Posts Tagged ‘ yellowstone national park ’

My Summer of (Not) Camping

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

I went into this summer intending to camp for reals. My family of four is very good at renting cabins. But tent-camping would save us a lot of cash, and the way we like to vacation, that is becoming necessary. Plus I feel like camping is a childhood rite of passage, something my kids should experience. 
FIRST HURDLE: BAD MEMORIES Two years ago we borrowed a friend’s tent. There was a thunderstorm, and my then-6-year-old was having tummy issues, so he needed to be walked or carried uphill through mud to the bathroom every hour. The memory is seared in my brain, so there is no getting over this hurdle. Just around it.
SECOND HURDLE: NO TENT This was not supposed to be a hurdle, because I bought a tent a year ago, thinking that last year would be our summer of camping. (Instead it was our summer of sheepishly upgrading, from bare KOA cabins to their deluxe models with a bathroom.) But  I can not find our tent. Where can a tent hide?! I’ve searched the basement and under beds. But tents are so small these days, like the size of my travel toiletries bag. Someday I will probably find it tucked under the bathroom sink but for now…I have no idea where it it.
THIRD HURDLE: I WILL SLEEP ANYWHERE BUT THE GROUND, APPARENTLY I just didn’t realize it until my first campout of this summer. My son and I joined a group that included about a dozen second-grade boys, one of whom was celebrating his birthday, plus the birthday boy’s parents. I was offered room in any of the many tents, including the grown-up one, but…I slept in the SUV I drove. And was pretty psyched to do it.
I thought I would redeem myself on our big family trip to Yellowstone National Park. We had a campground reservation. We had no tent, but I had a half-baked plan to buy one nearby. My husband thought the plan was dubious from the start. I think his exact words were “That’s f-ing crazy.” In the end, we coughed up about $180 for four of us in a no-frills hotel room in the park.
So yea, we didn’t camp there either. But we saw buffalo, and they were awesome!
FOURTH HURDLE: I LOVE ME A RESTAURANT We had our third chance to camp in Montana. But I wasn’t sure if the campground was in driving distance to a restaurant. ‘Cause oh yea, I don’t know how to cook on a campfire.  I mean, I can roast marshmallows. But our usual M.O. is to stay at a campground that’s an easy drive to someplace where people serve dinner to us while we talk about roasting marshmallows later. Outside our cabin. 
FINAL HURDLE: I MAY NOT BE A TENT GIRL My last hurrah of the summer was a trip to Disney World. Did you know they have an awesome campground where you can stay for like $54 a night? Of course, you need a tent, or an RV. As I pictured my weary, park-warrior, pool-swimming self coming home to a tent each night…well, it should be no surprise that I caved. I booked us into a Fort Wilderness Cabin.
So maybe I am never going to be a tent-camper. But my summer of not camping still included fire pits, glow sticks, drinking my morning tea under the trees,  animal sightings, stick collecting, and stargazing. It was fantastic. And maybe cabins are all the “camping” that my kids need. I will work on trimming our vacation expenses some other way. Like, maybe stopping the restaurant habit. Anyone have campfire recipes they want to share with me?
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5 Things To Know When Traveling to Yellowstone With Kids

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

I just got back from an amazing trip with my family (husband and two kids, ages 4 and 6) to Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone is like no other place in America, or even on earth. It’s a wonderland for parents and kids alike. But it does require a lot of planning.

1. There’s no TV, radio, or (gulp) wifi
in Yellowstone inns, hotels, and lodges. Likely you are going to Yellowstone to get away from your crazy  busy life and will welcome being off the grid. (I did manage to get Verizon and AT&T cell connection at Old Faithful Inn, but it was spotty at best.)  Even if you are welcoming connecting with nature,  it can be a challenge to travel with kids without a little help from Netflix or their favorite wifi based apps, especially during long car trips to and from attractions (Yellowstone is a big place!).  Consider bringing portable DVD players, game systems, or downloading movies and apps in advance on your devices so you’re prepared. And you can never have too many crayons or colored pencils– the Park hands out Junior Ranger booklets and other pamphlets to kids frequently and having them on hand makes for a great distraction while waiting for dinner. (We found that the hotel dining rooms were short on crayons outside of brown and black which makes it a challenge to color in the Prismatic Spring!)

2. Weather changes can be drastic. We woke up our first day to 40 degree weather (see pic at right); by noon we had stripped off our hats, gloves and jackets and were wearing our tee shirts on the Mammoth Terraces. The next day it snowed — a few inches fell in a couple hours,  leaving the Park covered in blanket of white and even closing roads. We were still nursing our sunburns from the day before! We traveled in mid-September when it can be cooler, but everyone I spoke with says that the weather can change from super hot to freezing, even in the summer. Dress in layers and carry a backpack with hats and gloves and plenty of water when hiking. Even in a few hours the weather can change 20 degrees.

3. You’ll spend a lot of time in the car. Yellowstone is more than 3,000 square miles and there’s only one major figure eight highway connecting it all with a speed limit of 45 miles per hour. We found the drive from attraction to attraction breathtaking — every mile has something to see whether it’s a herd of bison on the side of the road, a giant cavern dipping before you, or a bald eagle flying overhead –even my kids put down their headphones to look out the windows and shriek at the amazing nature on the other side of the glass several times a day. But still, you are in the car a lot. It can take 2-3 hours to get from Old Faithful to the Yellowstone Canyon or to Mammoth Terraces to Yellowstone Lake … or wherever you want to go depending on road closures, animal jams, and just plain distance. So if you have the option, bring or rent the bigger car with ample leg room and/or amenities. We spent the week in a new Buick Enclave and it was perfect — we had a DVD player for the kids when they were tired of the view (or just tired period) and plenty of space for all our hiking gear and snacks. (The sunroof also came in handy for snaps of grazing animals — see us at right!)

4. Food can be hard to find. The Park is vast and if you are between junctions (the intersections where many attractions are located) or stuck in a bear jam (seriously!)  you could find yourself hungry and, worse, with hungry whining children. The Park restaurants, grills, and cafeterias (located at most junctions) are first come, first served for breakfast and lunch and there are often long lines, especially in the summer months (we traveled in September and it was hard even then.) Dinner at the few sit-down restaurants are reservation only and they fill up fast — book ém when you book your room.  Plus, the food can be pricey — we couldn’t get away with less than $40 for our little family of four for breakfast or lunch at any of the restaurants. (The to-go sandwiches are $10 each!) If you can, bring a cooler and pack lunches and snacks; there are tons of great, well-marked picnic spots and you can always replace your ice and fill up with water at the major junctions.

5. Animals can be dangerous. There are signs everywhere telling you to be careful of the bears, elk, bison, antelope, moose, and other animals that make their home in Yellowstone, but it’s important to note again here and especially for children. Do not let them get close to any animals — we took pictures of bison and elk through our car windows (see my son’s pic, at right!), and out of the top of our sunroof — they can charge and trample children (even adults). People are hurt every year in the Park by getting too close. Also, if you plan to go hiking — and I highly recommend that you do — it’s the best way to see the Park and get away from the crowds — note that the threat of grizzly and black bears are real. Do not let children run ahead of you on trails (bears think something running is food worth catching) and make noise. Luckily making noise is easy for most kids; but on longer hikes it can be harder to keep the conversation rolling. For our hikes on the Fairy Falls, Mystic Falls, and the Yellowstone River Picnic/Speciman Ridge Trails we sang several songs, including “Going on A Bear Hunt” over and over! We never saw a bear on a trail, but we did see a grizzly on a road side pullover through binoculars (how I prefer to see a large mammal that can eat my young). Also consider buying and learning how to use bear spray.

Check out my other post about our trip: What Kids Love Most About Yellowstone. And be sure to share your tips for traveling to Yellowstone and other national parks with kids!

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