Tag Archives: Yellowstone

Wyoming – Yellowstone

Yellowstone is an amazing place.  The park is incredibly large, so there’s no way that I could cover everything in one post.  There are entire books written about Yellowstone.  So I’m only going to talk about what we did while in Yellowstone.  Since we had kids with us and it took us about 2 hours to get there everytime we went, we only went twice and we didn’t stay for an extended period of time.  We did however hit the big spots – Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

The kids really enjoyed both spots.  Every night we ask our kids what their favorite part of the day is.  And on the Yellowstone days, it was seeing Old Faithful and the hike to the waterfall in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone (Uncle Tom’s Trail).

We got to Yellowstone about 10 – 15 minutes before the predicted next time Old Faithful was going to erupt.  That made for a nice start of the Yellowstone day.  We also always tried to get on the road early to avoid crowds (we left before 6 AM on the Yellowstone days so we got to the sites around 8 AM).  The Old Faithful day, the kids worked on the Young Scientist program which I discussed in a previous post.  We also went a little north of Old Faithful as the crowds started to pour in.  And we went wading in a stream off the side of the road where there was a picnic area.  We had wanted to go swimming in Firehole River which is a thermal hot spot, but it was closed off.

Our second day, we went up to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.  The views on the trip up from the South entrance are beautiful.  You pass by lakes and Lamar Valley (one of my favorite landscapes in Yellowstone – pictures don’t do it justice).  We hiked down Uncle Tom’s Trail (328 steps down into the Canyon).  I was so impressed that my boys did it and loved it.  At the bottom of the trail, you get a great view of Lower Falls.  If you don’t want to do the hike, but you want to see the Falls, head down to Artist View.  A viewing point is only about 200 feet (or less) from the parking area and it’s pretty flat to get there (i.e. you don’t have to hike down the canyon).  We also had a picnic near a field north of the Canyon Visitor Center.  The boys finished up their Yellowstone Junior Ranger program and got sworn in at the Visitor Center.

One suggestion if you have to take kids on long car rides to locations.  Get books on tape for them.  I can download books on tape from our local library onto an MP3 player.  I downloaded several books I knew the kids would like (Cam Jansen, Geronimo Stilton, and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM).  They absolutely loved it and we got a nice quiet ride!  A lot of MP3 players won’t play WMA Protected files, which is what most library downloads are.  If you want to do this, make sure yours does play them.  I actually got an MP3 player specifically for books on tape.  We have the Sandisk Sansa.

Old Faithful

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Lower Falls and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone (taken from Artist’s View)

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Wyoming – Junior Ranger Program and Young Scientist Program

 I loved both the Junior Ranger Program and the Young Scientist Program!  They both helped our kids get really engaged in the parks.  And I learned a lot too from the programs.  Here’s how the programs work:

Junior Ranger Program

The Junior Ranger Program is a program that many of the National Parks offer.  The activities you do are different for each park so that you learn about the park.  Both Yellowstone and Grand Teton required that the kids go to a Ranger Talk and do some activities like word searches or answering questions about the animals in the park.  The activities you have to do change based on how old you are.  Aftering completing the activities for your age group, you return your newspaper to a ranger at any Visitor Center.  They review your work and swear you in as a Junior Ranger.  At Grand Teton National Park, you have a choice of a patch or a badge pin.  At Yellowstone, they only had the patches (which I preferred, but my sons preferred the pins).

Grand Teton National Park asked for a $1 donation to participate in the program.  Yellowstone was free of charge (I think because this year is its 20th anniversary, the program paper actually had $3 at the top of the paper).  Here’s a link to the Grand Teton program newspaper.  Here’s a link to the Yellowstone Junior Ranger page.  There are links on the page to the newspapers.  There is one for 5-7 year olds and one for 8-12 year olds.  Anyone can participate in the Grand Teton Junior Ranger program, even adults.  One of the shopkeepers in the park told us about that and said his wife did it.

The Grand Teton National Park has another route to earning your Junior Ranger badge for 8 – 12 year olds.  They hold Junior Ranger program event at the South Jenny Lake Visitor Center.  It’s an hour and a half program.  You can make a reservation for your child at any of the Visitor Centers.  The day of the program you drop your child off at the flag pole outside of the Visitor Center.  At the end of the program, you meet your child back at the flag pole where they perform the swearing in ceremony and receive their badge.

Showing the Ranger their work in Yellowstone

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Swearing in Ceremony after the Grand Teton Junior Ranger Program

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Swearing in at the Grand Teton Visitor Center After Completing the Activities

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Young Scientist Program

This program was really neat.  The program consists of an activity book that kids 5 and up complete to earn a Young Scientist patch or keychain.  The activities revolve around the geyers and thermal features and the amount of activites you need to complete is dependent on your age.  The basic premise is the kids need to hypothesize if geyers are alive.  They then complete activities to test their hypothesis.  This booklet does take awhile to complete, so be prepared to spend at least 3 hours.

The program is only offered at the Old Faithful Visitor Center in Yellowstone and costs $5.  As part of the program, you can check out a Young Scientist backpack to use free of charge.  Included in the backpack is a wheel that shows you how hot a thermal feature is based on the color, colored pencils, rock samples, and a laser thermometer.  The laser thermometer was so cool!  You pointed it at the various thermal features and it would tell you how hot they were.  The highest reading we got was 185 degrees!

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National Parks Passport and the Junior Ranger Program

I want to make sure our kids learn something while enjoying our vacation to Wyoming.  There are so many topics that you could choose to try to teach them that it can be a bit overwhelming.  I did a Google search to try to find lesson plans.  Unfortunately, most of them were for on-line learning instead of learning while at the parks.  But I did come across a great resource that we’ll be using when we go – the Junior Ranger Program.  Kids “complete a series of activities during their park visit, share answers with a park ranger, and receive an official Junior Ranger badge or patch and Junior Ranger certificate.”  The program has activities at many of the National Parks, including Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons

Yellowstone also has a Young Scientist Program.  In this program, kids “investigate the mysteries of Yellowstone by completing activities in the visitor center and the field…Once your investigation is complete, you will be awarded an official Young Scientist patch or key chain.”

The National Parks Rangers have a series of programs at both parks.  At Grand Teton National Park, they hold Campfire Talks, Featured Creatures, and Jenny Lake Twilight Talks (and many others) for kids and adults alike.  Click here to get the listing of current activities around the Grand Tetons and here to get the listing of current activities around Yellowstone.

We want to expose our kids to as many National Parks as we can.  When I told a friend about that, she suggested that I look into the National Parks Passport.  It is a booklet that tells you about the National Parks and gives you a place to collect stamps at the National Parks that you visit.  They also have a Kids’ Passport.  I really like the Kids’ Passport even for adults.  The Kids’ Passports organizing the National Parks by theme (e.g. Civil War Stories, Stories about African Americans, Stories about Our War for Independence, Stories of American Presidents, etc).  eParks.com sells both of these items.  If you are interested in both, I’d suggest getting the Passport to the National Parks 25th Anniversary Edition and Kids’ Passport Companion Set.  This comes with both items and a National Park System Map and Guide (wall map).

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