Getting a hotel room at a national park can be difficult, leading some consumers to wonder if all or most of the accommodations are sold to travel organizations such as tour operators, leaving little left for independent travelers.
That isn't the case, according to spokespersons from such areas as the Grand Canyon and Yosemite.
"Out of 1,050 rooms at the Grand Canyon park area, we allocate around 50% of the rooms to independent travelers on a year-round average," says Sue Finlay, director of sales, Grand Canyon National Park Lodges. "The number of rooms available to such travelers may vary, with more space allocated to tour operators in the off-season. We try to be fair to all segments."
Rooms for independent travelers tend to be at their largest quota during summer, when school is out and there is more family travel.
Start in Advance
But if you want to be assured of a room you should start the process well ahead, especially during the busy season from May through October.
"We start getting thousands of requests in February, and by the end of March we often can't accept the first dates that people want. We have to ask for alternate dates, and it would help if travelers had alternate dates in mind when they call."
Moreover, there is no waitlisting for accommodations. "We also don't overbook."
Among the misconceptions travelers may have, Finlay says, are that the Grand Canyon area is closed in winter. "We're open year-round and our room rates are also year-round. People also think it's too cold, but it's generally 40 to 50 degrees during the day."
"Some travelers," Finlay adds, "are familiar with the names of some of our more famous lodges and don't realize that there are other accommodations.
"If we say that the lodge they want is sold out, they may not try another place. They don't realize that some of the other accommodations are only a five-minute walk away, and that there's a free shuttle to the rim."
At Yosemite the picture is similar. "We have 1,750 rooms, and no more than 15% on a year-round average are ever dedicated to groups," says John Poimiroo, director of marketing for the Yosemite Park & Curry Co., which handles reservations for hotels there. "The remaining 85% of rooms are for individual rather than group travelers."
During the off-season from October to May, when there is less demand from individual travelers, more rooms might be allocated to group travel. The off-season may also produce more group traffic from overseas.
Space at Yosemite sells out quickly. The hotel rooms (about 600), as opposed to tent cabins and other accommodations, might be sold out from June to the end of September by the previous January.
Obviously, you have to try to make your reservations at least six months, if not before, in advance, which is not always easy to do.
However, travelers may not realize that there are cancellations and no-shows, and that people who haven't guaranteed their reservations may lose them by not processing a deposit.
Persistence Pays Off
"We don't waitlist, but the persistent caller may get good rooms," Poimiroo says.
Poimiroo reminds travelers that the tent cabins, while not on the same scale of comfort as hotel rooms, do have certain advantages in lower price and more availability. Some travelers are unclear about the range of distinctions between accommodations, especially with a hybrid term such as "tent cabins."
"Our tent cabins have canvas roofs and sides atop a wooden frame, which means that the unit is off the ground. There is a door and windows, but no bathroom or kitchen. The number of beds ranges from two to six. These are places basically just for sleeping."
Yosemite also has cabins with and without private baths. Some hotel rooms also lack a private bath. And for the more outdoors-oriented travelers there are campgrounds and housekeeping camps.
The latter have individual concrete units that sleep up to six persons and have a covered patio, double bed, table and chairs and wood-burning stove. Restrooms and shower facilities are nearby.
First Come, First Served
Campsites in Yosemite Valley can be reserved through Ticketron, with other campsites in the park available on a first-come, first-served basis, Poimiroo says.
Of the myths about Yosemite, Poimiroo said, one misconception is that Yosemite is overcrowded. "Most people come during the summer and never go outside the seven square miles of Yosemite Valley.
"The key to experiencing an uncrowded Yosemite is to come between October and April and avoid holiday weekends."
Some people also have the mistaken impression that the park is closed during the winter, Poimiroo says. While some roads and passes may close due to weather conditions, most of the access points are open, as are the accommodations, including some campgrounds.
As far as driving into Yosemite, Poimiroo suggests that travelers consider parking cars at their accommodations or in a day-use lot and using the free shuttle buses.
'1,200 Square Miles'