Perhaps because some of the best ones are often right in our own
backyard, there can be a tendency for travel agents in the West to
overlook our National Parks. This is a mistake, however, because
these parks can provide memorable trips for clients, as well as a
great source of commission for agents.
Along those lines, we’ve compiled the following select list of
tours and lodging options at eight top western parks. We hope they
will inspire you to look again at our National Parks when working
with clients, or offer fresh ideas for those of you that already
specialize in the parks.
As always, we’d like to hear about some of your favorite
companies and tours that we might have overlooked.
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK
At 277 miles long, 18 miles wide and a mile deep, tourists don’t
view the Grand Canyon, they live in awe of it for the moment and
carry the memories for a lifetime.
Visitors delight in a mule trip to the canyon floor, paddling
the Colorado River rapids or watching ravens frolic and roll on
thermals thousands of feet above the canyon floor. The vast
majority of the 1.2-million-acre park is inaccessible due to cliffs
and inhospitable desert, yet endurance hikers embrace the
rim-to-river descent and climb of more than 10,000 feet.
The Grand Canyon Field Institute works closely
with the National Park Service to provide multi-day learning events
in wilderness studies, photography, geology and more. Their
“Learning & Lodging” program provides two nights’
accommodations, meals and two exciting days with a GCFI instructor
for a single price.
Ninety percent of the Grand Canyon’s annual 4 million visitors
visit the South Rim. The remainder cherish the North Rim, known for
having the least crowds and some of the canyon’s best scenery and
mountain bike trails. Canyon Rim Adventures will
guide bikers on narrow trails coursing through dense pine forests
only to suddenly arrive at a panoramic view of the canyon.
Grand Canyon Expedition Company offers eight-
and 14-day expeditions rafting the entire length of the Grand
Canyon, viewing it from what many claim is the best vantage point
of all, the Colorado River. When people comment they’ve seen the
Grand Canyon, offer them this tour.
Helicopter tours offer the best way to tour the canyon in a
short amount of time. The Eastern Canyon and the Dragon Corridor
are a few of the must-see highlights. From Las Vegas, Grand
Canyon Explorer offers helicopter tours directly to Grand
Canyon, with a wide selection of customized canyon tours away from
American Orient Express provides travelers with
an elegant, full-service tour of the Grand Canyon and the other
great parks of the West. Guests live, dine and play aboard 16
vintage carriages created during the 1940s and ’50s. The collection
of cars was purchased from museums, private collections and
railroad yards throughout the country, and then restored in 1989 at
a cost of $14 million. Each departure carries approximately 100
passengers who are attended to by a highly trained, professional
staff and crew. Beginning in Albuquerque and ending in Salt Lake
City, the seven-day tour ranges $3,700-$6,190 per person.
BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK
Big Bend National Park is a place of history and discovery that
offers a lifetime of touring opportunities. Big Bend is one of the
largest and least visited of America’s national parks. Over 801,000
acres offer surprises from old graves and dinosaur bones to unique
geological formations and ghost towns.
The area is famous for its wildflower blooms, and Michael
Davidson, executive director of Visit Big Bend said: “Due to
prolific rains during 2004, and continued showers in the first
months of 2005, the Big Bend wildflower bloom will be spectacular
Big Bend River Tours offer guided rafting and
float trips down 250 miles of the Rio Grande River. These one- to
multi-day adventures offer exceptional river bottomland tranquility
and beauty. For the most fun and adventure, back-road tours use
passenger Jeeps with canopies. Guides do not merely drive, but also
explain the history, geology, flora and fauna of the area. Half- or
full-day trips are available.
Catering to the elite traveler, Lajitas is a
mixed-use luxury development nestled near Big Bend National Park.
The resort currently features 92 luxury accommodations; the only
international golf course in the world The Ambush at Lajitas with a
novel 19th hole in Mexico; three restaurants; the Lajitas Hunt
Club; a spa; and an equestrian center.
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
It isn’t by accident that Ansel Adams chose to memorialize
Yosemite in his world-famous black-and-white photographs. This
glacially carved, 1,189-square-mile park offers an abundance of
super-sized attractions, including El Capitan the largest monolith
of exposed granite on earth. The park’s wispy waterfalls invoke
awe, Mariposa’s gargantuan sequoias inspire and the
wildflower-studded Tuolumne Meadows charm. Furthermore, the park
just celebrated a milestone, with the completion of a 10-year,
$13.5 million restoration of the Yosemite Falls area.
Yosemite traffic is nightmarish in summer, yet most tourists
find what they seek by escaping the main roads. May and June are
the best months to view the waterfalls discharging at full force
from spring snowmelt. Backcountry travelers might consider a
midsummer trip, when streams are low.
The High Sierra Camps offer a leisurely hiking
adventure with hikers covering roughly six to eight miles between
camps. Guests who choose to hike the entire circuit at their own
pace see some mind-boggling scenery and enjoy good fishing. Advance
reservations and lottery permits required.
Tenaya Lodge offers fine and casual dining for
the vacationer to the executive. The lodge is a prime choice for
corporate meetings with 8,000 square feet of function space, nine
conference rooms, a 500-person grand ballroom and business center.
A full-service spa, fitness center, dry saunas, steam rooms and
60-foot indoor and outdoor pools with an underwater sound system.
Jamboree cookouts, rock climbing and concerts are popular
activities. For kids 4-11, an “edu-tainment” program covers outdoor
skills, movies and arts and crafts.
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
Wyoming, Montana, Idaho
To early explorers, it was “the place where hell bubbles up.”
Petrified trees, mud pits, fumaroles and hot springs are like
gargoyles that stand as sentinels to the park’s inner beauty of
meadows and mountain, grasslands and wildlife. This
3,472-square-mile park is a wildlife sanctuary where bison, moose,
mountain lions, bears and elk roam freely. Of its 300 geysers, few
are photographed more than Old Faithful. It is home to over 290
waterfalls and one of the world’s largest petrified forests.
Yellowstone Safari Company offers wildlife
viewing for grizzly bears and wolves. Photo safaris are led by
knowledgeable professional wildlife biologists. Few sights can beat
watching a pack of wolf pups at play, or a grizzly bear sow
watching her cub slide down a snowy embankment time and time
Yellowstone Llamas offers a one- to five-day
pack trip to explore the highlights of Yellowstone, away from the
crowds. The llamas carry food, tent and gear, while hikers enjoy
unhindered exploration on foot. Guests each handle a llama, which
are extremely friendly, easy to control and sure-footed.
Austin-Lehman Adventures features a Yellowstone
itinerary that strives to get away from the crowds.
“Ninety-five percent of the park is considered off-road
backcountry. This leaves a lot of territory open for discovery,”
said Dan Austin, a founder of the company.
ALA says its guides use a little-known trail that weaves past
meadows of grazing bison, passing several thermal hot springs and
lakes and ends at the rim of the Grand Canyon of the
Located 10 miles from the park border, Paradise Rest
Guest Ranch offers an alternative to local motels, with
remote log cabins, horseback riding, cookouts and fly-fishing on
private ranch waters. Don’t miss out on the evening barbecues and
GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK
The Grand Teton National Park is a rocky bosom where sportsmen
are nourished by the range’s endless opportunity for adventure.
Massive 13,770-foot Grand Teton attracts backcountry skiers and
climbers from around the world.
This is a good place to view wildlife normally seen in zoos.
Elk, bison, moose, pronghorn, black bears and mule deer viewing and
photography opportunities abound. Birders delight in the 300
species of birds found here.
The Teton Range offers some of the best and most accessible
big-mountain skiing in North America. Exum Mountain
Guides offer skiers and snowboarders daily descents that
drop over a vertical mile down couloirs, steep faces and
amphitheater bowls. Their five-day Teton course teaches skiers and
snowboarders how to handle big-mountain descents.
Grand Teton Lodge Company is an authorized park
service concessionaire that offers a variety of hikes, tours and
accommodations. One of their many highlights includes scenic
breakfast and dinner cruises on Jackson Lake.
Jenny Lake Boating offers lake cruises under
the Cathedral Group of the Grand Tetons. Friendly and knowledgeable
staff use new boats equipped with four-stroke, non-smoking,
environmentally friendly engines. They also offer canoe and kayak
Triangle X Ranch is a working, full-service
dude ranch where moose are apt to be seen in nearby meadows. The
ranch offers an alternative to the hectic pace of park
accommodations. Activities include square dancing, fishing, hiking,
horseback riding and their famous nightly cookouts. Owned and
operated by the same family for an incredible 78 years.
HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK
Big Island, Hawaii
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the gateway to witness the
grand marriage of lava, ocean and jungle that remains, if you’ll
excuse the pun, a hot destination.
When my wife and I visited, we thought we had died and gone to
that “other place” below. Hot lava scoured a flaming rivulet of
fire down a far mountainside. No more than 20 feet from us,
blackened lava floes pulsed an eerie, orange glow. Lava poured into
the Pacific as the sunset sliced through bellows of steam, a
spectacular finale to one of nature’s grandest spectacles.
Jack’s Tours offers a hassle-free,
kick-back-and-relax opportunity to see the best of the volcanoes on
a 10-hour, all-inclusive tour that hits the park visitor
Hawaiian Walkway Vacations offer hikes in
forested backcountry to where tourists delight in taking a dip in
remote pools or standing beneath wispy veils of cascading
Kids love the mule-riding adventures offered by Hawaii
Forest and Trail. These comical, sure-footed animals
transport riders through rainforests and across creeks, with rest
breaks atop cliffs to enjoy the panoramic ocean views.
After planning your client’s earth tours, ask these operators
about an escape to the stars at the observatory atop 13,677-foot
Mauna Kea. I highly recommend taking in the sunset and observatory
tour. Descend to 9,000 feet for stargazing into the heart of the
Milky Way that only the clear skies of Hawaii can provide.
Carson’s Volcano Cottage offers private cabins
nestled in a jungle setting complete with a forested hot tub
surrounded by lush gardens. This is ideal for honeymooners or
nature lovers seeking tranquility and solitude. Their Kapoho Beach
House is located on a scenic stretch of remote ocean shoreline.
ZION NATIONAL PARK
Zion National Park is a showcase for the world’s greatest
geological architecture. Sandstone arches tower over rock
sculptures chiseled one grain at a time by wind and rain, while
sunsets fill winding slot canyons and gorges with a rainbow of
ATV Wilderness Tours offers guided tours of
Hurricane Sands and Elephant Butte. Coral Pink Sand Dunes State
Park, also known as ATV Central, offers 3,700 acres of fun, with
2,000 acres of wind-blown coral sand dunes that reach heights of
several hundred feet. Hundreds of miles of trails are open
Zion Tubing offers a soft-adventure for kids
and adults of all ages, in its two-hour float-trip down the Virgin
Zion is one of the most bike-friendly parks in the U.S.
Springdale Cycle Tours offers guided trips and
bike rentals. Zipping along the ridge tops of the Pa’rus Trail is
so thrilling, other forms of travel pale in comparison.
Tauck World Discovery offers The Canyonlands,
one of their most popular tours that visit the Grand Canyon, Bryce
Canyon, and Zion national parks. The eight-day, seven-night trip
begins in Phoenix. Price starts at $1,960, double occupancy.
Trafalgar Tours visits Zion as part of its
Scenic Parks Explorer package along with several of the major parks
in the West. The 14-day tour begins and ends in Las Vegas, and
costs $2,099 per person, land only.
Zion Ponderosa Ranch is located atop a
6,500-foot plateau overlooking the park. This one-stop resort
offers cozy, log-cabin lodging. On ranch property, guests indulge
in rappelling, ATV tours, wagon rides, swimming, hiking and
horseback rides. Camp Ponderosa for Kids allows youngsters to learn
basic outdoor skills, freeing up parents to explore Zion on their
MOUNT RANIER NATIONAL PARK
Mount Rainier draws 2 million people a year to view a
14,411-foot volcano that is encased in over 35 square miles of snow
and ice. This is no ordinary volcano, but rather, mountain escape
at its finest. Some prefer to simply drive the main road through
the park’s old-growth rain forests to the summit, while others
prefer to tackle a few of the 300 miles of trails to subalpine
meadows filled with wildflowers. Established in 1899, this
235,625-acre park is 97 percent wilderness.
Grayline Bus Tours of Seattle offers a 10-hour,
$54 guided tour from the Sheraton Hotel in Seattle to the park.
Rainier Mountaineering trains climbers with a
variety of programs, custom climbs and instruction. The one-day
climbing school or the Nisqually Glacier hike both offer exciting
and valuable hands-on mountaineering experience. No experience
necessary, but clients should be in good physical condition.
Mount Rainier Guest Services operates two
hotels within the park. The National Park Inn at
Longmire is open year-round and offers 25 rooms, a gift shop,
full-service restaurant and lounge with a stone fireplace. Two
rooms are handicapped accessible. The Paradise Inn
offers 126 rooms, a full-service restaurant, lounge, gift shop and
Big Bend National Park
Big Bend River Tours
Big Bend Info
Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon Field Institute
Canyon Rim Adventures
Grand Canyon Expedition Company
Grand Canyon Explorer
American Orient Express
Grand Teton National Park
Exum Mountain Guides
Grand Teton Lodge Company
Jenny Lake Boating
Triangle X Ranch
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii Forest & Trail
Carson’s Volcano Cottage
Mount Rainier National Park
Grayline of Seattle
Mount Rainier Guest Services
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone Safari Company
Paradise Rest Ranch
Yosemite National Park
High Sierra Camps
Zion National Park
ATV Wilderness Tours
Zion Ponderosa Ranch
Springdale Cycle Tours
Tauck World Discovery