Spending vacation time in a US national park is a rewarding and memorable experience, and accommodations within parks are less expensive than you might think, especially in spring and fall.
These tips will help you get the type of lodging you need, from cabin to luxury hotel room:
The largest operator of national park lodging is Xanterra, which operates lodges in Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Zion, Crater Lake and Death Valley’s Furnace Creek Resort as well as at the Grand Canyon Railway in Williams, Arizona.
There is no fee to make reservations directly with Xanterra.
The other main lodge operator is Aramark, including for lodges and hotels in Yosemite.
Or, you can check the National Park Service website for the park you are interested in for direct links to official reservations websites which offer guaranteed reservations with no fee.
I’m also a great fan of Best Western hotels, which have affordable, family friendly locations, most with pools, close to every National Park you can think of, also with free online reservations.
I stayed at several Best Western hotels on a recent road trip that included Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial.
Beware of for-profit reservations sites
that charge a non-refundable deposit
Some of the larger parks, such as Grand Canyon and Yellowstone feature multiple lodges and cabins in spectacular settings. While Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Inn and Grand Canyon’s El Tovar are best-known and tend to fill up first, other lodges offer history, comfortable accommodations and their own appeal.
My own personal favorite is Zion Lodge in Zion National Park in Utah.
As I wrote on exoXplorer, besides having a spectacular view right out the front door, this lodge is LEED certified.
Avoid peak travel times
Regardless of which park you want to visit, consider traveling before mid-June or after mid-August.
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 generally slower than the rest of the summer.
National parks such as Yellowstone have so-called lodging and learning programs that package family-friendly guided hikes that focus on wildlife watching, natural history and geology.
Book 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 Dinner Cookout at Yellowstone’s Roosevelt Lodge fill up fast too.
Check back often
Group tour operators reserve blocks of rooms well in advance, in anticipation of selling these rooms as part of tour packages.
Tour operators must release unsold rooms for resale approximately 30 days out. So if you want travel on July 30, try booking on June 30 or July 1. You might get lucky.
Rooms become available for all kinds of reasons, and are usually re-booked quickly.
Bookmark the web site for the lodging you want and check it frequently to see if rooms have become available.
What’s your favorite National Park?
This article was published in Spring 2018 and has been updated for 2019.