Family Travel to U.S. National Parks

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

A visit to one of the nation's 58 national parks is an iconic American family vacation. It is that one big vacation that leaves an impression for a lifetime. Standing atop the greatness of the Grand Canyon, witnessing the famous geysers and vast wildlife in Yellowstone and playing in one of the hottest places in the world in Death Valley, our national parks offer treasures and memories like no other vacation can.

Compared to many other vacation options, a national park visit also is affordable when you consider:

*There are no admission costs to most of the parks. Your primary costs are travel and lodging.

*ALL rates for food and lodging in parks are regulated so you will not encounter price gouging.

*Most park activities are free.

*Package deals offer the best savings.

AAA suggests saving even more by driving instead of flying. The thousands of requested TripTiks out west last year suggest that many families make it a road-trip vacation.

Besides the breathtaking views, the Grand Canyon National Park is giving families new reasons to visit.

Location: Arizona

Distance from Columbus: 1,865 miles

Things to Do: The newest feature to the park is the Canyon Vistas Mule Ride where visitors ride mules along the East Rim. Wranglers stop along the way giving you the best views in the house. While there is no age limit for this trip, riders must be at least 4 feet 7 inches tall. If riding on the rim is not your style, there are plenty of hiking trails and historic buildings to explore on your own.

Lodging: The Grand Canyon features seven very different and unique options for lodging from rustic to elegant. There are lodge rooms available starting at $83 per night to suites in the new El Tovar Hotel for $464, and every price point in between. While Xanterra lodges renovate the historic El Tovar, you can get a 30 percent room discount through March.

There are additional revolving discounts throughout the year and guests under 16 stay free with a paying adult. Your best savings will be through packages like Learning & Lodging which combine your overnight stay with interactive excursions during the day.

As the world's first national park established in 1872, Yellowstone is a destination every family should explore at least once. If you are driving, you can plan a stop at Mount Rushmore and the town of Cody along the way.

Location: Wyoming

Distance from Columbus: 1,770 miles

Things to Do:Recreation - Horseback rides, lake cruises, wildlife tours, bike rentals, sunset tours, stagecoach rides and hiking; Wildlife - The park is home to grizzly bears, bison, wolves and elk; Nature - Observe the world's largest preservation of geysers

Lodging: There are nine lodges in the park with a range of pricing to fit almost any budget. There are multi-night vacation packages available including Yellowstone for Families (see below), which is a great deal if you have kids between 8 and 12 years old.

For the truly adventurous, Far and Away Adventures offers "Two Nights on Yellowstone Lake." You are dropped off by boat on the shores of a remote part of the park where guides are waiting to set up your tents and make dinner. You play during the day in the great outdoors and relax at night in comfortable camping accommodations.

Additional packages and price points are available that offer lodging, excursions and extras like family cookouts.

For those who want to experience a little bit of the Wild, Wild West, Death Valley National Park is a memorable experience. You experience the heart of the American Gold Rush and one of the hottest places on the earth. Located less than a three-hour drive from the Las Vegas airport, you can arrive late morning from Columbus and still enjoy activities on your first day of vacation.

Location: California & Nevada

Distance from Columbus: 2,133 miles

Things to Do: Become a Junior Ranger – A FREE program for kids who want to take an active role in preserving our natural resources; Recreation – Biking, swimming in spring-fed pools, horseback riding, hiking, exploring canyons, moonlight walks; Scotty's Castle – an odd attraction in the desert that shows the stories of gold miners and Wild West swindlers; Jeep tour through Titus Canyon – visit a canyon ghost town where abandoned buildings and a train station still stand

Lodging: There are several family-focused lodging options and nine campgrounds within the park. The Ranch at Furnace Creek Resort is western-themed with family amenities including a playground. Panamint Springs Resort offers rooms (two beds starting at $114 per night in March), cottages (starting at $169 per night in March) and pet-friendly accommodations. Stovepipe Wells is a hotel with an American pioneer theme. Standard rooms start at $126 per night.