The RIGHT Places: Tips for visiting a National Park

According to a recent survey conducted by TripAdvisor, 73 percent of U.S. participants said they plan to visit a national park in 2009, up from 62 percent one year ago. It looks like visiting national parks this upcoming year will be a hot trend for families looking for cost-effective vacations that will allow them to save a few pennies, enjoy the great outdoors, and make memories that will last a lifetime.

ARAMARK Parks and Destinations, a leading concessioner of the National Park Service, provides first-rate lodging and dining options for families experiencing the natural beauty of many national parks. Here are some best tips that I’ve gleaned from them for visiting national parks in 2009.

Research event-themed packages.
When families travel to new and exciting places, like national parks, they want to experience the best each region has to offer. Many ARAMARK Parks and Destinations offer unique packages geared around special events and festivals that show off the culture of the region, whether it’s the Indian Arts & Culture Festival at Mesa Verde National Park in Southwestern Colorado or the Apple Butter Festival at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, many ARAMARK Parks and Destinations offer great steals on event-themed packages.

Book shoulder season travel. While traveling during off times may not sound that appealing, many national parks offer great deals on accommodations, tours, and services at the beginning or toward the last few weeks of the season. Families looking to see the beauty and grandeur of national parks without the crowds will see firsthand what the locals experience year-round, including the very best of fall foliage in Alaska or more temperate weather conditions to allow for the best travel in warmer regions of the country.

Skip the hotel. The best part about visiting national parks is the variety of unique lodging options. What better way to experience the great outdoors than to “rough it” with the family by camping or parking the RV at the campground. For guests at Lake Powell Resorts and Marinas in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, travelers can skip the hotel and head right for the houseboat and cherish the unique way to sleep on the crystal blue waters of Lake Powell, America’s top houseboating destination. Better yet, check out great seasonal fuel offers to save on gas.

Get to know your region’s history.
Wherever you’re located, there’s probably a national park within the region that can represent an affordable and family-friendly travel option for last-minute travel. Looking for a day trip, a romantic getaway, or a weekend trip with the family, national parks offer guided tours that showcase the unique history of the region and a great learning experience for all. According to the TripAdvisor survey, 36 percent will engage in an educational activity on vacation, up from 34 percent a year ago and 87 percent said they will visit an historic site, up from 84 percent in 2008. This means more travelers are looking to supplement their vacations with educational opportunities for the entire family. What better way for families to save on cash than to hike the trails of their favorite park, fishing, biking, or sharing a picnic while watching the sunset. Visitors get a world of culture by visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites at National parks such as Mesa Verde, where the world’s largest archeological preserve in North America lies, and Glacier Bay, with one of the nation’s largest biosphere reserves.

Go Green.
According to the TripAdvisor survey, more Americans appear to be going “lean and green” with their vacation plans for 2009 by visiting national parks and engaging in hiking and outdoor activities. A number of ARAMARK Parks and Destinations are incorporating green initiatives and sustainable cuisine into their fine-dining menus that will help the environment and their local economies. Alaska’s Denali National Park Resorts, for example, is leading the way with its new Articlean Ozone laundry system, award-winning recycling program, and addition of a hybrid bus to its tour fleet. With more travelers looking for eco-friendly destinations, national parks offer families the perfect green getaway!

Join loyalty programs. In light of the current economic crisis, company loyalty programs are on the rise to help keep loyal customers happy and coming back for more. For example, Gordon Biersch Brewery’s Passport Program offers consumers great rewards through their point system. Valued customers accumulate points to earn rewards like private Brewer’s dinners, gift cards, or fantasy vacation getaways.

Check out package deals, which are more popular and available than ever. Today, nearly every newspaper and popular travel magazine and Web site lists package deals.

Book accommodations through hotel web sites directly, rather than through the search engines. You are guaranteed to get the best rate, for example, if going directly to, rather than booking lodging through a central site.