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Greater Yellowstone: Heart of the Continent

Program No. 2809RJ
Take a deeper look at what makes Yellowstone and Teton National Parks true national treasures as you visit geological wonders, enjoy expert lectures and learn the region’s unique story.

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At a Glance

Tribal legends, tales of mountain men and accounts of early explorers described a land unlike any other on earth — called "the heart of the continent, where hidden pulses can be seen and felt to beat." At the core of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is Yellowstone and Teton National Parks. On this adventure, we focus on aspects of the parks that make them great — history, geology, wildlife and thermal features.
Activity Level
Keep the Pace
I like to spend much of the day exploring. Whether walking through historic neighborhoods at a moderate pace or out and about on a coach, I prefer to keep my days full. Stairs don’t bother me, and I love to keep up with the group.
Small Group
Small Group
Love to learn and explore in a small-group setting? These adventures offer small, personal experiences with groups of 13 to 24 participants.

Best of all, you’ll…

  • Take a Snake River scenic float trip with exquisite views of the Teton Mountain Range and wildlife.
  • Learn about fisheries and current volcanic activity happening beneath the waters of Yellowstone Lake, so large it often creates its own weather.
  • Discover how cataclysmic volcanic eruptions laid the foundation for the largest concentration of geysers, hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles in the world.
Visit the Road Scholar Bookshop
You can find many of the books we recommend at the Road Scholar store on bookshop.org, a website that supports local bookstores.
A Ranger's Guide to Yellowstone Day Hikes
by Roger Anderson and Carol Shively Anderson
Consider wildlife etiquette and tips for hiking in bear country then choose trails by area, difficulty and distance; appreciate highlights and naturalist notes while on the trail.
Interpreting the Landscape: Recent and Ongoing Geology of Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks
by John M. Good and Kenneth L. Pierce
Text, photography and graphics explain how both parks were formed - the product of volcanic eruptions, profound glaciation and earth movements. The authors describe 'how processes originating half way to the earth's center seem to be the primary force which created volcanic fires, glacial ice and the mountain ranges of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.'
Decade of the Wolf, revised and updated edition: Returning the Wild to Yellowstone
by Douglas W. Smith and Gary Ferguson
Research and storytelling meld to document wolf recovery in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Wolf biologist, Smith, and nature writer, Ferguson, provide an inside look at the Yellowstone Wolf Recovery Project ten years after the controversial decision was made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to reintroduce wolves into the park. Smith, wolf project leader who has worked with the Yellowstone Wolf Project since its inception, has studied wolves for 25 years. Ferguson, whose writing largely arises from intimate experiences, followed through the seasons, the first 14 wolves released into Yellowstone National Park. Their collaboration offers hard facts and 'impressionistic portraits of individual wolves that reveal their epic lives full of struggle and conquest.' Here is the history of the return of the top predator to Yellowstone.
Yellowstone Wolves in the Wild
by James Halfpenny
Color photographs of wolves in the wild meld with current studies, biology, reintroduction, history of packs, behavior, impacts on the ecosystem and eye-witness reports from scientists and wolf watchers. Here is the HOW and WHY of returning this key predator to Yellowstone. Appendices detail the histories and social status of original packs and pack members, maps and more.
For Everything There Is A Season: The Sequence of Natural Events In The Grand Teton- Yellowstone Area.
by Frank C. Craighead
Dr. Craighead describes and illustrates the hidden patterns he sees in the natural world. For naturalists, this book is a remarkable chronicle of the interrelationships between all living things. For anyone interested in the Teton-Yellowstone area and the entire Northern Rockies, this book opens the door to greater understanding of the natural cycles of one of America's last wild places.
The Sibley Guide to Birds
by David Allen Sibley
Sibley, a talented painter, offers this wonderful, data-packed color guide with range maps and detailed descriptions of songs and calls. This book is perfect for field trips with short walks and may be too heavy for some to take to the field in which case it can await back in the car.
Empire of Shadows: The Epic Story of Yellowstone National Park
by George Black
Consider the history of the exploration of Yellowstone National Park through this "historical account of the origins of America's majestic national landmark." The author's well-documented history is a realistic look at people and political and economic factors; his book is sectioned into Pathfinders, Civilizers, Soldiers, Explorers and Tourists. "He casts Yellowstone's creation as the culmination of three interwoven strands of history - the passion for exploration, the violence of the Indian Wars and the 'civilizing' of the frontier and charts its course through the lives of those who sought to lay bare its mysteries."
Mountains and Plains, The Ecology of Wyoming Landscapes
by Dennis H. Knight
Discover landscape ecology of Wyoming through maps, photographs, text and line drawings.
Windows into the Earth: The Geologic Story of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks
by Robert B. Smith and Lee J. Siegel
Find out about the forces that shaped and continue to shape the Greater Yellowstone-Teton region. Illustrations and driving tours of both parks help visitors enjoy and understand the Earth's creative forces in this wondrous region.
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9 days
8 nights
23 meals
8 B 7 L 8 D
Check-in, Program Registration, Welcome Dinner, Orientation
Jackson Lake
Jackson Lake Lodge Cabins

Activity note: Lodge check-in available from 4:00 p.m. Remember to bring your nametag (sent previously).

Afternoon: Program Registration: 4:00 – 5:00 p.m. After you check in and have your room assignment, join us at the Road Scholar table to register with the program staff, get any updated information, and confirm the time and location of the Orientation session. If you arrive late, please locate your Group Leader and let them know you have arrived.

Dinner: In a conference room at the Lodge.

Evening: Orientation: 7:00 p.m. The Group Leader will greet everyone and lead introductions. We will review the up-to-date program schedule, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer questions. This program will be led by both the Group Leader and an instructor, who is an expert naturalist and will lead the educational portion of the program. Unless specified otherwise, all transportation will be provided via private motorcoach, requiring the ascending/descending of a few steps when getting on/off. Remember to bring your own water bottle. Ice water will be available in coolers on the bus during travel, from which you may fill your water bottle; disposable cups will not be available. The Greater Yellowstone area is considered high desert, very dry. At high altitudes you are more susceptible to dehydration and altitude sickness. Most days will include several walks totaling up to 2 miles. This is a Road Scholar On The Road (OTR) program. OTR journeys take participants to multiple study sites in a region with a number of overnight stays. Lectures, talks, discussions, field trips, and on-board commentary amplify the program theme. Some journeys involve great distances and may take hours, others are much shorter. Long or short, On the Road journeys are learning experiences that make the most of our time together. Periods in the daily schedule designated as “At leisure” offer opportunities to do what you like and make your experience even more meaningful and memorable according to your personal preferences. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local circumstances/conditions. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding.

Museum of Wildlife Art, Snake River Scenic Raft
Jackson Lake
Jackson Lake Lodge Cabins

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 65 miles, approximately 1.5 hours total riding time throughout the day. Getting in/out of a van. Walking up to 1 mile total; pavement and some uneven terrain; periods of standing at the museum. Getting in/out of rafts; rafting about 8 mile scenic river float takes approximately 2 hours.

Breakfast: In the dining room at the Lodge.

Morning: Setting out from the hotel via motorcoach, we’ll transfer to the National Museum of Wildlife Art. Upon arrival, our instructor will lead an introductory presentation on the Greater Yellowstone Area, an overview of the largest intact, temperate ecosystem on earth whose habitat continues to preserve the nation’s wildlife heritage. Afterwards, we’ll go on a docent-led exploration of the National Museum of Wildlife Art, which contains approximately 4,000 works of art. The exhibitions and programs at the museum focus on wildlife of the world.

Lunch: At the museum restaurant.

Afternoon: We’ll then travel on our motorcoach to meet the rafting leaders and transfer to vans for a short ride to our rafts. Upon arrival, we’ll board the rafts for a scenic floating raft trip on the Snake River that will offer us a glimpse into the pristine riparian habitat with exquisite views of the Teton Mountain Range. Along the way, we’ll enjoy commentary on the natural history of the area given by our instructor as we keep a lookout for waterfowl, songbirds, shorebirds, and possibly deer. When we finish our river run, we’ll board our motorcoach and head north back to the lodge in Grand Teton National Park.

Dinner: At a banquet room in the Lodge.

Evening: At leisure. Feel free to head to the back balcony overlook for wildlife viewing. Keep your eyes peeled for some moose activity.

Jenny Lake Boat Ride, Hidden Falls, Chapel, Menor’s Ferry
Jackson Lake
Jackson Lake Lodge Cabins

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving approximately 30 miles, less than 1 hour total riding time. Walking up to 2.5 miles total over several walks throughout the day; pavement and uneven terrain with some stairs; 1 mile at Hidden Falls has rocky terrain with an elevation gain of 150 feet. Getting on/off a boat; ride is about 1/2 hour.

Breakfast: At a restaurant in the Lodge.

Morning: We’ll continue our exploration of Teton National Park by transferring to a dock via motorcoach for a morning boat ride across jewel-like Jenny Lake where the mighty Teton Peaks loom in the distance. When we dock on the other side, there will be an elected self-directed moderate hike to Hidden Falls, truly hidden and delightful. Returning to the boat, we’ll ride back across Jenny Lake and head to our lunch stop at Jenny Lake Ranger Station.

Lunch: Boxed lunches in the park.

Afternoon: While at the Jenny Lake Ranger Station, we’ll learn from our instructor about early settlers in the Jackson Hole area through commentary as we walk around the area. We’ll then transfer by motorcoach to visit the historic Chapel of Transfiguration and Menor’s Ferry, led by our instructor. After viewing the chapel, which was built by C.B. Loomis in 1925 to serve ranchers and their guests at the base of the Teton Range, we will continue our walk down to see the historic Menor’s Ferry that crossed the Snake River, allowing travelers to cross at one of the only locations where the river is a single channel instead of a braided stream. This land was the only homestead west of the Snake River and was donated to the park by the owner of Menor’s Ferry, Maud Noble.

Dinner: At a banquet room in the Lodge.

Evening: At leisure. There are several walking and hiking paths on and near Lodge grounds if you wish to explore. Be sure to prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

Yellowstone Geology, Continental Divide, Old Faithful
Grant, Yellowstone National Park, WY
Grant Village, Yellowstone National Park

Activity note: Walking up to 2 miles over several walks throughout the day; paved trails and boardwalks with some stairs, uneven, and rocky terrain. Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 63 miles, approximately 2 hours riding time. The elevation is about 8,391 feet at the Continental Divide.

Breakfast: At a restaurant in the Lodge.

Morning: After checking out of our rooms, we’ll meet in a conference room at the lodge to enjoy a morning presentation given by our instructor for a snapshot of Yellowstone’s geology. We’ll discuss the geologic processes that have shaped Yellowstone’s landscape through the ages including tectonic plate movement, the Yellowstone hot spot, and how the park's unique ecosystem and diverse habitats are a direct result of glaciations, tectonic and volcanic activity. After the lecture, we’ll board our motorcoach and transfer to Yellowstone National Park while journeying north into Yellowstone country.

Lunch: En route to Old Faithful, we’ll have boxed lunches.

Afternoon: Riding westward, we’ll traverse the Continental Divide until we enter the Upper Geyser Basin, home to the world’s largest concentration of geysers. Here is the world’s best known and most beloved hydrothermal feature – Old Faithful – which sends thousands of gallons of scalding water and billowing steam gushing skyward with each eruption. Upon arrival, we’ll visit the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center with our instructor to explore the workings of Yellowstone’s geysers and hot springs before having a chance to see an eruption of the famous geyser. We will transfer to Grant Village for late afternoon check-in to our rooms.

Dinner: In the Grant Village Dining Room.

Evening: At leisure.

In the Valley of Geysers, Old Faithful Inn
Grant, Yellowstone National Park, WY
Grant Village, Yellowstone National Park

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 43 miles, approximately 1 hour total riding time. Walking up to 3 miles throughout the day on paved trails, boardwalks, some stairs and uneven terrain.

Breakfast: At the Grant Village Dining Room.

Morning: We'll board our motor coach for Old Faithful. Our instructor will begin with commentary on the motor coach and continue as we begin the day with an in-depth exploration of the Upper Geyser Basin. With Old Faithful at its helm, the Upper Basin has the most concentrated geothermal activity in the park. Fueled by the hotspot beneath Yellowstone, the hot springs, mudpots, fumaroles, and geysers are the result of volcanism, earthquakes, faulting, and large-scale movement of the earth's crust. During our walk around the Upper Geyser Basin we will see not only Old Faithful, but other several other thermal features within the area.

Lunch: Sack lunches in the park.

Afternoon: The history and architecture of the Old Faithful Inn will come alive with an exploration of this iconic inn led by a historian author. A National Historic Landmark, it is said to be the largest log structure in the world. Built during 1903-04, the Inn is a masterpiece of rustic architecture intended to reflect the chaos of nature. Its 65-foot high lobby features a massive rhyolite fireplace made of volcanic rock. Additional time in the Old Faithful area will offer us the opportunity to check out the Old Faithful Visitor Center, historic Old Faithful Lodge and Old Hamilton Store. We will board our bus and transfer back to Grant Village for dinner.

Dinner: In the Grant Village Dining Room.

Evening: At leisure. Be sure to prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

Hell’s Half Acre, Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon
Canyon Village, Yellowstone National Park, WY
Canyon Lodge Room

Activity note: Walking up to 2 miles total throughout the day on several walks; uneven terrain, stairs, boardwalks and asphalt paths. Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 88 miles, approximately 3 hours riding time with stops.

Breakfast: In the Grant Village Dining Room.

Morning: Once checked out, we’ll travel on the motorcoach from Old Faithful onward to Midway Geyser Basin, nicknamed Hell’s Half Acre and the home to two of the largest hot springs in the world: Grand Prismatic Spring and Excelsior Geyser. We’ll walk around Midway with our instructor and see the 200-foot deep Grand Prismatic that is known for its vivid colors, which is a result of algae and bacteria that live in its high temperature. We will also see Excelsior Geyser, a dormant geyser which turned into a hot spring following volcanic activity in the 1890s. It now discharges more than 4,000 gallons of boiling water per minute into the Firehole River. Our next stop will be the Madison River headwaters where our instructor will offer commentary on how this was the birthplace of the national park idea. We will then transfer to the massive and splendid wonder that is the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone for lunch.

Lunch: In the Canyon area, we’ll have sack lunches.

Afternoon: We’ll then discover the genesis of the canyon through commentary given by our instructor as we go for a walk along the South Rim. Along the way, we’ll have the opportunity to view Upper and Lower Falls from Artist Point. Afterwards, we will board our motorcoach to transfer to Canyon Visitor Education Center where we will have some time on our own to delve into the park's geologic depths and better understand Yellowstone’s violent geologic past through the numerous unique exhibits, animations, audio-visual productions and real-time scientific data. The Center reveals the Yellowstone volcano and shows how its geysers, hot springs and geologic history shape the distribution and abundance of all life found here today. Next, we’ll continue to Yellowstone Lake as we ride through the expansive Hayden Valley along the Yellowstone River. We’ll then check into our cabins for the night.

Dinner: At a restaurant in Canyon Village.

Evening: At leisure. You may wish to enjoy the grand view of beautiful Yellowstone Lake, piano music and conversation, or a leisurely stroll around the historic hotel grounds.

Hayden Valley, Mammoth Terraces
Canyon Village, Yellowstone National Park, WY
Canyon Lodge Room

Activity note: Walking up to 2 miles total throughout the day over several walks; asphalt paths, boardwalks, several hundred steps down. Elevation at Dunraven pass is 8,859 feet. Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 110 miles; about 3.5 hours total riding time with stops.

Breakfast: At a restaurant in Canyon Village.

Morning: We’ll start traveling northward tracing the mighty Yellowstone River as it exits Yellowstone Lake to finally break out into Hayden Valley's vast, wide open spaciousness. Our instructor will offer onboard commentary as we journey back through the Hayden Valley, a former lake bed, which is now grasslands habitat that supports a variety of wildlife from small rodents to large ungulates, scavengers and predators. Keep watch; we may spot bison, coyote, elk, raven, grizzly bear and birds of prey so keep binoculars and camera at the ready. We’ll continue on to the Mammoth area via Dunraven Pass at 8,859 feet.

Lunch: Sack lunches in the park.

Afternoon: Our motorcoach will transfer us to the top of the Mammoth Terraces where our instructor will lead us as we walk down the many steps of the terraces to observe the ever changing, graceful travertine beauty. About two tons of travertine, a type of limestone, is deposited daily as hot, mineral-laden water wells up from beneath the earth’s crust to add to terraces that began building thousands of years ago. Afterwards, we’ll return to our accommodations.

Dinner: At a restaurant in Canyon Village.

Evening: At leisure. Prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

West Thumb Geyser Basin, Hike Leigh & String Lakes, Wrap-up
Jackson, WY
The Lexington

Activity note: Walking up to 2 miles total throughout the day on several walks; uneven terrain. Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 98 miles, approximately 2.5 hours riding time.

Breakfast: At a restaurant in Canyon Village.

Morning: Once checked out of the hotel, we’ll transfer to West Thumb Geyser Basin, which is the largest geyser basin on the shores of Yellowstone Lake that is speculated to have its heat source only 10,000 feet down. As we walk around, our instructor will offer commentary about the thermal features here that extend under the surface of the lake as well as along the shore; several underwater geysers were discovered in the early 1990s.

Lunch: Sack lunches in the park.

Afternoon: Retracing our journey south through both national parks, we’ll enjoy a visual refresher for what we’ve seen with supplementary interpretation. Along the way, we’ll stop to continue our exploration with a relaxing hike along the shores of Leigh and String Lakes for an intimate afternoon among the Tetons. Those who left vehicles at Jackson Lake Lodge will be dropped off to pick up their vehicles en route to Jackson. Upon arrival in Jackson, we’ll check in at our hotel.

Dinner: In the restaurant of the historic Wort Hotel. Share favorite experiences and enjoy camaraderie with new Road Scholar friends during our farewell dinner.

Evening: We’ll then continue at our dinner location with a wrap-up session held by our leaders, during which we’ll review the program and open up a discussion for any final questions and reflections. Upon our return to the hotel, prepare for check-out and departure in the morning.

Program Concludes
Jackson, WY

Activity note: Hotel check-out by 11:00 a.m.

Breakfast: At the hotel. This concludes our program.

Morning: If you are returning home, safe travels. If you are staying on independently, have a wonderful time. If you are transferring to another Road Scholar program, detailed instructions are included in your Information Packet for that program. We hope you enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. Don’t forget to join our Facebook page and follow us on Instagram. Best wishes for all your journeys!

Important registration tip:
If you want to attend the live lecture, please do not wait until the last minute to enroll.
If you enroll after a lecture is complete, we’ll send you a recording of the event.