Grab your favorite mask and get ready for some family exploration time! My national parks itinerary covers major locations near Wyoming and the surrounding areas. If you are looking for education and fun, this family vacation has you covered. To get around, Alamo Rent A Car locations are available in most airports near the national parks. As soon as you land, you can pick your vehicle and immediately head out to your first natural wonder.
4 National Parks to Visit on a Family Vacation
Badlands National Park – South Dakota
Heading to Badlands National Park first? Make sure you book airline tickets landing in the Rapid City Regional Airport (RAP). This destination is just 10-miles southeast of Rapid City, South Dakota and is central to the following locations as described. Pick up your Alamo rental car here to start your trip.
When heading to Badlands National Park, be sure to make a stop at Ben Reifel Visitor Center, located several miles south of Exit 131 off Interstate I-9. Grab a map, get directions as needed and enjoy their museum exhibit and fossil preparation lab. The visitor center is a great location to begin your day's journey.
If you happen to visit on a particularly hot day, stay inside for a bit and enjoy “The Land of Stone and Light,” a 25-minute film highlighting all you can expect from the expansive national park. This is an indoor activity the park offers, which is a great way to have fun while cooling off from the heat of a hot day.
In the spring, summer, and fall, the park film runs on a 25-minute loop. In the winter, the park film is shown as requested–just ask the ranger at the front desk to play it for you
When you are ready to take your adventure to the outdoors, head onto the Fossil Exhibit Trail (SD-240, Wall, SD 57790). This trail is a ¼-mile-long, family-friendly path along a boardwalk that has several stops along the way filled with information about local fossils.
Considering the Badlands Loop? Be sure to look out for the incredible Yellow Mounds (SD-240, Wall, SD 57790) as they are a sight not to be missed. The landscape almost looks tie-dyed and you will not be able to help but appreciate its pastel notes.
Be sure to time your visit to the Pinnacles Overlook (SD-240, Wall, SD 57790) to hit around sunset. Tourists say the backdrop picks up similar colors to fire. Lots of rich red and orange notes will fill the sky. As the light shifts with the change of the sun's position, it feels as if the rocks are changing shape. It is truly a sight to see.
Mount Rushmore – South Dakota
When you are ready to visit Mount Rushmore, make sure you have on a great pair of sneakers because there is so much to explore. You will likely choose to kick off your visit with an official visit to the monument. If you are driving from Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore is about 76-miles west. Otherwise, you can fly into Rapid City Regional Airport (RAP), pick up your rental vehicle from Alamo and drive an hour west to monument.
There's a Presidential Trail at Mount Rushmore that you can walk with your family. It takes under two hours to complete. While it is not too difficult of a hike, there are over 400 stairs on the trail.
Of course, what family vacation would be complete with a gold panning and mine tour? Luckily, tour companies like Big Thunder Gold Mine have packages available for families (including options that are wheelchair accessible). This tour company is popular with tourists who visit Keystone - which is right next to Mount Rushmore.
The Devil’s Tour National Monuments - Wyoming
After you’ve enjoyed South Dakota, you can head out to explore Mother Nature and all that she has to offer. The Devil's Tour National Monument (WY-110, Devils Tower, WY 82714) sits 1,267-feet above the Belle Fourche River and is a wondrous natural phenomenon.
Ready for a bite to eat? You are in luck because there is lively music and great grub at Chuckwagon Supper! Due to COVID-19 restrictions, you will need to book tickets in advance. An additional fun activity the kids will enjoy is the Chuckwagon Supper & Music Variety Show.
Yellowstone National Park – Wyoming
Did you know there is another “Grand Canyon” besides the one in Arizona? Located in Wyoming, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (location: Great Loop Road at Canyon Village) is 24-miles long, found in Yellowstone National Park. If you are driving to Yellowstone National Park from Mount Rushmore, the drive is about 369 miles west. Make sure you stock up on snacks, supplies and gas before you head out to this next fantastic destination. You can also fly into Jackson Hole Airport (JAC), pick up your vehicle from Alamo and drive an hour south to the park.
The hike from Canyon Village to Mammoth Hot Springs will take you just over an hour, but it will be worth the effort. There are areas with boardwalks making it easier for families to navigate through.
The major geyser basins in Yellowstone are a must see. With plenty of hotels, this region is a perfect resting point. Looking for great hotel suggestions? Consider Canyon Lodge and Cabins, Lake Lodge Cabins, or Mammoth Hot Springs & Cabins. These hotel options are all centrally located with easy access to Yellowstone.
Lamar Valley is considered a true hidden gem in Yellowstone and can be found in the northeastern corner of the park - near the Lamar river. This is a great destination to get up close and personal with bison, buffalo, wolves, elk, bear and more.
The Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest and oldest thermal area in Yellowstone. In fact, the highest recorded temperature recorded from this spot was 459°F! There are no fees for entry for guests to this national treasure. In order to gain access to this area of the park, be sure to use the parking lot of the Norris Geyser Basin (where Steamboat Geyser is located) at the Norris Geyser Basin Museum.
Named for its predictable eruptions, Old Faithful is one of America's most famous geysers. Time your visit accordingly and head toward Yellowstone's Upper Geyser Basin (southwest section) to find Old Faithful.
Grand Teton National Park – Wyoming
A quick drive north from Yellowstone is your final destination, Grand Teton National Park. This location will offer your family additional memories and a new look at all the wonders that nature has to offer. Yellowstone National Park to Grand Teton National Park is about a ten-minute drive. Flying into (or out of) Jackson Hole Airport (JAC) is also an option and is less than a 10-minute drive north to Grand Teton National Park.
When visiting the Grand Teton National Park, sign your kids up for the Junior Ranger program. While your kids are out exploring with you, they can complete an activity book to stay engaged and entertained.
If you are traveling between June and September, kick off your morning with a scenic breakfast cruise with the Grand Teton Scenic Lake Cruise Company. Enjoy incredible mountain views and picturesque lake landscapes while cruising on Jackson Lake to Elk Island while indulging on a hearty buffet, which includes everything from cowboy potatoes to pastries and pancakes.
Get a bird’s eye view of Teton and head on up into the skies. Teton Balloon Flights will guide your family through a scenic hot air balloon ride over Teton valley.
I hope you enjoy this great national park itinerary as much as us! It is a great experience for the whole family and for folks of all ages.