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Yellowstone makes it easy for families looking to unplug this summer

Tourists walk along boardwalk edge Prismatic Spring which Montannative TV host Casey Anderssays is must-do while visiting Yellowstone. | AP

Tourists walk along the boardwalk at the edge of the Prismatic Spring, which Montana native and TV host Casey Anderson says is a must-do while visiting Yellowstone. | AP Photo/Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Yann Arthus-Bertrand

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Updated: November 5, 2013 3:40PM

For half the year, Rob Hickox leaves his home in Wheaton and moves into a tiny, 180-square-foot apartment in Yellowstone National Park, where he leads tours.

“I’d much rather eat ramen noodles and grilled cheese here than have fine-dining in Chicago,” said Hickox, gesturing to the 2.2 million acres that make up the country’s first national park. “This is my office, and I love it.”

Hickox works for lodge operator Xanterra Parks & Resorts, which has partnered with the non-profit Yellowstone Association Institute to offer eight “lodging and learning” programs this summer.

One of the most popular is called Yellowstone for Families, ideal for kids ages 8 through 12. During the day, a naturalist leads the group on animal tracking and wildlife watching excursions to look for bears, elk, bison and wolves. The park also is home to the world’s largest concentration of thermal features — geysers, hot springs, mud pots and the like. These geological marvels provide plenty of inspiration for the program’s other activities, such as photography and painting.

The trip is tailored to families who want to unplug on their summer vacation; hotels in the park don’t have TVs, and cell phone service is spotty.

The package costs $2,268 for a family of two adults and two children and includes four nights at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel near the north gate of the park, breakfast and box lunches each day, in-park transportation, tours and optional evening programs. It’s offered Monday to Friday and Friday to Tuesday through Aug. 17. Call (866) 439-7375 or visit (The same package is offered on the south end of the park at Grant Village for $2,648.)

“I’ve traveled the world and Yellowstone is still my favorite place,” said Casey Anderson, Montana native and host of the cable show “America the Wild With Casey Anderson” on Nat Geo Wild.

“There’s so much happening here,” Anderson said. “Giant waterfalls. Big mountains. Crazy wildlife. Geysers. You’re in the middle of a super volcano. It could be 10 different national parks smashed into one.”

Anderson’s advice on must-dos at Yellowstone:

†Visit the Prismatic Spring, a colorful hot spring that’s “the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

†Check out Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon, which he thinks is even better than the more famous one by the same name.

†Look for wildlife in Lamar Valley, where you’re most likely to spot grizzlies and wolves.

†Go to a bar in Gardiner, Mont., near the north entrance to the park, and buy a local a drink. “It might be a cowboy, a trapper, a wolf expert,” Anderson said. “Most people have a crazy story about how they wound up in Yellowstone.”

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