If you are planning a visit to Yellowstone National Park with your kids, the summer is your best choice, especially for a first visit. The weather is good, the roads are open and activities and wildlife are plentiful. Riding, hiking, boating, fishing and wildlife viewing are all available during the summer season.
The average temperatures in June are in the low 70s for a high and low 40s for a low. It rarely snows, although there may be snow present in the higher elevations. Afternoon rainstorms are common. July and August are warmer and drier (and a lot busier). The average temperatures in July and August are in the high 70s. The lows are in the mid 40s. In mid-summer you can expect temperatures in the 80s during the day, especially at lower elevations. Be aware that if you are staying at lodging inside the park there is no air-conditioning. So if the temperatures are hot outside, you may find your room warm as well. September is cooler, but pleasant, with average highs in the high 60s and lows in the high 30s.
Riding the Trails in Summer
Xanterra Parks and Resorts Inc., which operates the lodging within Yellowstone, offers many park services and activities for families. In summer there are horseback trail rides, "Stagecoach Adventures," and an "Old West Dinner Cookout." There are also many licensed outfitters in the Yellowstone area that can take you and the kids into the backcountry of Yellowstone on horses or llamas. Booking with an outfitter who provides gear, food, a experienced guide and horses or llamas provides you with a safe and enjoyable adventure with your kids.
Boating and Fishing
Yellowstone Lake has 140 miles of shoreline. Kids will enjoy the one-hour boat sightseeing tour where passengers learn the history of the area while viewing waterfowl and the occasional elk or bison on the shore. If you want to see the lake on your own, outboard motorboats and rowboats are available from June 15 through September 3. You can also charter a boat for a fishing expedition for up to six people. Fishing is also allowed in many of the rivers at Yellowstone. A Yellowstone National Park Fishing Permit is required to fish in the park. Those 16 years of age and older must purchase either a $18 three-day permit, a $25 seven-day permit or a $40 season permit. Permits are available at ranger stations, visitor centers and Yellowstone Park General Stores.
Yellowstone National Park is huge. It is laid out primarily in a figure eight, or series of loops. Many people plan their sightseeing trips within the park based on a specific area they wish to see. In summer, all roads are generally open and easy to navigate. If your kids are interested in the geothermal aspects of the park, take them to see the Mud Vocano, Sulphur Caldron, Mammoth Hot Springs, Norris Geyser Basin and the geyser basins in the Old Faithful Geyser area. In summer it can get pretty warm walking in the geyser areas, so bring plenty of water, sunscreen and wear a hat. Wildlife viewing opportunities are everywhere (don't be surprised when a bison waltzes past your hotel), however there are specific areas such as the Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley that are especially good. Waterfalls are also popular. The Upper and Lower Falls at Canyon Village are a great place to take the kids with its good trails and excellent viewing areas.
Camping with the Kids
Summertime is camping time at Yellowstone. There are both tent and RV options available. At the height of the summer season, between July 1 and Labor Day, campers are limited to a 14-day stay with the exception of the Fishing Bridge area. Six of the campsites are first-come, first-served, so it is important to arrive early. Four camping areas accept reservations. RVs should always make a reservation, as spots are more limited.
Summer Ranger Programs
In the summer there are a variety of free ranger-led programs designed for families, such as Yellowstone Wildlife Olympics, Stars Over Yellowstone, Yellowstone for the Young, Junior Ranger Discovery Program and the Norris Campfire Program. A complete list of these programs can be found on the National Park Service's website.