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El Tovar is perched on the Grand Canyon’s dramatic South Rim. Photo from Xanterra.

Historic inns at some of  the most popular U.S. national parks are sending out alerts that, because of cancellations and travel restrictions imposed in the wake of COVID-19, there is potential space to be had this summer if you act quickly to reserve.

The lodgings run by the Xanterra company — including historic and atmospheric inns such as El Tovar perched on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon,  Zion Lodge in Utah, and The Oasis in Death Valley — are even offering up to 30 percent off their regular rates this summer  to entice customers.

Summers are usually fully booked months in advance, so for those who do want to travel and feel they can safely do so, this is an opportunity to experience some of America’s greatest outdoor spaces in style.

While many baby boomers are holding back on travel due to the coronavirus, the lack of foreign travelers visiting the U.S.  is perhaps most responsible for the lodging availability.

Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Inn, a short walk from Old Faithful geyser, has been dubbed the world’s biggest log cabin. Photo from Xanterra.

Normally, Europeans and other nationalities are drawn to the American West’s wide-open spaces, expansive skies — and to literally hot destinations such as Death Valley, even in mid-summer. But this year they aren’t coming.

The Oasis at Death Valley is a true oasis, by the way, with a natural water supply, spring-fed swimming pool, spa, and even the world’s lowest golf course, since the park is well below sea level. (While the Oasis usually has two lodgings under its umbrella — The Inn and the Ranch — only the Ranch is open this summer.)

Yellowstone, Glacier, and a Historic Railway

You might even get lucky and score a room at Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Inn or Glacier National Park’s Many Glacier Hotel, both historic properties operated by Xanterra. Cancellations mean that spaces keep opening up.

You can also save 30 percent on rides aboard the historic steam-powered Grand Canyon Railway, which runs 65 miles from Williams, Arizona (a regular stop along fabled Route 66),  on a highly scenic two-and-a-half-hour journey to the South Rim of the Canyon. Complete with vintage cars, the railroad dates from 1901.

The Grand Canyon Railway runs 65 miles to the South Rim. Photo from Xanterra.

While I haven’t ridden that train, I have stayed at some of these properties, including the Grand Canyon’s elegant El Tovar and Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Inn, and I can attest that they offer a completely different experience than other lodgings, both inside and outside the parks.

There’s nothing like waking at sunrise to find the Grand Canyon laid out in all its splendor at your doorstep, with the light of dawn dancing on the canyon walls — with few other people around to jostle for views.

Or watching for Yellowstone’s famed Old Faithful geyser to erupt from a vantage point right in the Old Faithful Inn, a rustic lodge that dates from 1902.

The Xanterra properties are expected to open by June 18 or so, following precautions taken to avoid spread of the virus.

But if  — understandably — you don’t feel safe traveling this summer, you can always file these experiences under your must-do lists for future years.  Just be sure to reserve months in advance.

For further information and bookings, check out the Xanterra website.


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According to government and private surveys:

  • Leading-edge baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1955) and seniors account for four out of every five dollars spent on luxury travel today.
  • Roughly half the consumer spending money in the U.S.--more than $2 trillion--is in the hands of leading-edge baby boomers and seniors.
  • Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) travel more than any other age group.
  • When asked what they would most like to spend their money on, baby boomers answered “travel” more than any other category, including improving their health or finances.

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