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Discriminating Explorer: Enjoy Western National Parks With Tips From National Park Friends Groups

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Be a discriminating explorer in the national parks with these ideas from four great national park friends groups. Logan Pass goats photo by Kurt Repanshek.

August is on the run, but that doesn't mean the time to get the most out of your favorite national park in the western part of the country has passed by. Take the following tips from friends groups in Big Bend, Glacier, Grand Teton, and Yellowstone national parks to heart and you'll create years of memories.

These friends groups already have shared some of their insider tips with Traveler readers throughout the summer, but they've held back some of their best ideas for last. Whether you can squeeze in one more visit to the parks this year, or have to wait until 2013, the following discriminating ideas will not disappoint.

Discriminating Big Bend, From Friends Of Big Bend National Park

Ever wonder what is on the other side of the mountain? Get a peek by taking the "Lost" Lost Mine Trail. When you reach the peak generally considered to be the end of the Lost Mine Trail, keep going!

Although the two rock formations at the terminus of the Lost Mine Trail are imposing from any angle, they each look quite different from the other side. There are certain points along the route in which the variations in color of the rocks are stunning. There is no official trail beyond the Lost Mine Trail, so consult a ranger to determine your route, and be ready to pick your way a bit.

The end of this adventure finds you perched atop a narrow spine of rock reminiscent of the backbone of a dinosaur. It is from this vantage point that you will observe the “back side” of the familiar rock formations that characterize the Lost Mine Trail and make it one of the most scenic venues in the park.

Discriminating Glacier, From Glacier National Park Fund

Though more than 1 million acres, Glacier National Park turns into a clutch of small communities at day’s end. Day trippers head out of the gates, leaving behind a small collection of lodges and motels dotting the park’s landscape—Lake McDonald Lodge, Many Glacier Hotel, Rising Sun and Swift Current motor inns.

The adventurous, though, book a night or two at either the Sperry or Granite chalets. A century ago these rock-and-timber lodges catered to visitors who reached the park by train, then rode horseback across its wonders, stopping overnight at the chalets.

Today they are perfect backcountry basecamps for you to explore Glacier’s high country, comfortable knowing you’ll spend the night under a roof with newfound friends who share your passion for Glacier.

Discriminating Grand Teton, From The Grand Teton National Park Foundation

The Jenny Lake area not only is one of incredible beauty, set amid nodding pines just below the three Tetons, but it is also one of the park’s most peaceful spots.

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It doesn't get much better than staying at Jenny Lake Lodge. David and Kay Scott photo.

Historic Jenny Lake Lodge with its log guest cabins long has been one of the most inviting areas for vacationing inside Grand Teton.

The lodge sits across from String Lake, making hikes and beautiful lake views literally a five-minute stroll from your cabin. Meals here are sumptuous, designed as part of the Jenny Lake experience.

By day the dining room’s windows frame “the Grand,” while come evening the river-rock fireplace’s flickering flames dance on the log walls. Great activities are just outside your cabin’s door, too—horseback riding, picnicking, hiking, and boating. No wonder many people return year after year to the quaint and charming lodge to unplug and unwind.

Discriminating Yellowstone, From The Yellowstone Park Fund

Step into the past with a tour aboard one of Yellowstone’s historic “Yellow Buses,” cousins to Glacier National Park’s Red Jammers. These vehicles served the park from the 1930s through the ‘60s. They were refurbished to meet modern safety standards and today are used by Xanterra Parks & Resorts to offer opportunities for guided exploration of the park.

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Relax and enjoy Yellowstone while riding the "Yellow Bus." Kurt Repanshek photo.

The top rolls back to offer open-air touring on warmer days, and the windows roll down too, making them perfect for road-side wildlife photo ops. And the drivers are great park interpreters!

Once the ride is over, head over to picturesque Lake Hotel for dinner and drinks. Before dinner, enjoy the string quartet that often performs in the hotel’s Sun Room, just off the dining room. Finally, while summer might be popular due to school vacations, fall is the best season in Yellowstone, thanks to cool weather, colorful forests, and highly visible wildlife.

Thanks To the Friends

Four great parks, four great itineraries for making the most out of your visit. Not only can you thank Friends of Big Bend National Park, the Glacier Fund, the Grand Teton National Park Foundation, and the Yellowstone Park Fund for these ideas, but thank them also for working so hard in behalf of the national parks...and in your behalf for funding projects as diverse as wildlife research, trail and campground maintenance, and interpretive programs so your trip to the parks is particularly memorable.


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Sperry Chalet is a gem in the rough. My wife and I have been guests 3 times and worked for one season. When we were working a guest asked " How does it feel to work in paradise" and then remarked " the question anwers itself". If you desire to visit reservations must be made as early as possible, usually in October. I would suggest at least 2 nights and 3 is better so that day trips can be made to Sperry Glacier and Gunsight Pass. Both are about 8 miles round trip.

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