Two of my most memorable national park trips came in winter. One year I cross-country skied to the brink of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, coursing through the dim predawn light, passing tall stands of pines nestled deep in snow. At sunrise we were enjoying the view over Point Imperial.
Another year found me in Yellowstone in January, a magical, snowy season in the park, a perfect time for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. I managed plenty of both, one day skiing to the frothy Lone Star Geyser and back to Old Faithful Snow Lodge, another day sinking snowshoe-clad foot after foot into knee-deep snows en route to the edge of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Winter is truly a wonderful time to visit a park. And it's often the most economical, too.
If you can escape during the winter months to the Grand Canyon, you'll find that rooms on the South Rim are priced as much as 30 percent less than during the hectic, crowded summer months. At the Maswick and Yavapai lodges rooms go for between $72 and $83 a night per couple, with kids 16 and under staying free.
Prices also dip at the El Tovar Lodge, one of the more romantic lodges in all of the national park system, but they're certainly no bargain, not even in winter. The "El Tovar Romance Package" goes for $264 per night and gets you a standard queen room, a bottle of wine, fruit basket, and dinner with a bottle of El Tovar-labeled wine.
These rates are good between November 27 and next March 9, although December 23-January 2 is blacked out from these deals. You need to mention the promotion code "ROMA" when you arrange the El Tovar stay.
While it'd be nice to recreate my mid-winter ski on the North Rim, the lodge I stayed at no longer is in business, and the Grand Canyon Lodge is closed through the winter months. About the only way you can do what I did is if you enjoy winter camping and are hardy enough for a long ski.
More deals can be found at Zion National Park, where a nightly rate of $89 for a standard room and $99 for a western cabin are offered Sundays through Thursdays. (I'd spring the extra $10 for a western cabin, which comes with a fireplace.) The "Zion in Winter" promotion also includes breakfast in the Zion Lodge. These rates, which run from December 1 through March 9, also are blacked out during the Christmas holidays, Valentine's Day, and during President's Day Weekend. To get the deal, when you make your reservation mention the promotion code "WNTR."
Another park where the lodging is managed by Xanterra Parks & Resort is Yellowstone, and you'll find some winter bargains there, too. Nightly rates for rooms at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, for instance, are just $75 for a room without a private bath, or $99 for a room with a bath. If you can arrange a snowcoach ride to the Old Faithful complex, you'll find rooms at the Snow Lodge are $161 a night, $121 for a Western Cabin, and $83 for a Frontier Cabin. All have private bathrooms.
While I truly love the Snow Lodge, I'd save $40 by staying in a Western Cabin, or $60 by staying in a Frontier Cabin, and spend the savings on meals or on the snowcoach ride to reach Old Faithful, a trek that runs around $50 and up each way, per person, from West Yellowstone.
You can find more winter specials at Yellowstone by visiting Xanterra's web site.
If you don't like winter's cold and snow, consider heading to Death Valley National Park. True, winter is this park's high season, but they offer golf packages at the Furnace Creek Ranch that start at $102 per person and include 18 holes of golf, a cart, and club storage. You can check out the deals here.
As I learn of more bargains, I'll pass them on.