Family-friendly stops on the way from Seattle to Yellowstone: waterfalls, caves, petrified forest, gardens and lakes, hidden gems, and local treasures.
Distance between Seattle and Yellowstone is a long stretch of road – roughly 12 hours of driving (one way). If spending that much time just driving does not sound exciting to you, check out the stops below! With little planning, the “boring” part of the trip can be just as good as the destination. 😉
All of the places below are free/cost very little money and family-friendly (we traveled with 14 months old, 4, 9 y.o., and grandparents).
From Seattle to Yellowstone: Important note
We split the road time in half and spent a total of 4 days driving from Seattle to Yellowstone and back:
– 2 days by the shorter or “upper” way (12 hours if driving non-stop)
– 2 days from Yellowstone to Seattle by longer or “lower” way via Grand Teton National Park (13.5 hours of non-stop driving):
Why you might want to go “Lower way” (and see Grand Tetons first) and make “Upper way” on the way from Yellowstone to Seattle, you can read here.
Sightseeing on the way from Seattle to Yellowstone. Upper way
1. Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park
Ginkgo Petrified Forest interpretive center has one of the most diverse petrified wood collections in the US – 30 kinds, all near 15 million years old! We were fascinated by how something that appears to be a stone is in fact a petrified tree. Worth visiting even after closing time.
Park was named “Ginkgo” because the ginkgo tree is a rare species to find among petrified wood:
There is a nice open grassy area with multiple picnic tables, restrooms. Beware, it can be very windy at Ginkgo state park. Herds of bighorn sheep can be seen occasionally passing by. They are very shy. Please don’t try to chase them:
Time to spend: from a brief visit to a couple of hours.
Activities: interpretive center, swimming nearby on hot summer days.
2. Wild Horse Wind Farm
The Wild Horse Wind Farm is a unique chance for older kids and adults to know more about renewable energy, see a huge wind turbine close up, and go inside! We missed our chance twice, as it was too windy to go on a tour for us (it’s also colder on the ridge). We will come back for sure!
Time to spend: 1 hour.
Activities: guided tour (kids are welcome), visitor center.
3. From Seattle to Yellowstone. Spokane, Washington
For those who live in or near Seattle, “Spokane” is more than a city. It is the main direction East. I saw “Spokane” direction signs so many times during our first year in Washington, that I wanted to visit the city just because of that 😁. The city is the second-largest in Washington and located near the border with Idaho.
We were very impressed by Spokane and wrote a separate post about it.
Spokane can be enjoyed as a quick stop or as a full day of activities. It earned a spot in our bucket list for a huge waterfall in the very middle of the city – Spokane Falls:
Time to spend: from a couple of hours to a full day.
Activities: Huntington Park, Riverfront Park, Monito Park, Botanical Gardens.
4. Coeur d’Alene City Park and Beach, Idaho
Lake Coeur d’Alene looks really beautiful even from the highway as you pass it by. Take a dip in the lake, continue with a picnic lunch (there are lots of picnic tables), and if time allows, go paddling!
Our friends visited the lake and Fort Sherman Playground (massive wooden structure near the lakeshore) a year ago and said both were a hit.
Time to spend: from a brief visit to half a day.
Activities: Fort Sherman Playground, swimming, parasailing, SUP, boat, kayak rentals. Lake can be crowded during peak months with limited parking.
5. Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, Montana
Lewis and Clark’s limestone caverns are fragile pieces of art. They are also known as Montana’s first and best-known state park. And for a good reason: caverns are unique and have a delicate ecosystem. If I could visit only one cavern in my entire life, I would choose Lewis and Clark’s!
There are a lot of rules and important nuances about visiting caverns.
Fun fact: The caverns are named after Lewis and Clark but were not discovered by them. The expedition camped nearby in the area. The caverns were discovered and explored almost 100 years later.
Sightseeing on the way from Yellowstone to Seattle, via Grand Teton
1. Shoshone Falls, Twin Falls, Idaho
Our first stop after Grand Teton National Park was at Shoshone Falls. Called “The Niagara of the West”, it is truly beautiful!
Although the picture you see below was taken in mid-September, fall time is when you might find minimal water flow or…
an absolutely dry waterfall. At this time of the year, most of the water flow is used to recharge the reservoir system upstream.
There are several observation platforms where you can enjoy the waterfalls and the canyon with now crowds (during our visit):
Lots of picnic tables, plenty of space for kids to roam around, and restrooms located right near the parking lot. We had a nice picnic lunch at the stream in the upper corner of the grassy area. The heat was unbearable – kids were so happy to cool off a bit
2. Dierkes Lake, Twin Falls – a nice place to swim for entire family
Dierkes Lake, in the picture below, is a few minutes away from Shoshone Falls and has a beach, springboard, and some shade. It’s a great place for a picnic as well, where you can actually take a dip:
3. From Seattle to Yellowstone. Boise, Idaho
Boise is the capital of Idaho and the largest city in the state, with a population of over 200k. One of the most interesting facts about Boise – ethnic Basque community, the most concentrated outside of Spain 😉.
We liked Boise a lot! I wrote about how to explore the Basque community and other fun places in Boise.
4. Warehouse Beach Recreation Area (Lake Wallula), Washington
There is not much to see once you leave Boise and reach the Cascades Range. We found Lake Wallula to be a good pit-stop: long, wide beach for kids to run and play, swimming, picnic tables for a quick lunch, and restrooms.
Time to spend: a brief visit.
5. Yakima Arboretum, Washington
The Yakima Arboretum is 46 acres of green space: gardens, tree collections, lots of space to relax, walk, and enjoy nature. Nice stop right at the freeway. The arboretum is open from dawn until dusk 7 days a week. Admission is free.
Time to spend: from a brief visit to a couple of hours.
6. Lake Easton State Park
Once you reach the Cascade Range, there are tons of places for a quick stop, but Lake Easton remains our favorite.
The scenery is beautiful, amenities are clean and we’ve never seen crowds here, (pretty unusual for Washington state parks during peak season).
Everything is close and at the very edge of the water: beach, picnic tables, playground, restrooms. The nearest trail leads up the hill to a campground overlooking the lake and the playground – what a gem for camping!
Thanks for reading, friends! We are glad you stopped by!
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