Photo: Horseback riders crossing grassy area

Families saddle up for a horseback ride through Yellowstone's vast Absaroka Range.

Photograph by Dennis Coello, Austin-Lehman Adventures

By Kim Brown Seely

The average family spends six hours in Yellowstone National Park—all of them in the car. But Austin-Lehman Adventures avoids the pavement and heads right into the Rockies via foot, bike, raft, and saddle. “We take pride in our small group size,” says director Dan Austin. “It’s just six days, but you get to see a whole lot of country.”

The outfitter’s Cowboys, Canyons, and Campfires Family Adventure definitely isn’t for slackers. On day one, hike along Hyalite Creek to Arch Falls, then tackle a downhill canyon bike ride to Gallatin Valley. You’ll work up an appetite for herb-crusted elk tenderloin and wild game meatloaf at the riverfront 320 Guest Ranch, where you’ll bed down in a cozy log cabin, your authentic cowboy digs for the first half of the trip. A trek through wildflower meadows and the Spanish Peaks fills day two, where you’ll stop for a lakeside picnic and killer mountain views from Beehive Basin. Next stop: the geysers of Yellowstone, followed by sunrise grizzly- and wolf-spotting in Lamar Valley, rafting down Class III Yellowstone River rapids, and biking through Paradise Valley. The trip winds down with a horseback ride into the Absaroka Range and a soak in the Chico natural hot springs.

Where to Play

Old Faithful is impressive, but don’t overlook Yellowstone’s other geysers (there are more than 300!) and geological wonders: the bubbling mud of Fountain Paint Pot, electric blue Leather Pool, and hundreds of steaming fumaroles. Hike the walkways over this otherworldly terrain, then visit the shore of Yellowstone Lake and hike to the rim of the park’s 10,000-year-old Grand Canyon to see massive 100- and 300-foot (30- and 90-meter) falls. Watch out for bison along the way—massive herds get so close you can look right into their big black eyes.

At Day's End

“It’s all about balance,” says Austin. “You need time together as a family, but also time just for kids as kids and parents as parents.” Take a family hike, then send little ones off to earn their official Yellowstone Junior Ranger patch while you continue on a more challenging trail. After hours, unwind with a glass of red wine and savor your fresh-smoked rainbow trout in the dining room at Chico Hot Springs Resort and Day Spa while kids hang at a poolside pizza party.

Details

6 days, June-August; $1,998 per adult, $1,598 per child; www.austinlehman.com

Based on articles from National Geographic Adventure and updated by Greer Schott

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