When kids go back to school, many adult travelers head to U.S. national parks. Depending on the location, the parks are visited by fewer people during the fall months, and temperatures are typically moderate. No matter where you go, however, there are plenty of appealing activities, as well as lodging choices for every budget.

Here are three examples of autumn-season national park adventures:

Death Valley National Park, California. Unlike most national parks, fall is just the beginning of the park’s peak season. Concessioner Xanterra Parks & Resorts operates the luxurious, 66-room Inn at Furnace Creek, which opens its doors for the season in mid-October. Xanterra also operates the year-round Ranch at Furnace Creek. The resort features three restaurants, lounge, gift stores, golf course, swimming pools and more. Activities in Death Valley include golfing at the world’s lowest golf course,  horseback riding, Jeep tours, bicycling, tours of historic Scotty’s Castle, hiking and touring by car.

The adventure – go four-wheeling. Furnace Creek Resort recently introduced the two-night Death Valley Explorer package featuring accommodations, four-wheel drive vehicle and box lunches. Available from Oct. 1, 2011 through April 31, 2012, this package includes two nights in a standard or deluxe room at the Ranch at Furnace Creek and one full-day Jeep rental from Farabee Jeeps. The 2-door Jeeps accommodate four people and have been lifted and equipped with heavy duty off-road tires. These vehicles feature air conditioning, automatic transmissions and a list of driving tips, operating instructions and trail maps. Drivers must be at least 25 years old and possess a valid driver’s license, credit card and full auto insurance coverage. Rates for the Death Valley Explorer package are $140 per night per person through Dec. 21, 2011. This rate is based upon double occupancy and does not include taxes or gratuities. Additional adults may be added to the package for $30 if they are staying in the same room and sharing the Jeep. Packages must be reserved at least two days in advance and may be booked online at www.furnacecreekresort.com or by calling 1-800-236-7916 or 1-303-297-2757 and using the promotion code “JEEP.” Rates for 2012 and a new Jeep package for guests of the Inn at Furnace Creek will be announced soon.


Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. This classic park draws millions of visitors from around the world each year. Every visitor, of course, marvels at the breathtaking beauty of the canyon itself. There are nearly as many ways to explore the park as there are spectacular viewpoints. Xanterra South Rim operates six lodges on the rim and Phantom Ranch on the floor of the canyon, multiple restaurants, gift shops, tours and activities. Activities include touring by mule, touring by motorcoach, hiking, strolling along the rim, cycling, visiting the many historic buildings in Grand Canyon Village and arriving by train via Grand Canyon Railway, also operated by Xanterra.

The adventure – be car-free. Some of the Grand Canyon’s best experiences can be found when visitors get out of their cars and use other modes of transportation. And there are many choices. A fun and popular way to arrive at the Grand Canyon is via Grand Canyon Railway, which makes daily round-trip excursions from Williams, Ariz. some 60 miles south to the Grand Canyon Depot in the heart of the village. This adventure includes live entertainment with a Western shootout prior to boarding the train and Western singers and entertainers on board.

The Canyon Limited Plus features roundtrip coach-class train travel, one night of lodging at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel followed by one night of lodging in Grand Canyon National Park and a second night of lodging at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, two breakfasts and two dinners per person at the Grand Canyon Depot Cafe and motorcoach rim tour with lunch. Rates are $414 for those 16 and older, and $87 for children two to 15 years old.

All packages feature the option of adding on regional tours that include pick-up and drop-off service at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel. Participants in the tours receive a 50 percent discount on an extra night’s stay at the hotel. Rates for the tours include the extra night in the hotel and are based upon double occupancy. For example, the Grand Canyon Jeep Tour features an inner canyon 22-mile tour descending 3,500 feet on the Hualapai Reservation and a one-hour tour of the Grand Canyon Caverns. Lunch is included. Rates are $292 for adults and $249 for children two to 15 years old.

Grand Canyon Railway is an authorized concessioner of the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service. For more information, www.thetrain.com or call 1-800-THE-TRAIN (1-800-843-8724).


Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Yes, the park is located in three states, but mostly in northwestern Wyoming. Few visitors to Yellowstone say they ran out of things to do because activity options are endless. For example, travelers can view the wildlife – bison, wolves, elk and more – in Lamar Valley, wander the boardwalk surrounding Old Faithful Geyser, explore the hot springs near Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and watch the sunset over Yellowstone Lake. Xanterra operates nine lodges in the park. The lodges close for the summer season on a staggered basis. The last two lodges to close are Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel on Oct. 10 and Old Faithful Snow Lodge on Oct. 23.

The adventure – see how many things you can do for free. Yellowstone National Park is already a tremendous travel value, with a wide range of rooms to fit any budget and a huge array of activities that are free or moderately priced. And Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel is offering a special rate starting at $59 per night during the week leading up to its Oct. 10 seasonal closure.

Here is a day’s worth of free activities that can be easily accomplished with the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel as a home base. First, wake up before the critters and hightail it out to Lamar Valley to watch the sunrise and listen to the sounds of the park greeting the morning. Next, hike to the Mount Washburn Fire Overlook, which some people consider the best short hike in the park. The three-mile trail to the overlook is only 1,000 feet elevation gain. After lunch, wander the Mammoth Terraces. These otherworldly hot springs were created when the hot water traveled through the ancient limestone deposits instead of silica-rich lava flows found elsewhere in the park. Follow with a soak in the Boiling River, the only hot spring in the park where it is legal to bathe. And cap off the day by relaxing in the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel lobby while listening to live piano music.

For reservations call (1) 307-344-733 or toll-free 866-GEYSERLAND (866-439-7375) or visit www.YellowstoneNationalParkLodges.com


Source: Xanterra Parks & Resorts


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