Yellowstone National Park
Early explorers to Yellowstone described majestic waterfalls roaring through rock chasms, rainbows shining at the base of the falls. This is the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, formed by lava flows, eroded by thermal forces and a mighty river, sculpted by ice from glaciers; the result is spectacular. Paintings by the artist Thomas Moran captured this wondrous scenery, making Yellowstone famous. Along the North and South Rims are overlooks and trails to explore the canyon.
North Rim Drive - The North Rim Drive goes from Brink of the Lower Falls to Lookout Point, Grand View, and Inspiration Point. You could drive and get out at each of these spots, but it's more fun to walk some of the way along the North Rim Trail. The trail is wide and paved some of the way (it used to be a stagecoach road for early visitors to the park), okay for strollers. The North Rim Trail is your best bet for hiking along canyon rim - just pick up any part of trail from the parking lot and walk as far as the kids feel like.
Brink of the Upper Falls Trail
- It's just a short distance from the parking lot down the trail to the brink of the Upper Falls. Stand on a platform and watch the roiling Yellowstone River right next to you, moments before the water plunges over the edge, 109 ft down. (There are guard rails at the overlook.)
Brink of the Lower Falls Trail
- Hike down the trail (1 mile round trip, 600 ft down) to the overlook for the Lower Falls. This is an unparalleled sight, as the fall drops 308 ft, water spray making rainbows. The overlook is situated at the lip of the falls, so you really see the water going over and rushing through the canyon below. Tip: Walk the North Rim Trail (1 mile) between the Brink of the Upper Falls and Brink of the Lower Falls
- Lookout Point, Grand View, and Inspiration Point all have stunning views of the colorful rock formations of the Grand Canyon. At Lookout Point, take the Red Rock Trail (3/4 mile round trip, 500 ft down) for close views of the Lower Falls.
South Rim Drive - The South Rim Drive goes from the Wapiti Lake Trailhead to Artist Point, with a turnoff for the Upper Falls Viewpoint. Both Artist Point and the Upper Falls Viewpoint provide panoramic views of the falls. Artist Point is a must see - it's the view of the Lower Falls that Thomas Moran captured in his monumental paintings.
Canyon Village Visitor Center - Stop into the visitor center for excellent exhibits about the volcanoes and glaciers that shaped Yellowstone. Kids can find out the difference between geysers, mudpots, fumaroles (smoke vents) and hot springs, check out the huge model of the park, and watch a 20 minute overview of Yellowstone today in the theater.
Canyon Village is a good place to stock up on picnic supplies and ice cream.
Go for a horseback ride - On the main road from Canyon Village going south (near the turnoff for the Rim Drives), Canyon Horses and Rides has one and two hour trail rides along Cascade Creek. For kids 8 and up, and 4 ft tall.
Mud Volcano - About 10 miles south of Canyon Village, be sure to visit the Mud Volcano area. Our favorite is the Dragon's Mouth Spring - a cavernous green-edged rock opening that belches steam and makes rumbling sounds, while murky water rushes back and forth - it's truly marvelous. At the Mud Volcano, gray mud burbles constantly, without a break. The Mud Geyser isn't spitting up mud these days, but it's still an impressive crater filled with mud that seems like some alien creature might just crawl out of it.
Also, just north of the Mud Volcano, on the east side of the road, check out the Sulfur Cauldron
- large, beautiful, definitely "stinky egg" mudpots, bubbling and blurping away.