Arches National Park covers 76,519 acres, making it one of the smaller national parks in Nothern America. However, there is plenty to do and see if you want to spend two to three days in the park. We only had one day to dedicate to the park, so we wanted to make the most of it.
After spending some time researching and looking at our schedule, I decided that it would make the most sense for us to spend an evening in the park, then come back the next day and spend a morning in the park.
Fortunately, Arches is located just outside the city of Moab, which was a mere 10-minute drive from our hotel.
Because we were visiting in July, we opted to spend our afternoons at the hotel pool, which still left plenty of time to get a good overview of the park and explore some areas in detail.
Stop By the Visitor’s Center
Whenever we visit a national park for the first time, we always like to stop by the Visitor’s Center. We are a family who loves learning, so the Visitor’s Center is always a great place to learn more about the park, its history, conservation efforts, wildlife, and more.
The Visitor’s Center is also a great place to refill water bottles and ask questions about trails and activities.
Participate in the Junior Ranger Program
If you have younger kids, pick up a Junior Ranger booklet at the Visitor’s Center for them to complete as you make your way through the park. The Junior Ranger Program is a highlight for many young adventurers. When they complete their booklet, return it to the Visitor’s Center later in the day, share their discoveries with a ranger, recite the Junior Ranger pledge and receive a wooden Junior Ranger badge.
Park Avenue & Courthouse Towers viewpoints
These gorgeous red walls will be one of the first sights you’ll see as you make your way into the park.
A short, accessible trail will take you from the parking lot to the viewpoint.
Hike the Park Avenue Trail
Trail Difficulty: Moderate
Trail Length: 2 miles, out and back
If you’re up for a little hike, follow the trail from the Park Avenue Viewpoint to Courthouse Towers.
This trail offers up-close views of these stunning, massive red rock walls.
Explore the Windows Section
We had heard how crowded the park was before our trip, but we were pleasantly surprised by the low crowd levels in this section of the park. The Windows Section of the park is a 25-30 minute drive from the park entrance and absolutely breathtaking.
The Windows Section of Arches National Park is kid-friendly and perfect for beginning hikers since all of the attractions are within a short walking distance from the parking lot.
If you have only 1 day at Arches National Park, the Windows Section is a must-visit area of the park. You can see such a great variety of rock formations in a short amount of time!
Double Arch Trail
Trail Difficulty: Easy
Trail Length:0.3 mile trail (0.6 round trip)
Reaching 112 feet above the ground, Double Arch is the tallest arch in the park.
Primitive Loop Trail
Trail Length:1.1 miles
The Primitive Loop Trail will take you around the entire Windows Section. However, if you’re not feeling up to a mile-long walk, you can skip the loop trail and hike directly to each viewpoint. Our kids just wanted to run around and climb up rocks, so we didn’t end up hiking the entire loop.
North and South Windows Trail
Trail Difficulty: Easy
Trail Length:0.3 mile trail
It’s one thing to see a picture of these massive rock formations and another thing to stand inside of them. It makes the world feel big and beautiful. The wind blows through the windows, creating natural air conditioning (which is a welcome reprieve from the blazing Utah sun…especially in July).
Turret Arch Trail
Trail Difficulty: Easy
Trail Length:0.1 mile trail (from South Window)
Turret Arch was the arch we visited the longest. The kids enjoyed scrambling over the rocks leading up to the arch, and the lighting was just beautiful. It also had relatively few visitors compared to the other arches and windows in this area of the park.
See Balanced Rock
Located right off the main road, Balanced Rock is easy to spot, even from a distance. If you didn’t already stop and take pictures here before exploring the Windows Section, Balanced Rock has a picnic area which could be a great place to stop and enjoy a meal together before heading out on your next adventure.
Hike to Delicate Arch
Due to warm weather conditions and limited trailhead parking, we opted to hike to this incredibly famous arch first thing in the morning. Depending on the weather, this could also be a great hike on a summer evening, or during the day at other times of the year.
Delicate Arch Hike Details
Trail Length:3 miles round trip
Some people might consider this hike strenuous, but I think it’s mostly because shade is in limited supply on this trail (READ: non-existent!), which can make it unbearably hot during the summer. There is a steady rock incline and a narrow rock path with drop-offs towards the end of the trail. But certainly, it’s not in the same caliber as Angel’s Landing or Half Dome.
While this trail was challenging for our youngest, Claire, due to her muscle disorder, it was ranked as “easy to moderate” by the rest of the family.
Trailhead parking is limited, so if you’re coming during the summer, you’ll want to arrive before 7:30 am. If you opt to hike later in the day or evening, parking isn’t usually an issue.
There are vault toilets at the trailhead, but no other facilities.
Delicate Arch is one of the most photographed arches in Utah and is worth a visit. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen and just leaves you in wonder. For another great view of Delicate Arch, towards the end of the hike, you can climb up to a little window and view the arch through the window.
View Ute Petroglyphs and Old Cabin
At the start of the Delicate Arch Trailhead is a panel of petroglyphs left by previous inhabitants. The panel art is typical of what is seen in Ute rock carvings. Archeologists estimate that the markings were made sometime between 1650 and 1850.
Nearby, you’ll also see a small, one-room cabin built by John Wesley Wolfe in the late 1800s. If I had my pick of the Wild West in the late 1800s, I’m not sure that this is the spot I would have chosen to live. If you like blazing hot temperatures in the summer, sans shade trees and air conditioning, it might be a good choice for you. For that reason, this small, non-descript cabin is extra intriguing.
Hike to Sand Dune Arch in Devil’s Garden
This short hike is popular with families. It offers some shade during the summer…and plenty of sand to play in for the younger hikers.
have some Extra Time in Arches?
If you still have time to burn during your 1 day at Arches National Park, check out some of the other nearby arches in the Devil’s Garden area of the park. Broken Arch and Skyline Arch are both good choices! Or, head over to the Devil’s Garden Trailhead and hike to Landscape Arch or Double O Arch. For those who feel extra adventurous, a ranger-led tour through the Fiery Furnace might be a good option!
If you’re looking for things to do with kids in San Simeon, California, you’ve come to the right place!
Both Allan and I grew up on the Central Coast of California and consider San Simeon and the surrounding areas to be our big “backyard”!
San Simeon is a small coastal town located north of San Luis Obispo along scenic Highway 1. It’s the perfect place to visit if you love to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life and enjoy outdoor adventures!
A weekend getaway to San Simeon is the perfect way to unwind and reset! We’ll help you make the most of your time by sharing with you the top ten things to do with kids in San Simeon.
Chill at William Randolph Hearst State Beach
One of our all-time favorite beaches on the Central Coast is Hearst State Beach. You’ll quickly see why Hearst chose to build his castle overlooking the bay.
The beautiful turquoise water speaks to your soul. A long stretch of sandy beach provides plenty of room to run and play.
The bay also has its own little micro-climate and is usually sunny, even when the surrounding areas are shrouded in fog.
Enjoy kayaking, paddle boarding, boogie board, swimming, hunting for shells and sea glass, and–if the tide is low enough–exploring the small caves at the end of the cove along the bluff.
Bathrooms are available to visitors as well as an outdoor shower for rinsing off the sand at the end of the day. There is no entrance fee for parking.
Tour Hearst Castle
There’s just something about castles that brings out the kids in all of us! School-aged kids, in particular, will enjoy a tour of California’s well-known castle–Hearst Castle! Hearst Castle is the historic attraction that put San Simeon on the map!
The castle was built by William Randolph Hearst in the early 1900s with the help of architect Julia Morgan. This 165-room architectural wonder sits up on a hill on 123 acres of gardens, pools, terraces, and paths overlooking the beautiful San Simeon Bay.
In the 1950s Hearst donated the castle to the State of California, and the estate became a Historical State Park. Every year, more than 750,000 visitors come to explore the property and take in gorgeous views.
Schedule a Tour
Visit the park website to schedule a tour. If it’s your first visit, we recommend the Grand Rooms Tour. It gives a great overview of the castle and includes some of our favorite portions the kids will love—the swimming pools!
Watch a Movie on the IMAX Screen
Included in your ticket price is a view of Building the Dream. Shown on the Visitor’s Center IMAX screen, it’s a documentary that focuses on the construction of the castle.
Usually, during the slow season (January and February), the IMAX may play a National Geographic film that young viewers typically enjoy for a nominal fee!
Camp at Hearst San Simeon State Park
Just south of Hearst State Castle is a state-run campground. If you love tent camping or have an RV, it’s a great little place to spend a few nights.
The Hearst San Simeon State Park Campground is a developed campground with flushing toilets, showers, fire pits, picnic tables, and a dump station. There are hiking trails and easy access to the beach.
If you’re looking for a quieter spot, we recommend reserving a space in the Washburn Campground. Amenities are more limited, but you’ll enjoy the solitude and the stargazing at night. If you need a shower, the main campground is a short walk, bike ride, or car ride away.
Take a Hike
One of our favorite things to do with kids in San Simeon is to go for a hike!
Not all kids love to hike, but we somehow ended up with three kiddos who do. Even if you have to bribe and convince your young explorers to go for a hike, we have three kid-friendly trail recommendations.
San Simeon Bay Trail at Williams Randolph Hearst State Beach
This trail is one of our favorites. It’s an out and back trail that All Trails rates as moderate, but I would say is easy. The only tricky part is a short walk through the sand and up a small hill. Once you’re at the top of the bluff, the trail is completely flat.
This trail has a beautiful, sprawling tree that every kid will want to climb. There are scenic overlooks of the bay and you’ll often see elephant seals in the water or laying on the beach. We’ve spotted several bald eagles while hiking this trail. There are also a couple of tree tunnels that speak to the kid in all of us. You can simply hike to the point and back, or you can walk a full four miles (out and back).
Fiscalini Ranch Preserve
The Fiscalini Ranch Preserve Trail is located in Cambria, just a few miles south of San Simeon. The Preserve is located right along the bluffs and offers accessible trails. Kids will enjoy the boardwalks and fun benches made out of driftwood.
The Preserve offers 17 easy to moderate trails. We recommend the Bluff Trail which takes you right along the water’s edge on a well-maintained boardwalk. It’s a little less than a mile, but packs a lot of punch!
The Harmony Headlands Trail is 20 minutes south of San Simeon. The trail is wide and flat, making it an easy hike for most young adventurers. Portable restrooms are located just west of the trailhead.
This trail winds through the hills where you’re bound to see some wildlife and ends with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. For added adventure, if the tide is low enough, hike down the bluffs to the water’s edge and explore.
Tidepooling is a wonderful way to spend a few hours. If you’re not familiar with the term tide-pooling, I’ll explain. When the ocean tide recedes twice per day, water is left in rocky crags and “pools” along the beach.
These pools are teeming with sea life. Muscles, clams, hermit crabs, sea anemones, starfish, crabs, eels, and octopuses all make their home in the protected rocks.
When the water is low, it’s a great time to explore the tidepools. Check the tides before your trip and go during low tide. And remember, always face the waves–sometimes they sneak up on you!
Best Tidepooling Places Near San Simeon
Cayucos, north of the pier
Cambria, Moonstone Beach
Harmony Headlands, along the bluff
Bike Ride in Cambria
Paths and boardwalks wind through Cambria and riding these paths can be a fun way to experience this quaint town. While you’re in Cambria, we highly recommend grabbing a bite to eat at Main Street Grill. We especially love their salads (add tri-tip), tri-tip sandwiches, grilled chicken sandwiches, and ABC burgers. Biggest tip: Main Street Grill french fries are TASTY. Ask for ranch dressing and bbq sauce for dipping…but they don’t even need it.
Visit the Elephant Seals
No trip to San Simeon is complete without a stop by the Elephant Seal Viewing Area just a few miles north of Hearst Castle.
If you’ve never seen an elephant seal, you’re in for a treat. Northern Elephant Seals are large and loud (and occasionally smelly–especially when they’re molting).
The seals congregate in large numbers on the beach at a location known as the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery. These creatures are entertaining to watch from the viewing area, but keep your distance! Although they look deceptively slow, they can move as fast as most people can run, weigh thousands of pounds, and have sharp teeth that can snap bones in half. In other words, they can ruin your vacation. Don’t be that person.
Watch them from a distance and chuckle at their antics. And smile, because the experience is completely free!
Drive up to Salmon Creek Falls
If you’re up for a short hike and would like to splash in a freshwater stream, then a drive up to Salmon Creek Falls is in order. The trail is all of 0.3 miles and easy. There is poison oak, so keep that in mind and bring along some Fels-Naptha soap if you have sensitive skin.
You can fish in the stream, swim, or–if the water is low enough–hike above the waterfall and climb inside!
Look for Zebras
Yes, there are zebras in San Siemon.
Williams Randolph Hearst created a zoo on the property, shipping in animals from all over the world, including African zebras. To this day, the zebras graze the grassy hillsides surrounding the castle with cattle.
We typically spot them out in the field just south of the entrance to Hearst State Castle.
Get Ice Cream in One of the World’s Smallest Towns
If you hike Harmony Headlands, it only makes sense that you stop for ice cream in the small town of Harmony.
And when we say small, we mean SMALL. The population of Harmony is 18, and there are rumors that the number includes a few cows.
Harmony Valley Creamery is located on the main drag, and you really can’t miss it. Grab a cone and walk one block to explore the remainder of the town. Don’t forget to take a picture in front of their city sign!
Enjoy your family getaway to San Simeon
We know you’ll have a wonderful time exploring this little piece of paradise on the Central Coast!
If you have any questions about an upcoming trip, drop us a line below–we’d love to help!
One of the most asked questions Disney-loving families ask is, What is the cheapest way to get Disney Tickets?
Disneyland and Walt Disney World can add up in a hurry when you start looking at ticket prices for an entire family. I frequently see posts and comments on social media of people saying that their family could never afford a trip to Disney.
A Disney vacation IS within reach for your family.
Using my hacks and tips, most families CAN afford a trip to Disney. Our family of five can get tickets to Disneyland for three days for $393. That’s only $26 per person, per day! Yes, that’s dirt cheap!
1. APPLY FOR A DISNEY CREDIT CARD
The most bang for your buck involves a Disney credit card or two… that you pay off IMMEDIATELY and cancel as soon as you get your rewards.
I got a credit card for myself and one for my husband, Allan, saving our family $502!
You can reapply for the card every two years and get this reward each time.
If you struggle with managing your impulses when it comes to credit card expenditures, however, I would recommend avoiding this method.
2. GET A RESIDENT DISCOUNT
At certain times of the year, Disney offers discounted tickets to residents. Purchasing a discounted resident pass is one of the cheapest ways to get Disney tickets.
Usually, from January through May, Disneyland offers a discounted 3-day ticket for Southern California residents (the entire bottom half of the state). Any California resident that lives in zip code ZIP codes 90000-93599 qualifies. If you’re willing to visit on a weekday during the first half of the year, you can score the 3-day pass for only $199 this year.
This discounted pass is a one-park-per-day pass which means that you can only visit one park each day–no park hopping. We aren’t big fans of park hopping. It takes up more time, and we don’t feel it’s worth the additional cost. This is especially true if you have young kids.
From the time you use the first day of your pass, you have 14 days to use your other two visits.
Florida residents can get similar discounts at Walt Disney World, but it applies to all residents of the entire state.
TIP: If you purchase a resident pass, be prepared to show proof of residency at the gate. Typically, they will check your tickets against your state-issued ID. So, you cannot purchase tickets for friends or family who are non-residents.
These discounts aren’t as good as a resident discount, but if you don’t qualify for a resident discount, this is a good alternative.
Note: Ticket fraud is an unfortunate reality. Do not buy your tickets from unauthorized websites or third parties like FB Marketplace or other sites.
4. USE YOUR TARGET RED CARD
Purchase Disney gift cards using your Target Red Card and save 5%. You can use the gift cards to purchase your tickets on Disney’s website or in the app.
Prior to purchasing your tickets, use the Disney gift card website to combine balances on cards. Just keep in mind that the balance of each card can’t exceed $1,000. Also, the ticket website only allows you to use one gift card per purchase. So, if your total ticket price is more than $1,000 you’ll need to split up your ticket purchase into multiple orders.
5. USE THE RAKUTEN APP
The Rakuten app is one of my favorite money-saving tips. It’s so easy to use!
Rakuten partners with popular businesses to provide cashback to its users.
Recently, Rakuten was offering 10% back on the Disney store. The fine print said cashback didn’t apply to gift cards (you can use the gift cards to purchase your tickets) but it worked for me. No guarantees on this tip—but you might get lucky, too.
Additionally, if you use this referral link to sign up for Rakuten, you’ll get $30 when you spend $30. Then, if you refer someone (like your spouse), they also get $30 when they spend $30 AND you get $30. Sounds too good to be true? It’s not! It’s good–and it’s true!
By taking advantage of their referral program, we were able to get Disney gift cards FOR FREE.
Here’s how it worked. I referred my husband who bought a $50 Disney gift card. Since it was Cyber Monday, they were giving an even better referral credit, so I got $40 and my husband got $40. That’s a total of $80 cashback. If you subtract the $50 I spent on the gift card, we still walked away with an extra $30.
When you’re on the hunt for the cheapest way to get Disney tickets, the Rakuten app is the way to go!
The best (cheapest) time to visit Disney is during the offseason. Any day that kids are in school there will be lower crowds and cheaper tickets.
To score the lowest cost on tickets, check the ticket calendar on Disney’s website. Avoid weekends, holidays, and school breaks and your pocketbook will thank you.
7. SKIP the HOPPER TICKETS
Instead of paying extra for hopper tickets, go with the 1-park-per-day pass.
If you only have one day at Disney and have teens, a hopper may be a good choice. But for most families, park-hopping equals lots of walking. And more walking means you’re spending less time enjoying the attractions and the magic of Disney!
We have always found plenty to do and have never had trouble filling up our day by staying in one park all day long.
Typically, at Disneyland, we spend two full days at Disneyland Resort and one full day at California Adventure Park. For Disney World, it’s easy to spend a full day in each of the four parks.
The Cheapest Way to Get Disney Tickets
Using these tips and tricks will make a visit to Disney World or Disneyland within reach! Here’s a breakdown of how our family of five can score 3-days worth of tickets to Disneyland for only $393.
1. Purchased $1,000 in gift cards from Shop Disney via the Rakuten App with a 10% cashback offer.
2. Used the gift card money to purchase 5, 3-day, 1 park per day Disneyland tickets for Southern California Residents at $995.
3. Applied for the Chase Disney Premier Visa Card for both my husband and myself. Obtained a $300 credit – the $49 annual fee.
-$100 (Rakuten cashback)
-$502 (Chase credit card credit)
If you have any questions about any of these tips, I’d love to help answer them. Drop them in the comments below.
Flying with a child with a disability can be challenging. Our daughter, Claire was born with a muscular disorder. While she is ambulatory, standing or walking for long periods of time can be difficult. Additionally, balancing on one leg to get her shoes off in the security line is tricky without assistance.
Navigating airports and flying days are physically taxing. Using a wheelchair is the easiest way to get around!
We’ve learned a few things along the way, so I wanted to write a post to help other families flying with a child with a disability. While Claire’s disability is physical and requires a wheelchair, many of these tips will also apply to other disabilities including cognitive disabilities.
SPECIFY THAT YOU NEED ASSISTANCE WHEN BOOKING YOUR FLIGHT
The first step you’ll want to take to ensure a stress-free travel day, is to let the airlines know that you’re flying with someone with a disability.
While entering passenger information during booking, you’ll see checkboxes for guests who require additional support. You can specify the type of support your child will need, including wheelchair assistance.
Checking this box will alert the airlines. HOWEVER, we have discovered that you will need to follow up with the airline prior to your travel day and/or when you arrive at the gate, depending on your needs. We’ll go into more detail in a bit.
GET HELP THROUGH THE SECURITY LINE USING TSA CARES
Security lines are the things nightmares are made of, especially for families that have a child with disabilities. TSA’s goal is to make sure everyone is safe, but they also want to move everyone through as efficiently as possible. Enter TSA Cares.
What is TSA Cares?
TSA Cares is a program created to assist passengers with the security check process. If you have concerns that make it difficult for you to comply with the usual TSA requirements (wearing religious garments, disabilities, medical supplies, etc.), TSA Cares is the perfect solution.
How to Get Assistance from TSA Cares
At least 72 hours prior to departure, you can complete a TSA assistance form online. If your flight departs in less than 72 hours, you can make a telephone call to and speak with a TSA Care representative.
Be very specific about what accommodations you need. For example, with our daughter, we carry medication that is in larger bottles. She’s also not able to balance on one foot to remove her shoes without assistance. Because of her muscle disorder, everything takes a little longer, and feeling hurried in the line is stressful.
Getting Through Security
As you approach the TSA security checkpoint, let the attendant know that you contacted TSA Cares ahead of time. A representative will be called (or will already be waiting for you).
If you didn’t call ahead, no worries! Just let them know about your situation and they’ll do whatever they can to make the screening process easier. Notifying them ahead of time is preferred so that they can schedule staff to assist you, reducing your waiting time.
We had THE BEST experience at LAX with TSA Cares. Not only did we have two representatives assisting us, they even opened a separate security lane especially for our family! The staff was very gentle, kind, and patient, taking their time to explain the process and assist our entire family.
There was a hiccup when they misplaced my ID. It got stuck under the ID machine), and they couldn’t find it. The staff felt horrible. They took us through the airport to our gate, assisted us with getting the wheelchair tagged and obtaining preboarding passes. I can’t say enough good things about TSA Cares!
IF YOU NEED WHEELCHAIR ASSISTANCE BUT DON’T OWN A WHEELCHAIR
The airline will provide you with a wheelchair if necessary. If you need assistance, contact the airline directly prior to your departure date. An airline representative will meet you at the front of the airport in the drop-off zone with a wheelchair. TSA is not able to assist with wheelchairs.
Even if your child would not normally use a wheelchair, you may want to take into account the amount of walking and/or standing that may be required of them. Much of this depends on the airport size, the busy-ness of the travel day, and your child’s stamina levels.
IF YOU HAVE YOUR OWN WHEELCHAIR
Passengers who are traveling with their own wheelchair will need to visit the gate agent upon arrival. We typically don’t check luggage, but if you do, you can also talk to the ticketing agent at the front of the airport.
The gate or ticketing agent will help you with two steps that need to occur prior to boarding when flying with a child with a disability.
Tag Your Wheelchair
The gate agent will provide you with a tag to attach to your wheelchair, just like you would for checked luggage. While the wheelchair is stored in a separate compartment from the luggage, this extra step ensures it doesn’t get lost and identifies it as yours.
OBTAIN A PREBOARDING PASS
Individuals with disabilities are permitted to board the plane first. The gate agent will print you a special boarding pass for the passenger with a disability. Some airlines only permit one companion to assist during preboarding while the remainder of the family boards with their typical boarding group.
This can be more challenging when you’re flying with an airline that doesn’t pre-assign seating, like Southwest. We did find that the gate agents generally make exceptions and allow the whole family to board, but it was always awkward and a bit confusing.
BOARDING THE PLANE
Wheelchair users will leave their chairs at the entrance of the plane at the end of the sky bridge. The wheelchair will be placed in a special storage compartment with other chairs, car seats, and strollers.
Because it can take a little while to bring the wheelchairs back up to the sky bridge, check with your flight attendant to see if you should remain in your seat or deplane with the rest of the passengers. We have a piece of rolling luggage that Claire is able to sit on in the sky bridge while we wait for her wheelchair to arrive. If we didn’t have that option for her, we would opt to stay seated so she didn’t have to stand and wait.
Start Planning for Your Trip
Flying with a child with a disability isn’t easy, but with a little preparation and help, you can reduce much of the stress of your travel day!
Do you have any questions about the process? Are you planning a trip soon? I’d love to hear from you! Drop your questions in the comments!
If you’re looking for a 3-day itinerary for Yellowstone, we’ve got you covered!
Yellowstone National Park was on our bucket list for years. It was one of the national parks that neither Allan nor I had visited. I had seen pictures of the incredible scenery and wildlife but wanted to see it for myself. Of course, even if the pictures are filtered, this is one of those places that is even better in person!
I wasn’t sure how much time we needed there, so I used the wonderful tool of social media to get input from my friends who had already visited Yellowstone. A variety of answers came in, but two to five days was the general recommendation. I settled on three days and three nights. We did one half-day, followed by two full days, then another half-day.
WHEN TO VISIT YELLOWSTONE
The best time to visit, of course, depends on multiple factors, all of which vary from family to family. We needed to go when the kids were out of school and it was warm enough to tent camp. That didn’t leave a lot of options. Really, just one: summer. I researched weather patterns (it CAN snow in June and September), mosquitos, and crowds.
Consider the Weather
During our 3-day itinerary to Yellowstone, we wanted to hike, and we were tent camping, so we decided to go in July when it was warm. I had thought June might work if we went right after the kids got out of school. I imagined crowds would be a little lower in June. And they may have been, but we’re glad we ended up going in July since it ended up snowing in Yellowstone the third week of June!
Plan for Mosquitos
I had heard that you can get eaten alive by mosquitoes at Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in the summer. Here’s the bad news: you can. But there’s also good news: they only come out at dawn and dusk. Timing your trip to avoid the mosquitos is nearly impossible since their appearance depends on a variety of factors like the amount and timing of snowfall/snowmelt, rainfall, and temperature. My best advice? Bring repellent, long pants, and long shirts. Even though we weren’t cold, covering up before the mosquitos blessed us with their presence definitely helped.
Expect Some Crowds at Some Locations
More than four million people visit Yellowstone every year, making it one of the most visited national parks in the United States. I was pleasantly surprised by the crowd volume or lack thereof. I was expecting the crowd levels to be more similar to Yosemite National Park. However, because Yellowstone is so spread out, it helps disperse the crowds.
Unfortunately, there is no public transportation system in this national park. Biking isn’t really feasible considering the abundance of wildlife, narrow roads, and sprawling nature of Yellowstone. Everywhere you go, you will need to drive your vehicle. I expected chaos and congestion, but, in reality, it was easy to find parking spots with the exception of the Grand Prismatic Spring trailhead.
I planned our 3-day itinerary for Yellowstone so that we would arrive on a Sunday and leave on a Wednesday, avoiding the extra weekend traffic.
Walking the boardwalk at West Thumb Hot Springs
MAKING RESERVATIONS AT YELLOWSTONE
After extensive research, I decided to stay at Canyon Campground. It was the most centrally located, so we could stay in the same spot all three nights and keep everything within relatively easy driving distance. I suggest reserving your spot as far in advance as you can. It’s not as difficult to secure a spot in Yellowstone as it is in Yosemite, which was nice.
On the first day of our 3-day itinerary for Yellowstone, we entered the park through the west entrance in the afternoon, using our FREE 4th grader national park pass from the Every Kid Outdoors program. We loved seeing the beautiful, small section of Montana right before we entered the park. Allan is now dreaming of owning a ranch home in that area.
To be honest, after the gorgeous mountains, trees, tall green grass, and wildflowers entering Yellowstone from the west was a bit of a letdown. There were stunted trees and the vegetation was a little sparse. I’m not sure what I was expecting, considering it’s a geothermal area. Haha! Gradually, the scenery did change, ushering in more trees and greenery.
Gibbon Falls was our first stop! We parked the vehicle and made a short, easy walk down the path to view 84 feet of cascading falls.
Gibbon Falls on the west side of Yellowstone National Park
From there, we hopped back in the car, passed some mud pots, and drove on until we got to our home base for the next few days: the Canyon Campground. We set up camp and then headed down to Canyon Village. The Village is an area that has a couple of dining areas, a gift shop, a grocery store, and a visitor center.
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park
Canyon Visitor Center
After walking around The Village, we made our way to the Visitor Center. We talked to rangers, looked at maps, and walked around looking at all the different displays. A love for learning runs deep in our family, so visitor centers are always a hit. Don’t forget to pick up a free Junior Ranger booklet if you have younger kids! My kids love this program!
At dusk, we grabbed our binoculars and cameras and drove down to Hayden Valley. It’s an eight-mile drive from the campground that can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 45 minutes, depending on animal traffic. Bison and wildlife traffic jams are a very real thing in Yellowstone, and you just learn to live with it and enjoy it! Hayden Valley is a great place to see bison, elk, river otters, deer, and more! There are plenty of places to pull off the road and park.
It was the perfect way to end our first night in Yellowstone.
We devoted Day 2, the first full day of our 3-day itinerary for Yellowstone, to exploring the northern loop of the park. Yellowstone National Park consists of two main driving loops, a northern loop, and a southern loop.
We ate a quick breakfast and headed north, straight toward Lamar Valley, knowing that the wildlife would be most active in the morning.
The drive to the valley was a beautiful one, up and over the summit with wildflowers all along the road. As we turned at Tower Junction and headed east toward Lamar Valley, we saw bald eagles, pronghorn antelope, and bison. We had hoped we would see wolves, but we didn’t get that lucky. In the morning, this area was devoid of park visitors, making the experience more magical.
A Pronghorn antelope in Hayden Valley
After a couple of hours in Lamar Valley, we headed northwest toward the Petrified Tree. This was a quick stop that we found a bit underwhelming. Would we stop here again? Probably not, but it’s a good site to stop by once, especially if your kids have never seen petrified wood.
The Town of Mammoth
Our next stop was the little town of Mammoth, located at the north end of the park. Fort Yellowstone was located in this area and many of the buildings are still in use today.
Usually, the town is inundated with elk. They lounge on the grass like they own the place. However, the day we were there, they were strangely absent and nobody seemed to know why.
Lunch in Mammoth
We had lunch at the “fancy” restaurant in town, the Mammoth Dining Room. My turkey salad looked (and tasted) like something you would get from a cafeteria. Edible, but not remarkable. Everyone agreed that the huckleberry lemonade, and ambiance, was their favorite part.
Lunch at the Mammoth Dining Room in Yellowstone
The Mammoth Visitor Center
We especially enjoyed the Albright Visitor Center in this quaint little town! It was small, and a little busy, but the displays, particularly the ones about the wildlife, were fascinating.
Next, we walked across the town square to Mammoth Springs. If you’re doubtful that you’re headed in the right direction, you can be assured you are going the right way if your nose tells you there’s a rotten egg factory nearby. Haha!
What you’re smelling is the easily identifiable smell of sulfur, which can be found in the geothermal areas throughout the park. If the hot mist blows toward you, it can get in your eyes and irritate them. It’s not dangerous, per se, but I wouldn’t call it incredibly enjoyable.
Some people rate Mammoth Springs high on their list of park favorites, but anything that smelled strongly of sulfur resulted in short visit times for our family. Is it interesting and unique? Absolutely. Would we go back? Yes! Ten to twenty minutes was enough time though, for our family to view the springs.
Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park
We doubled back towards the campground after visiting Mammoth. Ordinarily, you could complete the whole loop. I really wanted to swim in Boiling River Hot Springs and catch a glimpse of bighorn sheep, but that portion of the road was closed due to construction.
As we passed Roosevelt Lodge (located right by Tower Junction), we saw a couple of cars pull over on the side of the road. Suddenly, more cars pulled over. Then we spotted it. There was a black bear, sitting in the meadow eating grass! We found a parking spot on the side of the road and watched. It was undoubtedly the highlight of our day!
Black bear sighting near Tower Junction in Yellowstone National Park
Next, we stopped by Tower Fall. There’s a short, accessible hike to a 132-foot waterfall. After the hike, we snagged an ice cream cone from the Tower General Store located at the trailhead, in the parking lot. It’s the little things!
Tower Fall in Yellowstone
Enjoying ice cream from Tower Fall General Store
After eating a bowl of chili for dinner back at the campground, we headed out again to Hayden Valley to watch the wildlife. Watching the sunset across the grassy fields where bison, elk, and antelope grazed is a peaceful way to end every day.
Elk munching on grass
One of many bison herds
YELLOWSTONE ITINERARY: DAY 3 (FULL DAY)
For the second full day of our 3-day itinerary for Yellowstone, we explored the southern loop of the park. This loop was busier than the northern loop as it’s closer to Grand Teton National Park and hosts some of the more well-known features of the park, like Old Faithful and the Grand Prismatic Spring.
Hot Springs at West Thumb and Yellowstone Lake
For our first stop, we toured the West Thumb geothermal area. It’s located right near Yellowstone Lake and is uniquely beautiful. We hiked the boardwalk that connects the different springs, listened to a ranger talk, and had a picnic lunch.
West Thumb Hot Springs near Yellowstone Lake
Old Faithful Geyser
From West Thumb, we headed west toward our next destination, Old Faithful. The crowds were definitely a little heavier here.
Old Faithful is one of six geysers in the park that erupts on a fairly consistent basis (hence the name, Old Faithful). The Old Faithful Visitor Education Center regularly posts the next predicted eruption time, plus or minus 10 minutes, allowing guests the opportunity to explore some of the nearby attractions via a boardwalk, meander through the gift shop, watch an educational video in the visitor center, or grab a bite to eat.
While it was a unique experience, for us, the animals ranked higher on the list when it comes to planning a 3-day itinerary for Yellowstone. It may have been that that area was so jampacked with people, and I’m a bit of an introvert.
Old Faithful Geyser erupts in Yellowstone
Old Faithful Inn
The Old Faithful Inn is a work of art and a beautiful piece of history. Stepping inside was like stepping back in time.
Of course, we managed to find an ice cream shop inside the lodge. Huckleberry ice cream is my new favorite ice cream. If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend you do!
We took our ice cream to the second floor, where there’s a covered balcony that overlooks the Old Faithful geyser. There are dozens of handcrafted wooden tables and chairs for guests to use. The next time we visit Old Faithful, we decided the balcony would be the perfect spot to watch the eruption!
Other Geysers/Upper Basin
There are multiple trails in the Old Faithful/Upper Basin area. It was unusually warm when we were there (over 90°F), and nobody was super anxious to walk near steaming hot water. Also, we still wanted to visit the Lower Basin area. Some of the trails are short with boardwalks, and others are longer and would require the rental of bear spray. We decided to save some of those longer trails for our next visit to Yellowstone.
Grand Prismatic Spring
By the time we reached the Grand Prismatic Spring/Lower Basin parking lot in the mid-afternoon, the traffic was rather congested. The parking lot was full and cars were lined up waiting to get in. I don’t even remember how long it took to find a parking spot. A long time. A very long time. Long enough that I ended up getting out with the girls to take them to the restroom.
The colors at the Lower Basin were stunning and unlike anything we had ever seen before. It was also rather breezy, causing everyone to clutch their hats, lest they be snatched away by the wind. There were quite a few hats lying out of reach of the boardwalk that had escaped their owners’ heads.
Some people were playing in the river right at the trailhead, but I’m definitely a rule follower when it comes to signs like “Stay on the Boardwalk” and “Danger: Thermal Area”. Instead, we skipped wading in the river and headed back to camp for showers and dinner.
The unbelievable colors of the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone
Yellowstone Falls and Yellowstone Canyon
One of the benefits of being so far north is that the sun doesn’t set until after 9 pm in July. So, after dinner, we headed out to explore Yellowstone Falls. It’s here that you’ll discover how Yellowstone got its name. The grandeur of this golden canyon is breathtaking.
Lower Yellowstone Falls
On our way there, we spied a grizzly bear in a meadow between the main road and the falls parking lot! We pulled into the parking lot and saw it saunter off into the woods. Of course, there were people running towards the bear, selfie sticks in hand. I still can hardly believe it.
What in the world would possess someone to chase a grizzly bear into the forest at dusk? Probably the same thing that possesses people to try to pet the bison that is hanging out by the restroom.
After spending a few days at Yellowstone, I’m actually surprised more people don’t get tossed by bison or attacked by bears. The park does an excellent job of reminding people that the animals are wild and to keep at least 25 yards away from bison and elk and 100 yards away from bears. But people will be people, and no doubt I pulled my fair share of stupid stunts, especially when I was a teen.
YELLOWSTONE ITINERARY: DAY 4 (HALF DAY)
Our last half-day was more of a travel day. We packed up in the morning and said goodbye to Canyon Campground. This was the end of our 3-day itinerary for Yellowstone.
We felt like we had time to see all the main attractions, and know that next time we return, we’ll explore more of the off-the-beaten-path!
First, we stopped by the village to visit the gift shop (tradition). Brandon got a national park keychain and the girls chose animals that reminded them of their time in Yellowstone. If your kiddos have completed at least seven pages of the Junior Ranger booklet, this morning is also a great time to drop by the visitor center and claim their Junior Ranger badge!
Just south of Hayden Valley is an area called Mud Volcano. There’s a half-mile loop that takes you on a boardwalk through boiling mud. And, yes, it smells like sulfur! There’s something strangely mesmerizing about watching mud simmer and boil.
We continued to drive south on the main road toward our next stop, Grand Teton National Park, where we spent two days. A beautiful scenic drive was the perfect way to end our time in Yellowstone. We stopped from time to time when we saw wildlife or wanted to take a picture. We saw more bison (surprise!) and ended up seeing some elk that were bedded down right next to the road!
Bison by the road and bison in the road…everywhere
PLAN YOUR YELLOWSTONE VISIT
This 3-day itinerary for Yellowstone allowed us to see all the major attractions in the park at a pace that fit our family! Yellowstone National Park was everything we dreamed it would be and then some. It became the girls’ favorite national park, mostly because of the abundance of wildlife.
Are you ready to plan your trip to Yellowstone National Park? Do you have any questions? I’d love to hear them and help answer them! Additionally, download my FREE printable packing list for Yellowstone before your trip!