My thanks to Parents magazine for asking me to be a judge for their “Best Vacations for Kids: Parents’ Travel Awards 2021,” which also appears in the June 2021 print issue. I’ve gotten some good ideas from this myself! (I didn’t weigh in on all the award categories–just the ones where I thought I could help.) I don’t consider myself an expert in national parks, but I do love them, and I worked for the NPS for around eight years and have visited about 40 NPS sites, including 15 national parks. And yes, I’ve written a couple of kids’ guides for national parks (Grand Teton, Rocky Mountain, and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon), so I know some areas much better than others.
One of my favorite things about national parks is the wildlife, and there were many fine contenders for the magazine’s “best for spying animals” category. But I tried to see everything through the lens of traveling with kids. Just south of Yellowstone, which is justifiably known for wildlife watching, Grand Teton National Park has a similar complement of species and some great opportunities to see a variety of animals without putting on as many miles in the car. (For advice on where to look, see the park website, or check out my book, What I Saw in Grand Teton: A Kid’s Guide to the National Park.) Many good areas for seeing wildlife–like the Antelope Flats Loop and the Moose-Wilson Road–are easy to access even if you’re staying in the town of Jackson.
And please remember, mid-day may be the busiest time for humans, leading to crowded roads and parking lots, but it’s often nap-time for animals. Usually the best strategy for seeing animals, as well as enjoying a busy national park, is to get the kids up early to explore, return to camp or the hotel if possible in mid-afternoon to relax, and head back out again later. You’ll see a different park than you would if you arrived the same time as everyone else.
The High Plains Bookfest is coming up soon, with events taking place at various venues in Billings, Montana October 18-20 (complete schedule here).
If you have kids, please bring them along to the Billings Public Library at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, October 20 for a fun introduction to Glacier and Grand Teton national parks. Ellen Horowitz and I will be sharing our children’s books from Riverbend Publishing’s What I Saw series–Ellen’s What I Saw in Glacier: A Kid’s Guide to the National Park, and my What I Saw in Grand Teton: A Kid’s Guide to the National Park.
If you are a teacher or homeschooler looking for ways to extend What I Saw in Grand Teton: A Kid’s Guide to the National Park, here are a few activity ideas for you. My thanks to third-grade teacher Suzy Miller for “Safe Space”–a fun way to teach important lessons for kids living in or visiting areas with potentially dangerous wildlife.
I’m excited to announce the release of What I Saw in Grand Teton: A Kid’s Guide to the NationalPark on April 1 (available through Amazon and Riverbend Publishing). I wrote the text and Christopher Cauble provided the many beautiful photographs.
Our book offers a sampler of many of the animals, plants, and places families are likely to see on a trip to the park, as well as space for children to record their own sightings. It also includes fun facts on everything from ranger hats to earthquakes. The wildlife “Guess what?” sections are some of my favorites. Did you know that bluebird feathers aren’t really blue? Or that the pronghorn’s closest living relatives are not antelope? (Hint: They are found in Africa and can grow up to 19 feet tall.) I liked digging into the research to find surprising details even about common species.
After spending a fair amount of time in the Tetons as a kid, I enjoyed reconnecting with the park and learning more about its history and incredible diversity of wildlife and plants. The book provides a fun guide for kids visiting Grand Teton National Park, and I hope it will spark an interest in wildlife and natural areas for at least a few of them.