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.
The Yellowstone Association Institute, P.O. Box 117, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190 (tel. 406/848-2400; www.yellowstoneassociation.org/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. The courses, some of which are offered for college credit, run from 1 to 7 days, with forays into the field and lectures and demonstrations at the institute's cozy quarters. The classes are a study in camaraderie as well as natural history, with participants sharing meals and stories in the common kitchen. Prices are reasonable (around $125 a 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 itself, where simple, comfortable cabins are available for $30 a night per student. Customizable 1-day hiking and wildlife-watching private tours with an experienced naturalist run about $500 per day for groups of up to five people, including transportation. The institute has also teamed with Xanterra Parks & Resorts to offer 3- to 5-night Lodging & Learning packages, which include days spent exploring trails with guides coupled with nights at comfortable lodgings throughout the park. Rates are about $250 per person per day and include breakfast, a box lunch, and in-park transportation; contact Xanterra Parks & Resorts (tel. 866/439-7375; www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com).
The Teton Science Schools, 700 Coyote Canyon Dr., Jackson, WY 83011 (tel. 307/733-1313; www.tetonscience.org), is a 30-year-old institution that offers summer and winter programs for students and adults. 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 (tel. 877/406-6626 or 307/733-1313) 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 ($125) to weeklong trips through the park, usually lodging in park hotels. Adult seminars usually run about $150 to $200 per day, but more inclusive ones cost upwards of $500 per day.
Adventure Trips & Guided Tours
In addition, AdventureBus, 375 S. Main St., No. 240, Moab, UT 84532 (tel. 888/737-5263 or 909/633-7225; www.adventurebus.com), offers trips on its customized buses with an emphasis on outdoor adventures, including multisport and mountain biking tours in the Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. The rate is about $1,000 per person for a weeklong trip. Austin-Lehman Adventures, P.O. Box 81025, Billings, MT 59108-1025 (tel. 800/575-1540; www.austinlehman.com), offers guided multiday mountain biking, hiking, and combination tours in and around Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Six-night trips start around $2,300 per person. Backroads, 801 Cedar St., Berkeley, CA 94710-1800 (tel. 800/462-2848 or 510/527-1555; www.backroads.com), offers a variety of guided multiday road biking, mountain biking, and hiking in and around Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. The rate is about $2,000 per person (camping) to $3,000 per person (park lodgings) for 6 days. The World Outdoors, 2840 Wilderness Place, Ste. D, Boulder, CO 80301 (tel. 800/488-8483 or 303/413-0946; www.theworldoutdoors.com), offers a variety of trips, including multisport adventures that include hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and rafting in and around Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Rates range from $1,700 to $2,700 per person for 6 days. Escape Adventures, 8221 W. Charleston St., No. 101, Las Vegas, NV 89117 (tel. 800/596-2953 or 702/596-2953; www.escapeadventures.com), offers 6-day guided road-biking tours of the parks. The rate is about $1,500 per person (camping) to $2,300 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.