Free National Park Experiences during Fee-Free Weekends

Like the National Park Service, concessioner Xanterra Parks & Resorts knows some of the best things in life are free.

Encompassing over 1.2 million acres, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers unparalleled opportunities for water-based & backcountry recreation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Encompassing over 1.2 million acres, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers unparalleled opportunities for water-based & backcountry recreation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Xanterra has offered 15 ideas for free national park activities on fee-free weekends and throughout the year, according to a news release.

The National Park Service is offering five opportunities in 2013 to enjoy national parks without paying an entrance fee. Those dates are January 21, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day; April 22-26, National Park Week; August 25, National Park Service Birthday; September 28, National Public Lands Day; and November 9-11, Veterans Day Weekend.

“Everyone loves a bargain, and national parks are among the bargains around,” said Betsy O’Rourke, vice president of sales and marketing for Xanterra.

“Watching Old Faithful erupt, seeing the sun rise over the Grand Canyon…these are the kinds of experiences that travelers will remember for a lifetime. And you can’t put a price tag on memories.”

“Whether it is an activity, a restaurant meal, gift shop purchase, or hotel room, travelers are seeking value as well as a memorable vacation experience, and our national parks offer both,” said O’Rourke.

Xanterra operates lodges, restaurants, gift shops, tours and activities in Yellowstone, Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Zion, Crater Lake, Rocky Mountain, and Petrified Forest National Parks and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Xanterra also operates Grand Canyon Railway, which provides daily train trips to the Grand Canyon.

Late afternoon light enhance the beauty of Joshua Tree. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Late afternoon light enhance the beauty of Joshua Tree. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Xanterra says many visitors plan a variety of free experiences as well as select a few interpretive experiences to round out a vacation.

“It is great to experience a park on your own and in your own way, but a guided tour is one of the best ways to learn about the history, geology and wildlife of any national park,” said O’Rourke.

Here is the list of 15 ideas for free national park activities on fee-free weekends and throughout the year, provided by Xanterra:

Skate. Yellowstone National Park’s two winter-season lodges—Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel—feature free outdoor ice-skating rinks. Guests can borrow skates at no cost. Yellowstone’s two winter-season lodges opened for the season in mid-December and will close again in early March. Lodges begin reopening for the summer season in early May.

Discover borax. Xanterra’s Borax Museum at the Ranch at Furnace Creek in California’s Death Valley National Park shows how a simple chemical was largely responsible for the fortunes and misfortunes of many a miner, and it was largely responsible for bringing tourism to this California desert. Many ancient mining tools, antique stagecoaches and even a steam locomotive are on display.

Write a letter and post it. Old fashioned writing desks in Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Old Faithful Inn draw a surprising number of inspired guests, who ditch their devices in favor of stationery and post cards, pens, and stamps.

Compare china patterns. The Bright Angel History Room in Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Lodge includes displays of early Fred Harvey Company china patterns. Harvey was the restaurateur who is credited for bringing tourism to the Grand Canyon and throughout the West by offering excellent food at a good value in restaurants at stops along the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad route.

Watch American Indian dancers. An American Indian troupe performs authentic tribal dances outside the historic Hopi House gift shop in the Grand Canyon during the summer season. Schedules are posted in lodges and other buildings throughout the park.

A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hitch a ride. The National Park Service offers free shuttles throughout Zion and Grand Canyon National Parks. The environmentally friendly vehicles transfer visitors to specific points throughout each park.

Listen to music. Yellowstone guests can experience free live music on summer evenings in the Lake Yellowstone Hotel, Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, and the Old Faithful Inn. The string quartet concert on many summer nights in the sunroom of Lake Yellowstone Hotel is so popular that in-the-know visitors arrive early for the seats with the best views of the sun setting over the lake. The pianist in the Mammoth Hotel is happy to accommodate requests—and he knows nearly all of them by heart.

Please Note: This is part 1 of a 2-part series on 15 ideas for free national park activities on fee-free weekends and throughout the year

Part 2: More Free National Park Activities during Fee-Free Weekends

Worth Pondering…

Stuff your eyes with wonder…live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.

—Ray Bradbury

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