Camping Confidential: Yellowstone National Park

Check out this insider’s guide for a family vacation to Yellowstone National Park.

By Corey Hunt
Explore Ambassador

Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872 and has been drawing over 1.3 million visitors a year since 2015 (except in 2020 due to the pandemic). Yellowstone has some of Earth’s most active volcanic, hydrothermal and earthquake systems. The park also has more than 10,000 hydrothermal features, including 500 geysers. With 28,000 square miles of the park to explore, it can be difficult to know what to see and do during a summer vacation in the park.

Keep reading for an insider’s guide for a family vacation to Yellowstone National Park.

Right outside the Madison River Campground, good for fishing (Corey Hunt)


Since Yellowstone is larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined, I would suggest choosing a campground that is near the area of the park you are visiting that day. We camped in the Canyon Campground the first several nights of our summer stay to visit Hayden Valley and hike in the Grand Canyon. Canyon Village and Campground is centrally located in the park and the campsites are spread out nicely.

The Madison River campground is nearest to the town of West Yellowstone. We found the campsites here are very close to one another. However, when camping here you are within walking distance of fishing in the famous Madison River. It is also the closest campground to Old Faithful and geyser basin.

If you are thinking of spending more time to the south near Yellowstone Lake, I highly recommend Grant Village Campground. This was the least crowded of our campgrounds, well-spaced and extremely quiet.

Storm Point Trail around Yellowstone Lake (Corey Hunt)


When taking a family hike at Yellowstone National Park, it’s best to let the youngest member of the group set the pace. On our hikes, this was my 6-year-old daughter, so we kept the distance to 2.5 miles or less one way. One of my family’s overall favorite hikes was near the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone on the Lily Pad Lake Trail. This trail will take hikers beside the canyon’s rim and upriver for about half a mile before it curves away from the canyon and into the woods towards the lake.

My kids love wildlife, which is why Wraith Falls and Storm Point Trail were on their list of favorites. Wraith Falls is located between Mammoth and Roosevelt, and if you aren’t looking for the pull off, it is easy to miss. This is a 1 mile round-trip hike through rolling meadows to the falls, and the ground squirrels were plentiful and entertaining along the way.

Storm Point Trail is off of Yellowstone Lake and is shaped like a lollipop. Bring the bear spray on this hike, as bears are plentiful around Yellowstone Lake. Although we never saw any bears on our 2.3-mile loop, we did get to see the marmots up close and stopped to watch them pop in and out of their burrows for a good 30 minutes. I would recommend heading west (the right side) on the trail first, away from the lake. This way the lake is in view the second half of the hike, which builds anticipation.

Geyser country at dusk is the best for pictures (Corey Hunt)

What NOT To Miss

The most iconic geyser in all of Yellowstone is Old Faithful. If you go to the park and miss this geyser, you will get more than one curious look. However, I recommend trying to avoid the crowds and going to view the geyser in the evening. There are only a handful of tourists after dinner, and we had the boardwalk area around the geyser almost to ourselves. I would also recommend viewing West Thumb and Biscuit Basin first. These areas have smaller geysers which will pale in comparison to Old Faithful.

Castle Geyser is a must- see (Corey Hunt)

Castle Geyser is a must-see geyser located near Old Faithful. Check with the rangers for the prediction of when the geyser will erupt, pack a lunch or light snack and get to the area early to score a good seat. This geyser blows boiling water for over 30 minutes and then sounds like a steam engine for at least another 20 minutes. My kids thought this was the best geyser in the park.

Hayden valley is popular for wildlife and tourists alike but you get to see wildlife from the car (Corey Hunt)

The Hayden Valley is located south of Canyon Village and draws wildlife and tourists alike. During our time in Yellowstone, every time we drove through this area, we had to stop for a bison crossing. Elk are also abundant in the area, and all wildlife are more active in the morning and evenings. We did not need our binoculars in this section of the park.

Wolf and Grizzly Discovery Center in West Yellowstone (Corey Hunt)

West Yellowstone is the closest town to the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park. The Wolf and Grizzly Discovery Center is located here and allows visitors to see wolves, grizzly bears and otters in an up-close environment. The animals housed here are those that had to be relocated and could not be returned to their natural environment. The Discovery Center is part museum, part zoo and can be viewed in about an hour.

One of the grizzlies during a viewing at the Wolf and Grizzly Discovery Center (Corey Hunt)

Yellowstone National Park has been around for almost 150 years and draws tourists from all around the world. It is a unique park with diverse landscapes and wildlife. With over 28,000 square miles to explore, my advice is to take your time planning the trip and leave extra time for exploring. It will be well worth the effort.

Remember to stay a safe distance away from the bison- Hayden valley (Corey Hunt)

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