Ask the National Parks TravelingMom her favorite national park, and a quick “Yellowstone” pops out. Yellowstone is the home to her top destination, Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone National Park and the largest log cabin in the world, Old Faithful Inn. It’s a must for every visitor and icon of the West. Located in western Wyoming, it should be added to your family’s bucket list. Read all her top tips for planning a trip.
National Parks offer ideal destinations for families. Since they offer so many activities, from hiking to rafting, to animal spotting to guided tours, families can enjoy different activities on the same trip. And one national park is the oldest and the most revered – Yellowstone, in the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. It’s an American icon worthy of a park pilgrimage for your next family vacation.
What to do at Old Faithful
As the top draw in Yellowstone National Park, lots of activities and tours originate out of the Old Faithful Area.
Old Faithful Geyser—Check in to see when it’s erupting, usually every 90 minutes.
Old Faithful Visitor Education Area—The Old Faithful Visitor Center offers a theater with frequent movies and a full-size geyser model in the Young Scientists Exhibit Room. Ranger programs originate outside.
Take a Guided Tour—During our stay, we took the Geyser Gazer Tour to drive along Firehole Lake Drive. Our tour guide, Steve, drove us in one of the eight remaining vintage buses.
Photo Safari—Take a guided morning tour with a photographer to get the best shots.
Take a Hike–Hike to the Morning Glory Pool, 2.8-mile roundtrip.
Bike Rentals—Rent a bike and explore on two wheels instead of hiking.
Daily Tours of Old Faithful Inn—Take a free tour to see the hand-crafted details.
Junior Ranger Program—The kids can earn at Yellowstone Junior Ranger Patch or Young Scientist Patch.
Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone
Yellowstone’s hydrothermal features demonstrate its volcanic energy with three powerful eruptions over the last two million years. Old Faithful geyser is part of the Upper Geyser Basin.
Because magna close to the surface, you can see the water bubble and boil away. Geysers are the star of the geothermal show when they blow water and steam over a hundred feet into the air.
Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone erupts on average about every 90 minutes, though the range can be 50 to 127 minutes. With an eruption that lasts for over a minute to over 5 minutes, each eruption spews at least 3,700 gallons of water over a hundred feet into the air.
Check out other interesting geothermal features in the Upper Geyser Basin, which include:
- Hot Springs—Pools of hot water in an array of colors
- Mudpots—Hot sulfuric acid breaks down the rock into a smelly clay that bubbles on the surface.
- Fumaroles—A steam vent
Hike through the Upper Geyser Basin to see some of the world’s largest concentration of geysers in the world.
- Stay on the paths and boardwalks in Yellowstone’s geothermal areas.
- Kids might be sensitive to sulfuric acid smell.
- Check in at the Ranger Station to see the approximately geyser eruption times for Old Faithful, Castle and Grand geysers.
Old Faithful Hiking
The Old Faithful area offers several trails perfect for families. Most trails originate from the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center. And most trails feature level grades.
Old Faithful Geyser Loop–.7-mile roundtrip
Geyser Hill Loop—1.3-mile roundtrip
Observation Point Loop—2.1-mile roundtrip
Morning Glory Pool—2.8-mile roundtrip
Black Sand Basin—4.0-mile roundtrip
Biscuit Basin Loop—5.2-mile roundtrip
Seem too far, rent bikes at Old Faithful and explore on two wheels.
More to See Around Old Faithful
Old Faithful Geyser is part of the Upper Geyser Basin, though there’s more to see along the Firehole River. It’s a hot bed of geothermal activity in the western portion of Yellowstone National Park.
- Continental Divide— The point that divides the North American watershed runs though Yellowstone National Park. Kids want a photo next to the sign. South of Old Faithful at Craig Pass
- Black Sand and Biscuit Basin—Closest to Old Faithful but you might want to drive.
- Midway Geyser Basin—Where to find Grand Prismatic Spring, the most photographed pool in Yellowstone. Arrive early or late in the day for the best light and parking. North of Old Faithful
- Lower Geyser Basin—Drive Firehole Lake Drive to see Great Fountain Geyser and the Fountain Paint Pot. North of Midway Geyser Basin and Old Faithful.
Old Faithful Inn
Opening its doors in June 1, 1904, Old Faithful Inn is a symbol of Yellowstone. Young architect Robert Reamer dreamed up the idea of bringing the forest indoors and built the inn of local forest products. It’s the largest log cabin hotel in the world.
With its whimsical design and hand-crafted details, Old Faithful Inn is an architectural landmark and one of top notable buildings of the U.S., voted by the American Institute of Architects.
Personally, it’s one of my favorite hotel stays of my career. After enjoying dinner in the rustic log cabin dining room, I sipped a cup of coffee and listened to a violinist fill the seven-story lobby with other guests.
If not staying in the Old Faithful Inn, walk through or better yet take a free tour. The second floor offers a coffee and cocktail bar. Grab a drink and head to the second story outside balcony to enjoy the Old Faithful Geyser erupt.
Where to Stay near Old Faithful
Yellowstone National Park offers a range lodging options from basic cabins to luxury suites. With nine properties and over 2,000 rooms across Yellowstone, visitors can find the lodging that suits their budget and needs.
- Old Faithful Inn—Built in several stages and offering lodging options from suites to rooms with sinks only.
- Cabins at Old Faithful Lodge—The log lodge was built in the 1920s. Find cabins with full bathrooms and some with just a sink.
- Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins—The newest full service hotel in Yellowstone National Park, Snow Lodge offers a range of rooms along with cabins with plumbing and electricity.
The Old Faithful area doesn’t offer camping. Find the closest camping facilities at Grant Village or Madison.
Where to Eat Near Old Faithful
Old Faithful Inn
Old Faithful Inn’s Dining Room—Have dinner is a log cabin dining room with original furnishings. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, with reservations accepted at dinner though the dress code is casual. Kids menu available.
Bear Paw Café–Perfect for families serving deli-style items along with ice cream.
Mezzanine Bar—Located on the second floor serving coffee and cocktails.
Bear Pit Lounge—Next to the Old Faithful Dining Room, serves bar food and has a full bar.
Old Faithful Lodge
The Cafeteria in Old Faithful Lodge—A cafeteria serving lunch and dinner.
Old Faithful Lodge Bake Shop—Grab baked goods, sandwiches and ice cream in the lobby.
The Old Faithful Snow Lodge
The Snow Lodge in Old Faithful is the only lodging and dining open year-round in the Old Faithful area.
Old Faithful Snow Lodge Obsidian Room—Offering breakfast, lunch and dinner with seasonal menus and locally sourced ingredients.
Firehole Lounge—Next to the Obsidian Room, offers a full bar and appetizer menu.
Geyser Grill—Offers quick service options, like burgers and sandwiches. Open for lunch and dinner.
Old Faithful General Store
Next to the gas station in Old Faithful.
Old Faithful General Store—An original log structure serves typical family-friendly food along with restrooms and souvenirs.
Other Places to Explore in Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is bigger than Rhode Island. The Old Faithful area is just the beginning.
- Lake Yellowstone
- Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
- Lamar or Hayden Valley for animal viewing
- Mammoth Hot Springs
The Animals of Yellowstone National Park
Some visitors enjoy the geothermal features, while others want to see animals. Yellowstone National Park offers some of the best animal viewing in the U.S.
I recommend Hayden Valley or Lamar Valley, along the river. Best times to spot animals is dawn and dusk when animals are most active. Check in with the Park Rangers who know where animals frequent or take a guided tour.
- Grizzly Bear
- Black Bear
- Mule Deer
- Bighorn Sheep
- Bring binoculars and a chair.
- The Junior Ranger Booklet includes animal spotting activities.
- Stay 25 feet away for animals. And stay 75 feet away from bears.
Bear Safety in Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park features two types of bears: black bears and Grizzly bears. Knowing the difference is important since each species uses different behavior.
Park Rangers offer some guidelines to reduce bear encounters:
- Hike in groups of 4 or more.
- Keep campsites clean.
- Make noise while hiking by wearing bear bells and talking.
- Carry bear spray. Keep it accessible when hiking and know how to use it.
Bear spray is advised and can be rented in the park. Visit a visitor center or ranger station for more information.
To find out more information, attend a ranger program to learn more about bears in Yellowstone National Park. I did. My boys loved the bear programs and I felt more confident afterwards.
History of Yellowstone National Park
On March 1, 1872, Yellowstone National Park became the first national park in the world. But Yellowstone’s significance began long before. Approximately two million years ago, a super volcano erupted in Yellowstone forming a caldera, or basin. Find it in center of Yellowstone National Park. Measuring 45 miles across, it’s now home to the largest concentration of geysers in the world.
The railroad arrived to the northern edge of the park in 1883. Then the first roads started to bisect the park, allowing visitors more access to the geothermal features and the animals. More people meant more building with Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Old Faithful Inn a few of the surviving early lodges.
It was on the western frontier, so the U.S. Army built a fort to keep the law and chase away the poachers. See the old Fort Yellowstone at Mammoth Hot Springs.
Yellowstone National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, attracting visitors from around the world.
Kids in Yellowstone
The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about a National Park Service site. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet.
Kids love Yellowstone and kids love animals. These are good reasons to buy a Junior Ranger booklet at the nearest bookstore. In Yellowstone, the Junior Ranger booklets are $3 but kids who complete their booklets get a patch.
Yellowstone National Park divides the Junior Ranger booklet into three age categories, with age-appropriate activities. Kids 4 to 7, 8 to 12 and 13 and older each complete as many activities as appropriate for their age.
Old Faithful Visitor Education Center also offers a Young Scientist Patch Program. Buy the $5 booklet at the visitor center’s gift store. The visitor center also checks out a pack of equipment needed to conduct experiments. This is best suited for students spending a couple of days in the Old Faithful Area to finish the program.
Try to turn in your Junior Ranger booklet at Yellowstone’s National Park Junior Ranger Station, located near Madison on the west side of the park.
Your First Visit
On my first visit to Yellowstone National Park, I made every newbie mistake.
- Didn’t make reservations.
- I camped in the same campground and didn’t move around the park.
- Didn’t research.
When the time came to plan another trip, I knew I wanted to see more of the park. I planned a Grand Tour, much like the first visitors did over 100 years ago.
I started in one area and explored before relocating to another area. It worked out great, minimized the driving and maximized the enjoying.
Getting Around Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. Use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or purchase a 7-day pass for $30 per vehicle.
Yellowstone National Park offers five entrances.
- North Entrance—Closest entrance for Bozeman, Montana
- Northeast Entrance—Scenic highway to Billings, Montana
- West Entrance—For families that are trying to add to their state count. Enter or exit through the west entrance to add Idaho.
- East Entrance—Scenic highway to Cody, Wyoming
- South Entrance—The busiest entrance and gateway to Grand Teton National Park and Jackson, Wyoming.
Seasonal closures affect Yellowstone National Park. July and August are the only months that all roads and facilities are open.
Where’s Yellowstone National Park
It’s 320 miles northeast of Salt Lake City. Unless you arrange a tour you will need a car to explore.
Two major airports serve Yellowstone National Park. I’ve flown into both and I prefer Bozeman for convenience, schedule and lower fares.
- Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN)—Bozeman, Montana, offers everything you need to outfit your family for a national park adventure, from food to equipment.
- Jackson Hole Airport (JAC)—The busiest airport in Wyoming is a regional airport. Jackson is a quaint town with an Old West flavor.
Yellowstone National Park offers cafes, general stores and restaurants. Though be prepared to picnic for lunch and grab some snacks and sandwich ingredients in Bozeman or Jackson.
Tips from a TravelingMom:
- Make lodging reservations as soon as possible and up to 13 months in advance.
- Parking can be an issue at popular destinations during the middle of the day.
- Watch your children at all times, kids can climb over barricades.
- Wild animals are unpredictable, give them space and don’t feed them.
- Bring food and refillable water bottles for your visit. Food service can be limited.
- Know your personal limits and the limits of your equipment.
- Drones are not permitted at any NPS location.