One of the best ways to turn a park vacation into an unforgettable experience is to join an educational program. There are no finals in these courses; they’re just a relaxed, informative way to spend time outdoors.
Yellowstone Forever [$$$], P.O. Box 117, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190 (tel. 406/848-2400; www.yellowstone.org), formerly the Yellowstone Association Institute, operates at the historic Lamar Buffalo Ranch, in the northeast part of the park, and at other locations in the vicinity. It typically offers several hundred courses a year, covering everything from winter wildlife tracking to wilderness medicine to the history of fur trappers on the plateau. Prices are reasonable (around $125–$145 per day for tuition), and some classes are specifically targeted to families and youngsters. To make the most of a class, you’ll want to stay at the ranch or the Gardiner Yellowstone Overlook Field Campus, where shared cabins are available for $37 to $40 a night per student. Customizable hiking, geology, and wildlife-watching private tours with an experienced naturalist run about $610 per day for groups of up to five people, including transportation. The institute has also teamed with Xanterra Parks & Resorts to offer 4- to 5-night Lodging & Learning packages, which include days spent exploring trails with guides coupled with nights at comfortable lodgings throughout the park. Rates range from about $300 to $500 per person per day and include most meals and in-park transportation.
The Teton Science Schools [$$], 700 Coyote Canyon Dr., Jackson, WY 83011 (tel. 307/733-1313; www.tetonscience.org), is a venerable institution that offers summer and winter programs. Classes review the ecology, geology, and wildlife of the park, and there are photography and tracking workshops as well. Classes cater to different age groups, and the emphasis is on experiential, hands-on learning. College credit is available.
The Teton Science Schools’ Wildlife Expeditions include trips in open-roof vans, on rafts, in sleighs, and by foot. These tours bring visitors closer to wildlife than they’re likely to get on their own. Wildlife Expeditions offers trips ranging from a half-day sunset safari ($139) to weeklong trips through the park, usually with lodging in park hotels (about $500 per day).
In addition, AdventureBus, 375 S. Main St., No. 240, Moab, UT 84532 (tel. 888/737-5263; www.adventurebus.com), offers trips on its customized buses with an emphasis on outdoor adventures in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. The rate is about $1,000 per person for a weeklong trip. Austin Adventures, P.O. Box 81025, Billings, MT 59108-1025 (tel. 800/575-1540; www.austinadventures.com), offers guided multiday tours that include biking, horseback riding, hiking, and rafting in and around Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Six-day trips start around $2,700 per person. Backroads, 801 Cedar St., Berkeley, CA 94710 (tel. 800/462-2848 or 510/527-1555; www.backroads.com), offers a variety of guided multiday trips involving horseback riding, hiking, wildlife safaris, and rafting in and around Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. The rate is about $4,000 to $5,800 per person for 6-day trips staying in park lodges. The World Outdoors, 2840 Wilderness Place, Ste. D, Boulder, CO 80301 (tel. 800/488-8483 or 303/413-0946; www.theworldoutdoors.com), runs hiking and multisport tours (biking, hiking, rock climbing, and rafting) that incorporate camping and stays in park lodges in both parks as well. Rates start at about $2,200 per person for 6 days. And Escape Adventures, 10575 Discovery Dr., Las Vegas, NV 89135 (tel. 800/596-2953 or 702/596-2953; www.escapeadventures.com), offers 6-day road cycling/mountain biking tours of Grand Teton that also include rock climbing, rafting, and hiking. The rate is about $2,000 per person (camping) to $3,000 per person (park lodgings).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.