Among the amazing features of Yellowstone National Park are the abundance of road-side waterfalls which involve little or no hike to view. As a family, especially with a member that has special needs for mobility and safety, we are happy to still be able to enjoy these iconic places. So here is the list of our top favorites for families.
Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River – Canyon Area.
Perhaps the most iconic, and unquestionably the tallest, of all the falls in Yellowstone, the Lower Falls has several unique viewing points, ranging from stepping out of the car on the North Rim Drive at Grand View to the steep, switchback-style Brink of the Lower Falls Trail that allows hikers to stand at the top of the falls and feel the power of up to 63,000 gallons/second of water. There are also smaller side trails that lead to various outcroppings or platforms along the river (like Lookout Point) with spectacular views. On the South Rim Drive is the famous Artist’s Point, one of the most photographed locations in the park. In short, you really can’t take a bad picture of this 308-foot waterfall!
Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River – Canyon Area.
Just to the west of the Lower Falls on the South Rim Drive are the 109-foot Upper Falls. These falls can be seen adequately from just off the parking lot, with paved trails leading the way. For the more capable hiker, a short hike to the west (including one steep hill) will get you several nice views of these falls, as well as two bridge/observation points at or above them. At the right time of day, you may even catch a glimpse of a rainbow crossing the falls spray.
Tower Fall – Tower/Roosevelt Area.
A short hike down the hill and behind the general store at Tower allows for a spectacular view of this 132-foot waterfall on the Tower Creek. It plunges over a ledge and down to the Yellowstone River. The trail to the overlook is paved, but be aware that there is a steep lip on one side that leads could lead to a lengthy tumble down an abrupt hill if care is not taken (yes, that almost happened to our 5-year-old). At this location there is an additional 1-mile hike down below the falls, but in the past two years it has been closed for maintenance.
Undine Falls – Mammoth Hot Springs Area.
This location took us by surprise this past winter. We had passed the parking area for Undine Falls more times than we can count. Just recently took the time to stop and see what the fuss was about. In the summer, this area seems to have less tourists around than the larger, southern falls areas. In the winter, you will most likely have the view to yourself! Just a few steps down from the parking lot and you’ll catch a stunning glimpse of Lava Creek as it tumbles over a tier of three ledges, plummeting 60 feet. One of the few waterfalls with easy winter access, this is a prime spot to stop with the family.
Gibbon Falls – Norris-Madison Area.
These falls can be accessed between Norris and Madison in the western part of the park. The 84-foot drop empties into the winding canyon of the Gibbon River as is flows toward its confluence with the Madison and Firehole Rivers. This is a very popular location and although parking is plenty, it is usually one with a waiting line. The falls can be seen within a few hundred feet of the parking lot along a paved trail with cement barriers to prevent falls into the canyon. Views here are best in the evening when the sun is to the west of the area. We stopped here on our way back north from swimming in the Firehole river.
Firehole Falls – Madison Area.
Hidden just south of Madison is a one-way drive along the Firehole River that leads past Firehole Falls and other cascades. These smaller falls tumble about forty feet, but the layout among the large boulders makes the stop a memorable one. The only hitch is that there is no solid barrier between the asphalt and steep hillside down into the river. Hold on to your little ones! There is a great spot for swimming in the Firehole River (see our YouTube video!) just down the road (but upstream) from this spot, one of the few legal locations in the park. Parking in this area can be difficult in the busy summer months because the lot here is quite small.
This is just a small sample of some of the best and most accessible 350+ waterfalls located in Yellowstone. Several more are just a short hike off the beaten path. Each one offers unique features that will add fabulous memories to your next family vacation. Have you been to Yellowstone? Which waterfalls are your favorites? Let us know in the comments below!