Winter-season adventurers will find many options in Western national parks. Among them – birding in Zion, hiking in the Grand Canyon, cross country skiing in Yellowstone and golfing in Death Valley.
“Winter tends to bring out the active side in many of our guests, and we are happy to feed their calorie-burning ways by offering a variety of tours and packages,” said Betsy O’Rourke, vice president of sales and marketing for Xanterra Parks & Resorts, operator of lodges and other concessions in the four parks. “Each park is different, and so are the adventures. During the winter months, travelers can play on the world’s lowest golf course while in the shadows of the four mountain ranges, cross country ski to a backcountry geyser, hike into a canyon or watch for eagles and other peregrine. And these are just a few examples of the visual and experiential treats that await our wintertime guests.”
O’Rourke noted that guests need not break a sweat to have a memorable wintertime adventure in a national park. “There are countless less-physical adventures during the season too,” she said. “For example, it is only a short walk from Old Faithful Snow Lodge to see the world’s most famous geyser perform her frosty, steamy wintertime show.”
Here are four examples of winter-season national park vacations. Unless otherwise noted, the packages quoted are for double occupancy and do not include taxes, fees or gratuities.
Grand Canyon Railway/Grand Canyon South Rim
Hiking. The roundtrip hike to Indian Garden along the Bright Angel Trail and back to the Bright Angel Trailhead in Grand Canyon Village is only 6.4 miles, but the elevation change is a significant 3,060 feet. The trail into the inner canyon is along a fault line that was first used by Indians – watch for pictographs etched into the cliff walls – and later improved by miners. The National Park Service advises hikers that the uphill return trip will take twice as much time as the descent and to plan accordingly. The final mile and one-half of the hike is the most challenging of all, with a series of steep switchbacks called Jacob’s Ladder.
Maswik Lodge is offering reduced rates Nov. 12, 2012 through March 7, 2013. The Winter Value Rate is $85 per night plus tax at Maswik South and $115 per night at Maswik North. Guests staying at least two consecutive nights at Maswik North receive an additional discount and pay only $95 per night at Maswik North. Maswik Lodge is located a short walk from the South Rim of the Canyon. Book by visiting www.grandcanyonlodges.com or calling toll-free 1-888-297-2757 or 1-303-297-2757 from outside the U.S.
Getting there is half the fun for Grand Canyon visitors who arrive aboard Grand Canyon Railway. Grand Canyon Railway packages with overnight stays in the park are one of the best winter bargains in Arizona. Plus, vacationers get to begin their national park adventure before they even get to the park. Located in Williams, Ariz. 62 miles from the park, the train operates a roundtrip tour that travels through northern Arizona’s picturesque ponderosa pine forests for about two hours and 15 minutes before arriving at the park. The Canyon Discovery Plus package features roundtrip coach-class travel, two dinners and two breakfasts per person, two nights of lodging in a standard room at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel in Williams, one night of lodging at Maswik Lodge and a motorcoach tour in the park. The rates for this package vary by season. For the period between Jan. 6 and Feb. 28, 2013, for example, rates start at $625 for two adults and $88 per child. Book by visiting www.thetrain.com or calling 1-800-843-8724 (1-800-THE-TRAIN). Grand Canyon Railway runs every day of the year except Dec. 25.
Furnace Creek Resort, Death Valley National Park
Golfing. The Furnace Creek Golf Course is a feast for the eyes and a challenge for the player. The lowest course in the world at 214 feet below sea level, the course is relatively short but the low elevation and challenging greens earned it a place on Golf Digest’s list of “America’s 50 Toughest Courses.” This rugged 3.3 million-acre national park is surrounded by four mountain ranges, and the views from every hole are breathtaking. Adjacent to the course are the solar panels that Xanterra installed in 2009 to produce about one-third of all of the annual electricity needs at Furnace Creek.
The Stay and Play package features accommodations for one night at either the Inn or Ranch, one day of unlimited golf, 18-hole cart rental and club storage. From Nov. 25 through Dec. 21, 2012, rates start at $231 per couple at the Ranch and $410 per couple at the Inn. From Jan. 1 through Feb. 14, 2013, rates start at $225 per couple at the Ranch and $389 per couple at the Inn. The package can be reserved at www.furnacecreekresort.com using the promotional code GOLF or by calling 1-800-236-7916 or 1-303-297-2757.
Yellowstone National Park
Cross country skiing. Nordic skiers will find their paradise on Yellowstone’s many miles of trails that follow along rivers, wind through forests, traverse wide-open valleys or lead to backcountry waterfalls. Along the way, lucky skiers might see an eagle soar, hear a wolf howl or watch a backcountry geyser erupt with very few other adventurers for company. Since most of the park is closed to wheeled vehicles in the winter and transportation into the park’s interior is provided by over-snow vehicles, skiers can enjoy the solitary pleasure of gliding through powder, skier tracks or on groomed trails with few distractions.
The Nordic Heaven package is for ski junkies and beginners alike. The package is offered from both its winter-season lodges – Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. It includes a minimum of two nights of lodging, one breakfast per person per night, one welcome gift per adult, one ski rental per person each day, unlimited ski shuttles, unlimited ice skating and a Snow Card good for 10 percent discount on gift shop items, tours, rentals and meals. Ski instruction is available at an additional cost. The package at Old Faithful Snow Lodge also includes roundtrip snowcoach transportation to or from the park entrance. The package is available at Mammoth Jan. 1 through March 4, 2013, and starts at $191 per person double occupancy. The package at Old Faithful Snow Lodge is available Jan. 1 through March 3 and starts at $375 per person double occupancy. The package can be reserved at www.YellowstoneNationalParkLodges.com or by calling toll-free 1-800-GEYSERLAND (1-866-439-7375) or 1-307-344-7311.
Zion National Park
Bird watching. The name “Zion” means “a place of peace and refuge,” and that is exactly what this southern Utah park is for the nearly 300 species of birds that fly through the park throughout the year. Regardless of whether visitors are serious bird watchers on a “big year” – what birders call a year dedicated to spotting as many species as possible – or casual birders who simply enjoy watching winged creatures in their natural habitat, birders will likely be gratified with the results of their Zion adventure. The National Park Service offers a free Zion bird list. Zion National Park has more than 146,000 acres of cliffs and canyons, so visitors can combine bird watching with hiking along the park’s many miles of trails.
Zion Lodge, the park’s only lodging facility, offers the “Winter Magic in Zion” package from Dec. 1, 2012 through March 15, 2013, except during holiday periods. The package includes accommodations and breakfast for two each morning. The nightly rate for a Sunday-through-Thursday stay starts at $99 for a standard room. Zion Lodge also offers special rates during the New Year’s and President’s Day Weekend holidays. For complete details visit www.zionlodge.com or call 1-888-297-2757 or 1-303-297-2757.