Ten Favorite Family Activities in Yellowstone

Do you know what my favorite thing to do in Yellowstone is? Everything! 

But, I have narrowed it down to my top ten favorite family activities in this video. Just for you. 

What are your favorite things to do in Yellowstone? 

Want more details on planning your Yellowstone trip? Check out our guidebooks.

Labor Day in the Park (Two Ribbons, Harlequin Lake, Monument Geyser, Artists Paintpots)

This Labor Day we braved the cool temperatures (mid-20s at night!) and met friends for camping at Hebgen Lake, just outside of West Yellowstone. The boys and I drove down Friday early afternoon, set up camp, explored, read, and basically relaxed. After dinner and s'mores around one of my famous upside-down fires, my friend Erica joined us with her two daughters.

We stayed at the Lonesomehurst Campground on the South Fork Arm of the lake. There are 27 sites, five of which have electrical hookups. A public boat launch is located next to the campground. Sites are available between May 15 - September 15, weather permitting.

I just made the reservation the week before so I was surprised to get a site so easily. And the site we got (12) was great--right on the edge of the lake, in the trees, and only neighboring another site on one side.

View of Hebgen Lake from site 12 at Lonesomehurst CG.

View of Hebgen Lake from site 12 at Lonesomehurst CG.

There are plenty of trees to string a hammock or slackline.

There are plenty of trees to string a hammock or slackline.

It's not a camping trip until you eat a s'more...or two. 

It's not a camping trip until you eat a s'more...or two. 

The next day, Erica and I caravanned about 20 minutes to West Yellowstone and then into the park. It was a zoo! The traffic to get into the park was backed up through town and out Hwy 20. I guess Labor Day weekend is still too early to venture into Yellowstone. We zigzagged through the streets of West and found a quicker way into the park, but we still waited in line. 

Two Ribbons Trail

Despite the crowds, we were the only people at our first stop. Maybe because it's just inside the park entrance, people blast past it, just happy to be moving. Two Ribbons is a short trail on a boardwalk along the Madison River. It's perfect for non-hikers, folks with strollers, and even wheelchairs. We got a nice view of the river, plus a look at trees sprouted up after the 1988 fires mixed with older lodgepole pines. 

Trailhead: Approximately 5 miles east of the West Entrance, no marked trailhead, look for wayside exhibits next to boardwalk in large pull-outs

Distance: Approximately 1.5 miles roundtrip

Difficulty: Easy

Whoops! Stay on the boardwalk...

Whoops! Stay on the boardwalk...

Madison Information Station

From the Two Ribbons Trail, we drove about five miles to Madison Junction and turned right into the Madison Information Center for a picnic lunch and bathroom break. 

Also called the Junior Ranger Station, this small, Historic Landmark has skulls, horns, antlers, and pelts that kids (and adults) can touch and identify. There is also a felt board where you can match an animal with its name, and a Yellowstone Association bookstore. Of course, you can also work on a Junior Ranger badge here, but that wasn't what we were there for. 

Outside the station, the kids ran and jumped along the Madison River. When the weather is warm, this is a lovely place to wade and splash. 

Yippee for Yellowstone!

Yippee for Yellowstone!

Harlequin Lake

Not wanting to spend a lot of time in the car, we started the ten mile drive back to West Yellowstone and stopped for a walk at Harlequin Lake. 

The trail starts out in a tunnel of short trees, germinated after the 1988 fires. It climbs a bit to a 10-acre lake, partially covered in lily pads. At the west end there is an active beaver lodge. This area is popular with birders, but we didn't see a ton of birds, or the beaver. We also didn't see anyone else on the trail. It pays to explore the less popular spots on a busy weekend. 

Finn was a bit of a whiner on this one, but Anders, Eva, and Clara cranked up the hill to the lake, chatting all the way.

Trailhead: 1.5 miles west of Madison Junction, or 12 miles east of the West Yellowstone entrance. Parking is on the south side of the road, trailhead on the north side.

Distance: Approximately 1.0 mile roundtrip

Difficulty: Easy

Little lodgepoles line the trail on the way to Harlequin Lake.

Little lodgepoles line the trail on the way to Harlequin Lake.

Harlequin Lake

Harlequin Lake

West Yellowstone

The town of West Yellowstone was a bit nutty, but we wandered around a bit after our time in the park. Erica and I were thinking of hot chocolate for the kids (did I mention it was cool, rainy, gray, and windy?), but they saw a park and wanted to play. We hunkered down out of the wind behind a bathroom and let them go for it.

Riding a bear in West Yellowstone.

Riding a bear in West Yellowstone.

Back at the campsite, the kids played, we made dinner, and Erica and I took care of some Katabatic beer. Then we had another round of s'mores over the upside-down fire. Seriously, look this up, you will never make a fire the same way again.

Monument Geyser Basin

The next day we decided to drive home through the park. While it was no problem getting through the gates, we spent about an hour and a half driving the 20 miles to our trailhead. We got stuck in an elk jam (Really? Pull over, and don't make hundreds of cars stop so you can see an elk), and then in a construction-related jam. Ugh.

But, the hike was great. All the kids were in a good mood and practically ran up the trail. And it's a steep trail. When you get to the top, though, you are in a long, narrow thermal basin. There aren't any active geysers anymore, but plenty of steam vents, cinter cones, and fumaroles. Plus, big views of the mountains and meadows to the north, and a canyon to the south.

The Park Service writes,

Although the basin has no active geysers, its “monuments” are made of siliceous sinter and appear very similar to the siliceous spires found on the floor of Yellowstone Lake. Scientists think that this basin’s structures formed from a hydrothermal system in a glacially dammed lake during the last stages of the Pinedale Glaciation.

Trailhead: 8.5 miles north of Madison Junction, or about 4.5 miles south of Norris Junction. Parking is on the south side of the Gibbon River Bridge.

Distance: 2.8 miles roundtrip

Difficulty: Moderate --short, but steep! Stay on the trail and out of the thermal area for your protection as well as the protection of the basin.

Cute girls to the front and canyon views to the south on the Monument Geyser Basin Trail.

Cute girls to the front and canyon views to the south on the Monument Geyser Basin Trail.

North end of Monument Geyser Basin

North end of Monument Geyser Basin

Artists Paintpots

We figured we'd get one more walk in before driving home and stopped at Artists Paintpots. The kids were still raring to go (you just never know when they will be in the mood to walk), and ran down the flat trail and boardwalk. 

This was the busiest place we stopped, but the pretty colors and mudpots more than made up for the tricky parking and throngs of people. 

Clara had been itching to see mudpots, and we were all delighted to stare at the gurgling, burping mud for quite a while. It's really mesmerizing. 

Trailhead: 9.1 miles north of Madison Junction, or about 3.7 miles south of Norris Junction. Parking is at the end of a short spur road on the east side of the Grand Loop Road .

Distance: 1.2 mile lollipop

Difficulty: Easy

Colorful hot springs surround the boardwalk.

Colorful hot springs surround the boardwalk.

The blurping of the mudpots kept everyone's attention.

The blurping of the mudpots kept everyone's attention.

After Artists Paintpots it was time to head north and home. We stopped at the Mammoth Terrace Grill for ice cream, of course. Their huckleberry is really good.

Get Your Kids Ready for Your Yellowstone Trip

Before you even board an airplane or load your car for a roadtrip, you can get to know Yellowstone National Park. A little pre-trip research goes a long way in getting kids exciting about an upcoming trip. When they get into the park, they’ll be able to teach you a thing or two.

Puzzles and Games


  • Each of the videos in this National Park Service series, Yellowstone InDepth Videos, is less than 10 minutes long, yet answers a number of frequently-asked questions with help from park rangers, scientists, and historians. Kids will find out what Yellowstone’s young wolf population is teaching ecologists, how the relationship between visitors and the park’s bears has evolved over time, how geysers work, what new species are invading Yellowstone’s lakes and rivers, and more.
  • Video clips and interactive tools help kids learn about the natural history of geysers, hot springs, and fumaroles in National Geographic Kids: Explore Yellowstone. My vote for most fun: Listening to a mud pot bubble.
  • What are the odds of Yellowstone’s supervolcano erupting sometime this century? Find out in the Science Channel's What are the Odds? This short clip poses the question, gives a brief historical overview of volcanic activity in Yellowstone, and crunches numbers to come up with the real-life odds of a big blowout.

Virtual Visits

  • Take an electronic field trip and check out the online educational programs at Windows into Wonderland
  • Stop by the Old Faithful virtual visitor center. This virtual trip through the Old Faithful Visitor Center is almost as good as the real thing. 

Other Resources

  • The National Park Services produces a book, usually updated every year, with concise information about the park’s history, natural and cultural resources, and issues. Yellowstone Resources and Issues is my go-to for science and natural history facts about the park.

Junior Ranger Program 

  • You don’t have to step foot into Yellowstone to become an online Junior Ranger. The Web Ranger Program is the National Park Service's site for kids of all ages. If you love our National Parks, Monuments and Historic Sites, this site is for you. If you are new to our National Parks, this site helps you experience how wonderful they can be. They have recently updated this site to make it even more fun. You can now customize you Ranger Station, earn more rewards, and play new activities. And they are making new activities all the time. 

Backpacking the Yellowstone River Trail

Anders and I are getting ready for our annual mother-son backpacking trip, and I was reflecting back on last year's trip in Yellowstone. 

We hiked along the Yellowstone River Trail from Hellroaring Trailhead to the Eagle Creek Campground near Jardine. We walked through wildflowers, biting insects, patches of trees and meadows. We passed waterfalls, lakes, and lots of antlers and skulls left over from a hard winter. 

This is a through hike without a good hitchhiking option. We left a vehicle at the terminus of the hike and got dropped off at the starting trailhead by Henry and Finn. They even hiked the first mile to the suspension bridge with us.

The campsites along the Yellowstone River were amazing. We should have spent a week at each one. This is a great trail for anglers, but we were happy strolling through flowers and dipping our feet in the water.

Each day was about 6.0 miles.

Day 1 Pictures

Our Itinerary 

Day 1: Hellroaring Trailhead to 1R1 Cottonwood Creek

Day 2: Cottonwood Creek to 1Y2 Knowles Falls

Day 3: Knowles Falls to USFS Eagle Creek Campground

Day 2 Pictures


Reserve a permit through the mail after downloading a reservation form and sending in $25. In addition to the reservation fee, there is now a small fee for the permit based on the number of people in your party. You can chance it and get a permit from any backcountry office in the park the day before or the day of your trip. I want a guaranteed reservation, so I always pay the money-- it would be a bummer to show up all packed and ready to go and then not get a permit.


My favorite guidebook for hiking or backpacking in Yellowstone is Hiking Yellowstone National Park: A Guide to More than 100 Great Hikes. However the western two miles of trail has changed since he wrote this, so talk to a Park Service person about the new detour. I couldn't find the new trail on any maps, either. It's hard to miss, though. Keep walking to Bear Creek, then another few minutes until a trail sign points you uphill. It's a slog for a couple miles before reaching a Forest Service campground where you left your car.

We brought this Trails Illustrated Topographic Map. You'd be hard pressed to get lost on this trail (follow the river!), but it's nice to see distances and the names of surrounding creeks and mountains. Plus, you should always have a map.

Day 3 Pictures

Early Summer Wildflowers in Yellowstone

Checking out wildflowers from his perch on a lichen-covered rock.

In the last weekend of May 2015, we took a walk along the Beaver Pond Loop, one of our favorite early season hikes. It's about five miles, and other than a steepish hill for the first 3/4 of a mile, it's pretty mellow.

This year it seems like the wildflowers are blooming earlier than in the past. The local climate is changing, too. Milder winters and longer, wetter springs are the new normal. And maybe, early-blooming wildflowers are part of that package. 

Here are just a few of the flowers we enjoyed on our walk.

Not a wildflower, but a tasty-looking morel mushroom.

Some kind of pea or vetch

Plan Your Own Trip

Trailhead: Park in the large parking lot just north (to the right) of the Terraces and Liberty Cap. This is the parking area for the restrooms and is south (left) of the gas station.

Distance: 5.1-mile loop

Trail Description: Walk to the left of the private home to find the trailhead. The first three-quarters of a mile are uphill, but the trail mellows out beyond that. It skirts several ponds, eventually following one edge of a larger beaver pond. From there the trail climbs a couple of small hills and turns south through sagebrush steppe dotted with orange, lichen-covered rocks.

Make loud noises as you round corners or head into a treed area to alert bears of your presence.

What should you do when you see a grizzly bear?

Dr. Tom Smith talks to a group in Bozeman, Montana about safety in bear country

Last week we went to a talk about bear safety by Dr. Tom Smith. Dr. Smith is the expert in human/bear conflicts—grizzly, black, and polar. He is also a friend and someone my husband and I work with in our roles at Polar Bears International (PBI).

The talk was sponsored by PBI and we went mostly to support Tom and his work. I thought I was pretty well versed on what to do when encountering a grizzly bear. Turns out, didn’t know as much as I thought I did.

Grizzly tracks on the Bechler river trail in yellowstone

Grizzly tracks on the Bechler river trail in yellowstone

I have never run into a grizzly on the trail. We’ve seen them from the car or road, and I’ve followed their tracks. I’ve had my fair share of black bear encounters, but while they can be just as dangerous, they don’t seem as scary. And I’ve been lucky to see lots of polar bears in the wild…from the safety of a Tundra Buggy.

I think we haven’t run into grizzlies because we are so “bear aware.” We make noise when entering areas that would be hard to spot bears, we hang our food, and keep a clean camp. 

Here’s Tom’s rules, after years of research on what works and what doesn’t, for hiking in bear country.

1.     Never enter bear country without a deterrent.

2.     Make noise appropriately.

3.     If you confront a bear, do the following simultaneously:

a.     Stop and stand your ground

b.     Ready your deterrent

c.     Call out to others and group up side-by-side

d.     Let the bear make the next move. If it crosses a predetermined distance, use deterrent.

You’ll notice he didn’t say put your hands in the air (how will you ready your deterrent?), or to back away (wait until the bear leaves to retreat).

The best part about these rules is that they are simple and easy to follow.

Happy hiking! 

5 Yellowstone hikes for kids and families

We are lucky to live less than an hour from the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park and even luckier to get to spend lots of time in one of the world’s first national park. It isn’t easy picking 5 hikes in a park that is so full of wonderful backcountry experiences, but I did it.

According to the park website: Established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park is America's first national park. Located in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, it is home to a large variety of wildlife including grizzly bears, wolves, bison, and elk. Preserved within Yellowstone National Park are Old Faithful and a collection of the world's most extraordinary geysers and hot springs, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

I’ve chosen 5 hikes that my family and I have enjoyed and that represent different areas and ecosystems in Yellowstone. So, whether you want to geyser gaze, watch trout spawn, photograph wildflowers or push a stroller, I have a hike for you!

Trout Lake

Trailhead: On the northeast park entrance road west of Pebble Creek campground
Distance: About 0.5 mile one way
Difficulty: The trail is quite steep, but it is so short that almost anyone can make it.
Trail description: The short, steep trail switchbacks up the side of a hill through open sagebrush steppe, wildflowers and forested pockets.
What you’ll see: A beautiful lake nestled in a meadow at the base of Mt. Hornaday. If you visit in June you’ll see hundreds of cutthroat trout spawning in just inches of water in the inlet.

Otters and muskrats also make Trout Lake home. Get there at the right time and you’ll see otter pups playing on fallen logs and chasing each other around the lake. Cutthroat and rainbow trout draw anglers to the lake.

Otters sunning on the bank of Trout lake

Lost Lake

Trailhead: Behind Roosevelt Lodge
Distance: 4 miles roundtrip
Difficulty: moderate
Trail description: This loop trail departs from behind Roosevelt Lodge and climbs 300 feet onto the bench. Here the trail joins the Roosevelt horse trail and continues west to Lost Lake. (If you take the trail east, you loop back to the Roosevelt corrals on the horse trail or continue on to Tower Fall Campground.)

From Lost Lake, the trail follows the contour around the hillside to the Petrified Tree parking area. Cross the parking lot and climb the hill at its northeast end to loop back behind Tower Ranger Station. Cross the creek and return to the Roosevelt Lodge cabins. (It’s easier, if a little longer, to hike back the way you came or walk on the road back to Roosevelt Lodge.)
What you’ll see: Pretty Lost Lake, wildflowers, waterfowl, wet meadows, petrified tree, black bears (maybe, but carry bear spray any time you hike in Yellowstone).

Lost lake

Cascade Lake

Trailhead: Cascade Lake Picnic Area, 1.5 miles north of Canyon Jct. on the Tower-Canyon Road.
Distance: 4.5 miles roundtrip
Difficulty: easy
Trail description: Fairly flat trail through meadows. This trail is often muddy through July, so hold off until Aug.
What you’ll see: Wildflowers and wildlife—in season. Lovely, Cascade Lake. Since the Canyon area can be such a zoo, this is a nice way to take a short break from the throngs.

You can make this a through trip by hiking 3 miles out the Howard Eaton Trail to the trailhead 0.5 miles west of Canyon Junction on the Norris-Canyon Road (leave a vehicle).

Or, from Cascade Lake take the strenuous, 1,400 foot climb in 3 miles to Observation Peak (11 miles roundtrip from the trailhead). The hike takes you to a high mountain peak for an outstanding view of the Yellowstone wilderness. The trail passes through open meadows and some whitebark pine forests.

Lone Star Geyser Trail

Trailhead: 3.5 miles southeast of the Old Faithful area, just beyond Kepler Cascades parking area.
Distance: 5 miles roundtrip
Difficulty: easy
Trail description: This mostly level trail follows an old service road along the Firehole River through unburned forests of lodgepole pine. This trail can be accessed by bicycle with the final approach to the geyser on foot.
What you’ll see: Lone Star Geyser erupts about every 3 hours. Even if you miss the eruption, the ride or walk along the Firehole River is lovely. Plus, it is fun to see a geyser off the boardwalk, even when it is just gurgling.

There aren’t many trails in the park where bikes are allowed, so take advantage of this one.

If you get a chance, check out Kepler Cascades near the trailhead. John W. Hoyt, the governor of Wyoming Territory visited the Park in 1881 looking for a decent wagon route connecting his Territory to the Park. Included in the party was a young boy named Kepler.

According to the book “Yellowstone Place Names,” then Superintendent Norris named the cascade after “the intrepid twelve-year-old son of Governor Hoyt, of Wyoming, who shared all the hardships, privations, and dangers of exploration with his father.”

Riding along the Firehole River from Lone Star Geyser.

Two Ribbons Trail

Trailhead: Approximately 5 miles east of the West Entrance, no marked trailhead, look for wayside exhibits next to boardwalk in large pull-outs
Distance: Approximately 1.5 miles (2 km) roundtrip
Difficulty: easy
Trail description: This is a completely boardwalked trail that winds through burned lodgepole pine and sagebrush communities next to the Madison River. This is a nice walk for someone pushing a stroller.
What you’ll see: Good examples of fire recovery and regrowth as well as buffalo wallows. Waterfowl on the Madison River.

Need a trail guide?

 My go-to, favorite hiking book for Yellowstone is Bill Schneider's Hiking Yellowstone National Park.

Other family-friendly hikes in Yellowstone (or a bit more description of the ones above).

Beaver Pond Loop (Mammoth)
Boiling River and Lone Star Geyser (Mammoth and Old Faithful)
Trout Lake (Lamar Valley)
Lost Lake (Tower/Roosevelt)
The Hoodoos (Mammoth)

Want to Spend the Night?

Yellowstone campground review

Trout Lake {Spring 2015}

Still partially frozen in April.

Trout Lake is one of our favorite summer destinations. Around early July, the cutthroat/rainbow trout hybrids spawn up the inlet creek, with their backs and fins sticking out of the creek. The otters that call Trout Lake home, gather around whenever they need a snack.

Heather had never been to Trout Lake, so we decided to check it out in April. We didn't see otters or trout, but we did get bison and sunshine. 

Trailhead: On the northeast park entrance road west of Pebble Creek campground

Distance: About 0.5 mile one way

Difficulty: The trail is quite steep, but it is so short that almost anyone can make it.

Trail description: The short, steep trail switchbacks up the side of a hill through open sagebrush steppe, wildflowers and forested pockets.

What you’ll see: A beautiful lake nestled in a meadow at the base of Mt. Hornaday. If you visit in June you’ll see hundreds of cutthroat trout spawning in just inches of water in the inlet.

Lamar River Trail

The Lamar River Trail is a flat, easy trail and a great way to access the Lamar Valley on foot. Heather and I walked about 3.5 miles of it on our spring trip. Animals were everywhere—bison and pronghorn primarily. We even found some wolf prints, but no wolves.

The trail begins at the Soda Butte pullout, about 3.0 miles east the Lamar Ranger Station. There is a stock trailhead 0.25 miles to the west, but if you are on foot, the eastern trailhead is a better starting place.

Start the trail by crossing a wooden bridge over Soda Butte Creek, then continue along the eastern edge of the Lamar Valley. Mount Norris looms overhead.

The trail crosses sagebrush and bunchgrass and is pretty exposed. It gets hot out there in summer. And it can be windy, too.

Keep an eye out for wildlife.

At the base of a bench (1.4 miles) you reach a trail junction. We went to the east toward Cache Creek and stopped at the Lamar River ford. This is a pretty big ford; even in summer it can be tough because of the slippery, cobblestone bottom.

This pronghorn was totally unconcerned about our presence. 

Between bison and stock animals, this crossing looks like a super highway.

Take time to soak your tootsies in the cold water.

You too, can be this happy. Just walk this trail!

There are campsites on both sides of the river. We checked out the treed campsite on our side of the creek for later use. I’m thinking this might be just the spot for my first backpacking trip with Finn, our six-year-old.

We didn't see the wolf who made this print, but we were happy to find proof of its passing.

Need help planning your Yellowstone vacation?

Check out our First Time Guide to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks or contact me about custom itineraries

Lamar Valley Cabins

Check out the reflection in the window!

There are a lot of places to stay near Yellowstone National Park, but the Lamar Valley Cabins are two of the best. 

Located in Silver Gate, Montana, just a mile outside the east entrance, the cabins are an ideal place for people who want to focus on wildlife watching in the Lamar Valley. Heather and I stayed there during our spring wolf watching trip and didn't want to leave the house.

It's also a great location for exploring the Beartooths and the Beartooth Highway, en route to Cody, or for visiting the park in general. I can't wait to cozy up there in winter on a cross-country ski trip!

View from the front bedroom window in the large cabin.

We loved:

  • the location: just outside the park and surrounded by trees and mountains in the funky little (really little!) town of Silver Gate.
  • the cabins: built by the owners, the cabins are so nice! Nicer than my house. We hung around late one morning just to be in there. 
  • the owners: I've only met Jeff, but he was so fun and interesting. Heather says his wife, Karen, is just as great.

The Small Cabin

There are two cabins. The first is smallish, and perfect for a family. The loft holds two futon mattresses ideal for kids. On the main floor, a kitchen makes cooking your own meals (and preparing lunch to go) super easy. That's one of the biggest benefits of renting a house or cabin, in my opinion, you save money and eat healthier by preparing your own meals. There's also a queen bed and full bath. 

The Large Cabin

As guest of owner Jeff Hogan, we stayed in the larger cabin and it is gorgeous. There are two bedrooms upstairs, plus another queen bed in the nook at the top of the stairs, and a full bath. Downstairs is a full, gourmet kitchen, large living area, and half-bath. Laundry facilities are just off the kitchen. 

Jeff just finished bomber decks on both cabins and bought grills. I'm already picturing summer evenings sitting on the deck, grilling dinner, and gazing at the mountains. This is the cabin in the woods I've always dreamed of.

See interior pictures on their website and "like" Lamar Valley Cabins on Facebook

Beaver Pond Trail {April 2015}

The bison are everywhere in Yellowstone right now! My friend Heather and I spent the weekend in the park and hiked several trails. Ostensibly, we were there to watch wolves, but we didn't put a lot of effort into that, preferring instead to walk the trails.

We didn't get into Yellowstone until 6pm the first night, but now that the days are longer we were able to walk around the 5-mile Beaver Pond Loop out of Mammoth. There were a lot of elk and bison near the trail, a flicker, ducks, and several other birds, and even a few wildflowers.

I tried to hike this trail last May with my family, but it was too snowy. This year it was snow-free with just a few, short muddy sections. The mild winter we had really made a difference on early season hiking. 

The trail starts with a three-quarter mile uphill then gently undulates the rest of the way. We started out in the shade, but came around the corner to the beaver pond and were back in the sunshine.

While we were in the park, the first bison dropped her calf. There is nothing cuter than a baby bison. We hope to head back next weekend after more are born.

Hiking to Natural Bridge

Driving directions, trail info, and more can be found at the bottom of the post.

We were supposed to go backpacking last weekend, Heather and I. And climb Electric Peak. We had the permit and everything.

But, then it rained. A lot. And snowed in the mountains; it snowed on Electric Peak, which is already known for its propensity to attract lightning.

So, Plan B was instituted. I drove to Jackson and stayed with Heather and Mike for a night, soaked in hot springs, and ate the best raw, vegan Pad Thai ever. It was like a spa vacation. The next morning, Heather and I drove north through Yellowstone, spending one night at the Lake Lodge Cabins and another at Roosevelt Cabins.

Along the way, we stopped at a bunch of little day hikes that we've been curious about, but never investigated, in our effort to get to something bigger or longer.

The Natural Bridge hike was one of those mini-hikes we'd passed by in the past. It's flat, it's easy, and it's really pretty. This may be a busy trail, but on a rainy day we saw only a couple people and a whole lot of mushrooms.

The trail leads to the bridge and up and over the top--making a lollipop route. There is also a bike trail (one of the few in the park) that begins on the main road, just south of the marina.

Plan Your Own Trip

What: A two-mile (round trip) hike to Natural Bridge in Yellowstone National Park.
Why: To stretch your legs and check out a natural bridge.
Where: Park at the marina at Bridge Bay. The trailhead is across the road from the parking area. The trail leads to the campground, then turns left toward the bridge.
Who: Families with kids, bike riders, stroller pushers, geology enthusiasts, nature lovers.
How: Start walking.

Or get personalized vacation coaching from me

Read More

Five Yellowstone hikes for kids and families

Need a trail guide? 

My go-to, favorite hiking book for Yellowstone is Bill Schneider's Hiking Yellowstone National Park.

Want to Spend the Night?

Yellowstone campground review

Or book a hotel. 


One Day in Yellowstone: Boiling River, Lone Star Geyser, Old Faithful

It's easy to feel like you have to see everything on your Yellowstone trip. But, some of our favorite days are ones where to take the time to really enjoy a few special spots. Here's a great day we had in August 2009.

We started out with a soak in the Boiling River.

A half-mile trail leads to a six-foot wide stream of hot water pouring over a travertine ledge into the Gardner River. Users have piled rocks to create a soaking area where the 140-degree water mixes with the cold river.

We found a pool where the cold river water and Boiling River mixed perfectly and spent an hour or so soaking and enjoying the view.

After the soak we headed to Lone Star Geyser for a bike ride. We had a picnic at the trailhead near Kepler Cascades before hopping on the bikes for the 2.4-mile ride to Lone Star Geyser.

Lone Star Geyser is such named because it is far from other geysers, not because of any relation to Texas. The nearest large geyser (Old Faithful) is 3 air miles away.

Lone Star Geyser erupts every 3-4 hours, so we felt lucky to find it mid-eruption when we arrived.

After the eruption Henry and Anders walked down to the Firehole River and caught frogs. I didn't see it, but apparently Anders freaked out a little bit when he saw a frog in is dad's hand. He has enjoyed talking about seeing a frog, though.

Before leaving for home we took a quick peek at Old Faithful.

West Thumb Geyser Basin

Perched on the edge of Yellowstone Lake, at the heart of Yellowstone National Park, is West Thumb Geyser Basin. Pinks, blues, oranges, yellows, rusty browns, and verdant greens fill the hot spring-pocked landscape before running into the country’s largest lake above 7,000 feet.

Abyss Pool

Abyss Pool

Yellowstone Lake is shaped a little like a hand (you have to squint a bit and use your imagination to see it) and the West Thumb area is its swollen thumb. Actually a caldera within the larger Yellowstone caldera, West Thumb is home to at least nineteen major hot springs, geysers, and fumaroles. The bay was created by a large volcanic explosion about 150,000 years ago and the evidence of a dynamic earth still exists today in frequent seismic flurries (most of them small and undetected except by specialized instruments) and geothermal activity.

Black Pool

West Thumb is one of the smaller geyser basins in the park, but the springs are pretty, every type of thermal feature (hot springs, geysers, fumaroles and mud pots) can be found here, and the lake—and further back, the Absaroka Mountains—creates a stunning background.

Fishing cone

Fishing cone

One of the most famous geysers in this area, if not in the whole park, is the Fishing Cone. Legend has it that you can stand on the geyser, catch a fish in the lake, dip it in the Fishing Cone, and cook it on the line. No one knows how often this actually happened, but of course, it is illegal now.

West Thumb used to be the jumping off point for a cruise on the Zilah, a steamship that ferried Yellowstone visitors to the Lake Hotel before there was road access.

Hot spring runoff into Yellowstone Lake

Hot spring runoff into Yellowstone Lake