As voted by Trekaroo families, here are the Reviews of the Day from back in the day to today.
I'm going to let you in on a little secret - but shhhh! - part of the splendor of this park is that it is NOT Yellowstone or one of the Mighty Five Utah Parks or the Grand Canyon. It's small-ish and quiet and awesome. Two days in the park is optimal to see all there is to see, do some hiking, and NOT burn out.
When to Go
Be warned, the South Unit is situated in quiet and quaint Medora -- with a "resting" population of around 100 that booms in the short Dakota summer to thousands of visitors per day. If you go in early May or late August, you can expect some things like pools, the Family Fun Center, stagecoach/buggy rides and even some other businesses to be closed for the season.
In late August the crowd in town and in the park changes from frolicking families to the senior crowd and RVers.
The South Unit
In my humble opinion, the South Units' 36 mile loop should be driven twice - at least - once in the morning, and once at sunset. You'll see prairie dog towns, wild horses, and bison without much effort. The mule deer are also rather plentiful in this part of the park.
There are few "wildlife jams" and NO bear jams, as there simply aren't any to be seen! There may be a car or two pulled over, but you'll be on your way in no time.
Make sure to note the small stuff -- buffalo patties, prickly pear cacti, and the prairie dog holes in the middle of the pavement. Kids LOVE that stuff!
Wind Canyon was a manageable hike for preschoolers and a short but gratifying climb for the whole family. There are some natural chutes and ladders to see -- but remind the family to stay on the path and be good park stewards! Sadly, evidence of graffiti is fairly abundant.
The North Unit
The North Unit exists in the middle of nowhere and even the Visitor's Center is merely a trailer featuring the NPS shield and a fee station. This unit is separated by about an hour drive from the South Unit in Medora. They still have all the Jr. Ranger fun and information inside, but there is no town or amenities at all, so plan accordingly with gas and food! (There IS the Juniper Campground inside the gate a few miles, where you could at least water up.)
This unit is NOT a loop -- it's 14 miles in and then 14 miles out. The best hiking is the Little Mo Trail (along the river) and the Buckhorn Trail area. The Longhorns can be found (if you're lucky) in the first few miles of the drive. We needed to see them to get our Bingo for the Jr. Ranger badge and we were glad we hiked all over Buckhorn, BUT driving to the very end got a tad monotonous for the kids. The road just sort of dies out in a vista. The change in landscape on top of the buttes is worth venturing out for though -- it's dramatic in the North Unit for sure.
Tip: Hit up the wildlife in the South and plan to hike around the North.
Tip: In order to get a blackout bingo in your Jr. Ranger booklet, you'll need to visit BOTH units.
The campsites here are GORGEOUS and are also intelligently designed as pull-through mostly, so if you're RVing, no fear!!
Lodging in Medora is adjacent to the South Unit Visitor's Center and is an easy walk from all the hotels and motels if you do not want to drive.
Admission was $20/car good for 7 days at ANY of the park components from the time of purchase. Watch for free admission days system-wide!
Painted Canyon is another popular park Visitor's Center, found slightly east on I-94 and the only access there to the park is by trail.
The Elkhorn Ranch is a quasi-unit that is a lengthy and reportedly somewhat rugged roadtrip between the North and South units. We did not venture out to see the sparse remnants of the structure there.
This is a top choice in our family for National Park fun. It's not busy and overly advertised like the famous Western parks and you can still see wildlife in a mostly natural setting. Hopefully it will not ever turn into Yellowstone!
We took the ferry from Liberty State Park on the NJ side. It makes a circuit route from the park, to Ellis Island, to Liberty Island, back to the park. It was very easy to park and board here at the park. You will need to pass through airport type security checks prior to boarding the ferry.
We purchased tickets same day for pedestal access. If you wish to climb to the crown it will take advanced planning as they only allow a limited number up per day. When we looked in mid-August, tickets were sold out until mid November.
Once entering for your climb, you will pass through another airport like security check. There are no food or drinks allowed, nor are backpacks, strollers, or large items of any kind. There are lockers prior to entering security if you need to check items. I was permitted to carry my shoulder purse with me.
In the pedestal there is a small museum which shows some of the refurbishing process in 1986 and has some great artifacts and information on display. We passed this on the way up but were able to go back to it when we descended.
The view from the pedestal is pretty great, as is knowing you are at the feet of Lady Liberty herself. This was my first time climbing the statue at all and I had goose bumps when I was there thinking about all this statue represents to our country, a symbol of freedom and the American dream.
This has been on my 10 year old daughter's must do list for a few years already. She was blown away when she finally got up close to the Statue of Liberty and realized how large the statue is in person. She told me this tops her list for summer experiences and we've been up to a lot of fun things this summer!
There is a cafe on the island if you'd like to grab a bite to eat. There is a ranger tour/talk available but we did not do this.
This is one of things that should be on every American's must do travel list. Everyone should experience it. I do believe, however, it is best shared with kids old enough to walk, climb stairs, and understand the significance of where they are. My kids are age 10, 12, 13 and it seemed to be a great age for them to experience it.
The Paris Ice Cave is located up a dirt road about 10 miles west of Paris, Idaho. There is signage leading to the ice cave as you drive. The road wasn't too bad but driving over 30mph wasn't really an option in our minivan. It was a pretty drive in the middle of August though. I've heard this cave is not really accessible unless it's late spring or summer. They get a lot of snow in this area.
The cave is undeveloped but there is a US Forest Service sign at the entrance. I don't think this cave gets much traffic (certainly not like Minnetonka Cave) and it was fun to explore as a family. There are small plank bridges to cross at the beginning of the cave. The cave actually opens up to the sky above after that. Surprisingly, there was SNOW in that room, even though it was open to the elements and it was at least 75 degrees outside. It was shaded though, so I guess that's why there was still snow at the end of the summer.
You may think that's the end of the cave but there is actually one more room and it's fairly hidden. You have to go to the back of the room and crawl under a space that's about 2 1/2 feet high to find another room. The temperature dropped dramatically in this room and there was ice in it! It was as cold as a fridge.
Take a jacket and a flashlight for this adventure. It takes only a short while to explore this small cave. It's a free, fun family activity. I wouldn't necessarily go out of my way just to see it, but if you're in the Bear Lake area, I would recommend this as something new and fun to do!
I brought my children ages 16, 13, 11 and 3 year old twin boys.
I took my first visit to this museum this summer while in Philadelphia for a day trip. The location is very easy to get to. I parked in a garage nearby using Parking Panda and paid only $11 whereas parking in the museum's garage would have cost me $22, just something to consider.
I also used my science center membership (to a museum in Maryland) to get general admission for free. I chose to pay extra to let my older kids visit the Pixar Exhibit and I paid extra for all six of us to see the Egypt exhibit. Obviously, this all added up but using the membership did save quite a bit of money and I think you can still find hours worth of fun without paying for those extra exhibits if you are on a budget.
Because of the logistics of my day we chose to eat in the restaurant. My parents were with us but had to go home after lunch and it was nice that they could eat there with us without needing to pay for admission to the museum - the entrance to the restaurant is before the admission desk once you enter. The food was very good. Drink refills are free. It was very expensive but comparable to the Smithsonian Museum cafeterias. My salad was good but pre-made, as were all the sandwiches. My kids had burgers/fries and all really liked it. Friendly staff. I did see at least two people eating at tables in there with a packed lunch and I saw several families eating packed lunches on the tables inside the main admissions area (where there is a little snack bar) so bringing in your own food seems to be no problem.
My crew was entertained in the exhibits for well over three hours. My big kids LOVED the Pixar exhibit.
One unfortunate things is that there were SO MANY camp children there during our visit. They were very loud and not particularly controlled. The difference in a space WITH campers and WITHOUT campers was astonishing. Luckily, we did end up having lots of no-screaming time in all the exhibits so it all worked out. I think if you came not in the middle of the day in the summer it might not be such a big deal.
My littles most enjoyed climbing through the giant heart, playing on the dance floor that lit up, playing in the optical illusions exhibit, the TRAIN exhibit (oh they loved that so much), the space exhibit where you build your own rover out of K'nex, the stream exhibit where you can create little dams in the water, and the kids room with all kinds of water tables and magnets and things to climb. One thing about the kids room is that there is no door so littles can escape and I didn't see any aprons to help protect kids during water play. But all the exhibits worked and my boys were totally entertained until I dragged them away! The art in there is appealing too, it's a fun space to be in.
ALL my children loved the brain exhibit where you could climb around in this giant...climber thing that looks like neurons. There are platforms surrounded by wire caging and all five of my children had so much fun climbing around (once the screaming campers had vacated ;)
We all liked the Egypt exhibit, there are some fun interactive pieces in there.
All in all, this was a wonderful place to visit. We learned a lot, there were a lot of hands-on activities for all of my children. I was glad that my littlest boys weren't much younger, though, because it's definitely geared towards the older patron.
I would definitely come back.
This hotel is a fantastic option if you are flying out of the Portland Airport. They offer a free airport shuttle and long-term parking. My family stayed here before a week-long trip. We left our car at the hotel while we were gone. It was very quick and easy getting a shuttle ride to and from the airport.
The breakfast buffet includes hot and cold items. And they offer pre-packaged to-go breakfast bags for those leaving before breakfast begins.
One bummer is that the pool is an outdoor pool, so the enjoyment of using it is weather dependent.
The hotel staff were friendly and helpful.
We will definitely stay here again if we fly out of Portland.