EXPLORING YELLOWSTONE -- How to Plan a Great Family Visit

Visiting Yellowstone this summer? Whether by foot, hoof, boat or stagecoach, families planning to visit Yellowstone National Park should try to explore the park beyond the drive-up viewpoints. Getting out and exploring gets the kids out of the backseat and helps the park come alive for them. Xanterra Park & Resorts offers a variety of interpretive, guided activities that are designed to educate parents and children and help them explore the park in a safe, hassle-free way.

More than most national parks, the opportunities for discovery at Yellowstone are virtually endless. And with less than five percent of the 2.2 million-acre park visible from paved roads, the size and scope of the park can be intimidating to some visitors.

"You cannot even begin to appreciate the park from inside your car," said Rick Hoeninghausen, director of sales and marketing for Xanterra Parks & Resorts. "Though the drive is spectacular, there is so much more to Yellowstone than what you can see from the road."

Xanterra offers tours and activities designed to provide access to families of all ages and physical conditions. "Physically fit, semi-adventurous types with active teens might want to participate in a multi-day hiking and lodging program called 'Trails Through Yellowstone,' while visitors seeking a less strenuous experience travel to a backcountry Old West Cookout dinner via horse-drawn wagon."

All activities and tours operated by Xanterra include an interpretive component, so visitors will gain an even deeper appreciation of the park's ecosystems, history and wildlife.

Here are some of the summer-season options available to visitors this summer. For additional details about all activities, visit www.travelyellowstone.com. Visitors should make advance reservations for these activities by calling 1-307-344-7311.

Summer 2003 Activities:

Stagecoach Adventures

An authentic stagecoach - always a favorite among younger visitors - travels through Roosevelt Country, taking visitors back 100 years when their predecessors made their way to Uncle John Yancey's Pleasant Valley Hotel. The half-hour stagecoach tours are offered at Roosevelt Lodge. Available June 6 through August 31. Adults $7.75; children (2-11) $6.50; children under two ride free.

Horseback Trail Rides

Leaving Mammoth Hot Springs, Canyon Village and Roosevelt Lodge, a one- or two-hour guided trail ride is a great way to see the park the way early visitors did - on horseback. Departure times vary throughout the season. Minimum age is 8 years old; minimum height 4 feet; maximum weight 250 pounds. One hour: adults and children $28; two hours: adults and children $42.

Old West Cookouts

Offered at Roosevelt Lodge, guests are treated to a barbecue with steaks and side dishes with music, storytelling, wranglers, horses and wagons. Participants experience the sights and sounds - sizzling steaks, clacking horse's hooves, rolling wagons - reminiscent of the Old West. Transportation via horse-drawn wagon - adults $39; children (5-11) $27. Via one-hour horseback ride: adults $49; children (8-11) $39. Via two-hour horseback ride: adults $59; children (8-11) $49.

Yellowstone Lake Scenicruises

One of the best ways for visitors of all ages and physical capabilities to see Yellowstone Lake is on board the Lake Queen, a 44-foot tour boat. Guests are treated to moose, eagles and other local residents. Colorful park histories are revealed in this guided one-hour cruise. Available May 31 through September 14. Adults $9.75; children (2-11) $5; children under 2 are free.

Yellowstone Lake "Historic" Sunset Tour

Aboard the park's 1937 touring car, guests depart the Lake area for a two-hour roundtrip tour to a scenic overlook above the lake. Expert guides explain the rich human history of the past and the ecological intricacies of the present. Available Tuesday through Saturday. Adults $19; children (16 and under) $9.

Guided Fishing Trips

Guides know all the hot spots for cutthroat trout, native to Yellowstone Lake. The result is an exciting day of fishing for every member of the family. Charters are also available for pleasure and sightseeing jaunts on the lake. Charters are available June 15 through September 7 and include guide, fishing gear for three people, gas and life jackets. 22-foot cabin: $57 per hour (1-6 people); 34-foot cabin $74 per hour (1-6 people). Children under 18 must be accompanied by adult.

Self-Guided Lake Adventures

Sixteen-foot rowboats and 18-foot outboards can be rented and self-captained for fishing and sightseeing. Private boat dock spaces are available for rent. Outboard motorboats are available June 15 through September 7. $33 per hour (2-6 people). Rowboats are available June 15 through September 7. $7.50 for first hour; $6.50 for each additional hour; $34 for day (eight hours). Children under 18 must be accompanied by adult.

Picture-Perfect Photo Safaris

A photographer-guide takes guests on a morning trip to capture - on film, of course - wildlife, wildflowers or other scenery. Photographers of all abilities are welcome. Available May 31 - September 28 at Lake Yellowstone Hotel (Thursday through Monday) and Old Faithful Inn (Tuesday through Saturday). Adults $43; children (16 and under) $24.

Firehole Basin Adventure

Three-hour afternoon interpretive program includes guided walks through Old Faithful Geyser Basin. Adults $20; children (12-16) $9.50; children under 12 free.

Touring Motorcoach Excursions

Expert guides take visitors aboard comfortable motorcoaches on a variety of tours highlighting famous Yellowstone features such the Upper and Lower Geyser Basins, Yellowstone Lake, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Gibbon Falls, Norris Geyser Basin, Tower Fall, Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful Geyser. Guides make frequent stops to explain the geological and historical significance of the sites.

Circle of Fire: This all-day tour departs Lake Hotel, Fishing Bridge, Grant Village, Canyon Lodge, Old Faithful Inn and Bridge Bay Campground and travels through the southern portion of the park and includes stops at the geyser basins, Yellowstone Lake and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. Available May 17 through September 20. Adults $41; children (12-16) $18; children under 12 free.

Teton Vista Rendezvous: This all-day tour departs Lake Yellowstone Hotel, Fishing Bridge, Grant Village, Old Faithful Inn and Bridge Bay, and includes stops throughout the southern portion of Yellowstone and neighboring Grand Teton National Park. Adults $37; children (12-16) $18; children under 12 free.

Yellowstone in a Day: This all-day tour departs Mammoth Hot Springs and Gardiner, Mont., and includes highlights throughout Yellowstone. Adults $45; children (12-16) $21; children under 12 free.

Basin Buddies Children's Program
This environmental education program for children 6-11 includes exploration of the geyser basin in the company of qualified instructors. Basin Buddies will be offered two times each day June 30 through August 7. Each two-hour session will focus on one environmental theme - earth, wind, fire or water. Participants can learn about the park's wildlife, geo-thermal features, water features and more. Instructors use story-telling, games, nature crafts and hikes to teach children about the park.

The three-hour morning Basin Buddies program includes lunch and participation in the National Park Service's popular Junior Ranger program. The two-hour evening session is open to parents. The morning session is priced at $28 plus a $3 fee for the National Park Service materials, and the evening session is $18.50. Groups meet in the lobby of the Old Faithful Inn. Advance reservations are recommended.

For more suggestions on planning a great Yellowstone vacation, see the following articles on the Family Travel Network:

Great Family Destinations: Yellowstone Park This excellent article by award-winning family travel author Candyce Stapen highlights the best of Yellowstone Park, including "don't miss" sights and interesting activities.

How to Plan a National Park Vacation at the Last Minute If you're scrambling for time, don't worry. This article will show you how to plan a great last minute trip to Yellowstone and provides tips on hotel reservations, dinner arrangements and other details.

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