Posted on: October 5 2012

National Parks Plus Kids: Inspiration, Perspiration, and Contemplation at Grand Teton

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If you go to Grand Teton with kids, I have plenty of recommendations for you. For starters:

  • Encourage your kids to do the Junior Ranger program.
  • Go swimming at String Lake after an early morning boat ride across Jenny Lake.
  • Take the early morning boat ride across Jenny Lake and hike to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point
  • Go swimming in the shallows of String Lake, which is a short distance from Jenny Lake.
  • Do a horseback ride out of Colter Bay or Jackson Lake Lodge.
  • Take the tram to the top of Rendezvous Mountain at Jackson Hole Ski Resort (when haze from wildfires doesn’t obscure your view).
  • Spend at least one evening or early morning on the deck at the Jackson Lake Lodge in search of wildlife.
  • Rent bikes to cycle along the park’s new pathway system, which may offer the best view of any bike ride in the country, when haze from wildfires doesn’t obscure it.

I know, that probably sounds like a full itinerary already. But, before you leave, the park has two of the best visitor center experiences we have encountered for kids. First, the Craig Thomas Visitor Center has a wonderful tactile display of animal fur, from wolves to bison, and paw/hoof print impressions into which the kids (and adults!) can place their hands for comparison. Somehow, kids always know exactly what to do. Isabelle and Lucas were then drawn to a small climbing wall, simulating their imagined first ascents of the Grand. Leaving the ropes behind, they soon had managed to climb every boulder inside and outside the visitor center. The fact that the park orientation film in the visitor center was out of order, though disappointing, didn’t matter much.

Second, the Lawrence S Rockefeller Preserve at the south end of the park is an absolute treat. I had been there once before and wanted to see how the kids would react to the experience in the visitor center’s two rooms designed for quiet contemplation (quite appealing after several weeks with our adorable children…). The first room has four video screens with different nature and wildlife scenes, accompanied by the sounds of zephyrs, cascading brooks, bugling elk, and more pieces of nature’s symphonic mosaic. After being quieted in that room, we slid into the adjacent meditation room, closed our eyes, and listened to thunderstorms, birds flitting from one ear to another, wolves’ plaintive howls, tumbling autumn leaves, and other soothing natural sounds. As we ambled down the exit hallway, I thought we would spend just a few minutes in the beautiful library. Instead the kids, still captured by the impact of our auditory meditation, each silently entered, grabbed a book off the shelf, sat in the comfy leather chairs, and began quietly reading. We joined them.

Had we not already decided to leave the Tetons that afternoon in pursuit of breathable air (wildfire smog and haze, again), I’m convinced we could have lingered for hours, sat on the porch, sauntered along the preserve’s less-traveled trails, and been the better for it. As it was, Isabelle had become so engrossed in her book, “Forest Animals,” soaking up every syllable about wolves, that she didn’t hear me for almost a minute as I announced it was time to go. The experience with Lucas was identical.

Whatever magic exists at Grand Teton, it was well at work that afternoon.

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