Smart Vacations

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

A Taste of the Old West via Covered Wagon.

What could be a more authentic way to experience American history than taking a covered wagon trip? Wagons West, an outfitting company in Afton, WY, offers two-, four-, and six-day wagon journeys along former logging roads in the breathtaking Teton National Forest. The wagons are replicas of the ones used by pioneers but with rubber wheels and comfortable cushioned seats. Kids of all ages are welcome (a nursing infant went along on one jaunt), but the trip can be enjoyed most by children ages 4 and up who are old enough to sit on a horse with an adult.

This trek is a true escape from civilization, with nothing but the Grand Tetons and endless wilderness in every direction. Guests, many of whom have never been in the saddle before, do plenty of riding, taking turns for up to half the day on the company's gentle horses. (If you want a horse full-time, you can pay an extra fee.) For adults and older children, there are even guided rides into the high country, where you might glimpse a buffalo, elk, moose, or deer, not to mention a riot of wildflowers and sagebrush.

When Cynthia Grandquist of Des Moines, IA, took her two sons, ages 9 and 6, on a Wagons West trip last year, they discovered a few things that a city kid would never know. Like what? "To talk loudly when we were riding," she says with a laugh, "to scare away any bears." Her sons also learned how to use a lariat, throwing a knotted rope over a model steer head that the tour guides keep at camp.

The fun doesn't stop at night, either. After a chuck-wagon meal of hearty stew or roast chicken, the guides gather around the campfire and entertain guests with old-time cowboy songs, tall tales, and stories of famous Native Americans and cowboys. After that, guests fall asleep in the wagons, in tents, or under the stars -- which, in this Wyoming wilderness, illuminate the sky like Christmas lights.

If you want to make a longer trip of it, consider visiting nearby Yellowstone National Park and Jackson Hole, which is the jumping-off point for the Wagons West trips. A four-day trek costs $650 for adults and $555 for kids under 14. For more information, call 800-447-4711 or visit www.recworld.com/wagonswest.

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