“He’s a good big brother, helping his little sisters like that,” said an older woman as she walked past us on her way to her picnic table.
“Thanks,” my husband and I mumbled in unison.
Our kids were playing together—quite happily—along the shore of the Firehole River while we made lunch at a nearby picnic table. Just moments before, they’d been snarling at each other. While I was busy wondering how I would survive this vacation—and possibly their childhood—my husband simply turned in at the nearest picnic area.
It was a good move. The kids ran off some energy and I enjoyed some peace. They remembered that they were friends and my husband and I recalled why we’d set off on a family vacation in the first place. They ceased squabbling and we moved forward into the day, happy once again.
Because I promote picnicking as the best way to deal with the inevitable and recurring need for food, here are some YNP picnicking realities and a few of our favorite picnic areas. (Note: Each is near water—either beside a river or above Yellowstone Lake.)
Tips for Picnicking in Yellowstone
- Yellowstone’s picnic areas small, as in a dozen or fewer tables. They are busiest right at the traditional mealtimes. At other times, they are often empty.
- Given their place in the middle of a national park, the picnic areas are picturesque but primitive. They typically don’t have water available. While most have bathroom facilities, they are of the non-flushing variety.
- Because Yellowstone is bear country, you must, if you are not with your food, stow it securely in your vehicle.
- The weather is not always conducive to making food outside. Be prepared with something you can assemble and eat in your vehicle.
Our Favorites Picnic Areas
- Firehole River Picnic Area | Situated on the Firehole River, this is our family’s absolute favorite. The picnic tables are right by the water. Miraculously, we almost always manage to get our preferred table and the kids almost always play “catch stick.” This would be a made-up game where they throw a stick in the water and see if they can run fast enough to catch it and fish it back out. Children do creative things when they are waiting for food without television or the internet to distract them. (Located on the Old Faithful/Madison road, just before or after Madison Junction, depending on your direction)
- Gull Point Picnic Area | Nestled among the trees on a hill above Yellowstone Lake, this is yet another place where our children easily entertain themselves while I make dinner. The first time we stopped here, our son was five. As he made his way down the slope, I looked at the shoreline, saw a sizable tree trunk laying on the beach, and said to my husband, “You know he’ll try to launch that” He had to work at it, but he got it done. (Located on the shore of Yellowstone Lake near Bridge Bay)
- Pumice Point Picnic Area | This two-table spot is my absolute favorite. Its two tables are situated on a bluff above Yellowstone Lake. And it is the site where I learned—again—to slow down, to expect and enjoy great scenery. (Between Grant Village and Bridge Bay)
- Lava Creek Picnic Area | Away from the road with only a handful of tables sheltered under a canopy of trees, this—like the others—is a favorite because of its proximity to water and because we’ve made memories there. (Near Mammoth Hot Springs)
- Snake River Picnic Area | Overlooking the Snake River near the South Entrance of the park, this offers a lovely view but not much shade. It’s a new find for my husband and me. We had breakfast there one morning and liked it so much we stopped there for breakfast again a couple of days later. (Just inside Yellowstone’s South Entrance.)
- Find information about Yellowstone’s picnic locations and regulations here and information about planning a visit to Yellowstone can be found here.
- Feeling overwhelmed by planning your Yellowstone vacation? Let me help you map out a satisfying Yellowstone experience. For more information or to schedule, contact me here.