An Invaluable Partner: The Rocky Mountain Nature Association

Rocky Mountain Nature Association
1895 Fall River Rd.
Estes Park, CO 80517
National Park: Rocky Mountain
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Decades of planning, investment and hard work have gone into the experience a visitor receives at any national park.  Parks must maintain trails and roads, build visitor centers, develop education programs and much more.  All the while, the Park Service has the sacred duty of preserving its extraordinary natural resources, protecting all forms of life and ensuring the Earth’s health for generations to come.  Funding from the federal government is frequently insufficient to meet these lofty goals and many national parks are fortunate to have non-profit partners that provide assistance.  Their role and involvement varies by park, but without these support organizations, the National Park Service would not be able to provide the outstanding services and programming that visitors now enjoy.

One such organization is the Rocky Mountain Nature Association (RMNA), which aids Rocky Mountain National Park in spearheading development projects, providing environmental education and monitoring the Park’s resources.  I recently had the pleasure of joining RMNA on one of their Field Seminar offerings.  From fly fishing lessons to interactive workshops for children to bus tours of the area’s wildlife, RMNA provides a wide variety of high quality, engaging environmental education to all ages.

My group embarked on a half-day journey with ethnobotany expert Lynn Albers to discover how the area’s plants were utilized by native cultures.  Tribes, such as the Ute and Arapaho, found practical use for nearly every flower, shrub and tree that surrounded them in what is now Rocky Mountain National Park.  Ailments from indigestion to fevers could be remedied by employing a nuanced understanding of the healing capacities of the natural world.

Our day began with the group listening intently as Ms. Albers supplied us with a general history of native plant usage in the cozy seminar rooms at RMNA’s headquarters just minutes from the Park.  Once equipped with a basic knowledge of plant biology, native culture and the area’s plant diversity, we hopped on to the RMNA bus and head into the Park.  Ms. Albers led us on a series of short hikes where she would stop and talk about the historical, medicinal and cultural significance of the plants that surrounded us.  Our group could ask questions, see and feel the plants we learned about, and gain a holistic understanding of the natural world’s importance to human life.  After a short discussion back at RMNA headquarters, our group reflected on the day we had spent re-discovering our deep connections to nature.  We were lucky to be afforded the invaluable opportunity to spend a beautiful day exploring Rocky Mountain National Park with a local expert who cared deeply for its resources.

Taking a fun and educational class, like those offered through RMNA, is a great way to enrich your vacation in the national parks.  After exploring these wonderful places on your own, it can be fascinating to hear the science and history behind how they were created.  Why can’t trees grow across a third of Rocky Mountain National Park?  How does Old Faithful erupt with such amazing regularity at Yellowstone?  What is responsible for carving the eerie hoodoos and spires at Bryce Canyon National Park?  These are questions that, if answered, can turn a fun family vacation into a lifetime of inspiration and love for the outdoors.

If you find yourself planning a vacation to Rocky Mountain National Park, consider taking a class with the Rocky Mountain Nature Association’s Field Seminars program.  And while you enjoy the Park, be on the lookout for all the ways RMNA provides valuable assistance at Rocky Mountain.  With RMNA running the visitor center bookstores, providing the Park with volunteers and leading tours up Trail Ridge Road, it will be hard to travel very far without benefiting from their contributions.  To learn more about the organization, please visit their website here. They, and their counterparts in other parks, are truly an invaluable partner to our Nation’s goals in conservation.

Posted in Activity, Local Businesses, Park, Review, Rocky Mountain, Summer Park Tour

Poppy’s and Mama Rose’s

Poppy's and Mama Rose's
342 East Elkhorn Ave.
Estes Park, CO 80517
National Park: Rocky Mountain
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On an active family vacation in the national parks, one of the last things you’ll want to do is cook. While making dinner together can be an excellent way to sit back and enjoy the evening campfire, it takes time and energy that, after a long day on the trails, you simply won’t have. But have no fear- Estes Park, a small and beautiful resort town, sits directly outside Rocky Mountain and offers a wide array of places to be served a great meal.

Two noteworthy options lie in the heart of the quaint downtown area: Poppy’s and Mama Rose’s. Situated across from each other, both restaurants are owned by locals Rob and Julie Pieper. To the north, the town’s bustling main street is teeming with tourists from around the world, perusing local artistry, homemade candies and the latest outdoor gear. Facing south, the Big Thompson River runs between a peaceful riverwalk and a hillside left entirely undeveloped by the town. With plenty of outdoor seating, you can experience either of these dueling realities while enjoying top notch food served by an extraordinarily friendly staff.

Poppy’s serves a variety of savory sandwiches and selections from the grill but you can’t leave the restaurant without trying one of their artisan pizzas. You can either pick one of their internationally inspired pizza offerings or tailor one to your specific preferences, choosing from 5 distinct sauces and a laundry of toppings. Luckily for large families, if everyone can’t agree on a single idea, each person can get their own personal pizza. Paired with a trip to Poppy’s salad bar, you’re sure to find all the food you may be missing from home. With a relaxing atmosphere that is always welcoming, Poppy’s has been a staple destination for my family for nearly a decade.

Mama Rose’s, just a stone’s throw away, offers a healthy balance of classic Italian dishes and unique creations. From chicken parmesan to polenta puttanesca, Mama Rose’s can both introduce you to a new culinary delight or deliver some finely prepared comfort food. The Restaurant fits well for a variety of occasions but I recommend choosing Mama Rose’s as final dinner location, when you can order a bottle of wine, enjoy their many fine desserts and reflect on your trip as you watch the sunset gleam off the Big Thompson River.

Both restaurants make you feel right at home, which will be much appreciated after time on the road. Furthermore, the Piepers are members of the Estes Park community, dedicated to preserving the area’s natural beauty and unique charm. It is an ethic that parallels that of the Park Service and ensures future generations will enjoy these places just as we do today. Check out Poppy’s menu here and Mama Rose’s dishes here. Be sure to drop by while you’re in Estes Park for a night of great food!

In general, it’s a good idea to make your own breakfast and lunch while out hiking in the Park but plan to come back to town for an evening meal. Often, time dedicated to cooking dinner is better spent reminiscing about the day’s highlights over a meal downtown. There are many excellent restaurants in Estes Park and it shows you that there is no need to sacrifice fine dining when traveling in the great outdoors.

Posted in Activity, Local Businesses, Park, Review, Rocky Mountain, Summer Park Tour

Grand Teton Lodge Company

Grand Teton Lodge Co
100 Jackson Lake Lodge
Moran, WY 83013
National Park: Grand Teton
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The Grand Teton Lodge Company is a private business that operates as a concessionaire within the Park.  The Lodge Company operates everything from multiple campgrounds to restaurants to a variety of lodging facilities. Needless to say, if you visit Grand Teton National Park, you’ll hear their name more than once.

Their most notable property is the Jackson Lake Lodge.  Located along the eastern shores of its namesake, the Lodge provides visitors with upscale accommodations and fine dining.  The view from the lobby and outdoor porch are impeccable- possibly the best in the Park.  Fires crackle and the area provides an excellent place to find a comfortable couch, relax with a book and soak in the wonderful scenic beauty of the Tetons.

Another notable Grand Teton Lodge Company holding is the Jenny Lake Lodge which offers visitors quaint cottages nestled in the forest at the base of the Teton range.  Far from the main road, travelers can find peace and quiet while still having access to great food and the privacy of their own log cabin.

If you venture into Jackson Lake Lodge’s primary restaurant, the Mural Room, you’ll find yourself sandwiched between 20 foot long paintings of the West and a wall of glass that offers an unencumbered panorama of the Teton peaks.  Though many Americans would never know, some of our country’s highest quality restaurants and luxurious hotels are operated within of our national parks.  This allows less-adventurous travelers or visitors who just want some TLC to find spots that fit their needs as well.

These services are a great way for visitors uninterested in camping or huddling over a camp stove to still enjoy the majesty of Grand Teton National Park.  Because the Grand Teton Lodge Company is licensed to operate within the Park, you don’t have to waste time driving back and forth between local communities.  These places put you in heart of the Teton wilderness and give you the resources to truly enjoy your vacation.

Posted in Activity, Grand Teton, Grand Teton, Local Businesses, Park, Review, Summer Park Tour

Need a Kick? Try Some Cowboy Coffee!

Cowboy Coffee Co
125 N. Cache St.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming 83001
National Park: Grand Teton
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While on your vacation at Grand Teton National Park, you’re going to need the occasional pick-me-up. Cowboy Coffee Co. provides an excellent spot to grab a cup of espresso, get wi-fi access and relax in Jackson Hole. The cafe, opened this year, is located on the main strip downtown and is designed with an exciting mix of contemporary and rustic themes that typifies the modern Western style.

Cowboy Coffee has long been a local coffee roaster but just now has the company opened a retail outlet to satisfy the caffeine needs of visitors and locals alike. Pete MacIlwaine and Rob Ottaway, the cafe’s owners, are extraordinarily personable and are happy to offer insider tips and recommendations on the best places to see in Jackson Hole.

If traveling to the national parks is a new experience for you, it’s a good idea to maintain some of the routines you keep at home while on vacation. Those continuities will allow you to relax and truly enjoy the wild new experiences that will be coming your way. For many, the tradition of having a morning cup of coffee can provide this anchor.

Cowboy Coffee opens earlier than you wake up, so if you’re staying in Jackson, plan to grab a cup of coffee on your way in to the Park to stay up for your daybreak wildlife viewing. It’s a taste of local flavor that is not to be missed.

You can check out Cowboy Coffee’s website at and be sure to visit their cafe at 125 N Cache St., across from the public park just as you enter Jackson Hole from Grand Teton National Park!

Posted in Activity, Grand Teton, Grand Teton, Local Businesses, Park, Review, Summer Park Tour

An Overnight Trip with Barker-Ewing Rafting!

Barker-Ewing Rafting
945 West Broadway
Jackson Hole, WY 83001
National Park: Grand Teton
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I just had the pleasure of embarking on an overnight scenic and whitewater rafting combination trip with Barker-Ewing Rafting! Founded in 1963, Barker-Ewing has been giving visitors the opportunity to venture down the Snake River for nearly 50 years. Experience is important when picking a rafting outfitter and the company provides skilled and engaging guides that help you explore the Teton wilderness from the water.

Our trip began in the late afternoon at the Barker-Ewing headquarters right in downtown Jackson. After being handed our fleece and wetsuit (Snake River whitewater isn’t particularly warm in June!), we took a quick bus ride to the set-in point just south of town. Then, all we had to do was sit back and relax as our group of 8 travelers meandered down miles of scenic float water while our guide, John, explained the unique geology and animals we encountered. Right off the bat, we spotted multiple bald eagles and their nests!


As the day begins to wind down, you stop by the side of the river at Barker-Ewing’s private backcountry camp, only accessible by boat. It’s here that you get the true backwoods experience without having to “rough” it. Before we arrived, our cook, Hillary, had nearly finished preparing our delicious meal of steak, salad, corn on the cob, cornbread and calico beans. We’d barely finished when Hillary brought out peach cobbler for desert and announced she was preparing a fire so we could cook our smores. Needless to say, the crew does not let you go hungry. After being mesmerized by a moose wandering through camp, our group sat around the campfire talking and joking for hours. Finally, we head to bed in our forest-nestled cabins, all outfitted with lanterns, rustic beds and thick sleeping bags. It’s hard not to fall asleep to the soothing sounds of their nearby creek.

The next morning you’ll be treated to some more extraordinary cooking for breakfast before embarking on a series of blood-pumping rapids that carve through the Snake River Canyon. We each got paddles and listened intently to John as we all worked to navigate the class III whitewater. Even though it’s clear the water has only recently been released from its glacial origin high up in the peaks, Barker-Ewing’s gear keeps you warm and comfortable no matter how much water you take on. There’s even a period of flat water where you can take a dip in the River, which, regardless of the season, I highly recommend!

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. After docking and changing into a dry set of clothes, we were taken back to the office to return our gear and say goodbye to the great new friends we had so quickly made.

Barker-Ewing offers more than just the opportunity to see and experience the Snake River. They connect you with other adventurous travelers who are passionate about seeing our country’s wild places. While you can take a sunrise, sunset or midday rafting trip with this company, I think the overnight combination of scenic and whitewater offers visitors an entirely unique experience. It would be perfect for a family in the middle of their vacation, where a nice balance of social interaction and privacy can re-invigorate the excitement and energy of traveling outdoors.

To learn more about Barker-Ewing and the excellent trips they offer, visit their website at They are a legendary local business that offers trips which boast an impressive combination of fun and professionalism. They’ll be happy to talk to you about your trip any time of the year!


Posted in Activity, Grand Teton, Grand Teton, Local Businesses, Park, Review, Summer Park Tour

Eco Tour Adventures at Grand Teton!

Eco Tour Adventures
400 Powderhorn Lane
Jackson, WY 83002
National Park: Grand Teton
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Plan My Parks has finally arrived at Grand Teton National Park and has certainly started things off right.  I joined up with Taylor Phillips at Eco Tour Adventures for a full day wildlife tour of the Park.  Taylor knows the best places to see all the unique wildlife that calls the Tetons home.  Bison, elk, many moose, a mother black bear with 2 tiny cubs, pronghorn antelope and an osprey are just a few of the animals our group had the opportunity to see!

Taylor is now in his 5th year of wildlife touring and it serves as an excellent way to see Grand Teton.  All you need to do is sit back with a cup of coffee and let your guide bring you to the area’s wildlife hotspots.  The Grand Teton/Yellowstone area is one of the most biologically intact areas of our country and is an amazing place to spot some of America’s iconic, yet rare, creatures.  Additionally, as you drive around seeing the Park’s gorgeous scenery, Taylor gives you an interesting mix of cultural and natural history of the area.  You can find out more about Taylor and Eco Tour Adventures at

In general, it’s a great idea to plan an activity like this first so you can talk with a local guide and get tips on how to best enjoy the rest of your time in the park.

Here are some photos of our day touring the Tetons:

And now for some professional photos taken by Taylor on some of his tours:

Posted in Activity, Grand Teton, Grand Teton, Local Businesses, Park, Review, Summer Park Tour