Traveling Wyoming’s beautiful countryside has been one of the best family trips we’ve done in years. Our Wyoming vacation road trip took us through most of the state’s major attractions, from Yellowstone to the Hot Springs State Park. Here I detail some of the highlights of the trip, all of which we were able to do with our two year old son, and make some recommendations on where to stay.
When to visit Wyoming
Wyoming is best visited anytime from June through to September, when the weather is at its mildest. The winter months can be shockingly brutal even for seasoned travelers, especially if you’re driving. Wyoming road conditions are generally best described as quiet, though winter snow can seriously impede traffic. Be aware of driving conditions before setting out.
We were there the third week of September, and weather was t-shirt worthy every day except perhaps at night. The further south we went the warmer it got too, with temperatures being in the mid seventies at noon the last few days.
Getting Around Wyoming
The best and probably only way of getting around Wyoming is by car. There are some bus services but they won't stop where you want it too and you'll miss most of the action anyhow, so I don't recommend you look into any other options. Car rentals vary in price, and after some online searching I decided to risk and rent upon arrival in Jackson Hole airport. We got the best deal at the Enterprise counter, having already checked downtown with Avis and a few other companies. They were also able to provide a car seat for our little one!
There is no shortage of attractions in Wyoming, but they are not particularly close to each other. We traveled around the state for 8 days and it was certainly enough to see a good part of it, though there was plenty of driving during the last three days.
While there are several options and routes to take, our Wyoming itinerary worked out very well and is the one I recommend if you're flying into the state or driving from the West. We started off at Jackson Hole and then drove into Grand Teton, Yellowstone, then East to Cody and then South to Rock Springs passing the destinations mentioned below, a loop that covers a big part of the state.
Things to do in Wyoming
This articles follows our itinerary and points out the best things you can see and do when visiting Wyoming with kids. We may have missed a few, but for the most part are very happy with the result and certainly recommend you follow the same route for some great views and a fantastic travel experience!
This small town is the gateway to Grand Teton, and where we landed on our visit to Wyoming with our kid. The flight is is quite impressive over the Teton mountain range, and the airport is small and about 25 minutes from town.
Jackson Hole doesn't really have much going on by itself. The city is where all the hotels are (quite expensive, by the way) as well as restaurants, shops and little more. There are though two places you must visit while here: the Town Square, with spectacular horned arches in its four corners, and the Jackson Hole and Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center where very knowledgeable staff will give you all kinds of tips and help.
Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park is only around 10 miles (16 km) south of Yellowstone National Park, meaning the two can easily be done in a single round trip. This postcard-perfect park features snowy mountains overlooking open plains of roaming bison. Hikers shouldn’t miss the Taggart Lake Trail, which can be easily completed by anyone with moderate fitness. Alternatively, take the Teton Park Road Scenic Drive to get a good overview of the park. The mountains are spectacular, and while not as high as the highest mountain I've climbed until now (Pico de Orizaba in Mexico) they really are picture perfect.
There is one advantage with Grand Teton over Yellowostone, and in our opinion it plays a huge factor when visiting these parks with kids. Yellowstone is covered with trees and while driving around you don't really see anything, but trees of course. And there's a lot of driving! Grand Teton, on the other hand, allows for picture perfect views all the time, and there are many places where to stop and go for a walk with your little ones. Because of this I actually preferred Grand Teton over Yellowstone!
Yellowstone National Park
Wyoming’s most celebrated attraction is, of course, Yellowstone National Park. This incredible park has landscapes that are nothing short of breathtaking. The centerpiece of the park is Old Faithful, a geyser that erupts routinely throughout the day. Contrary to popular belief, eruptions don’t quite happen like clockwork though, with average intervals varying from one to two hours. Be aware that although this is one of the top Wyoming tourist attractions, you shouldn’t let the kids too close to the geyser while it’s erupting. Water temperatures can exceed 204°F (95.6°C), with over 8,400 gallons (32,000 liters) being blasted out during the average eruption.
Along with Old Faithful, the Grand Prismatic Spring is another unmissable sight at Yellowstone. This multicolored spring owes its rainbow of colors to a variety of thermophile bacteria that inhabit its warm waters. The spring itself is larger than a football field, and deeper than a 10-story building.
Hiking around Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone and its surroundings aren’t just for sight-seeing; they also offer some pretty awe-inspiring hiking opportunities. The most commonly-hiked trail is Mount Washburn, which can be approached from either the north or south. The south is somewhat easier, but takes longer due to a series of gentle switchbacks.
Seeing wild bisons should be a must during your Yellowstone visit, and the best place where to make this happen is in the NE entrance. Just make sure you're entering or leaving the park during the morning and you should see them everywhere, even on the road!
Either before or after Yellowstone, take a side-trip to Hayden Valley, an area rich in wildlife. If you’re lucky, you should have the chance to see bison, elk, coyotes and maybe the occasional grizzly bear. To get to the valley, either take the Grand Loop Road and follow the signs, or hike the Hayden Valley Trail from Yellowstone Lake. The trail is fairly easy to follow as it hugs the Yellowstone River, and is a very rewarding experience for anyone with a moderate level of fitness.
Where to Eat and Sleep in Yellowstone
Given that there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself hiking or driving for much of the day, it’s advisable that you bring a fairly decent amount of food, particularly snacks for the kids. If you are looking for a place to stop though, the Persephone Bakery in Jackson is extremely popular for good reason.
We stayed at the Canyon Lodge and Cabins , a huge complex in the middle of the park with rooms and a few cabins where to stay in. There are some shops with souvenirs and a big restaurant where to eat that serves its purpose, though the food is far from exquisite. The rooms per say are basic but comfortable enough, warm, and with just enough space for two adults with a little kid.
Your next stop is the town of Cody, the historic home of one of the Wild West’s most iconic entertainers. Founded in 1896 by showman William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody, the town initially served as a base of operations for his troupe of traveling entertainers. For three decades, Buffalo Bill toured the frontier, and traces of his glory days remain everywhere in Cody. In terms of things to do in Cody, start by swinging by the old Irma Hotel. Established by Buffalo Bill himself in 1902, the Irma hasn’t changed much since the days of the famed showman. Even today, the Irma puts on classic Western-style entertainment most nights.
To really get an insight into the life and times of Buffalo Bill, one of the best things to do in Cody WY with kids is to pay a visit to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. This sprawling complex of five museums takes a solid day to get through, but is both enlightening and enjoyable. The centerpiece of the complex, the Buffalo Bill Museum, is an interesting exploration of the old showman’s life, and his impact on the frontier economy. Meanwhile the Plains Indians Museum offers a fascinating look into the other side of the frontier, and contains artifacts from groups including the Lakota, Crow, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Pawnee and Blackfeet. Next, head over to the Draper Natural History Museum to learn about the local environment, including the geological formations like the Grand Canyon. Then next door, the Whitney Western Art Museum showcases some excellent examples of local art, and is organized around themes such as the life of a cowboy, horses in the Wild West, and First Peoples. Lastly, the Cody Firearms Museum is a must-visit for anyone with even a passing interest in historic firearms, and contains some beautifully maintained pieces from the 16th Century onward. Watching a rodeo is also a must on any Wyoming vacation, but watch our for the season. We thought there would be rodeos year round, but it turns out that by mid September the season is over and you won't find any.
Apart from the museums and historic hotel, there aren’t too many other attractions in Cody itself. However, just outside Cody, Old Trail Town is certainly worth a peek. This collection of buildings from the late 19th Century today serve as a living museum. Visitors can see first-hand the trials and tribulations of life in the Wild West, not to mention a visit to a frontier saloon. If you’re a fan of old Westerns, then don’t miss the Hole-in-the-Wall Cabin, where Butch Cassidy hid with a band of outlaws in an iconic scene from the film, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
For a slightly less jovial (but nonetheless informative) side-trip, the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center isn’t much further from Cody, but feels like a world away. Indeed, this center was originally the site where nearly 14,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly interned during WWII. Today, the center serves to educate visitors about the hardships of life for detainees.
Next, if you have the time you should try to stop by the Smith Mansion in the Wapiti Valley. This engineering marvel looks less like a mansion, and more like a game of jenga that’s about to go horribly wrong. The mansion was built by eccentric engineer Lee Smith, and is today maintained by his children.
Lastly, at some point while heading in or out of Cody, make sure you set aside some time for a drive down the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway. This stretch of road connects Cody to the eastern entrance of the Yellowstone National Park, and is worth a drive for its stunning views of the countryside. This scenic drive which we took will take you past idyllic lakes and mountain scenery, some funky rock formations and the Pahaska Tepee. The latter was originally a hunting lodge constructed by Buffalo Bill.
Where to Eat in Cody
Cody has no shortage of Wild West-style dining options. One of the most well-known of these is The Cody Cattle Company, which can rustle up steaks worthy of Buffalo Bill himself. The Local on 13th Street is also a good choice.
Where to Stay in Cody with Kids
Cody has quite a few hotels where to stay in. We stayed at the Best Western Premier Ivy Inn & Suites. A fantastic hotel with restaurants nearby, it has a Far West decoration with a modern twist to it that makes it very welcoming. The heated indoor pool is great for your little ones to play in, and the breakfast is abundant and very good. I also liked the high speed free internet, which not all hotels have (here are some tricks to improve hotel internet anywhere you go)
Thermopolis with Kids
The next of our Wyoming destinations is Thermopolis, the regional hot spring hub. Indeed, Thermopolis hot springs are supposedly the largest natural mineral springs anywhere in the world.
Attractions around Thermopolis
The highlight of a trip to Thermopolis is a visit to the Hot Springs State Park. Thanks to a specific clause in the 1896 treaty that created the park, entry is free but time is limited to 1 hour. Bathing can be done at the State Bath House, where the spring water is regulated to remain at a temperature of around 104°F.
If you're visiting Thermopolis with kids though I do recommend you head over to Star Plunge instead. It has an outdoor water slide and some small indoor pools where your little ones can have a lot more fun!
If you’d like to stretch your legs after a bath, consider taking a side trip to the nearby Legend Rock, a petroglyphic site on the far side of the park. Otherwise, head back into town to pay a visit to the Hot Springs County Museum and Cultural Center, where you can learn a bit about local history. Or, dig even deeper with a visit to the Wyoming Dinosaur Center. This is one of the few museums in the world with active dig sites within driving distance. Over 10,000 bones have been excavated at sites around Thermopolis, many of which have ended up on display at the Dinosaur Center. The pride of the center’s collection is an imposing Archaeopteryx – the only such specimen on display anywhere outside Europe.
Before leaving Thermopolis, you might also want to pay a visit to Merlin’s Hide Out. Though somewhat expensive, their handmade buffalo products make for great souvenirs of Wyoming.
Where to eat in Thermopolis
We ate and had a drink at the the One Eyed Buffalo Brewing Company. The food is great and it was interesting to see how locals went quiet and looked at us when we stepped in at 9:30 pm with our two year old. You don't see them in the Facebook post below, but they were on the right side of the restaurant.
Hotels in Thermopolis
As for places to stay in Thermopolis, choices do fall notably on the hotel-motel side of the scale. Roundtop Mountain Motel is one of the top rated places in town, and their cabins are very much in the theme of the Wild West. We stayed at the Best Western Plus Plaza Hotel. It is very conveniently located in the middle of town, and has a nice park where you can take your kids to within a short 5 minute stroll. A well appointed breakfast is included and while the rooms may be somewhat simple they are very spacious and staff is great. A fantastic choice if you're visiting Thermopolis with little kids!
Wind River Canyon
Located between Thermopolis and the town of Shoshoni, Wild River Canyon is a worthwhile pit stop while heading out of town. This scenic canyon is just oozing with Wild West charm, and is an ideal spot to stretch your legs for a while and break up the drive. The scenic drive past the canyon is even worth the side trip in itself.
Wind River Horse Sanctuary
As you drive South, just outside Lander Wind River Horse Sanctuary is worth a visit for any budding cowboys or cowgirls. Mind you the entrance is not easy to find and Google Maps is not very helpful, but eventually you will.The sanctuary offers tours that allow visitors to get up close to wild mustangs. The on-site visitor center is a wealth of information on local history, including indigenous culture. Speaking of which, you definitely shouldn’t pass up a visit to the nearby Wind River Indian Reservation. Along with a working ranch, the reservation is home to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes. The reservation includes cultural centers where you can learn about local tribes, along with a handful of historic sites like the St. Stephen’s Mission. Unfortunately it was closed when we were there.
Red Rock Wyoming
If you’ve seen Quentin Tarintino’s The Hateful Eight, then you’ve seen Red Rock. This iconic rock formation was historically used by pioneers following the Overland Trail. Many of these travelers marked their trip by signing their names in the rock itself. Today, Red Rock boasts signatures from as far back as the1850s.
The fifth largest city in Wyoming, Rock Springs began its life breaking rocks as a Wild West mining town. Today, Rock Springs is booming again as the heart of a major oil and gas region.
Things to do in Rock Springs with Kids
If you didn’t get your fix of dinosaur bones over at Thermopolis, then don’t miss Rock Springs’ WWCC Natural History Museum. Here you can’t quite walk with dinosaurs, but you can grab a selfie with the five life-size replicas on site. The museum also features ancient pottery from some of the region’s early human inhabitants.
The Rock Springs Wild Horse Holding Facility is the place to go to if you want to see these animals run loose. There is a loop you can drive that will almost guarantee you get to see them but it does take time and ideally an SUV. Teo was happy enough by seeing those within the fences, so we didn't venture doing the loop.
Speaking of history, Rock Springs is just near one of the most intact stretches of the famed Oregon Trail. From 1846 to 1869, an estimated 400,000 settlers followed the Oregon Trail through here. You can see the same unforgiving landscape pioneers faced in the 19th Century, with the area making for great hiking. The Rock Springs segment of the Oregon Trail can be accessed from the Fort Bridger State Historic Park, which is just outside town. The park is also home to a restored section of the Pony Express Route. In its heyday, the Pony Express utilized a series of horse rotation stations to keep riders constantly supplied with fresh steeds, allowing for a massive reduction in communication times in the late 19th Century. Some of the other popular hikes in the area include the Outlaw Trail, Moron Trail and the hike to Pilot Butte Outlook.
Deep in the badlands to the south-east of Rock Springs lurks one of Wyoming’s more surreal attractions. Reachable only by dirt road, Adobe Town is more of an experience than an actual place. This largely uninhabited region of martian landscapes plays all kinds of tricks with your mind. The rock formations twist into sophisticated architectural wonders, while the land transforms into a Salvador Dali painting. Come here with the expectation that you’ll get lost, and have no idea what you’re doing in the middle of nowhere. Give the desert time though, and Adobe Town will creep up on you.
Due to the remoteness and outright weirdness of Adobe Town, it’s perhaps not the best destination for bored kids. If you do come though, make sure to have some sturdy tires, and aim for sunset if you can. Bring water, and brace yourself for uncompromising weather at times.
Where to Stay in Rock Springs
Rock Springs is a medium sized city and therefor has a quite a few hotels where to choose from (as well as Airbnb options of course) . We stayed at the Hampton Inn on Dewar Dr, which was quite convenient and has a Wendy's just a two minute walk away if you need a quick byte. The rooms are pretty straight forward and the breakfast well sorted and plenty. One thing we loved about this hotel was that checkout is at 11 AM, unlike 9 AM like there rest we had been staying at. We also later found out that on the opposite side of the hotel there is a doughnut specialty store called Cowboy Donuts, a must visit for somebody with a sweet tooth like me. Unfortunately I learned about it when we were gone.
After Rock Springs, the final stop in Wyoming should be the famed Flaming Gorge. The largest reservoir in Wyoming, Flaming Gorge also represents one of the largest construction projects in the state’s history. Between 1958 and 1964, thousands of workers labored to complete this massive undertaking, which today stores just under 4 million acre feet of water. It’s also a popular spot for locals to relax on weekends. Fishing, boating and hiking are all popular activities around Flaming Gorge, not to mention camping. If you’re short on time at this point, then don’t worry too much; even from the highway, the views of the gorge are pretty gorgeous.
Devil’s Tower National Monument
Located on the far side of the state, Devil’s Tower National Monument doesn’t get quite as much love as the Tetons or Yellowstone. Having said that, this odd rock formation was the first national monument to be declared in US history for a reason; it leaves one serious impression on the visitor. This eerie site is rich in local lore, not to mention a great place for hiking and nature photography.
Bighorn Medicine Wheel
Another less-visited location, the Bighorn Medicine Wheel is one of Wyoming’s more elusive attractions. For one, it’s covered by heavy snow most of the year, and the rocks that make up this site only become exposed during the warmer months of the year. Over 80 feet across, this gigantic rock wheel consists of 28 spokes stretching outward from a cairn. Hundreds of similar sites exist across the United States, though their exact purpose is somewhat unclear. The medicine wheel at Bighorn is arguably the best preserved anywhere in the country, and is suspected to hold some kind of astronomical significance. The wheel can be reached from the nearby town of Lovell, though bear in mind the road is closed from October to May due to heavy snow.
Visiting Wyoming with Kids
Traveling through Wyoming with family is nothing short of spectacular. Both kids and adults alike will enjoy the stunning scenery (like that in Alaska), abundant wildlife and eating experiences that are bound to be found in this itinerary. Grand Teton and Yellowstone will of course be major highlights, but don't limit yourself to visiting these two parks only as there is much more to that state than what you've already heard of. There are tons of resources online, though I do recommend you start by visiting www.travelwyoming.com