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GaperGuide leads users on customized tours of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. PHOTOS BY CAITLIN STYRSKY

GaperGuide offers custom adventures in Yellowstone, Grand Teton

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By Caitlin Styrsky

Imagine exploring Yellowstone National Park on a clear summer day with your own personal tour guide. Your knowledgeable escort points out geysers, hiking trails, and the nearest restrooms, while educating you about the fascinating ecosystem, and providing entertainment in a calm, measured voice when you get stuck in traffic behind a herd of bison.

“People like it, they can tolerate my voice,” said Will Ferguson with a laugh. Ferguson is the co-founder and narrator of GaperGuide, a self-paced audio tour of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National parks that uses GPS technology to point out notable highlights and provide useful tips for comfortably car-bound travelers.

A desire to learn more about the Greater Yellowstone region led Ferguson and co-founder Katie Lee to come up with the GaperGuide concept during a 2005 hike in Grand Teton, and their first guide hit the market in summer 2007. The original version was geared toward families and featured 16 different character voices, including fish, moose, and even a crazy scientist. But Ferguson found that utilizing multiple characters distracted visitors from the beauty of their natural surroundings. So, when recording a new version of the audio tour in 2011, he drew from his personal experiences, area knowledge, and matter-of-fact voice.

The complete GaperGuide tour covers every paved road within the parks, with the exception of the stretch of Highway 191 between West Yellowstone and Big Sky. The full tour is a comprehensive 188,000-word adaptable program that can accommodate visitors on an afternoon drive or a multi-day excursion.

Users simply plug the device into their vehicle’s cigarette lighter or charging port, and travel through the parks at their own pace. The simple, three-button interface won’t distract sightseers from the majestic views or abundant wildlife. The GPS technology enables GaperGuide to direct users from lookout points to picnic areas, even when cell phone service is unavailable.

“It follows you, so you don’t have to do a single thing,” Ferguson said. “It’s directional, so it knows when something’s going to be on the right or left.”

Whether visitors opt to cruise through the popular highlights or journey off the beaten path, GaperGuide includes recommendations for users to optimize their national park experience. The guide provides time estimates for taking a particular route and offers helpful information, such as service station locations, and RV accommodations on narrow park roads. GaperGuide can even recommend the best route for the time of day, and make real-time recommendations such as catching the sunset at Old Faithful.

Stuck in a bison jam or an endless avenue of lodgepole pine? The guide contains more than 100 fun facts about the history, geology, and wildlife of the Greater Yellowstone area to keep listeners entertained and alert. Information about wildlife habitats can be especially helpful for spotting moose, elk, wolves and bears. The guide’s well-timed narration gaps also allow passengers to carry on a conversation and plan the next stop along the route.

GaperGuides are available to rent in several locations around Jackson, Wyoming, and in the Yellowstone gateway towns of Gardiner, Cody, Cooke City and West Yellowstone. Visitors can rent a guide at one location and return it to another, allowing for maximum flexibility, convenience, and control over their journey—at a fraction of the price of human-led tours. Check the GaperGuide website, gaperguide.com, for up-to-date information about pricing and locations.

In addition to the physical device, the full GaperGuide tour will be available on the TravelStorysGPS app this summer. The repackaged tour will be broken out into Grand Teton, and the northern and southern loops of Yellowstone. Users will be able to download separate tours at a reduced price or take advantage of combined pricing to piece together a custom route.

GaperGuide’s success has encouraged Ferguson in his mission to help people foster an appreciation for national parks and a desire to protect public lands. A new tour for Glacier National Park is currently under development and he hopes to complete a guide to Rocky Mountain National Park within the next year.

“My goal is to give [people] enough information … so that they can get out of the park what they really want,” Ferguson said.

Caitlin Styrsky is a freelance writer based in West Yellowstone, Montana.

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