Trip Coach: May 22, 2007
Kurt Repanshek, author of Frommer's National Parks with Kids, answered your questions about vacations in the National Parks.
Kurt Repanshek: Hi, thanks for joining me to talk about the national parks. Hopefully I'll be able to get to all your questions.
Sandy Hook, KY: We're planning to visit Yellowstone & Grand Tetons in September. Is this too late to see good waterflow in the upper/lower waterfalls? What about fall colors and/or wildflowers?
Kurt Repanshek: Hi John,
September in Yellowstone and Grand Teton is perhaps my favorite month in those parks. The summer crowds are on the wane, the season is changing, the wildlife are more active as the elk rut gets under way and you often can hear the bulls bugling around dawn and dusk.
No need to worry about lack of water flow in the Upper and Lower falls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Unlike the falls in Yosemite Valley, which are triggered largely by snowmelt, the Yellowstone River taps Yellowstone Lake, which is a massive body of water that keeps the river "running on high" year-round.
While you won't see many, if any, wildflowers, depending on when you head to the parks in September you might see some great fall color. It typically begins to peak towards the end of the month. If it's an unseasonably dry summer, the leaves could turn a bit sooner.
All in all, though, September is a great time to be in Yellowstone.
Ashland, Ohio: What national park should I consider for summer vacation this year? I would like it to be somewhat close to Ohio perhaps within 600 miles. It seems like all the great national parks are in the west. I have three kids, 11, 7 and 4.
Kurt Repanshek: Hello Heidi,
True, it seems like many of the great parks are in the West, but there are a surprising number in your backyard. Five that fall within your 600-mile radius are Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Indiana, Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, and Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee/North Carolina. All offer something for youngsters with energy to burn.
At the two lakeshores you have plenty of beachfront for swimming and sand castles and other activities such as hiking, bicycling and kite-flying. Too, there are Junior Ranger programs that get kids involved in learning about the lakeshores' natural and cultural histories.
Mammoth Cave has some great cave tours and canoeing on the Green River, Shenandoah some great hiking and biking, and Great Smoky great hiking and water fun in the form of tubing in creeks and streams. Junior Ranger programs are available at these parks as well.
All five also have nice campgrounds and fishing possibilities. Any one should make for a great vacation.
Penney Farms, Florida: What features do you recommend for seniors in their middle seventies when visiting National Parks? What is the best time of the year for seniors to travel, and best places to stay? We are planning a trip in 2008 and would like to cover the area from Grand Canyon to Yellow Stone. We would probably fly into Las Vegas and rent a vehicle and drop it off in Denver.
Kurt Repanshek: Greetings, Penny Farms, Florida,
If you're planning to visit the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone in one trip, I'd recommend a September trip. By then the height of the summer vacation season has passed, crowds are easing off, and the weather is moderating.
However, you might want to consider reversing your trip: Unless you have a reason to visit Denver, fly into Jackson, Wyoming, and rent a car there. Then visit Yellowstone and Grand Teton and head south with stops in Bryce Canyon and possibly Zion before continuing on to the Grand Canyon.
I suggest this as you'll be less likely to run into any early season snowstorms in Wyoming by visiting there first and heading south. Too, by the time you reach the Grand Canyon it won't be as hot as it would normally be earlier in the month.
Have a great time!
Snohomish, Washington: My wife and two teenage daughters are planning a trip to Yellowstone & The Grand Teton's NP the last week of June. We already plan on seeing Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. But were wondering what other sites are a must see. Plus, are there any activities that would be better for teenagers? We see a lot for younger kids, but not teenagers.
Kurt Repanshek: Hi Snohomish,
There are plenty of activities for teens, depending on how ambitious they are.
At Grand Teton, for instance, you can enroll them in climbing school with an eye on possibly summiting the Grand Teton. Or as a family you could take a raft trip down the Snake River.
You also could rent kayaks or canoes at Dornan's in Moose Junction for some paddling on Jenny Lake or, if time allows, for a longer camping trip on Jackson Lake. You actually can circumnavigate Jackson Lake, with overnight stays at designated campsites, in three days if you're experienced paddlers. Of course, you do have to line up a backcountry permit for that, but that's not insurmountable.
There's lots of paddling possible in Yellowstone, as well, on Lewis, Shoshone and Yellowstone lakes, but you really need some experience before you embark on one of those adventures.
For a short backpacking trip, you can hike from the Old Faithful Inn down to a backcountry site near the Lone Star Geyser, spend the night, and then hike out via the trail from Lone Star to the main road a relatively short distance from the inn. Or, if you have more time, continue on down to Shoshone Lake for an overnight there.
There are plenty of day hikes in Yellowstone that are apropos for teens but not younger kids, such as the hike up onto Specimen Ridge and then over to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. If your kids like history, they might enjoy the Museum of the National Park Ranger housed at the Norris Ranger Station, or hiking down to Tower Fall to see where 19th century artist Thomas Moran painted the view.
Another great resource is the Yellowstone Association, which offers many field seminars for young and old. In late June, for example, they are offering programs on photography in Yellowstone, wildflowers, Yellowstone's "geoecosystem," field sketching, and learning how to navigate by map and compass. Check out their programs at yellowstoneassociation.org.
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