With two kids comfortable hiking in Nebraska, hitting trails in Yellowstone National Park was going to be a huge step up (not just in altitude). So, I sought easy trails that packed a lot of views or cool geologic features. Read on for which trails we did!
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How We Found These Trails In Yellowstone
I started planning this trip months in advance, highlighting possible “easy” hike options in Lonely Planet’s “Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks” guidebook. To be honest, though, the easy hikes listed in the book were still long ones for my kids, who are 8 and 10.
We were able to find shorter routes of the suggested hikes in the book, though. Time to put those map-reading skills you learned long ago to good use.
A lot of our hikes were spur-of-the-moment hikes at quick stops as we drove around the park. If something catches your eye, stop! The park usually posts signs at parking lots with trail lengths.
What To Bring For Easy Hikes
Even for a short hike, it’s smart to be prepared in Yellowstone. Bring plenty of water and, if you’re going beyond boardwalks, bring snacks.
Comfortable hiking shoes are important. My kids have been wearing Keen boots for this trip and they’ve been light and durable.
Bug spray and sunscreen are other obvious needs. A hat is also a good idea.
Raincoats are also smart. We left on a hike and it was sunny with puffy, “The Simpsons” type clouds. After about two hours, rain clouds rolled in and drenched us.
Guidebooks and park officials all highly recommend bringing bear spray. I suggest buying it before you make the trip to Wyoming. In Omaha, I could’ve bought it for under $30. On our way through Wyoming, every store we stopped at was sold out of it, so we ended up buying it inside Grand Teton National Park for $55. And, on several trails, I had my hand on it because we were in a remote enough and alone.
Yellowstone National Park trail safety
My advice is to listen to the experts. We followed all of the rules posted at Yellowstone regarding hiking safely, especially since you’re in Bear Country and could be on a trail passing a hydrothermal area.
You can find Yellowstone safety tips for hiking as well as day hike suggestions here.
Southern Loop Easy Trails
Time: 5-10 minutes
This short, but sweet, hike was our first to stumble upon when we entered the park from the south entrance. Lewis Falls is a 30-foot waterfall that’s visible from the road.
I noticed that most who stopped snapped pictures from the small parking area and moved on. That’s fine, but they missed out on a short, dirt trail that takes you closer to the falls.
There is an incline at the beginning that is off-putting, but don’t let it deter you. In a matter of minutes, the trail ends at the falls.
It’s not as spectacular as some of the larger, well-known waterfalls, but it’s nice, short hike that let’s kids (or adults who “don’t do hiking”) feel adventurous.
Tip: If you don’t want to spend much time hiking to get a good view of a waterfall and you don’t want to deal with crowds, stop at Kepler Cascades.
Midway Geyser Basin trail
Time: 30 minutes
The Midway Geyser Basin is home to one of the park’s biggest show stoppers: Grand Prismatic Spring. Its popularity is well deserved. The area is stunning and unearthly. It’s also pretty easy to get to, so you can expect a lot of people on the boardwalk with you.
By the way, the first unreal pool of water you encounter is huge and impressive. Many people stop here thinking it’s the main attraction.
Expect less than an hour to see all the sprigs, even if you linger and take a lot of selfies. I think we spent more time trying to get a parking spot than trekking up to see the sites.
Tip: Keep a close eye on kids. The boardwalk is wide but there are no rails on most of the path.
Lower Geyser Basin
Time: 20 minutes
This fairly short trail was very crowded when we visited, probably because there are a ton of unique geological sights packed into a small area.
You’ll find the fascinating Fountain Paint Pot there, a bubbling spring. And while we were there, Clepsydra Geyser erupted.
It’s near the Midway Geyser Basin, so if you’re planning on seeing Grand Prismatic Spring (which I think you should), this is an easy stop to tack on.
Mud Volcano Area
Time: 30 minutes
We almost didn’t stop for Mud Volcano. It was dusk, we’d spent a hot day exploring the park’s Southern Loop highlights. We were tired.
But the draw of names like Mud Volcano and Black Dragon Caldron on the sign caught my kids’ eye, so we swerved to make the turn.
Good thing we did, because Churning Caldron is worth seeing!
The total hike along this boardwalk is 2/3 of a mile. Part of the route are steep and might make you winded, and may cause a bit of whining, but hang in there.
Tip: There some stairs on this path, so it’s not 100% accessible.
We had a few visceral memories of this area. For one thing, it smells like a lot of stinky mud pots and fumarole do. My kids were pretty dramatic about the stench.
Be sure to keep an eye on kids and stay on the trail here.
Second, like many places in Yellowstone, wild animals abound. A long bison rested very close to the trail. Very close!
Southern Rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Time: 2 and ½ hours
By far, the most rewarding hike and the most difficult hike was the one we took to see the beautiful falls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Granted, can easily drive and park at Uncle Tom’s Point or Artist’s Point to catch glimpses, but the most breathtaking vistas are away from the crowds.
Tip: Uncle Tom’s Trail was closed when we were there.
This hike was originally going to be 6 miles and marked “easy” in our Lonely Planet guide. FYI: For kids and non-experienced hikers, 6 miles is never easy, and the incline on some parts of that path would be more considered “moderate.”
Anyway. Six miles was too long for us so we shortened the route.
Parking at Uncle Tom’s Point, we first saw the Upper Falls, before taking the Southern Rim Trail toward Artist’s Point, where you get a great view of Lower Falls (the taller falls).
Tip: Artist’s Point has bathroom facilities. No, it doesn’t have a water bottle fountain. You can guess why I know both of these things.
After admiring the view, we continued on toward Clear Lake. We passed a bubbling hydrothermal area with steaming pools of water. It was hot and stinky and a little eerie to walk through alone.
Clear Lake was a gorgeous view, but also a little nerve-wracking since we saw many piles of fresh bear poop. Hurrying on, we came to an open field and saw a pronghorn.
And then it started to rain. Seriously. Look at the clouds in the Clear Lake picture. We didn’t expect it to be raining about 10 minutes later!
Granted, we had just been complaining about the heat, so it was refreshing. However, we’d also talked to a family who’d mentioned being caught in a hailstorm there. So…
We ran the last stretch back to Uncle Tom’s Point.
Old Faithful area
Time: Varies, but we only spent about 20 minutes on the trail because we wanted to catch Old Faithful’s eruption.
By far, the most crowded area in the park during our visit was around Old Faithful. Before your visit, download the Yellowstone app so you can keep track of when the geyser is predicted to erupt. If you have more than hour, hit the nearby paved trails to explore.
This area is full of geysers and steaming hot springs. Stay on the path!
We ran into a park ranger who answered the kids’ questions. This was the only place we encounter a ranger. I imagine back in non-COVID times, the rangers were a lot more accessible (ranger stations in the park were not open during our visit).
Northern Loop Easy Trails
Mammoth Hot Springs trail
Time: 30 minutes to 1 hour
The other-worldly terrain at Mammoth Springs is a popular attraction in the northern section of the park. We only explored perhaps half of the trail, since we were nearing the end of our stay and the kids were openly rebelling against hikes at that point.
The boardwalk has several steps, making it a bit more strenuous of a trail than others, especially if you make your way to the lookout.
Our favorite part of this area were Mound Spring and Palette Spring, but I imagine you’d find a different favorite. It’s all very strange and unique there.
It’s very important to stay on the trail at Mammoth Hot Springs.
Plan a Yellowstone trip
In the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing more stories about our time in Yellowstone National Park. Be on the lookout for them:
- What To Pack For A Yellowstone Cabin Vacation
- Everything You Want To Know About COVID-19 Protocols at Yellowstone
- What To Expect If Your Stay In A Canyon Lodge Cabin In Yellowstone
If you plan on combining Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, read these posts, too!
- Easy Hike In Grand Teton
- What To Pack For A Grand Teton National Park Cabin Vacation
- Everything You Want To Know About COVID-19 Protocols At Grand Teton National Park
- What To Expect If Your Stay In A Headwaters Cabin In Grand Teton
Let me know if you’re interested in an itinerary for this trip!
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