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Naomi Black, editor of "Frommer's National Parks with Kids", and host Kelly Regan get together for a chat about visiting America's national parks with your kids. In this podcast, Naomi shares some tips and tricks for parents and kids planning on visiting the national parks. From planning and preparation to outdoor safety, and from GORP to making hiking "goodie bags" for the kids, we give you the ideas and info you need to create a great trip. Naomi also gives us some advice on age-appropriate parks and activities (based on her own travels with her kids!), info on Junior Ranger programs, and talks about food and lodging options - including what you need to know when straying off the beaten path in the parks. Join us and start planning a special and memorable trip with your kids!

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Top Tips from This Podcast

See transcript below for links to more information.

  • Hiking (with young kids): Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Hiking (with toddlers): Sequoia National Park
  • Activities: Junior Ranger programs, treasure hunts
  • Park (for families): Glacier National Park
  • Park (for teenagers): Acadia National Park
  • Activities (for teenagers): Kayaking, Whale watching, Rock climbing programs in Grand Teton
  • Hiking (for teenagers): Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Hiking: Yosemite National Park

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

Announcer: Welcome to the frommers.com travel podcast. For more information on planning your trip to any one of thousands of destinations, please visit us at www.frommers.com.
Kelly Regan: Hi, and welcome to the frommers.com travel podcast. I'm Kelly Regan, editorial director of the Frommer's Travel Guides. I'll be your host. My guest today is Naomi Black, an editor with Frommer's and the editor of our new book, "Frommer's National Parks for Kids", which is in bookstores now. She's here to talk about the ins and outs of taking your kids on national park vacations. Naomi, thanks for being here.
Naomi Black: Hi. I'm happy to be here, Kelly.
Kelly: Let's start at the beginning. How can you prepare your kids for a trip to the national parks?
Naomi: I think preparing them in advance is really important. There are park-specific activity books that you can order online and from the bar websites. You can get your kids walking and hiking. That's the most important thing. And if they are interested have them watch movies about the parks and read books.
Kelly: So prepare them informationally but also prepare them physically.
Naomi: That's really important.
Kelly: OK, well what about the parents? How are parents going to best prepare for taking their kids on a trip to the parks?
Naomi: They should take their cues from the kids. They should also get walking, get hiking, and get moving. You can even climb stairs in your apartment building if you live in the city. It's also good to have your own little library of information. Try to get maps. The book has lots of helpful suggestions on where to get maps of the individual parks, also maps of hikes that you can take. There are also specific maps within the book that you can refer to for accommodations and other things like that.
Kelly: OK. Physically speaking, how far can you expect kids to hike if you do some advanced planning with them beforehand and some little training?
Naomi: Surprisingly, the experts say that you can have a six-year old walk six miles a day; that for every year of age they can walk that in miles. That's with heavy preparation I think.

[laughter]

Kelly: I would say, I think if I had been a 12-year old and my Mom told me I could walk 12 miles, I would beg to differ.
Naomi: If you look at how a child walks in an amusement park though...
Kelly: Right, so you're saying that if you went to Disney World, they would probably be walking at least six miles if not more, everyday, running from one ride to the next.
Naomi: Exactly.
Kelly: That's a good point, that's a very good point! That's great to talk about how long they can hike, but what about when they are on the hike. I know you recommended, or the book also recommends making sure they have a goodie bag with some things in it. Tell me a little bit about what kind of a kit you would prepare for your kids if you were taking them on a hike.
Naomi: Well you have to know your kids and pack things that they like, but you want to keep it light too. Arts and crafts and supplies like watercolors for older kids are great. For younger kids you can pack colored pencils and pads. You might also want to bring either binoculars or a magnifying glass, depending on what kind of terrain you're going to be covering.
Kelly: So the watercolors and the colored pencils would be, while they're on the trail, they could do sketches or some impromptu artwork.
Naomi: Right and you don't have to be kept to a schedule and that's the thing; you need to take your cues from the kids in that way too. Don't try to push them too much and usually they're pretty happy, especially if you let them lead.
Kelly: Yes, so that will keep them engaged. And what about snacks and water and any kind of... I know the book talks a lot about safety and you can set off on a hike with kids but there's no guarantee that they're not going to wander off the path. So what kind of tips are there for keeping the kids safe and what they would do in case they got lost?
Naomi: Well, it's always fun for the kids to have walkie-talkies. If you give them a walkietalkie and they're in front then they might even be able to go out of site for a little while. The key thing that I always pack with my kids is a flashlight, if I have one a small one, a whistle so that they can alert people if they're lost...
Kelly: That's a great idea.
Naomi: And then water and an emergency blanket.
Kelly: OK. Those emergency blankets, you've mentioned them before. They fold up very small but they're made of a special material to keep the kids warm?
Naomi: Right. It looks like very light aluminum foil and it's as big as a ground cloth for a tent. Supposedly you can use it to signal people.
Kelly: Because it's metallic, reflective material?
Naomi: Right, but it reflects your body heat, so that's why kids can just wrap up in it if there's a problem and wait for someone to come. Because that's the best thing to do, to just stay in one place and wait until help comes.
Kelly: You also mentioned before, the book discusses packing GORP for the kids. Now tell me, because I did not know what GORP was, tell me what is GORP?
Naomi: Good old raisins and peanuts. [laughs]
Kelly: Is that what? It's an acronym! Ahhh, that's great!
Naomi: That's actually a good way to get the kids to prepare too. You can go shopping with them and tell them why you're getting the things that go into GORP. They love making it because one of the ingredients is chocolate.
Kelly: Chocolate chips?
Naomi: You can put in chocolate chips; you can put in any raisins, so it doesn't have to be totally healthy.
Kelly: Oh that's great, that's great. The idea is that it's some quick energy for the kids and there is some protein with the nuts and there is a little bit of sugar and fruit and its slightly healthy, slightly sugary, lots of energy.
Naomi: Exactly. They can either use it as dessert or they can use it as a snack on the trail and it's there if they do get lost. It's something to have and it's light and packs a lot for its size.
Kelly: Yeah. Let's get into some specific park recommendations. I know that in the book they mention parks that are specifically good for certain age ranges. What parks are best for toddlers, or if you have young children?
Naomi: Well don't go to the Grand Canyon. That's my first tip.
Kelly: Because the heat is pretty extreme and the terrain can be a little difficult.
Naomi: Right. You have to hike into the canyon and it just gets hotter and harder at the end of the day.
Kelly: Yeah, the further down you go.
Naomi: And it's very hard to judge also if you go down into a canyon how well the kids will do on the way back up. So you want to try to find Zion and Bryce Canyon because you are in the canyon already and the kids get to do the hardest part first when they are fresher in the day.
Kelly: Meaning climbing back up.
Naomi: Right so you climb up first and you can have your picnic or splash in a stream, find a waterfall, and then hike back down.
Kelly: And Zion and Bryce Canyon, those are in Utah.
Naomi: Right and they are fairly close to each other so that you can easily do both of them in the same trip.

One of the other great places to go with a toddler is Sequoia, because they can just walk into the big trees and see something that they probably have never seen before.

Kelly: Oh, Sequoia National Park in Northern California. So what about parks for Pre-Teens, 10-12 years old. What parks would be some good recommendations for those?
Naomi: A lot of parks have Junior Ranger programs. And those engage kids at their level. There are usually treasure hunts they can do or stickers they can get for certain activities. And the rangers are usually accessible and can talk to kids about everything from science to the environment to what animals are around. Most parks have them.

I think Yellowstone is really great for its geologic features. The kids can see things that are very, really extremely interesting.

Kelly: And unusual.
Naomi: Yeah, and they don't have to hike very far. That's I think one of the keys with preteens. You want to get to the good stuff really fast.
Kelly: [laughing] OK! And not just because of short attention spans!

[laughter]

Naomi: Maybe because there legs are shorter.
Kelly: Maybe shorter legs!

You've also mentioned Glacier National Park in Montana, which is you know Yellowstone is kind of the popular park in Montana and Glacier in many ways is the lesser known of the two. But you really have some very striking features to show in Glacier.

Naomi: Glacier is another park that actually is great for toddlers, teens and everybody in between. You can go very quickly to a glacial lake and see a glacier up close, depending on what part of the park you drive to. Also, for older kids, you can go farther into the park and go places where within an hour you probably won't see anybody else. It's challenging and kind of exciting. You also have to be aware of bears.
Kelly: Bears is an issue at Glacier but that's where the whistle comes in. I've heard before that you can blow the whistle, you can ring a bell. Our publisher likes to carry an empty can of soda that he puts rocks in and then he can shake it while he's walking.
Naomi: Well I ended up getting bear bells. In the bookstores there they have bear bells for sale. You tie them to your shoe, but I decided that it really wasn't for me. I like going and having a little peace and quiet.
Kelly: Peace and quiet and not having a bell chasing you around.
Naomi: Right. The noise does keep the bears away though, I've heard. You don't really need to make noise I think because the rangers plot where the bears are. I think they must use satellite imagery or something and they know where, especially the female bears are, and they will alert people and will close parts of the park so that you'll be safe even hiking in territory that's pretty safe.
Kelly: To keep you from unexpected bear encounters.
Naomi: Right.
Kelly: So to finish up our age range conversation, what parks are good for teenagers?
Naomi: Teenagers, if they're game, can basically go to any park. Even in a place like Acadia that has...
Kelly: Acadia National Park in Maine.
Naomi: Right. Acadia has everything from short hikes that are about a mile long, to more lengthy hikes up Cadillac Mountain, which is good for younger kids. But for older kids they can go sea kayaking and whale watching.
Kelly: Oh! Fantastic!
Naomi: And also in places like Grand Teton, they can take advantage of the rock climbing programs there. There are some great teachers. Also I think in places like Rocky Mountain National Park, they can hike all the way up to Long's Peak, and they usually really feel a sense of accomplishment from hiking such a tall mountain.
Kelly: Such a tall mountain; and as you say, it's July, there's still snow on the ground even if you're going in the middle of the summer.
Naomi: Right [laughs]
Kelly: Which is a fun experience to have, depending on how you feel that winter.

[laughter]

Naomi: Well you can even cheat. You can drive up to where there are some snow piles in Rocky Mountain, but its much more satisfying to say you hiked up to the snow line.
Kelly: Do you have any tips about eating in the parks? Sometimes I know the park sponsored restaurants can be expensive or even just eating while you're hiking. We talked about the GORP; what kind of tips did we talk about in the book?
Naomi: Well I think in the book it really stresses that kids need some wiggle time, and that eating in restaurants can be not a good idea day in and day out. Although the book does have some unusual categories; unlike regular Frommer's guides [laughing] we talk about which places are sort of best behavior restaurants.

[laughter]

Naomi: as opposed to more laid back ones.
Kelly: Right, so restaurants where kids need to be on their best behavior as opposed to places more like anything goes.
Naomi: Exactly. The book also includes information on picnicking and places where you might spread out a blanket and just have some down time. I think that's actually the best way to go when you have one or many kids. It just allows them to explore a little more on their own and they don't have to feel as if they're on somebody else's...
Kelly: Schedule.
Naomi: Right.
Kelly: Yeah, yeah. And then what about places to stay? The book mentions different types of places to stay.
Naomi: The book actually is pretty interesting. It includes everything from bed and breakfasts to lodges to rental cottages in some places. There are cabins; there are the traditional hotels and some with pools.
Kelly: Ah, wonderful!
Naomi: But mostly I think you would end up camping a lot of the time. The book actually goes into great detail with very helpful campground charts that show all of the amenities and how it varies from campground to campground.
Kelly: Amenities like if they have electric hookups, or if there are snack bars or things like that on the campground site.
Naomi: Right. The descriptions will also tell you whether sometimes there are playgrounds, there are stores. Or on the other hand, you also want to know whether there's no water or when there's no water.
Kelly: Because there are established campgrounds in the parks but then there's also back country camping where you're sort of hiking in, in some places. I know Yosemite is one of those places where you can hike into the depths of wilderness of the park and you can camp in the back country where you're really just pitching a tent in a beautiful location and there's really nothing else around.
Naomi: Right. And the book goes into detail about back country permits and how you have to get those and why it's important basically so that the Rangers know that you're there and if there is a problem, you signed in with them and they can come and get you if necessary, although hopefully that won't be necessary.

[laughs]

Kelly: [laughs] Hopefully that won't be necessary.
Naomi: But it is a beautiful way to camp, and that's primarily I think for older kids.

For younger kids you can either go car camping or you can plan to go to a fairly nearby, maybe even a campsite only a mile in and set up base camp for a few days.

Kelly: Well what about some general camping tips if a family decides that they want to take the camping routes. I know parks have different rules about what you can and can't do, but in terms of camping with your family, what are some of the things that you can recommend?
Naomi: I think the first thing is that you want to plan as far in advance as possible, because some of the campgrounds are by reservation only and there might even be lottery systems that are in place. So try to figure out where you're going to go first and then pin it down as quickly as you can. Once you're there, some helpful things to have are a bumpy pad.

[laughter]

Kelly: OK, what's a bumpy pad?
Naomi: I don't know what its official name is, but there are bumpy foam pads that you can get that are great. Or if you want to spend a little more money, you can invest in a therm-a-rest pad. You can get them for your kids, they're three-quarter size, and then they grow into them and use them even when they're a little older.
Kelly: Are they padded? They're padded pads that you would put under a sleeping bag to make it more comfortable to sleep?
Naomi: Right. And the therm-a-rest pads are self-inflatable, so you don't have to bring pumps or anything like that.
Kelly: Oh, OK, that's great! And you also want to encourage the kids to get involved in the whole process as much as they can.
Naomi: Yes, and I think even kids as young as six can come and help with setting up a tent, or you might be able to send them off to find firewood or kindling. Assigning kids chores while you're in a campsite I think really involves them in the process and if they have any complaints about sleeping outdoors that might minimize it somewhat.
Kelly: I think the whole prospect of toasted marshmallows over the campfire; that goes a long way towards making it a lot more palatable I think.

[laughter]

Naomi: Right, especially if you've found your own stick and cut it off the branch.

[laughter]

Kelly: That's right.

Well I know that you have two kids and you've gone on quite a number of park vacations.

Naomi: I have a twelve-year old son and a six-year old daughter. I think the first thing that I do when we hike is, as I said, I let them lead and I lower my expectations [laughing] drastically.
Kelly: About what you're going to see and how much you're going to accomplish.
Naomi: Exactly. I think for us at least, less is more.
Kelly: What has been your twelve-year old son's favorite park experience?
Naomi: He really loves Zion. We went over Spring Break and the weather was perfect and he could hike and get to places, including waterfalls and Red Rock areas that in some ways are as stunning as the Grand Canyon. It wasn't the right time of year to hike The Narrows.
Kelly: What's The Narrows?
Naomi: The Narrows is a specific hike that is a box canyon and you basically are hiking with rock walls on either side of you and the water is at your feet. So you have to be happy to have wet feet and you have to do it at the right time of year because there can be flash floods. The rangers will let you know when it's OK to do it. So he set his mind now to go back to Zion.
Kelly: To go back to Zion and hike The Narrows.
Naomi: Right.
Kelly: What's the best time of year to do it?
Naomi: In the summer.
Kelly: In the summer. That's when there are no flash floods.
Naomi: Right.
Kelly: OK, well that's great. So I think you've given us some great tips and some great advice. I think to sum up you want to make sure the kids are prepared with information and physically and make sure the parents are also prepared to take those hikes as well.

You should just keep expectations reasonable and try to gear your vacation, your park experience to things that will appeal best to the age range of your children.

Naomi: Right and I think also the more time that you can spend in any one place, the better.
Kelly: Right. You definitely don't want to take a "If it's Tuesday this must be Belgium" approach to your National Park vacation.
Naomi: Exactly.
Kelly: Well that's great. Well that's all we have time for today. I've been talking with Naomi Black who's an editor here at Frommer's and is the editor of our new book "Frommer's National Parks with Kids", which is on sale now.

Join us next week for another conversation about all things travel. Naomi, thank you so much for joining us. It was a great conversation.

Naomi: Thank you so much Kelly.
Kelly: I'm Kelly Regan editorial director of the Frommer's Travel Guides and we'll talk again soon.

[music]

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