Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks can be challenging destinations for families. Many of the recreational activities (particularly hiking) can be taxing for little ones, who might also find too much time in the car a bit of a bore. The following itinerary offers a few tips for everybody to get the most out of a week in the parks.
Day 1: Arrive in Cody, Wyoming
Cody is the ideal gateway for a family vacation in Yellowstone: Kids will surely enjoy the shootouts in front of the Irma Hotel downtown, and the nightly Cody Nite Rodeo has kiddie rides beforehand and a participatory "calf scramble" that allows youngsters to get in on the action and chase a bewildered calf around the arena in between the events. (The kids are trying to grab the coveted ribbon tied to the animal.) Older kids might even like the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. As for food and lodging, try Shiki or Cassie's for the former and the Buffalo Bill Village Resort or the Chamberlin Inn for the latter.
Day 2: Arrive in Yellowstone National Park
Head straight into Yellowstone on Day 2, stopping for a picnic along the shore of Yellowstone Lake once you've entered. West Thumb is an excellent primer for introducing tykes to the park's geothermal underpinnings. Spend the night at Old Faithful, where you can see more incredible displays produced by the heat, water, and geology below.
Days 3 & 4: Explore Yellowstone
While many hikes in the first itinerary in this chapter may not be suitable for all children, there are two in particular for people of all ages: Artist Paint Pot Trail south of Norris, and the Forces of the Northern Range Self-Guiding Trail near Mammoth (neither trail is detailed in this book, so ask a ranger for more information). Both are short, level, and give a good glimpse at different phenomena that have shaped Yellowstone's ecosystem over the eons. On Day 3, tackle Artist Paint Pot Trail, then wander Norris's boardwalks before making your way to Mammoth for the evening. Get a room, cabin, or campsite here, and hit Boiling River for a soak before exploring more thermal features at Mammoth via boardwalk. The next morning, you're in prime position for the Forces of Nature Self-Guiding Trail, which gives a look at the effects of a forest fire, before driving west for an afternoon exploring the Lamar Valley in search of wildlife -- the Yellowstone Association Institute offers customizable expeditions that will allow mom and dad a break from the wheel. Spend the night at Roosevelt Lodge -- a family favorite -- after enjoying a signature chuck-wagon cookout on the trail.
Days 5 & 6: Grand Teton National Park
It's a pretty good drive from Roosevelt to Grand Teton, so plan a stop at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and picnic in the southern reaches of the park en route. You'll probably get your first peek at the Tetons in the early afternoon. Pick a base in the park -- your choices range from campgrounds to luxury cabins. Colter Bay Village is a particularly family-friendly spot, and gives you the opportunity to set out to moose-watch in Willow Flats or around Jackson Lake Lodge. The next day, take the boat across Jenny Lake and hike as far up Cascade Canyon as you see fit. In the afternoon, take a scenic cruise on Jackson Lake.
Day 7: Jackson, Wyoming
Your last day will be well spent in Jackson. At Town Square, there are nightly shootouts and stagecoach rides. You might check out the alpine slide or miniature golf at Snow King Resort, or the excellent National Museum of Wildlife Art, which has kid-oriented interpretation and activities. Grab dinner at Billy's Giant Hamburgers at the Cadillac Grille and stay at the Virginian Lodge; it has a big grassy courtyard centered on a pool. Jackson has an airport and is an easy drive from I-15 at Idaho Falls.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.