How to Book a National Park Vacation This Summer

Arches National Park, Utah, has more than 2,000 natural stone arches and other rock formations.

Arches National Park, Utah, has more than 2,000 natural stone arches and other rock formations.

The National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, meaning the parks will be extremely welcoming in 2016. Case in point: Through August, all fourth-grade students can visit the National Parks for free, along with the family (in one private vehicle). And don’t forget that senior citizens (age 62 plus) can get a $10 lifetime pass to the parks, which includes entrance for the family in one private vehicle. For more information, visit store.usgs.gov/pass.

Such deals serve to enhance a vacation option that is already extremely popular. In MMGY Global’s 2015 Portrait of American Travelers, National Parks topped the list of “Specific Destinations Interested in Visiting During Next Two Years” at 67 percent — that’s two out of every three respondents. The appeal is universal; when broken down by age groups, the numbers fluctuate only slightly: Millennials, 69 percent; Xers, 63 percent; Boomers, 69 percent; and Matures 61 percent.

The National Park system includes 410 areas, meaning travelers can easily travel to them from their homes. However, choosing what parks to visit may be the most difficult part of the overall visit. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite parks and itineraries to choose from — and we’ll also touch on that other immensely popular kind of park, theme parks.

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Focus on Southern California

Globus is teaming up with the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, to create new GoParks! itineraries. When travelers book a GoParks! trip, Globus will make a donation to the National Park Foundation at no additional cost to the travelers. One of the new trips is to Southern California along with stops at Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks. At Joshua Tree, families will learn about the area’s geology, animals and plants. In Death Valley, the hottest place on earth, travelers will visit the Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America. Don’t let the ominous names deter, as it is a beautiful area. As a special touch, visitors will also participate in a special star-gazing opportunity, with no city lights to interfere. Along the way, clients will spend time in Long Beach, Catalina Island, San Diego and Palm Springs.

Yellowstone is the only place in the United States where bison (Bison bison) have lived continuously since prehistoric times.
Yellowstone is the only place in the United States where bison (Bison bison) have lived continuously since prehistoric times.

Off to Yellowstone

We would be amiss if we didn’t mention ways to visit one of the most popular national parks, Yellowstone. Globus visits this site during its America’s National Parks trip. This trip includes a two-night stay inside the massive park; parents and kids will both be delighted. Other highlights include gazing at the Lower Falls, which is almost twice as high as Niagara Falls. Guests will also witness the famous geyser, Old Faithful, and there will be plenty of opportunities to see wildlife. The itinerary also covers Grand Teton National Park and Mount Rushmore. Note: Globus travels via motor coach and this trip includes breakfast daily, four three-course dinners and opportunities for additional excursions.

For clients looking for more offerings at Yellowstone, we suggest the Family Yellowstone & the Grand Tetons trip from Abercrombie and Kent. Travelers will head to Big Sky country for some adventure. On day three, kids go horseback riding at an authentic ranch with working cowboys. The next day it’s off to Yellowstone for a hike to Fairy Falls and a picnic lunch. The trip will then take clients to Lake Yellowstone and a hike to Storm Point for the view. There will also be an opportunity to visit Upper Geyser Basin and Hayden Valley — a prime place to spot wildlife. Rafting down class II and III rapids on the Snake River is another highlight.

A National Parks Revealed guided tour of Grand Canyon
 
A National Parks Revealed guided tour of Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon and Beyond

Trafalgar offers nine different National Parks trips. One of the most popular is the Scenic Parks Explorer; it has 45 departure dates from May to October — to fit every family member’s schedule. Guests will visit Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Mesa Verde National Park and more. This is a 15-day journey and includes stays at four- and five-star properties, daily breakfast, coach transportation, airport transfers, additional services and exclusive experiences. One such activity is a chance to go behind-the-scenes at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, a complex of five western museums. There will be a chance to talk to museum directors about different topics, including what life on a ranch is like. There is also a chance to view the Grand Canyon at sunrise, not sunset with many other tourists. Guests can save 5 percent with the Early Payment Discount through April 28. This discount is combinable with past passenger discounts and Young Traveler discount for travelers ages 5-17.

Zion to Arches

An 11-day trip offered by Abercrombie and Kent will take clients from Las Vegas to Grand Junction, Colorado. The trip stops at Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef and Arches national parks. Highlights include a bike ride in Grand Canyon National Park, a sundowner cocktail (for Mom and Dad) among Bryce Canyon’s natural structures and rafting class I and II rapids on the Colorado River. This trip has three departures available to book in June and a fourth will begin in September. Clients can also book the custom Tailor Made Majestic Southwest and the Canyonlands itinerary. This trip can depart when the client chooses.

Crazy Horse Memorial to the Black Hills

Tauck is inviting families to join the Cowboy Country trip that is part of the Tauck family brand, Tauck Bridges. We suggest this trip for tweens, as at the end of it — after looking at glaciers in Grand Teton National Park, visiting Yellowstone and the Fountain Paint Pot, which are colorful, bubbling mud pots and more — they’ll visit an authentic ranch in the Bighorn Mountains. There, kids will ride horses, get a rope demonstration and enjoy a cookhouse lunch. This trip adds an educational twist during a visit to the Crazy Horse Memorial and the Black Hills. Other top moments include looking for eagles, beavers and elk along the Snake River.

With its setting that changes hourly with the light, Sedona is a vivid and mesmerizing geological wonderland.
With its setting that changes hourly with the light, Sedona is a vivid and mesmerizing geological wonderland.

Yosemite

For another adventure with Tauck Bridges, we suggest booking Majestic California: The Pacific Redwoods and Yosemite, which begins in San Francisco. The trip will take families to the Altamont Wind Farm, during the route to the Sierra Nevada. (It is a great science lesson.) The children will like the private guided tour to Glacier Point in Yosemite. The viewpoint towers 3,200 feet above the valley floor. On this day, kids can also try out a rock-wall and enjoy panning for gold. The ultimate activity in Yosemite is the two-hour tram ride along the valley floor, afterwards we suggest renting bikes or going on a hike. Kids that are interested in marine life will enjoy a stop at Monterey Bay Aquarium to round out the trip.

New England, Acadia

For families with grown children, Tauck is still accepting bookings for the Grand New England Tour. This trip (which is mostly offered in September and October) will take travelers from Boston to Bar Harbor, ME. Toward the end of the trip, guests will venture inside Acadia National Park to explore the forests coves and natural wonders. The highlight will be taking in the view from atop Cadillac Mountain, plus there will be a horse-drawn carriage rise along Acadia’s historic roads. We also think families will enjoy the schooner sailing, going aboard a working lobster boat for a hands-on experience and the views from Mount Washington.

Self-Drive Option

National Parks Revealed is launching self-drive (as well as guided) trips to several national and state parks this summer.

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