Like the National Park Service, concessioner Xanterra Parks & Resorts knows some of the best things in life are free.
Xanterra has offered 15 ideas for free national park activities on fee-free weekends and throughout the year, according to a news release.
Be a train spotter. Join the throngs of tourists who wave at passengers aboard Grand Canyon Railway when they arrive and depart the park.
Watch an otter outfox a fox. Part of the fun of wildlife watching in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park and other parks is discovering the personalities of the park’s permanent residents. Yellowstone river otters, for example, are cagey—and cute—and their clever ways ensure a steady population and a fascinating show for travelers lucky enough to spot one. One employee reported watching an otter tease a hungry fox by repeatedly diving into a river and popping up in a different place once the fox moved into position again. You could practically see the smirk on the otter’s face each time his mischievous moves foiled the fox.
Get high. Some hikers have called it one of the best short hikes in a national park. Though only five miles round trip, the hike to Angel’s Landing in Utah’s Zion National Park is a strenuous but breathtakingly beautiful hike. The view from the top of Angel’s Landing is worth the 21 steep switchbacks—called “Walter’s Wiggles”—and the final white-knuckle half mile. This is a hike for experienced trekkers who have no fear of heights.
Go low. At 282 feet below sea level, Badwater Basin in California’s Death Valley National Park is one of the lowest places in the world. The vast salt flats are typically bone-dry but can turn into a ready-made lake after a big rainstorm. Look up at a mountainside sign marking sea level posted well above the Badwater Basin viewpoint.
Wish on a star. Stargazing is a simple, free, safe, and rejuvenating activity for the whole family. Because there is already minimal exterior lighting surrounding the lodges in most national parks, guests need only walk a few steps away to observe the night sky in relative quiet. Death Valley National Park in particular is known for its dark skies initiatives. The National Park Service also offers a variety of free stargazing programs in Yellowstone.
Walk in the footsteps of presidents. Six presidents—and Three Stooges—have stayed at Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Inn. It was built for $140,000 in 1904 and is one of the most famous buildings in any national park. A Xanterra historian tells travelers about the inn’s colorful history during free walking tours offered several times a day throughout the summer.
Make a snowball in June. In Oregon’s remote Crater Lake National Park, winter weather appears from October through June, when the very last of the snow melts. Snow in July isn’t uncommon either. Historic Crater Lake Lodge is open mid-May through mid-October, and guests are advised to be prepared for any kind of weather.
Soak. There are two ways to get to the bottom of the Grand Canyon—by foot or by mule—and in the warm months both of them can be sweaty experiences. The Bright Angel Creek running alongside Xanterra’s Phantom Ranch on the floor of the Canyon offers a welcome, chilly, and free way to cool off. On any afternoon, you’ll see campers, hikers and mule-riders soaking on rocks and enjoying the cool creek water while staring up at the soaring canyon walls.
Xanterra Parks & Resorts
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.
Xanterra Parks & Resorts are committed to the preservation and protection of the environment for many years.
Through its environmental program, “Ecologix,” Xanterra Parks & Resorts has been recognized repeatedly for environmental leadership in the hospitality industry and is the recipient of many honors, including major awards from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Environmental Protection Agency, Travel Industry Association of America, American Hotel and Lodging Association, National Parks Conservation Association, Conde Nast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Colorado Department of Public Health, State of Arizona, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, and Utah Department of Environmental Quality.
Address: 6312 South Fiddlers Green Circle, Suite 600N, Greenwood Village, Colorado 80111
Phone: (303) 600-3400
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
There is adventure in any trip; it’s up to us to seek it out.