@ Yellowstone National Park

We’re @: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

What’s here: It’s America’s favorite national park. What’s not here?

It’s official! Our kids earned their Yellowstone Junior Ranger patch. Many of the national parks offer a Junior Ranger program, which introduces children to the natural wonders of the park and their own role in preserving these wonders for the future. Be sure to ask for the worksheets next time you’re at a national park.

Our favorite animal: This changed frequently as we drove from the east entrance of the park to the west. The bison trotting along the road was pretty cool, but the wetlands with wading elk were unforgettable. The kids caught a glimpse of the Hayden Valley wolf pack and a lone coyote in the grasslands.

What to do: Of course you’ve heard of Old Faithful, but did you know that there are more than 10,000 geysers, hot springs, fumeroles and mudpots in the park? The Supervolcano exhibit in the Canyon Visitor Education Center can catch you up on all the volcanic activity and geothermic evidence of this very special hotspot throughout the massive park.

Not that Grand Canyon: Often overlooked is the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. It’s roughly 20 miles long and formed by erosion when melting glacier waters forced a path downhill. That makes it relatively young, geologically speaking, having formed only 10,000-14,000 years ago. There are two spectacular falls. The Lower Yellowstone Falls is the largest volume waterfall in the Rocky Mountains. If you go, look for the Osprey nesting on cliff tops above the river.

Overheard: At Old Faithful, one of the younger bystanders wanted to know how they turn it off. An adult answered, “They use a remote.”

Why is he singing? While hiking on Bighorn Trail our guide, Kim Hoberecht with Greater Yellowstone Guides, started to sing. Why? We’d spotted some bear tracks in the mud along our trail. It was a nice set – mother and child. That can be bad news if you surprise them so we walked extra slow and added to the noise.

Did you know: Forest fires are good for Yellowstone. We learned that straight from the ranger’s mouth. Many of Yellowstone’s plant species are fire-adapted. Without the intense heat of the fires, the lodgepole pine’s pinecones serotinous seal would never release their seeds to produce the next generation of forest. The fires also thin out the tree tops allowing sunshine to reach the forest floor and add nitrogen to the soil.

Where we’re staying: Our vacation rental with Mountain Home Montana Vacation Rentals was in West Yellowstone, Montana. The house, West on West, was a wonderful cabin on the outskirts of the town with plenty of room. The kids liked the porch, mom liked the kitchen and dad liked the grill!

For more information: The National Parks Service is the best resource for all things Yellowstone.