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For most of the parks we visit on the National Park to Park Highway I will be posting our top ten picks of kids activities, but Yellowstone is a special case. The first National Park is so huge and so popular (especially on Independence Day weekend when we visited) that instead of a top ten list I decided to share some off-the-beaten-path adventures with you instead. As always, follow @mountainmomtots on instagram for daily updates and to see what park we’re visiting right now.
First some tips:
If you’re traveling to Yellowstone save your gas money and choose just one area a day to focus on in the park. Whether it’s Old Faithful, Mammoth or Canyon areas, it’s more fun to get out and explore than hurry back to your car.
Get out of your car and onto a hiking trail. There’s a statistic out there that more than 90% of visitors to Yellowstone never go farther than a boardwalk, road or visitors center. Even if it’s just half a mile off the road, you can find solitude and nature away from the crowds.
Try less well known areas like the ones we visited here:
Firehole Lake Drive – Between Old Faithful and Madison Junction
This short, one way drive off the main road offers great geyser and hot springs viewing, not to mention a surprise spring. The features are similar to other geothermal areas in the park but the crowds are minimal.
Bike off of Fountain Flat Drive –Between Old Faithful and Madison Junction
Fountain Flat Drive is a short road that dead ends at the trail head for a primitive bike trail and hiking area. This gravel bike path is flat and easy to maneuver (except when your son gets a flat tire in the parking lot). Features to see along the 9 mile path include Ojo Caliente Spring, Goose Lake, Sentinel Meadow Trail, Fairy Falls Trail, and the Firehole River Crossing.
Ojo Caliente – 0.3 miles from the end of Fountain Flat Drive
We loved this little hidden hot spring not only for its secluded, off the beaten path location, but also because the hot water empties into the Firehole River. Touching water in the hot springs is not allowed (not to mention its a terrible idea) but you can swim in the river downstream from the spring. Can I just say, it was like sitting in a hot tub in the most beautiful place on earth.
Junior Ranger Station – Madison Junction
We loved this little gift shop and information station. The hands on exhibits of animal furs, skulls, antlers and horns are great for little (and big) explorers plus you can look for wildlife with their spotting scope. Stay for a ranger talk which happen every half hour throughout the day and enjoy the beautiful views.
Beaver Ponds Trail – Mammoth
Because the Mammoth area of the park is so much further north than the rest of the park fewer people are on the roads to get there so pull over at some scenic overlooks. Once you’re at Mammoth try hiking to the Beaver Ponds Trail to get a view of the hot springs from behind.
Swim the Boiling River – Mammoth
This is a popular swim spot since the hot springs empty into the river. It is not off-the-beaten path but it is still worth visiting, especially if you can catch a glimpse of elk munching across the river like we did.
Do you have any favorite off-the-beaten-path locations in Yellowstone? Share them here.