time in the parks instead of on the road and gas and yucky road food can really add up.Have fun! What a gorgeous country we live in! anon


Lodging in Yellowstone, Glacier, and Grand Tetons

Aug 2003

We're planning a vacation next summer out to Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks. Any recommendations regarding lodgings (I like to be in the park to avoid the traffic getting there each day) and/or food? Thanks.


If you like camping, there are several great campgrounds in Yellowstone. See http://www.yellowstone- park.net/YellowstoneInformation/yellowstone_camping.htm for details. We stayed at Canyon last year - one of only 4 tent campgrounds that takes reservations - and really liked it. Yellowstone is huge, though, so no matter where you stay you'll end up driving a fair amount if you want to see different parts of the park.

We decided not to camp for the last part of our trip, when we spent more time in the Tetons, and instead stayed a few nights at an AMAZING place - Jackson Lake Lodge. (see http://www.gtlc.com/lodgeJac.shtml) Its a bit pricy (at least compared to a campground), but we felt it was totally worth it. The view from the upper lobby, restaurant, and walking trails outside is unbelievable.

Have fun! Heather