When Alexander Zhivotovsky's family was looking for a winter vacation from their home in Israel, a coworker mentioned Yellowstone National Park. Zhivotovsky's wife, 13-year-old twin boys, and five-year-old boy jumped at the adventure. They'd stay in West Yellowstone, a small town outside of the park, and go dogsledding and snowmobiling together. For many, it may not be the first winter vacation destination that comes to mind, but Yellowstone offers activities that appeal to the whole family—dogsledding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, wildlife viewing, snowmobiling, ice skating. Just pack the right clothes and you won't need to worry about the freezing temperatures.
Yellowstone receives about three million visitors per year, but most show up in the summer months. Therefore, traveling during the winter offers an opportunity to see the park without the hordes of people. You'll watch bison and elk roam the white landscape, backed by forests and mountain ranges, with only a few other people, if any, nearby. It's a mesmerizing experience, peeking through binoculars and telescopes, waiting for the animals' next move, Discovery Channel style. No doubt, this hands-on experience with nature will help get your kids excited to learn about the environment, wildlife, and geology.
One of the popular kids' programs in Yellowstone is the Junior Ranger Program, open to ages five to 12. For a very small fee, participants get a 12-page activity paper, in which they work through a list of items that includes attending a ranger-led program, hiking on a trail, and experiencing various other educational park activities, checking off activities as they complete them around the park. When finished, kids go over their work with a ranger and are awarded an official Yellowstone Junior Ranger patch. This is a fun experience for the whole family to share together.
Be sure to plan your trip in advance, as winter travel in these parts can be tricky. Not all roads are open to wheeled vehicles, and those that are open have specific rules regarding snow tires and such. Check the National Park Service website (www.nps.gov/yell/) or Xanterra Parks and Resorts' site (www.travelyellowstone.com) for information on making reservations, what equipment/clothing you should pack, and other helpful tips. Try taking a snowcoach—a bus-like vehicle with tracks instead of wheels—into the park and either sticking with that form of transportation or hiring a snowmobile guide (inside the park you must have a guide when snowmobiling). This way, you don't have to worry about driving and you can sit back and enjoy the stunning scenery with your children.
One option regarding reservations is to book a winter package through Xanterra, which includes lodging, ground transportation, activities, and more. Packages incorporate specific activities, such as wildlife viewing, ice skating, cross-country skiing, and relaxing end-of-day hot-tub soaks.
--Erika Hunter Lloyd
Photos: Yellowstone National Park (Erika Hunter Lloyd)
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