Ten Tips for Planning a National Park Vacation

Heading down Bright Angel Trial on horseback.

Hike or ride mules down into the Grand Canyon.

My parents saved all year for our summer family vacations.  Mom, dad and four kids piled into the station wagon and we headed west from Ohio to Wyoming, Arizona and California.

There is no better way to have an appreciation of our own country and our Wild West History than to visit America’s National Parks.

If you haven’t see the Grand Canyon or Old Faithful in Yellowstone, this summer may be the time to explore America.  Planning a vacation to the parks, many located in remote areas with limited accommodations, requires more advance work than a spontaneous trip to a resort or amusement park.

Wild bison on the road in Yellowston.

Wild bison on the road in Yellowstone.

1.    For the best lodging choices, make your reservations in advance. After emphasizing increased capacity from the mid-1950s through the mid-1960s, parks have seen the number of overnight accommodations available to the public remain stable. The result is that travelers have learned to reserve their rooms and cabins early. In Grand Canyon National Park, Xanterra,operator of lodges, restaurants, and activities begins accepting reservations the first of the month for that month the following year. In Yellowstone, the company accepts reservations in May for the following summer.

2.    Follow the same early booking for camp sites. For links to all National Parks and campground reservations sites check out:  www.nps.gov/findapark/ or   www.recreation.gov/  877-444-6777

Seeing Old Faithful erupt in Yellowstone National Park  thrills every visitor.

Seeing Old Faithful erupt in Yellowstone National Park thrills every visitor.

3. But don’t assume everything is sold out. Because some vacationers make their plans far in advance, they often have to change or cancel existing reservations. Be as flexible as possible with travel dates.

4.    Be persistent. Rooms and c amp sites open up – and are often very quickly re-booked – every day. The quickest way to check availability is by going to the web site and following the link for reservations. Bookmark the web site and check it frequently to see if rooms have become available.

5.    Be web-savvy. The quickest way to secure national park lodge rooms is to book them online.  Websites are www.grandcanyonlodges.comwww.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com, www.zionlodge.com, www.craterlakelodges.com and www.furnacecreekresort.com (Death Valley).

Cabin with a view at Zion National Park.

Cabin with a view at Zion National Park.

6.    Choose your “dream” lodge, but resolve to be flexible. In Yellowstone, Crater Lake and Grand Canyon National Parks, the first lodges to sell out are typically the historic ones such as Crater Lake Lodge, Old Faithful Inn and El Tovar. There are already some summer 2013 dates that are sold out in these locations.  If rooms aren’t available at your first choice, look for other lodge choices or even different dates. Even if guests cannot find rooms at their first-choice lodges, they can always experience those lodges by dining and relaxing there. And remember that rooms do sometimes open up later due to cancellations by other guests, so it is possible to switch lodges later.

7.    Book  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 Cookout at Yellowstone’s Roosevelt Lodge fill up fast too.

8.    Travel during the first two weeks of June, the last two weeks of August or the first two weeks of September. Families with schoolchildren 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 a little slower than the rest of the summer.

9.    Watch out for third-party reservations web sites that charge a non-refundable fee to make reservations at in-park lodges.

10.    Consider packages. Yellowstone has introduced a series of value-focused Summer Adventure Packages combining lodging, some meals and variety of activities such as guided hikes and scenic boat cruises of Yellowstone Lake. Grand Canyon Railway in Williams, Ariz. offers a variety of packages including the Canyon Discovery Plus, with lodging in Williams as well as at the Grand Canyon South Rim, coach class train travel to and from the Canyon and some meals.

 

Category: Adventure, Family, Featured, Travel

About the Author ()

Marybeth Bond, the Gutsy Traveler, National Geographic author of 11 travel books, featured guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show and founder of the Online Travel Magazine www.GutsyTraveler.com She has been featured over 1,000 times on TV, radio and print. She is a Contributor to CNN, CNN Airport Network and CNN.com Speaker, spokesperson, author, travel expert, Marybeth, the Gutsy Traveler walks the talk. She's an adventurer; biked two months across the USA, traveler to over 90 countries, media travel expert for CBS News, CNN, ABC, NBC, NPR and National Geographic.

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