15 Fun Things To Do In One Day In Jackson Hole

We were on a week-long family vacation to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks when we found ourselves in Jackson Hole for the day with zero plans. After scouring my guidebook for the region — and figuring out why I could only find activities listed for Jackson, not Jackson Hole — we had a game plan. Here’s a list of fun things to do for in Jackson if you find yourself with a free day there.

Jackson vs. Jackson Hole

First off, Jackson Hole is confusing if you’re asking people about it AND using a guidebook.

When everyone heard we were going to Grand Teton National Park, they all asked if we were going to Jackson Hole. So I pictured Jackson Hole as being a city, a specific destination. As it turns out, Jackson Hole is an entire valley, Jackson is the city.

Yes, so when people say they went to Jackson Hole, most likely, they went to the posh town of Jackson. It’s known to attract celebrities and fun-seeking families.

Most of what we did in “Jackson Hole” actually took place in Jackson.

COVID-19 Update

We visited Jackson Hole in the summer of 2020, so there were many safety measures in place to keep the public and employees safe. Here are a few I noticed:

  • Masks were required to enter most businesses.
  • Hand sanitizer was placed at the entrance of many businesses.
  • Employees wore masks.
  • Some stores had arrows indicating the flow of traffic.
  • Many people wore masks while walking on the sidewalks, which made sense – the sidewalks were pretty crowded when we visited.

Check for health updates before your trip to Jackson Hole. Read about local, county and state-wide conditions here.

Snow King Resort in the summer

On the edge of town, Snow King Resort rises into the mountains. In the summer, it becomes a playground for little daredevils who want to race down the mountain on an Alpine slide or the thrilling Cowboy Coaster

I did both, and let me tell you, as an adult, the coaster feels less like I was hurdling down the mountain precariously.

Kim riding the Cowboy Coaster in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Our visit was an impromptu one, so we did not have the chance to make reservations, which would be essential if you want to do the Tree Adventure ropes course. We arrived at around noon and it was full for the day.

It’s usually included in the all-day pass, which we’d bought. There is no discount on the pass, by the way, if the ropes course is full or things like the bungee trampoline are closed. (The all-day pass is $125.)

The all-day pass includes unlimited rides down the slide and coaster, putt-putt golf, and the maze. We visited in a Monday and enjoyed no lines, allowing the kids many, many rides down the mountain.

I’d recommend weighing the option of purchasing ride passes a la carte. While my kids were content to ride the Cowboy Coaster over and over again, if yours are satisfied with one ride, just get the one ride pass for it. It costs $20.

People riding the alpine slides in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Things to do in downtown Jackson

I’ll admit, the downtown area is more enticing for shoppers than kids looking for fun activities. There’s a lovely bookstore called Valley Bookstore, a Five and Dime, and tons of souvenir shops.

And if you’re there without kids, there are quite a few saloons including the well-known Cowboy Bar with saddles for seats.

My kids were content playing in at Jackson Town Square. It’s a green space with no playground, but plenty of room to run and play hide and seek. Plus, there were ground squirrels, which seemed to fascinate all kids there.

Real antlers were used to create the iconic sculptures at Jackson Town Square in Jackson Hole.

You know you’re at the city park when you come across the antler arcs at the four corners of the park! They’re pretty iconic, and many people snap a selfie in front of them.

Nearby, a horse-drawn stagecoach trots by occasionally, which always caused my kids to pause and watch.

Where to eat in Jackson with kids

We weren’t in Jackson for long, but we did have a few great meals and ice cream. For good pizza, head to Pizzeria Caldera located pretty near the park in downtown Jackson. The pizzeria is on the second floor and we nabbed a table on the balcony overlooking the busy sidewalks below.

My husband and I split pizzas with creative flavor combos like Pera Cipolle (white sauce, mozzarella, red onion, anjou pear, applewood smoked bacon, gorgonzola, balsamic reduction) and Porcellino (tomato sauce, mozzarella, house-made pork sausage, applewood smoked bacon, mushrooms, spinach, roasted garlic, fresh sage).

Porcellino pizza at Pizzeria Caldera in Jackson, Wyoming

The kids stuck with their standard go-to topping, pepperoni.

If you like local beer and pub food, Snake River Brewing Co. is a family-friendly brewery in Jackson. It’s about a half-mile from Snow King Resort, so it made for a great end-of-day meal. There is a kid’s menu and the serving sizes for kids are huge.

The brewery has a beautiful outdoor eating area but we were so hot from our day at Snow King, we opted for the quieter indoor space.

Outdoor at Snake River Brewing Company in Jackson, Wyoming.

We had ice cream at Moo’s Gourmet Ice Cream, a shop that’s within walking distance of Jackson Town Square. It was a very popular ice cream shop with some outside seating.

Plan a fun day in Jackson Hole, Wyoming! Use this list to find fun things to do in Jackson Hole, good restaurants to try, and outdoor places to play in the area.

What’s near Jackson Hole, Wyoming

It’s no secret, Jackson Hole is in a beautiful part of the country. Its proximity to TWO national parks is notable. If you are planning a trip to Jackson Hole, I highly recommend visiting both Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park.

Here are a few things to do at the parks:

Easy hikes at Grand Teton National Park

Easy hikes at Yellowstone National Park

This cabin puts you between Grand Teton and Yellowstone

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Try These Awesome (And Easy) Grand Teton Hikes

I spent a great amount of time researching possible hikes for my family’s visit to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. My kids are 8 and 10, so old enough for a few miles, but young enough to complain if it got to be too long or difficult. The kind of trail we sought needed to be less than 3 or so miles and easy terrain.

If you’re looking for a scenic but not-too-challenging hike, read on!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking the link, I receive a small referral stipend.

These great hikes at Grand Teton National Park are easy and less than 3 miles long. The trails suggested are good for families and beginner hikers.

Where to find easy trails in Grand Tetons

Full disclosure: Some of you might think the second trail isn’t really a “hike.” That’s a fair opinion, but if you’re traveling with little ones or someone who needs an accessible trail, it’s a good hike. Trust me.

Both trails start at the Jenny Lake Visitor Center, which has ample parking (though it does fill up). 

Hiking around Jenny Lake at Grand Tetons National Park offers many scenic views

I know what you’re thinking: Grand Teton National Park is SO big, couldn’t you find other trails? 

Well, yes, and I had several in mind when I was planning our trip. In fact, I had several picked out that were marked for “Best Hikes for Children,” “Best for Wildlife Watching” and “Best for Great Views,” which I had found in the excellent Falcon Guides book “Best Easy Day Hikes: Grand Teton National Parks.”

Moose Ponds Trail: Looking for wildlife

We settled on Moose Ponds trail after reading the Falcon Guides book. It was ranked high for wildlife watching, and being just at 2.6 miles and marked Easy, it sounded just right for our first outing. 

Father and son hiking at Grand Teton National Park

The start of the hike is at the very popular Jenny Lake Visitor’s Center, and at first, it’s a paved trail. This part is an accessible path down to the lake, and if you have pretty young kids, it may be all you need for family to experience nature.

But, keep going, because it gets even more beautiful and the crowds start to thin out.

The bridge by the boat ferry dock at Jenny Lake

To get to Moose Ponds, you need to walk south of Jenny Lake, crossing the bridge at the boat ferry dock. Most people will stop here to take the ferry; you’ll want to keep walking.

The well-worn trail at this point is dirt with rocks jutting out here or there. It’s still pretty easy to hike, but keep your eye on the ground to not trip.

Tip: There is a parking lot at the boat launch parking, which is an excellent spot to park at and skip the crowded part of the Jenny Lake trail. It’s small, so if you arrive during peak time, though, you may not find a spot.

The trail you’re on now is Valley Trail. Be on the lookout for a sign marking Moose Ponds, you’ll want to head to the left at that point when most everyone else is continuing on Valley Trail.

Sign for Moose Ponds Loop Trail at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming

Moose Ponds trail feels remote, when it really isn’t. I’ll admit, we were a little nervous about bears and, well, the trail’s namesake, moose. It feels remote, but it really isn’t., though.

Besides birds, we saw a marmot and lots of clues to the busy life of the resident beavers. But, there were no huge animal sightings.

We did cross a few streams and saw waterfalls in the distance, so overall, I’d say it was a wonderful hike.

Girl reaching for a stream at a crossing on Moose Ponds Trail

It felt a little longer than 2.6 miles, by the way. Just ask my kids.

The trail at Jenny Lake Visitor Center

The trail at Jenny Lake starts at, you guessed it, the Jenny Lake Visitor Center. I highly recommend this trail for this with limited mobility or really young kids who can’t walk far. It’s paved, it leads to beautiful views of the lake, and it’s very easy.

A paved path leading to Jenny Lake at Grand Teton National Park

There are benches throughout this trail, which are good for resting, but also highlight a different animal in the park. My kids thought it was funny that it not only showed the animal’s tracks, but its poop, too.

Adapting your plans on a national park vacation

I wish I could say we hiked more in Grand Teton National Park, but time ran short. Our other “long” easy hike was going to be Hidden Falls trail. Our plans changed after one kid fell during a pit stop to the hike to take in the lake views.

Open field at Grand Teton National Park

We decided hiking wasn’t in the cards and opted for a fun day in Jackson, Wyoming (AKA Jackson Hole). I’ll be sharing a blog post about that day in Jackson soon, but suffice to say it was exactly what my family needed that day, after all.

Plan a Grand Teton National Park Trip

Want to do more than just a quick hike in Grand Teton National Park? We stayed three nights at Grand Teton. We combined three nights in Grand Teton National Park with two nights in Yellowstone National Park. They’re very close to each other!

By the way, we went in mid-June and it was the perfect time to see the wildflowers bloom.

Field of wildflowers at Grand Teton National Park in June

Read these upcoming posts to learn more about Grand Teton National Park:

These Cabins Put You Between Grand Teton & Yellowstone

Everything You Need To Know About COVID Protocols At Grand Teton National Park

10 Fun Things To Do In One Day At Jackson Hole

Kid-Friendly Restaurants In Jackson Hole

If you want to read more about what we did in Yellowstone, be sure to read these posts:

7 Easy Hikes In Yellowstone National Park

Everything You Need To Know About COVID Protocols At Yellowstone

Things To Expect If Your Stay In A Canyon Lodge Cabin In Yellowstone

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Looking for an easy trails at Grand Teton National Park, one that's either accessible or easy enough for kids? Read this post about awesome and easy hikes at Grand Teton! #NationalParks #USA #Wyoming

Everything You Need To Know About COVID-19 Protocols At Grand Teton National Park

This year has been a strange and troubling one for all of us, and what my family needed was a getaway to the outdoors. Grand Teton National Park offered wide open spaces to be social distant while on vacation. But, as you can imagine, it wasn’t business as usual there. Read on to find out what to expect if you visit Grand Teton during the pandemic.

** Everything is subject to change after this post has gone live. We were at the park at the end of June 2020 and COVID-19 health and operational guidelines may change. Please check the Grand Teton National Park official website for the most up-to-date information.

Everything you need to know about visiting Grand Teton National Park in 2020 | What are the COVID-19 safety protocols at Grand Teton National Park | What's open and what is closed during the 2020 pandemic

COVID-19 protocol at Grand Teton National Park

The park has taken many steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The one that will impact any visit is the closures of many buildings like visitor centers and ranger stations.

Places that are open, like some restaurants (for take-out only) and gift shops, encourage face masks, hand sanitizer and capacity limits. You’ll also encounter Plexiglass barriers in retail areas.

Here’s an example of our experience: The gift shop at Jenny Lake, for instance, had an employee at the door keeping track of the amount of people who entered, so a line formed outside.

The line at the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center in Moose had an even longer line outside since it was not only a line for the gift shop, but a line to get park permits.

A view of the boat dock at Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park.

There are plenty of signs throughout the park reminding people to maintain 6 feet of social distance. 

It was pretty easy to keep a safe distance from people while hiking at Grand Teton. People tried their best to keep 6 feet apart, even while waiting in line at the Jenny Lake boat launch.

Tip: Hikers can take the short boat ride from the dock at Jenny Lake to trails on the other side, including the popular Hidden Fall Trail. The boat ride is an additional fee.

Related post: COVID-19 Safety Protocols at Yellowstone National Park

What are the crowds like at Grand Teton?

I can’t tell you how crowd levels compare to previous visits since this was my first time at the park. However, I imagine summer is typically busy, especially with the return of Grizzly 399.

Kids and photographers watching Grizzly 399 and her cubs in the distance at Grand Teton National Park

We saw her and her cubs, by the way! Granted, we saw them all from very, very far away with the help of binoculars. But still. We saw them!

We tended to encounter a decent size crowd when we stopped at convenience stores. The largest crowd, though, was at Jenny Lake.

The paved path is very popular, but once you got a little ways off the path, the crowd thinned out. Our hike around Moose Ponds, which starts at the Jenny Lake area, was almost entirely ours alone.

Which restaurants are open at Grand Teton

We stayed at a cabin at Grand Teton National Park and it didn’t have a kitchen nor a fire pit outside. So, we did have to get food from time to time beyond our Nutella and Cheerios.

For one breakfast, we grabbed sandwiches at the convenience store at Headwaters. We heated them up at the convenience store.

For another, we got breakfast burritos at the convenience store at Signal Mountain. If you’re a coffee drinker, get the coffee there instead of the coffee at the Headwaters convenience store.

Other dining options that were open (take-out only):

  • Sheffields at Flagg Ranch
  • Colter Bay Convenience Store and Gas Station at Colter Bay Village
  • Ranch House at Colter Bay Village
  • John Colter Cafe Court at Colter Bay Village

What else is open at Grand Teton right now?

As I mentioned before, gift shops were open. Not a whole lot of people wearing masks, save for a handful of families and all employees.

Interior of Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center in Moose, Wyoming

Some visitor’s centers were open, though, when we visited, certain areas were still closed within the buildings. What’s open:

  • The Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center in Moose (exhibits and the auditorium were not open)
  • Colter Bay Visitor Center
  • Jenny Lake Ranger Station

The Jenny Lake Visitor Center, LSR Preserve Center, and Flagg Ranch Information Station are not open for the 2020 summer season.

Horseback riding has not reopened, but there are quite a few other guided activities that are open:

  • Mountaineering
  • Kayaking
  • Float trips
  • Fishing trips

If something isn’t listed here as being open, check the park’s Operating Hours page to see if/when it will reopen in 2020.

Where can you stay overnight at Grand Teton National Park?

I booked our three nights in a cabin at Headwaters at Flagg Ranch two weeks before our trip. In my mind, that’s extremely last minute, considering I tried to book Jenny Lake cabins more than a year in advance. I think that availability is unusual unless there was a cancellation.

Exterior of a cabin at Headwaters Lodge & Cabins in Grand Teton National Park

Want to see what’s available this summer? Here’s the lodging that is open:

  • Headwaters Lodge & Cabins
  • Signal Mountain Lodge
  • Triangle X Dude & Guest Ranch at Moran
  • Colter Bay Cabins
  • Colter Bay Tent Cabins

These are the open campgrounds:

  • Headwaters Campground and RV Park
  • Gros Ventre Campground at Moose
  • Jenny Lake Campground
  • Signal Mountain Campground
  • Colter Bay Campground and RV Park
  • Lizard Creek Campground

Plan a vacation to Grand Teton National Park

In the next few weeks, I’ll be publishing more stories about our trip to Grand Teton (and nearby Yellowstone National Park). Stay tuned for more stories about:

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These Cabins Put You Between Yellowstone & Grand Teton

With Grand Teton National Park being so close to Yellowstone National Park, it’s pretty common to visit both on a trip. We did it this summer and found a great cabin in Grand Teton that just happens to be 2 miles from Yellowstone: Headwaters Lodge & Cabins. 

Where are the Headwaters Cabins within the Grand Teton National Park?

Headwaters is located at Flagg Ranch on the far north end of Grand Teton National Park. While a lot of the park’s attractions that we were interested in, especially Jenny Lake, were on the other end of the park, we enjoyed driving through the park to get to our cabin.

Entrance to Headwaters Lodge & Cabins at Flagg Ranch at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming

It’s even further (about an hour) to drive to Jackson, Wyoming. Go there if you want a variety of shops, restaurants, and kid-pleasing tourist activities.

The good thing about the location of Headwaters?

Headwaters is very near Yellowstone National Park, making it almost a no-brainer that you should visit both parks. Separate entrance fee applies, though.

COVID-19 measures in place

**We stayed three nights at the cabin in June 2020, so while there were measures in place then, they could very well change before your visit. Read more about Grand Teton COVID-19 safety measures

Check-in for Headwaters cabins is at the lodge, where you’ll notice the hand sanitizer outside and signage prior to entering.

We wore masks indoors, and you’ll find that less than 50% will too when you go in. Employees wore masks at the lodge and the nearby convenience store.

The cabins didn’t have regular housekeeping.

The restaurant in the lodge did not offer a dine-in service; you could only order take-out. We found this to be the case throughout Grand Teton National Park, as well as when we visited Yellowstone National Park.

What the Grand Teton Headwaters cabins are like

There are two options for cabins, as well as tent and lodge accommodations (though in 2020, the lodge is not open). 

We reserved a deluxe cabin since it was the only one available, but also because it was the right size for our family of four. It had two queen size beds, a bathroom with a bathtub, and a small sitting area in front with two rocking chairs.

Exterior of a cabin at Headwaters Lodge & Cabins located in Grand Teton National Park, which is close to Yellowstone National Park.

I took zero pictures of the interior of the cabins because there really wasn’t anything to distinguish it from a regular hotel room. Set your expectations low and you won’t be disappointed.

The cabin is actually a building with four separate rooms to reserve. We never heard neighbors, so it did feel like we had the place to ourselves.

Like all accommodations inside the park, there was no TV, which just about ruined my kids’ lives. 

Just kidding.

But, there was no TV and there was no WiFi and it took a while for all of us to accept that it was a time to unplug.

There is no air conditioning but you also didn’t need it, even in June. It got pretty cold each night.

How much are the cabins?

The price of the cabins was pretty steep. I’m talking $300+ a night.

There are several lodging options, many with fewer amenities and therefore a better price. But, be warned: Not all lodges at Grand Teton are open due to COVID-19.

You may have better luck finding a cabin outside of the park with more amenities for a more reasonable price.

But you really can’t beat this location of Headwaters, so I’m torn between recommending you look elsewhere or spend big.

If you’re still convinced that these cabins are for you, I recommend booking as early as possible. While I snagged this cabin at the last minute (less than two weeks from our vacation start date), that is not common.

What’s near the cabins?

As you drive south from the cabin into Grand Teton National Park, you’ll pass several pullout stops with great views of Jackson Lake with the Grand Tetons towering behind it.

Wildflowers in June at Grand Teton National Park

We visited at the end of June during wild flower season, and it was stunning. 

This park is considerably smaller than Yellowstone National Park, so having a home base in the north part of the park was no big deal. During our drives through the park, we spotted several mama bears with cubs, even the famous Grizzly 399!

Watching from a safe distance as Grizzly 399 and her four cubs roam at Grand Teton National Park.

While seeing the famous grizzly and her cubs off in the distance was definitely a highlight, we saw a juvenile grizzly much closer to the road on our last night in the park.

Keep in mind this was in late June, so the bear activity will likely be different if you visit during a different season.

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Want to stay near two National Parks? We stayed at the Headwaters cabin inside Grand Teton National Park, which is just 2 miles away from Yellowstone National Park! Is this cabin right for your family? Read on for more details on booking a cabin at Grand Teton!

17 Fun Things To Do In Rapid City

We’ve been to Rapid City, South Dakota, twice with the kids – once pre-COVID and then again this summer. If you’re thinking about planning a Mount Rushmore visit this summer, read on, since I’ve got a lot of additional activities to round out your trip – and most are outdoors. 

Disclosure: We received complimentary passes to some of the attractions in this post so that I can review them. We paid admission to others. 

Making Rapid City, South Dakota, your homemade for exploring Mount Rushmore and the nearby towns? Here are some fun things to do in Rapid City when you're not seeing the monuments!

COVID-19 Update

The COVID-19 has had a relatively small impact on South Dakota (or so it will feel when you visit), so many places are open with some modifications. Check out Rapid City’s visitor’s bureau’s website to see what is open and what has a modified schedule prior to your visit.

We drove through Rapid City in June 2020, stopping for two nights. I probably would’ve not stopped had I known how little concern people showed for the global pandemic, especially considering how many travelers pass through the area.

Please be aware that most people you will encounter in Rapid City will not be wearing face masks, even at popular tourist attractions. It was a bit unsettling.

There were some signs at places we stopped, like Cosmos Mystery Area, but no one was following the social distancing request nor was anyone wearing a (including staff).

Even restaurant staff was at about 50/50 with wearing face masks, and even then, a few had them on incorrectly.

If all that concerns you, plan a visit when there isn’t a pandemic.

Downtown Rapid City

Where: The area between Omaha Street and Columbus Street (park near Main Street to be right in the heart of it), and between East and West boulevards in Rapid City, SD.

Cost: FREE

I remember our first visit to Rapid City, and we spent just a short time in downtown Rapid City. And I remember regretting not having more time.

Our second visit fixed that. We allowed enough time for dinner, dessert, running around, and Art Alley.

Evening at Main Street Square in downtown Rapid City, SD

I think the focal point of downtown is Main Street Square, a community gathering space with a stage, sprayground, and nearby shops and restaurants. It’s a great place for kids to run around.

You’ll also find statues of the presidents in downtown Rapid City. It’s one of the more interesting and well-done public art trails I’ve encountered.

Art Alley

Where: 599 Seventh St., Rapid City, SD

Cost: FREE

Art Alley is another downtown attraction to see. It’s definitely worth the short walk if you already plan to visit the plaza area. Different artists and taggers have decorated this block-long alley.

Girl at Art Alley in Rapid City, South Dakota

There are some social messages, some crazy creatures, and a few pop culture references. It’s all amazing. 

Side note: If you’ve been to the Art Alley in Lincoln, Neb., this is similar…and much better.

Storybook Island

Where: 1301 Sheridan Lake Road, Rapid City, SD

Cost: FREE

The fantastic free attraction is geared toward young kids. Picture a giant playground inspired by fairytales and cartoons, and then imagine amateur artists creating play areas about them, and you’ll get the sense of Storybook Land.

I thought it was well done, though my husband thought it was all a little creepy.

The kids, of course, loved it.

Reptile Gardens

Where: 8955 US-16, Rapid City, SD

Cost: $15, adults (16+); $13, seniors; $12, youth (ages 11-15); $10, children (ages 4-10); FREE for children ages 3 and younger.** These rates apply during the summer and fall season.

** Rates reduced in 2020 because several animal shows are not offered at this time.

The king of roadside attractions, Reptile Gardens is well worth a stop. We visited this attraction pre-COVID, but I do know it is open now (with, hopefully, some safety measures in place).

It’s a fun place for families, with safe animal encounters. When we went, there were animal shows and demonstrations, but they temporarily eliminated some shows in 2020.

Chapel in the Hills

Where: 3788 Chapel Lane, Rapid City, SD

Cost: FREE

After seeing pictures of Chapel in the Hills, I was intrigued enough to insist we drive out of our way to find it. I’m glad we did, since it was beautiful.

Exterior of Chapel in the Hills in Rapid City, SD

This chapel is an exact replica of Borgund stavkirke, which was built around 1150 in Laerdal, Norway.

The structure itself and the nearby museum were closed due to the pandemic, but you can still get a pretty good view of the wooden chapel with all its intricate carvings and peek inside. Details from signs to statues hint at the Norwegian inspiration for the chapel.

There’s also a nearby prayer trail. 

Dinosaur Park

Where: 940 Skyline Drive, Rapid City, SD

Cost: FREE

If your kids love dinosaurs or you just like fun photo opps, be sure to stop here. It’s free, so why not? The paved path takes you by the giant statues.

Indoor Water Park at Best Western Ramkota Hotel

Where: 2111 N. Lacrosse St., Rapid City, SD

Cost: 6 passes to the indoor waterpark included with each guest room.

While the hotel itself is nothing remarkable, its two pool areas put it above many other hotels in the area, especially if you’re traveling with kids. On one side are your typical pool (perhaps a little larger than the usual hotel pool), a hot tub, and a small kid pool. 

The indoor water park at the Best Western in Rapid City, South Dakota

But the other side is the big draw for kids. It has a zero-entry pool with small slides, a pirate ship, and a few climbable water creatures. Oh, and then there are the two, 135-foot water slides, which my kids went down about a dozen times.

We stayed at the hotel, so a trip to the pool was included with our stay. Beware: There are no lifeguards on duty in either area, though there was technically an attendant by the slide. She was on her phone and didn’t acknowledge anyone who approached the slides, but you know, she was there. I guess.

Cosmos Mystery Area

Where: 24040 Cosmos Road, Rapid City, SD

Cost: $11 for adults, $6 for children ages 5-11, FREE for children 4 and younger

You know how you can just tell a place is a tourist trap? That’s Cosmos Mystery Area for you. But you go because you know your kids will love it. And guess what? They will.

Kids at Cosmos Mystery Area in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Cosmos relies on optical illusions and messing with your sense of balance, while telling you some silly stories about hot spots causing the gravitational pull to change.

My kids’ minds were blown, so I suppose it was a success.

I was less impressed and also concerned about the extreme lack of concern for the global pandemic occurring all around us. Our tour group was large, and while we were mostly outdoors, we did have to crowd into little shacks for some demonstrations. Our family was the only one in masks.

You can also spend a few additional bucks for the kids to crack a geode. I’d say it’s totally skippable but your kids will beg to differ.

Getting on my soapbox: People are dying. Put on a mask. Yes, we’re all tired of the pandemic. Yes, we all want life to just go back to normal. Wear a mask so we can speed recovery up!

Go to a great Rapid City restaurant

I love finding unique restaurants in a city I visit, and Rapid City did not disappoint. The bonus was that these restaurants were great food foodies and for families.

A few that I recommend:

Harriet and Oak – A charming restaurant for breakfast and coffee in downtown Rapid City. The coffee is fresh and the pastries are tasty. Try the ham and cheese pasty (it’s kinda like a very tasty Hot Pocket).

Firehouse Brewing Co. – Yes, it’s a brewery, and yes, you can bring your kids. Go to the downtown location if you want a kid’s menu. This is pure pub food at its finest.

We’ve been to the downtown Rapid City location of Firehouse Brewing Co. (which has an excellent outdoor seating area), as well as the Firehouse SmokeJumper Station in Hill City (which has an even better outdoor seating area).

Armadillo’s Ice Cream Shop – You’ll likely find a line snaking around the block at this downtown Rapid City ice cream shop. Our waitress at Firehouse SmokeJumper recommended it to us, and it didn’t disappoint.

When we went to Armadillo’s this summer, there was no indoor seating permitted. There were A LOT of people enjoying their ice cream in front of the restaurant. No masks, obviously, while they ate, and no masks while waiting in line, either. The restaurant did, at least, mark off social distancing spots for everyone in line.

Things to do near Rapid City, South Dakota

Rapid City is a great home base for exploring Mount Rushmore and the nearby touristy areas. A few of the stops you might want to include:

  • Mount Rushmore (about 25 miles away) – The monument itself is free to visit, but parking is not.  We went on our first visit, getting ice cream and touring the visitor center in addition to walking a little closer to the monument. Given our luck at other national parks this summer (all visitor centers were closed), we decided to just drive by the monument instead of stopping.
  • Custer State Park (about 35 miles away) – I highly recommend visiting this park to see wildlife and to hike around the beautiful Sylvan Lake. There’s a gorgeous trail around the lake that’s pretty kid-friendly.
  • Crazy Horse Monument (about 40 miles away) – I just learned during our recent trip that there’s a free, nightly light show at Crazy Horse (weather permitting).
  • Wind Cave National Park (about 55 miles away) – My family took a guided tour of a cave pre-COVID. It gets pretty cold underground, so dress accordingly. 
  • Badlands National Park (about 60 miles away) – Explore the other-worldly landscape of Badlands National Park.
  • Hot Springs (about 60 miles away) – A day trip to Hot Springs means some time to splash around Evans Plunge, a long-running indoor water park build around a hot spring, and Mammoth Site, an active dig site.

Plan a South Dakota trip

Planning a trip to South Dakota? I wrote a series of posts and reviews of kid-friendly attractions, lodging and a photo-heavy trip recap. Check them out:

South Dakota Bucket List (Badlands Edition)

Nebraska and South Dakota Adventure With Kids

Comfort Suites and Convention Center (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Dakotah Steakhouse (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Evans Plunge (Hot Springs, South Dakota)

The Hills Inn (Hot Spring, South Dakota)

Evans Plunge (Hot Springs, South Dakota)

Mammoth Site (Hot Springs, South Dakota)

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Road trip to Mount Rushmore? Stop in Rapid City for family-friendly restaurants, attractions, and sights. Rapid City, South Dakota, is our home base for exploring nearby national parks, state parks, and landmarks.

Everything You Want To Know About COVID-19 Protocols At Yellowstone National Park

People on the Grand Prismatic boardwalk in Yellowstone National Park

Our first trip to Yellowstone National Park was in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Granted, Wyoming hasn’t been hit like other states, but it was still a little nerve-wracking when we decided to load up our car and make the road trip. How safe was it? Read on.

** Everything is subject to change after this post has gone live. We were at the park at the end of June 2020 and health and operational guidelines may change. For up-to-date operating hours, visit the Yellowstone website. Please read the CDC’s guidelines for visiting parks.

Safety measures at Yellowstone

The park has taken many steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The one that will impact any visit is the closures of many buildings like visitor centers and inns. Places that are open, like some restaurants (for take-out only) and gift shops, encourage face masks, hand sanitizer and capacity limits.

There are plenty of signs throughout the park reminding people to maintain 6 feet of social distance. I saw them at lookouts and on boardwalk trails. 

The popular Ranger chats were canceled while we were there, as well as most guided tours. * See the section below about which activities aren’t canceled.

What are the crowds like at Yellowstone?

I can’t tell you how crowd levels compare to previous visits since this was my first time at the park. However, I had been warned about crowds, and traffic jams, and I didn’t find much of that during our visit in what I had anticipated being peak summer crowd levels.

The most crowded area was at Old Faithful. There were a few people wearing masks outdoors, but the majority of the crowd did not. If you wanted to maintain social distancing and still have a good view, it was quite easy to do, though.

And side note: Parking at Old Faithful was not a problem, which I’m told is unheard of in the summer.

The crowd waiting for Old Faithful to erupt. There is a small sign in the background asking people to maintain 6 feet apart.

Tip: There are bathrooms near the general store at Old Faithful that will have less of a wait (or no wait) versus the bathrooms much closer to the geyser. There wasn’t much social distancing going on in the geyser bathroom line.

Key lookouts always had a handful of people there, but it was easy to keep 6 feet apart.

The only spots that were a little more difficult to maneuver around people were the boardwalks at Grand Prismatic and Mammoth Hot Springs. At least with Grand Prismatic, it was a one-way walking path. Mammoth Hot Springs had people coming and going down every path.

Related post: 7 Easy Hikes At Yellowstone National Park

Which restaurants are open at Yellowstone

We stayed at a cabin at Yellowstone National Park and it didn’t have a kitchen nor a fire pit outside. So, we did have to get food from time to time beyond our Nutella sandwiches. Luckily, there were some grills and dining rooms open – all for take-out, by the way. These were what were open in June 2020:

  • Old Faithful Cafeteria: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (Get your ice cream here!)
  • Old Faithful Lodge Bake Shop: 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Old Faithful Snowlodge Geyser Grill: 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Canyon Lodge Eatery: 6:30 to 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and 4:30 to 9:30 p.m.
  • Lake Lodge Wiley’s Canteen: 6:30 to 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and 4:30 to 9:30 p.m.
  • Mammoth Terrace Grill: 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Grant Village Dining Room: 6:30 to 10 a.m. and 5 to 9 p.m.

It was an interesting experience getting food there. Employees all wore masks but I rarely saw guests in line with masks, even indoors.

Some places, like the soda fountain at Canyon Lodge, served food to go in compostable containers.

What else is open at Yellowstone right now?

As I mentioned before, gift shops were open. Most seemed to have a single entrance and a separate exit to make sure the crowd went in one direction; though really, once you were inside, it was a free for all.

Exterior of the Yellowstone General Store near Old Faithful.

Again, not a whole lot of people wearing masks, save for a handful of families, and all employees. There were masked employees standing at the entrance and exit of the Yellowstone General Store.

The gift shops that were open when we visited were:

  • Old Faithful Lodge Gift Ship
  • Old Faithful Snow Lodge Gift Shop
  • Lake Hotel Gift Shop
  • Canyon Lodge Gift Shop
  • Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel Gift Shop

Along with those gift shops, you’ll find general stores open at Old Faithful, Mammoth, Canyon, Lake Area, Fishing Bridge, and Grant Village.

When I was planning this trip a year ago, I had dreams of chuckwagon dinners and, who knows, maybe some twilight ranger chats. Well, most ranger chats and most activities have been canceled this summer. What IS open? 

  • Horseback rides at Canyon Corrals
  • Guided fishing and sightseeing charters at Bridge Bay Marina. You can also rent boats there.
  • Rent bikes at Old Faithful Snow Lodge Gift Shop.

There are two medical clinics open, though luckily, we never needed to visit one. Find the open clinics at Mammoth and Old Faithful.

Where can you stay overnight at Yellowstone National Park?

I almost thought the trip I started planning in May 2019 was going to be canceled since the park delayed reopening some lodging. Luckily, the cabin we reserved in Canyon reopened a few days before our reservations.

At check-in, the clerks were wearing face masks and stood behind plexiglass windows. Our room keys were plastic cards, which were handed to us in small envelopes, presumably so we never had to touch the cards, just the envelopes.

Other accommodations that are open:

  • Lake Yellowstone Cabins
  • Lake Lodge Cabins
  • Mammoth Hot Springs Cabins
  • Old Faithful Lodge Cabins
  • Old Faithful Snow Lodge Cabins
Old Faithful Lodge Cabins have reopened for the summer of 2020, though nearby Old Faithful Inn and Old Faithful Snow Lodge have not.

Tentatively, there are plans to open up Old Faithful Inn, Old Faithful Snow Lodge, Canyon Lodge, Lake Yellowstone Hotel, and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel later this summer. See the predicted reopen dates here.

Most campgrounds are open, and many seemed to be full when we were there during the week. Reservations are highly recommended. To see which campgrounds are open and which are still closed, click here.

Roads that are closed

Unrelated to a pandemic, there are one road closure and construction that will affect visits in the summer of 2020. The biggie: The road between Tower-Roosevelt to Chittenden Road is closed. That closure will probably affect any of your North Loop plans. Check out the map of the road closure to get a better idea of how it will affect your plans.

There is also road construction near the North Entrance and along the Fishing Bridge to Indian Pond. Those closures didn’t really cause us a traffic headache for us, at least.

Plan a vacation to Yellowstone National Park

In the next few weeks, I’ll be publishing more stories about our trip to Yellowstone. Stay tuned for more stories!

Button to see more stories about Wyoming travel

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Want to visit Yellowstone National Park this year? Here's what to expect with new COVID-19 safety protocols. Plus, see what lodges and activities open and what's closed to better plan for your trip.