Trip Coach: April 8, 2008
Kurt Repanshek, author of "National Parks With Kids," answered your questions about vacations in the National Parks with (and without) children.
D.C.: Hello, Getting my young boys (8, 11) to pull their eyes up from their playstations is almost impossible. I worry about hyping up the chances of seeing bears because they may get disappointed. What advice do you have about engaging kids in the National Parks? Thanks!
Kurt Repanshek: Hi D.C. Actually, you needn't worry too much about "hyping up the chances" of seeing bears in the national parks. Black bears are fairly common sights in Grand Teton (look along the Moose-Wilson Road where berry bushes lure them in), Mount Rainier (I've seen them in the Ipsut Creek Campground just inside the Carbon River Entrance as well as at Reflection Lakes), Sequoia and Yosemite parks, and on occasion in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Grizzly bears often are visible in the early summer in Yellowstone's Lamar Valley, too.
I would think Yellowstone's geyser basins with their spouting geysers and sputtering fumaroles and mudpots would prove engaging to your boys, too. On the East Coast, I'll never forget running into a 7-year-old boy and his 9-year-old sister, and their parents, of course, atop the Beehive, a rocky promontory in Acadia National Park. The Beehive can be a somewhat challenging climb, especially for youngsters under 10, because it entails climbing vertically up, hand-over-hand, on iron rungs for short distances. Making it to the top, as a result, delivers a real sense of accomplishment. And the view ain't bad, either!
Many Western parks offer horseback riding—another lure for many kids—and canoeing. And there are plenty of lakes, which kids seem to enjoy tossing rocks into.
Something you might try is surfing with your boys through the park system on the Internet to look at various parks and the activities they offer and see what resonates with them. I'll bet you can find something that intrigues them.
Bronston, Ky.: Where can I get a senior pass?
Kurt Repanshek: Hi Kentucky. You can buy a pass, senior or otherwise, at national parks, U.S. Forest Service offices, U.S. Bureau of Land Management offices, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offices.
New Palestine, Ind.: Are the National Park passes available at a discount anywhere?
Kurt Repanshek: Greetings, Palestine, Indiana. I'm afraid that, to the best of my knowledge, there are no discounted America The Beautiful passes to be purchased.
Of course, that's kind of a trick answer. If you're 62 or older you qualify for a senior ATB pass, for the princely one-time fee of $10. If you're disabled you can get a life-time pass for free.
Both passes can only be obtained in person from a Park Service, Forest Service, BLM, Fish and Wildlife Service, or Bureau of Reclamation office. For details on what proof you'll need to provide, surf over to http://store.usgs.gov/pass/.
Chicago, Ill.: Hey Kurt, I'd like to take my family to camp in Yellowstone relatively near the Bridal Veil. Are all the affordable camping spots already booked up for this summer? In planning for summer 2009--what advice do you have for booking ahead the affordable campsites? Thank you
Kurt Repanshek: Hi Chicago. You've got me a bit confused. Are you referring to Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite? If so, your closest, most affordable, camping options are at Curry Village or Housekeeping Camp in the Yosemite Valley.
Now, some folks swear by these locations and accommodations, but they are not my favorites because of the crowds, noise, and stress on the infrastructure they generate. I'd much rather stay at Tuolumne Meadows or Wawona and drive into Yosemite Valley for a day trip.
That said, depending on how flexible you are, you might be able to find an opening in one of these places, but it's getting pretty late for this summer. The reservation system allows you to reserve a site for up to five months down the road, beginning on the 15th of each month. So, for instance, on April 15 you'll be able to reserve a site up until September 14.
You might be wiser looking ahead to the summer of 2009. For help in carving out your reservations, check out the National Recreation Reservation Service.
Round Lake, Minn.: We have an exchange student from Germany whose mother will be visiting June 10-26. They would like to head to the Wyoming, Yellowstone area by way of Mt. Rushmore. Any recommendations for their road trip?