Winter is a great time to plan national park trips because there is still a broad range of room options available in popular parks such as Yellowstone and Grand Canyon. Although some of the iconic lodges are filling up during peak times, there is plenty of availability.

National park concessioner Xanterra Parks & Resorts offers tips for successfully planning a park visit and securing accommodations.


1.    Be informed.  Visit Xanterra’s web site at 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

2.    Be web-savvy. Rooms can be booked online at: 



Booking online is usually the quickest way to secure a reservation. Travelers can check room availability too via Xanterra’s online reservations calendar.

3.    Confirm that you have the full online picture. Some lodges will list various room types as part of drop down menus. If you do not click on the down arrow only one room type will be visible. And guess which room type is the first to show up as sold out?

4.    Be flexible with your choice of lodge. Some of the larger parks such as Grand Canyon and Yellowstone feature multiple lodges 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.

5.    Avoid the crowds. Regardless of which park you are visiting, consider traveling during the first two weeks of June, the last 10 days 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. Additionally, individual parks have unique soft spots. For example, Yellowstone has considerable availability during the entire month of May and late August through the end of the season in mid-October.

6.    Be timely. Group tour operators reserve blocks of rooms 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 approximately 30 days out. Want to travel on July 30? Try booking on June 30 or July 1.

7.    Be persistent. Rooms open up due to a variety of reasons, 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.

8.    Be a bargain-hunter. National park vacations are a great value, and prices at lodges, restaurants and gift shops inside the parks can be lower than prices at facilities outside the parks. This is partly because every room, meal and souvenir sold by a concessioner within a national park is priced based on comparable items in the region. The National Park Service monitors and approves all rates charged within the boundaries of every national park in the country, and pricing is often more affordable than travelers might expect.

9.    Watch out for third-party reservations web sites that charge a non-refundable fee to make reservations at in-park lodges. Xanterra’s reservations services are free. These third-party sites also can be misleading in other ways. The best way to avoid paying extra fees is to book directly with Xanterra.

10.  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. Phone numbers for making reservations can be easily found on all Xanterra web sites.

11.  Look for packages. Yellowstone has introduced a series of value-focused Summer Adventure Packages combining lodging, some meals and variety of activities such as guided hikes and scenic boat cruises of Yellowstone Lake. The Grand Canyon Railway in Williams, Ariz. offers a variety of packages including the Canyon Limited Plus, with lodging in Williams as well as at the Grand Canyon South Rim, coach class train travel to and from the Canyon and some meals.

12.  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.


Source: Xanterra Parks & Resorts®  For more information about Xanterra Parks & Resorts, links to individual properties and reservations numbers, visit


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Ellen Barone has been creating words and images for travel and tourism since 1998. She co-founded and publishes the group travel blog and is currently at work on her first book "I Could Live Here".