Grand Canyon. Yosemite. Glacier National Park. These amazing outposts of the American wilderness have always been a great bargain for travelers, but never more so than in 2009. This year, a battered economy and a bruised national psyche have collided to bump the traditional summer vacation from many people's must-do list. With reduced visitation levels, attractive deals, and greater availability than many parks have seen in decades, there's never been a better time to rediscover America's national parks than this summer.
"We saw a significant decline in bookings during the early part of the year and into the spring," says Dave Hartvigsen, who represents sales and marketing for national park concessionaire Xanterra Parks and Resorts. "The summer is still filling up, but it's taking longer than in most other years."
Translation? "People have a reasonably good chance of finding a place to stay at any park this summer, provided they have flexibility with their dates," says Hartvigsen. And that's great news for bargain hunters and late bookers alike.
Grand Canyon National Park
Getting a hotel room at the Grand Canyon's crowded South Rim isn't as hard as you might imagine this year. Look for the best availability in the first two weeks of June (right after Memorial Day) or the first two weeks of September (after Labor Day). The last two weeks of August are also less busy in relative terms than the remainder of the summer. Because there's no penalty for cancellations at the South Rim until 48 hours before arrival, many rooms become available at the last minute. Most rooms can be booked online or through the general reservations line at 888-297-2757. The park accommodates about 30 to 40 walk-ins a day, even in the summer months.
To get beyond the rim, consider one of the Learning & Lodging packages offered by Xanterra Parks and Resorts. These include meals, accommodations, and two days of hands-on guided hiking into the canyon led by an expert from the Grand Canyon Field Institute. Summer packages start at $443.54.
(Photo: iStockphoto/Maria Nonko)