As it ends up, one of our 2008 visits to Yellowstone National Park came under these same exact circumstances: two grandparents visiting with a grandchild. Based on that week-long experience, we have a pretty good idea of what will work and what won’t for both ends of the age spectrum.
See Old Faithful together
This is the obvious activity: When you visit Yellowstone National Park, seeing Old Faithful erupt at least once is mandatory. Old Faithful is one of the biggest geysers in the park and the most predictable, usually within ten minutes of the predicted eruption time. Always try to arrive 10 or 15 minutes prior to the eruption to get a good view.
Go on a Yellow Bus tour
The buses are a fun way to see a small part of the Park. We went on a nature tour of the Hayden Valley and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone on a Yellow Bus tour, and it was one of the highlights of our trip. This particular tour goes out of Canyon, and we’d recommend starting there when looking around for Yellow Bus itineraries (they also run out of Mammoth and Old Faithful Inn). Here’s a list of the offerings for 2009. The number of Yellow Bus tours has declined annually since a 2007 launch, as we suspect many Yellowstone National Park visitors don’t want to pony up for a guided tour — and they are not cheap, to say the least: an all-day tour will cost upwards of $92 for adults and $46 for kids (defined by Xanterra between 8 and 15), while a shorter tour will run around $46 for adults and $23 for kids. Though the prices are high, we”d still recommend the experience; we’ve gone on Yellow Bus tours in both 2007 and 2008 and found them to be delightful experiences, with guides who are well-versed on the areas on the tour and willing to improvise for a small group.
Walk around the Upper Geyser Basin near Old Faithful
This is the largest active basin in the park, and is one of the most interesting. The basin is chock full of bubbling pools and spurting geysers, and something is always going off. The kids will love Sawmill Geyser, which is noisy and active, and Castle Geyser, one of the most iconic and magnificent thermal features in the park. The whole area is fairly level (there are a few steep inclines and declines), so the grandparents will have an easier time getting around. Be sure to take many pictures.
Take a Ranger tour
Upon entering Yellowstone you’ll be presented with many pieces of literature, including a map and the Yellowstone Today newspaper. You’ll also be presented with a listing of ranger-led tours and hikes. These tours are the great unknown treasures of Yellowstone: most Rangers make great tour guides and can answer virtually any question you have. We’ve noticed they will change their spiel based on the audience: a group made up mostly of kids will have a presentation tailored for the younger set. Check out the schedule and read carefully; some of the programs require registration.
Visit West Thumb Geyser Basin
West Thumb Geyser Basin is 17 miles south of Old Faithful, on the same road you take to the Grand Tetons and towards the Lake Yellowstone area, and is an overlooked gem in the park. There are no big-name attractions nor any overly active geysers, but the basin is full of gorgeous hot pools, such as Abyss Pool and Black Pool. The basin sits next to Lake Yellowstone, and even overlaps into the lake, with a geyser cone surfacing out of the lake. Best of all, West Thumb is never usually crowded, and the drive towards it offers panoramic views of the mountains and forests.
Visit the Fountain Paint Pots
What kid can resist the charms of bubbling pools? The Fountain Paint Pots are an extremely popular destination — judging by the traffic jams in the parking lot during recent visits, anyway — and well worth the stop.
Enroll the kids in the Junior Ranger Program
In Yellowstone, kids who are between 5 and 12 can participate in the Junior Ranger Program, which is intended to show them all the wonders and beauty of Yellowstone, and how they can help preserve it. All that is needed to participate is the $3 needed to buy a 12-page activity book. Our experience is that most kids aren’t ready to perform all the activities listed in the book on their own and will certainly benefiting from a little assistance from Grandma and Grandpa in completing the program.
Grab ice cream in the Bear Paw Deli
Located in the Old Faithful Inn across from the gift store, the Bear Paw Deli offers delicious ice cream in a variety of flavors. We find grandparents and grandchildren are particularly susceptible to the charms of ice cream. Our recommended ice-cream flavor would be huckleberry, especially for the adults. It’s the perfect way to end the day for the young and young at heart.
Have a question about your upcoming trip to Yellowstone National Park? Then send it our way — mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll do our best to answer it; if we can’t, we’ll find someone who can.