Zion National Park

Zion National Park

Winter Travel Deals at our National Parks

November 15, 2010, 5:43 am

Most budget conscious (and flexible) travelers know that some of the best travel deals are often available during the next several weeks between the peak Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Years travel period. The lucky ones, those who can make their own schedules, have extra day off in the bank, or don’t feel obligated to spend time with their families over the holidays have a chance to not only save big, but also take advantage of a variety of special offers and events that are taking place to put more heads in beds, at parks and other favorite destinations across the country (and outside it, too). I’ve listed a few of our favorite places that are offering deals that you won’t find any other time of the year.

Delaware North Company at Yosemite continues its series of Vintners’ Holidays that gives wine-makers the opportunity to take some well-deserved time off following their busy fall harvest and gives you the opportunity to mix and mingle among them. You’ll also participate in wine-tastings and seminars and revel in a sumptuous five-course Gala Dinner. The dinner, served in the majestic Ahwahnee dining room in the shadow of Half Dome, is thoughtfully developed and prepared by Executive Chef Percy Whatley and the Ahwahnee culinary team to compliment the often rare or limited-release wines shared by the participating wineries.

Vintners’ Holidays Lodging packages are available at the superlative Ahwahnee Hotel (recently ranked in the Top 100 favorite resorts in Mainland U.S. by Condé Nast Traveler) and the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls. Prices start at $766 for two-night packages, which include accommodations for two, wine tastings, an intimate Meet the Winemakers Reception, and two tickets to the Gala Dinner in the Ahwahnee Dining Room (sold separately at $269 each). Packages at the Ahwahnee start at $1,106 for two nights, but it’s worth splurging if you can afford it.

Xanterra Parks & Resorts, the largest national park concessioner, is offering special rates and packages at many coveted destinations, including Zion, Grand Canyon and Yellowstone national parks. As temperature drops, so do the number of visitors and the prices.

Colder temperatures bring new opportunities and adventures that aren’t possible during the other seasons. In Yellowstone, winter is the best time of year to watch wolves as they follow elk in lower elevations across the northern tier of the park. The park also grooms many of the popular hiking trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Most of the park is closed to wheeled vehicles in the winter, and transportation is provided by over-snow vehicles—snowcoaches and snowmobiles—and only the Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel are open during the winter. Xanterra’s “Trail of the Wolf” package combines guest education about these famous canines as well as the park’s abundant natural features. The package includes guided snowmobiling in the interior of the park and wildlife-watching by van in the park’s Northern Range. Guests split the three nights between Old Faithful and Mammoth and the package also includes a round-trip guided snowmobile tour between Old Faithful and Mammoth, a “Wake up to Wildlife” tour of the Lamar Valley, two breakfasts per person, welcome gift, a one-hour hot tub rental, unlimited ice skating and skates and a Snow Card good for 10 percent off meals, activities and more. Rates start at $419 per person for double occupancy for two nights at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and one night at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge and are slightly higher for two nights at the Snow Lodge and one night at Mammoth Hot Springs.

For those seeking slightly milder climate, Xanterra is offering savings in Zion National Park with its “Zion in Winter” packages. These packages include an overnight stay and features breakfast for two each morning. From Dec. 1, 2010 through March 31, 2011, this package rate for a Sunday-through-Thursday stay is $89 for a standard room, $99 for a recently renovated western cabins and $119 for a suite. Rates are slightly higher on weekends and during holiday periods. Guests should mention the promotion code “WNTR” when making reservations.

If you are looking to escape the cold altogether, consider heading south to Virgin Islands National Park. Less than three and a half from NYC, Maho Bay Camps offers unforgettable vacations in eco-sensitive yet extremely comfortable settings. The camp has its own secluded, white sand beach, and offers scuba, snorkeling and other water sports for active guests. There's also lots of peace and quiet for those who simply want to enjoy the natural surroundings in thousands of unspoiled acres.

Maho Bay Camps allows travelers to be green—staying in dwellings built with site-sensitive techniques constructed of recycled materials, powered by the sun and wind—while saving some green. Rates are $80 per night (double occupancy!) through December 14 and rise to $130 per night for most of the winter. Thanks to competition from low cost airline, Spirit Air, round trip airfare is relatively affordable—around $450 round trip from most cities on the east coast prior to 12/15. And best of all, you don’t need a passport, because the Virgin Islands are a U.S. Territory.

While packages abound during the winter season, airlines have scaled back service in a number of destinations, so seats are limited. If time isn’t an object and you don’t mind spending some time in the car, you can benefit from lower fares if you are willing to drive from a nearby airport. In Yellowstone, for example, consider flying into Idaho Falls, ID, Bozeman, MT, or even Salt Lake City, UT (in most cases, you’ll save time by not waiting for a connecting flight). With fewer available seats, the earlier you plan, the higher your savings will generally be.

Image: A woman cross-country skis among the geothermal features at Yellowstone National Park. Courtesy Xanterra Parks & Resorts.