|Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park.|
“Advance bookings for national park lodges are strong this summer, so the key to successfully reserving a room in a park at the last minute is to be both flexible and persistent,” said Dave Hartvigsen, vice president of sales and marketing for Xanterra. "With a little bit of flexibility and some good luck, last-minute travelers can still book rooms at national park lodges.”
Hartvigsen's tips for planning a last-minute national park vacation.
1. Do your homework. Familiarize yourself with web sites and bookmark reservations pages. Visit Xanterra's web site at www.xanterra.com for general information on the parks operated by Xanterra as well as lodging descriptions, rates and availability. Another good source of information on national parks is the National Park Service website at www.nps.gov.
2. Check room availability and book rooms online. Rooms can be booked online at www.YellowstoneNationalParkLodges.com, www.grandcanyonlodges.com, www.zionlodge.com, , www.craterlakelodges.com and www.furnacecreekresort.com (Death Valley). Booking online is usually the quickest way to book a lodge room.
3. Be flexible with travel dates. Lodges can be booked up to 13 months in advance of a travel date. Because many people do make their plans far in advance, they will occasionally have to change or cancel existing reservations because of schedule conflicts or for other reasons. Travelers who are flexible with their travel dates stand the best chance of getting a room on short notice.
4. Be flexible with lodge choices. Grand Canyon’s El Tovar and Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Inn are often travelers’ first choice of lodging, so the rooms in those two historic hotels are typically the first to sell out in those parks. More than 70 percent of the lodge rooms at the Grand Canyon are located off-rim in Maswik and Yavapai lodges, however, and both are comfortable locations that are barely a 10-minute walk from the canyon rim. Yellowstone has lodges situated in a variety of locations throughout the park. No matter where in a park travelers stay they can always experience the famous grand dames of the parks by visiting the lobbies or enjoying a meal in their dining rooms.
5. Be strategic. International tour operators reserve blocks of rooms up to two years in advance in anticipation of selling these rooms as part of tour packages to the United States. If all the rooms are not sold, operators must release them for resale 30 days out. Want to travel on July 30? Book first thing on the morning of June 30.
6. Be persistent. Rooms 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.
7. Travel when families don’t. There is often more room availability 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.
8. Just show up. Travelers who arrive between noon and 6 p.m. often find last-minute rooms available. Once in a park, the front desk at any lodge can check availability for all rooms within the park.
9. Make dining and activity reservations too. If you are successful booking a room, take a moment to also reserve 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 Cookout at Yellowstone's Roosevelt Lodge fill up fast too. Phone numbers for meal and activity reservations can be easily found on all Xanterra web sites.
10. Book a package. Yellowstone offers a variety of packages including multi-day “Adventure” and “Lodging & Learning” packages that include accommodations, some meals and a variety of park experiences. Grand Canyon Railway also features packages that include train travel and accommodations.
Read about Yellowstone and Grand Canyon experiences at my other blog, Travel on the Level:
Travel on the Level: blogspot.com/2011/11/grand-canyon.html