Discovering America’s national parks with my children is a dream that I continue to make a reality every summer. Two summers ago, we visited our first national park, Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. Last year, we went to Acadia National Park for four days of adventure in which we experienced both rainstorms and sunshine. This summer, we ventured to Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain National Parks. Here are a few of the memorable adventures my family and I experienced in Grand Teton and Yellowstone.
Grand Teton National Park
Riding the tram from Teton Village and hiking the Rock Springs Trail into Cody Bowl is one outstanding memory I have from this summer. Although these memories took place outside of Grand Teton, our time spent on the tram and hiking the scenic trails was the most fun our family had in Grand Teton. We rode the four thousand foot climb in a 100 passenger tram from Teton Village Ski Resort to the top of Rendezvous Mountain. After getting off the tram, we packed a picnic lunch for our day's adventures to enjoy on the mountain or in other words, the top of the world. We descended along the ridge line on the Rock Springs Trail into Cody Bowl. We spent our afternoon having snow ball fights, sliding down the glacial snow, and rock scrambling.
Our kayaking excursion in Colter Bay was a peaceful and enjoyable experience. We rented two two-person kayaks from the Colter Bay Marina to enjoy an afternoon of paddling and wildlife viewing while meandering our way through the Colter and Half Moon Bays. Our next aquatic escapade consisted of a wild adventure through rafting the Snake River. This activity was my son's choice and fortunately, this float is gentle enough for a six year old. The Grand Teton Lodge Company was our guide down the Snake River in the Park. Daniel, our guide, was experienced at navigating the river and very knowledgeable about the natural history of the Park. We were fortunate to spot two moose, a beaver and an eagle.
The hike around String and Jenny Lakes to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point were equally as enjoyable. We hiked 7.8 miles along the north and west sides of both String and Jenny Lakes. This route is gentle with minimal elevation change. The best part of this hike is taking in the mountain peaks and the lake vistas. Our lodging at Grand Teton consisted of a tent and some basic camping equipment. Camping is the best way to truly experience everything a national park has to offer. Grand Teton offers five beautiful campgrounds that are acquired on a first come, first served basis. They do not take reservations; however, very few visitors experience trouble in obtaining a site in one of the campgrounds. At the entrance stations and visitor centers, there are campground boards providing information on the availability of sites and at what time the campground became full.
The best way to truly experience Yellowstone is to take a hike along a few of its many trails. Our family’s favorite trails were South Rim, Lily Lake, and Uncle Tom’s Trails. The Lily Lake trailhead is at the far end of Artist Point. The trail follows the steep ledges of the Canyon before it enters a pine forest as well as two small lakes and thermals. Uncle Tom's Trail gives even the most skilled hikers a cardio workout as you climb down and up its 328 steps. At the end of the trail, hikers come across a majestic waterfall. As you stand at the base of the lower falls, a cool, mist is suddenly felt upon your skin.
If there is one national park known for its wildlife; it is Yellowstone. We grabbed our favorite fixings for a picnic dinner and drove into Lamar Valley. One word to accurately describe this valley is stunning. My children learned a valuable lesson from animal spectators about why preserving this valley's habitat is vital for the balance of the ecosystem. In the valley, as we ate our picnic dinner, we watched hundreds of buffalo and looked for bear and wolves.
Have you ever wanted to bag a peak with your kids? Bunsen Peak is a good one to accomplish this. The hike is a moderate 2.1 mile trek to the peak on switchbacks and the views at the top are absolutely amazing. The climb was a good challenge for my kids but they loved skipping down the mountain. Walking the Fountain Paint Pot nature trail is a worthwhile activity at Yellowstone. Though there were many tourists, the sights and geological thermals we saw on this walk was definitely worth the crowds. This was my son's favorite part of Yellowstone.
Similar to Grand Teton, Yellowstone offers some campsites on a first come, first served basis. While Yellowstone does allow visitors to reserve a campsite in advance, these reservation-only campgrounds usually fill well ahead of time. The campsites that do not require reservations are in beautiful locations in the park but have limited amenities, such as vaulted toilets.
Many of these adventures enabled us to leave behind the crowds and explore each park to discover the beauty, peace and solitude. The more we trekked down the trail, the more we drew back the curtains on the amazing scenery all around us. I loved sharing each of the above adventures with my kids and watching their faces light up with huge grins. We hope you enjoy them too.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Chambers is a mom of two children, an environmental educator who owns Hiking Along and a middle school Science teacher at the Siena School in Silver Spring, MD. She writes often on her blog about her adventures in nature with her kids and outdoor advice for families including a monthly trail review in the DC area entitled “Trail Discovery for Kids.”