Spending vacation time in a U.S. national park is a rewarding and memorable family experience, and accommodations within parks are less expensive than you might think, especially in spring and fall.
These tips will help you get the type of lodging you need, from cabin to luxury hotel room:
Book directly. The largest operator of national park lodging, Xanterra, operates lodges in Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Zion, Crater Lake and Death Valley’s Furnace Creek Resort as well as at the Grand Canyon Railway in Williams, Ariz. There is no fee to make reservations directly with Xanterra. Beware of for-profit reservations sites that charge a non-refundable deposit, the site warns.
Be flexible. Some larger parks, such as Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, feature multiple lodges and cabins in spectacular settings. While Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Inn and Grand Canyon’s El Tovar are best-known and tend to fill up first, other lodges offer history, comfortable accommodations and their own appeal. My own personal favorite is Zion Lodge in Zion National Park in Utah. As I wrote on exoXplorer, in addition to having a spectacular view right out the front door, this lodge is LEED certified.
Avoid peak times. Consider traveling before mid-June or after mid-August. Families with children are either winding down after the end of school or gearing up for the beginning of school, so those periods – although still considered peak season – are generally slower than the rest of the summer.
Book packages. National parks such as Yellowstone have so-called lodging and learning programs with family-friendly guided hikes that focus on wildlife watching, natural history and geology.
Book activities and make dinner reservations. Dining rooms do fill, so if you want a meal in one of the lodges, plan ahead. Popular activities like the Old West Dinner Cookout at Yellowstone’s Roosevelt Lodge fill up fast, too.
Check back often. Group tour operators reserve blocks of rooms well in advance, in anticipation of selling these rooms as part of tour packages. Tour operators must release unsold rooms for resale approximately 30 days out. Want to travel on July 30? Try booking on June 30 or July 1.
Be persistent. Rooms become available for all kinds of reasons and are usually re-booked quickly. Bookmark the website for the lodging you want and check it frequently to see if rooms have become available.
What’s your favorite national park?
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