Zion National Park

Zion National Park

Fall Deals at National Park Lodges

September 10, 2010, 8:04 am

With shorter days signaling the end of summer, fewer daylight hours present an opportunity to visit many of our national parks without the crowds that are the hallmark of summer vacation. The national park shoulder season offer a quieter and slower-paced atmosphere but you wont have to sacrifice the scenery, flora and fauna, and activities that made the parks such attractive destinations.

National parks are no longer summer-only destinations, and many in-park lodges are still quite busy well into the fall. Many lodges in the park system were built at the end of the 19th century or dawn of the 20th and many weren’t designed to welcome visitors in the coldest months. If you want to visit a park this year, fall might be your best chance to get a great room at a reasonable price.

Crater Lake Lodge, located in the national park with the same name, has been in operation since 1915 and closes on October 17. With only 71 rooms, the popular lodge operates at capacity in the summer, but heavy snow at Crater Lake National Park (more than 700 inches!) makes it impractical to keep the lodge open in winter.

All of Yellowstone National Park’s lodges close between late September and mid-October. The Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Old Faithful Snow Lodge reopen for the winter season in mid-December and close again in early March. The opening of the park loop road is weather dependent (the more snow, the better) and last year’s variable weather prevented many travelers from visiting. As a result, guest demand for this winter is high. So, if you’re considering a winter trip to Yellowstone, you might want to consider visiting in the fall instead. Many of the lodges in the park still have availability, including the iconic Old Faithful Inn and its newer sister Old Faithful Snow Lodge – have availability throughout October until their respective closing dates of October 17 and 25. Canyon Lodge, Grant Village, Lake Yellowstone Hotel, Lake Lodge and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, also report availability through their close dates.

Perched on the Canadian border in northern Montana, Glacier National Park, which celebrated its 100th anniversary this year, also has a relatively short season. Its lodges, operated by Glacier Park Inc., close on September 26 because of the heavy snow that is the norm in the area.There is still availability in many of Glacier Park Inc.’s properties and fall is among the best times to visit, when leaves begin to change, mountain goats grow their winter coats and grizzly and black bears prepare get ready for their winter long hibernation. If you can’t find a room inside the park, consider staying in St. Mary’s Lodge, located near Two Medicine in the eastern section of the park. If you have a passport, consider crossing the border to visit Waterton Lakes National Park where a number of lodges are open year round.

Designated as one of the “Great Lodges of the West,” the Paradise Inn in Mount Rainier National Park offers a relaxing retreat with miles of hiking trails just outside the door. Located only 87 miles from Seattle, Washington, and 136 miles from Portland, Oregon, the park’s rich forests, waterfalls, meadows of wildflowers and abundant wildlife lure hikers, sightseers and mountain climbers. Fall is a great time to explore as the normally verdant landscape explodes with color. If you want to get Rainier and Paradise Inn off your bucket list, go soon because it closes for the season on October 4, 2010.

Other park lodges that close seasonally are as follows: Wawona Hotel in Yosemite; Jackson Lake Lodge, Jenny Lake Lodge, Colter Bay and Signal Mountain Lodges in Grand Teton National Park; Grand Canyon Lodge at the North Rim of Grand Canyon; Bryce Canyon Lodge at Bryce Canyon.

If you can’t make it to these lodges, don’t fear because there are still plenty of park lodges open during winter. Zion Lodge in Zion National Park is open year-round and has plenty of availability from October and continuing throughout fall and into winter.

At the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, five of the six lodges are open year-round, and many are fully booked during the summer season. The historic, 78-room El Tovar Hotel is typically the first lodge to sell out. During the months of November and December, however, there are still rooms available at El Tovar for visitors who book a few weeks in advance. The four rim-view lodges—El Tovar Bright Angel Lodge, Kachina Lodge and Thunderbird Lodge—typically sell out during the summer but have availability from October through December.

While it’s not always easy to find a room at a national park, it’s always easy to visit. Planning ahead makes all the difference. If you’re not planning a fall trip, spend a little of your downtime planning your summer trip for next year. Rooms become available a year in advance and they are likely to start becoming more and more scarce as the parks’ popularity continue to soar. Remember, it’s always better to book and cancel, than to never have booked at all.

Image: The Watchmen, Zion National Park. Courtesy Xanterra Parks & Resorts.

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