Dos and Don’ts of Reserving a National Park Lodge

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National Park lodges come with world-class settings. Lakes, towering mountains, river-cut canyons, painted deserts and red rock formations beckon just beyond your room’s door. The railroad companies built many of the grande dame hotels, creating properties that often featured soaring lobbies, thick log beams and impressive fireplaces. Follow these tips to maximize your stay at these iconic properties.

Timing is Everything in Securing a Stay


Stay in the park for convenience.

National parks are big. By lodging inside the boundaries, you eliminate hours spent driving to and from the park. That affords you more time to explore and to savor the scenery. Leave your car parked and take advantage of trains, in-park shuttles, walking paths, bicycles, horses, mules and organized guided tours.

Book rooms as far in advance as possible.

The Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone National Park; El Tovar, Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel Lodge, Grand Canyon National Park; Many Glacier Hotel, Glacier National Park, and other well-known historic facilities can be booked eight months or so in advance. Still, between May 1 and late June and between mid-August and mid-October, it is still possible to reserve a room within days of arrival. Although less famous lodgings often have availability closer to the arrival date, it’s still wise to book as far in advance as possible. National Parks accept reservations 13 months in advance. For Yellowstone National Park, however, summer reservations open up May 1 for the following year (May 1, 2016, you can book for May 1, 2017, through October 2017). For winter, reservations open March 15 for the following winter (March 15, 2016, you can book for the winter of 2016/2017).

Be flexible with dates and hotels/lodges.

Doing so gives you a better chance to secure a reservation.

Check for cancellations.

Cancellations do occur. The easiest way to check for cancellations is at the individual park website or by calling central reservations at 888-297-2757.

Make dinner reservations ahead of time.

A bonus of lodging at a signature property is the ability to book meals at that hotel’s main dining room many months in advance. Guests staying at the Grand Canyon’s El Tovar, for example, may make dinner reservations at the noted El Tovar dining room six months in advance. Others must wait until 30 days in advance. Many park dining options do not require reservations. To make a reservation, visit the dining section of each park lodge’s website; often you must call or email the restaurant directly.

Book guided tours in advance.

Select the guided tours you want and book them as far in advance as possible, which also provides more choice when there are multiple departure times. At Grand Canyon National Park, for example, the popular all-day South Rim mule trips may be booked 13 months in advance.


Don’t assume a room comes with standard features.

Read the descriptions carefully. Amenities vary. Some rooms use shared bathrooms. Other rooms come with private baths, telephones and coffee makers. Often rooms do not have televisions or air-conditioning, although some may.

Don’t pay unnecessary fees.

When you book lodging and activities directly with Xanterra Parks & Resorts, the largest operator of park-based hotels, restaurants and stores, you avoid paying third-party booking fees. Furthermore, you’ll be dealing with company representatives who know the properties, and in some cases, are based there. For reservations, call 888-297-2757.

Don’t unwittingly book the wrong lodging.

Some online booking sites often prominently feature accommodations outside the parks and are paid commissions for doing so.

For travel experiences available from Xanterra Parks & Resorts and its affiliated properties, visit