Thursday, May 26, 2011

Grand Idea: Taking Grandparents to the National Parks

National Parks are on everyone's minds these days. Cubs are being born, waterfalls are swollen with snow melt, flowers are bursting into bloom.

National Geographic Guide to the National Parks of the United States, 6th EditionOur staff has just selected what we think are the 10 Best National Parks for Family Vacations. Others are worried about what federal budget cuts might to this priceless recreational system. And we've just found a list of the national parks favored by senior travelers.

This list was put together by the very knowledgeable team at Xanterra, the leading concessioneer operating rooms, restaurants, gift stores and activities in national parks.As they note, extended-family vacations are one of the fastest-growing segments of the travel industry.

With more than 70 national parks, there are plenty of options for family travelers, who can choose adventures that include geology, wildlife, geothermal features, history, culture and architecture; and landscapes that range from canyons to mountains and deserts or geysers. We always say, "With age comes wisdom," so here's their list-

Top National Parks for Multi-Generational Family Vacations

Yellowstone National Park has always been a place where all ages can find fun and experience some of nature’s wonders. Geysers, like Old Faithful, spout off to everyone’s delight. Mud pots bubble and streams steam, sometimes creating new geological features. Easy walking trails take visitors to the best viewpoints. Or visitors can see it on horseback or take a guided motor-coach tour – perfect for older and very young guests, as well as those who consider a walk to the mailbox a “hike.” Yellowstone’s nine lodges offer a variety of budget options in locations throughout the park.A particularly good activity for families is the Old West Cookout at the Roosevelt Lodge. Catch a wagon ride to this cowboy cuisine experience, especially if there are very young children or folks not comfortable on horseback. With cowboy entertainment and Western-style food, this activity is fun for all ages.

Grand Canyon National Park features majestic views everywhere you look, and only requires an easy walk along the South Rim to enjoy them. For those who just want the highlights, the South Rim park shuttle will ferry them from one great viewpoint to another. Visitors of every age will enjoy arriving at the park aboard the Grand Canyon Railway, a daily train from Williams, Ariz. that travels 62 miles across the Colorado Plateau. There is live musical entertainment and a kid-pleasing old-fashioned Western shootout. It is easy, fun and appropriate for the whole family. Upon arrival, relax at the historic El Tovar Hotel, enjoying its architecture and its perch on the canyon’s edge. Watch the tiny hummingbirds dart from feeder to feeder, or saunter to the rim for a peek at one of the canyon’s resident giant California condors. Take a self-guided tour of Grand Canyon Village and see more historic buildings and learn about some of the area’s most interesting characters. And more adventurous and fit members of the group can take a day hike into the canyon.

Zion National Park offers visitors the opportunity to explore the bottomland of a lush valley with soaring red sandstone walls. A stream runs through it and wildlife comes here to drink. For those who prefer not to hike, there’s a six-mile scenic drive loop through the park, or visitors can hop on a guided shuttle tour. Again, hikes here can be easy or hard, depending on your ability level, enthusiasm and age. Be cautious of climbing on the slick-rock, especially if it gets wet. Wade in streamside pools and do a little bird-watching. Zion Lodge, designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood, offers overnight accommodations.

Death Valley National Park in California features spectacular desert scenery that anyone can appreciate. Older folks might remember a TV show, “Death Valley Days,” that transported them to this spot every week. Little ones may just see a giant sandbox. Either way, it’s a fascinating place. Those who don’t want to hike, bike or otherwise explore this vast desert landscape can lounge by and play in the pool at the Inn at Furnace Creek or Ranch at Furnace Creek. While the kids splash in the pool, some adults may prefer a visit to the Harmony Borax Museum or to Scotty’s Castle, a Spanish hacienda complete with period furnishings and artistic tile work.

Crater Lake National Park in Oregon features the deepest lake in the nation (at nearly 2,000 feet deep), dramatically surrounded by lava walls that soar equally high in some places. In addition to the usual park activities, there is a narrated boat tour of the lake accessible to all ages and abilities. Crater Lake Lodge is the base camp for whatever level of adventure a visitor chooses.

Petrified Forest National Park is easy to see by car. A 28-mile road takes visitors close to some of its best sights and offers stepping-off points for hikers. Hikes range from short and easy to longer and more strenuous, but give everyone a chance to get out of the car and stretch their legs.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is an iconic American destination. Who hasn’t seen the post cards? There are convenient viewpoints for examining the faces of four famous presidents, and those who don’t mind a moderate hike can get even closer. This master work of artist Gutzon Borglum is always ranked as one of America’s top family attractions.

If you've done a multi-generational road trip to the national parks, please let us know your favorites.

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