5 winter activities for kids and families in West Yellowstone

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For the second time in three years, we met our good friends in West Yellowstone for a long weekend. We got adjoining rooms so the kids could go back and forth. To save a little dinero, we brought all of our own food (and drinks for the moms).

There was skiing, ice skating, sledding, swimming, and lots of snacking. We tried to tire the kids out (twin seven-year-olds, a practically seven-year-old, and a five-and-a-half-year-old), but it was almost impossible despite the vigorous activity.

One of the great things about traveling with a friend is getting to spend a little time by yourself. Dorel snowshoed for a couple hours while I took the kids to a birds of prey talk and to visit grizzly bears and wolves. I got to ski 12K while Dorel put a movie on in our hotel room.

Here are a few of the other things we did.

Kids N’ Snow

The Kids N’Snow program gives kids the opportunity to try out new winter activities. They can learn to cross-country ski, ice fish, snowshoe, use GPS, or ride a snowmobile. There are educational talks about local wildlife, ranger walks, chances to ride into the park in a snowcoach, and more. The program takes place once a month in the winter.

We didn’t go to all the activities—I don’t think that’s even possible. We went to a few, and then made our own fun the rest of the time. It’s almost totally free, so it’s nice to be able to pop in and out of the things you are interested in. Kids N’Snow

Cross Country Skiing in West Yellowstone

My love, of course, is cross-country skiing. Who wouldn’t want to spend the day out in the snow in a beautiful place? Crazy people.

Rendezvous Ski Trails
The Rendezvous Ski Trails are “where gold medal grooming and reliable snow come together to create a Nordic skier’s dream. Easily accessible from the town of West Yellowstone, Montana, the Rendezvous Ski Trails consist of over 35 kilometers of gently rolling, beautifully groomed trails that wind through tall stands of lodgepole pine and open meadows.”

Dorel, the four kids and I skied out to the biathlon course and back, about 3.5 km. It wasn’t very far, but enough to get everyone out for a while. Then the rest of them went back to the hotel, and I skied alone. It was lovely.

Purchase a trail pass at the entrance. Check here for an updated grooming report.
Getting there: Drive to the south end of Geyser Street in West Yellowstone. There is a parking area, trailhead archway and a warming hut.

Watching biathlon practice at the Rendezvous Ski Trails.

Baker’s Hole Campground
This is another short ski, but it can be linked to the Boundary Trail, which starts right in West Yellowstone. I like it because it is easy for the kids to get right next to the Madison River. The view is similar to the Riverside Ski Trail, but easier to access. It’s a nice place to stop on the way out of town. And did I mention how gorgeous it is? On a sunny day, with the snow sparkling, the willow branches bright red, and the river a brilliant blue…it’s one of my favorite sights.

Getting there: Drive north from West Yellowstone on Hwy 191, 2.8 miles to a plowed pull-off on the right (east) side of the road. Baker’s Hole Campground

For more places to cross-country ski in Montana, see this post. 

Ice Skating and Sledding in West Yellowstone

West Yellowstone has a little ice skating rink and sledding hill in Pioneer Park. One night during the Kids N’ Snow program we skated alongside a ton of other kids and parents. The music blared, marshmallows were prepped for roasting, and the kids had a blast. It was pure chaos.

Before we left town a couple days later, we took our sleds back to the park. The sledding hills are short, but steep. And rock hard. We took run after run under the bright sun and brilliant blue sky.


I don’t think I’ll ever stay at a hotel with the kids without a pool. The boys love swimming and it’s a great way to burn off some excess energy (you know, the energy that didn’t get burned off skiing, skating, sledding, and running around like maniacs.)

The pool doesn’t even have to be that nice. As long as it’s clean (my preference, not theirs), they are good to go. I pack goggles and a couple kickboards, so they have something to play with, and they do the rest. I don’t even get in the pool anymore; Im happy to observe from the hot tub.

The Gray Wolf Inn and Suite has a pool (see the photo below) and the Days Inn by Wyndam has a pool with a water slide.

West Yellowstone Lodging

West Yellowstone is the most visited gateway to Yellowstone National Park because of its easy access to the park in both summer and winter (in winter, you’ll go in on an over-snow vehicle or snowmobile).

This hotel information comes from my site, Yellowstone Trips, and specifically a post about places to stay near Yellowstone.

The hotels near Yellowstone National Park West Entrance are abundant, and while you probably won’t find any cheap hotels near Yellowstone National Park, West Yellowstone had the biggest selection of hotels. (The Stagecoach Inn tends to be one of the few cheap hotels near Yellowstone and it’s still pretty decent.)

Explorer Cabins at Yellowstone

The staff at the Explorer Cabins will organize a tour into the park or get you set for hiking, rafting, fishing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or ice fishing nearby. And the bonus is, when you get back to the Explorer Cabins you can roast marshmallows around campfire.

The Yellowstone camping cabins are clustered in groups of five, making it ideal for extended family or a group gathering. Cross the street to visit the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center where bears and wolves that can’t survive in the wild make their home. The grizzly bears are used to test whether bear-proof trash cans and other items really are bear-proof. Next door, Yellowstone Giant Screen (formerly IMAX) shows both recent releases and documentaries about Yellowstone and the area.

For one of the best places to stay, West Yellowstone can be proud of the Explorer Cabins. Each private cabin boasts stylish décor, fine linens, a flat-screen TV and a kitchenette for whipping up your favorite meals. WiFi is available in the cabins and throughout the property. Dog-friendly cabins are available. Find more reviews and the best deals on the Explorer Cabins.

Holiday Inn West Yellowstone

Another of our favorite Yellowstone West Entrance lodging options is the Holiday Inn West Yellowstone. We tend to stay here in the winter because it’s close to the Rendezvous Ski Trails, but it’s convenient for summer, too. West Yellowstone is small enough that no matter where you are staying, you are close to everything.

As expected from motels near Yellowstone National Park, the Holiday Inn has all the basics: renovated guest rooms and suites, indoor pool, hot tub, in room microwaves, mini fridges, and free WiFi. The full service restaurant offers Montana cuisine and a full bar. Find more reviews and the best deals on the Holiday Inn West Yellowstone.

Best Western Yellowstone

The Best Western Desert Inn is just two blocks from the West Entrance, making it one of the hotels close to Yellowstone National Park. The rooms are big, if a little dated. Some rooms have kitchenettes, which is nice for easy meals or prepping picnic supplies for the day.

There is a pool, hot tub, WiFi, guest laundry, and laundry services. If you are looking for the closest hotel to Yellowstone National Park, this might be it. It’s also close to shopping, restaurants, the Imax Theater, and the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. See more reviews and find the best deals on the Best Western in West Yellowstone.

Vacation Rentals in West Yellowstone

The best places to stay in West Yellowstone could be the vacation rentals. You get your own home away from home to spread out and relax. I am constantly surprised at how many houses for rent in West Yellowstone pop up each year.

If you want to scan all the places for rent in West Yellowstone, check out this page.

A few of the best places to stay in or near West Yellowstone:

Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center

At the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, families can get face to face with bears, wolves, and birds of prey without having to keep the bear spray handy. The animals at the Discovery Center cannot be released into the wild. Instead they give visitors an opportunity to observe, learn and appreciate grizzly bears and gray wolves.

The new Naturalist’s Cabin located between the two wolf habitats let’s you view both packs while enjoying a roaring fire or watching a National Geographic film. The visitors center is the permanent home of the world-class exhibit BEARS: Imagination and Reality. The display is an interactive museum exhibit produced by the Science Museum of Minnesota comparing and contrasting the bear of myth, art, literature, history and folklore with the bear scientists, outdoors people, and researchers know.

We’ve stopped into the Grizzly Wolf Discovery Center several times over the years. This time the boys participated in “Keeper Kids.” Kids 5-12 years old can participate in this program that allows them to hide food in the bear habitat (the bears aren’t there at the same time as the kids). Participants learn about bear feeding habits and how bears sniff out and find food. Check the website to find out more about Discovery Center programs.

Keeper Kids: The kids hide food for bears and then watch them find it.

Hours: October 30—April 19, 2014 – 8:30am to 4:00pm

Rates: Adults (13 and older) $9.75, Seniors (62 +) $9.00, Child (5 – 12) $5.50, Child under 5 free.
Admission is good for two consecutive days.

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