Last updated: 10:20 AM ET, Fri March 11 2016

National Parks Fever Drives Tour Operator Business

Tour Operator | David Cogswell | March 11, 2016

National Parks Fever Drives Tour Operator Business

PHOTO: Yellowstone National Park. (Photo by David Cogswell)

The American love affair with our National Parks seems to be still intensifying. International visitors are also getting the national parks fever and driving enthusiasm higher than ever in 2016, the 100-year anniversary of the creation of the National Parks Service.

Yellowstone, the first national park, broke all previous annual attendance records last year by October.

The tour operator Collette reports its business is up 50 percent in early 2016 over the previous year, driven in large part by the current rage for visiting the national parks.

Tour operators, many of which have long histories of taking their guests to national parks, are competing for attention with a rash of new tours designed to capitalize on national parks fever and channel the interest into novel ways to create a rich national park experience.

With the National Park Service listing 59 parks, there are many ways to cut the National Park experience.

It’s possible to take a train from Chicago to Glacier Mountain National Park and then spend four days in the park with a new program from Unique Rail Journeys, a brand of Amtrak Vacations. The package includes two nights in a sleeper car on the Amtrak Empire Builder car, and six nights in hotels. The trip concludes in Seattle, with a tour around the city. The program also includes touring in Chicago.

Amtrak Vacations also offers a southwestern rail trip that has Grand Canyon National Park as its main destination, beginning in Chicago and ending in Los Angeles.

READ MORE: Wildlife Viewing in Lamar Valley at Yellowstone

Intrepid Travel is introducing four new tours this year to capitalize on National Park Fever. The trips provide national parks experiences in a variety of ways, including bicycling through southern Utah, hiking among California’s giant redwood trees, sailing the waters surrounding Florida and kayaking in Yellowstone.

Intrepid did some market research in coordination with the National Parks Centennial and found that 15 percent of Americans had never been to a major national landmark. Fifty-seven percent did not know the Grand Canyon is in Arizona, and 70 percent could not say what state Yellowstone is in.

The educational curve might be a little steep, but it looks like Intrepid is betting on enthusiasm.

Western River Expeditions is offering a rafting trip on the Colorado River that leads to three national parks: Arches and Canyonlands in Utah and Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. The Colorado River starts near Grand Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, runs 1,450 miles through the other three parks and ends up in Baja, Mexico.

The operator coordinates with Moab Adventure Center in Moab, Utah, to provide an optional hike in what is called the Fiery Furnace in Arches National Park and a Sunset Bus Tour among some of the most amazing rock formations in the world at Arches.

READ MORE: Road Tripping to Yellowstone National Park

Insight Vacations is reminding those who would visit the national parks that while it may be too late this year to get reservations at some of the most famous hotels in the national parks, Insight, because the tour operator book blocs of rooms years in advance, may still be able to provide access.

Insight offers tours that include 30 national parks, including Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Zion.

Austin Adventures put out a new National Park trip this year that combines hiking on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon with a visit to Havasu Canyon in Arizona, combining the nation’s most popular natural attraction with a rare and little known gem. The tour is recommended for families with kids 10 years of age or older. It departs in late March.

If you search “national parks” on Tauck’s website you will be delivered 117 tours. To make it more interesting for those wishing to set off on a Centennial-year exploration, a number of these tours were made in collaboration with Ken Burns as part of the Ken Burns American Journeys series. These reflect input in the process of creating the tours by Ken Burns and his historian partner Dayton Duncan, as well as short films featuring the two discussing the national parks and their film “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.”

Trafalgar is offering nine national parks trips, the centerpiece of which is its 15-day Scenic Parks Explorer. It includes Zion, Bryce Canyon, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Arches, Mesa Verde and Grand Canyon national parks, and Jackson, Denver, Monument Valley and Las Vegas.

Abercrombie & Kent, originating in Kenya, is best known as an operator to the most exotic places in the world, but it does not omit the American West and the National Parks from that list. A&K offers small group trips to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons national parks and to the national parks of the southwest, including Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon and Arches and Zion, as well as Tailor Made independent programs to these destinations. A&K’s angle is luxury travel, staying in comfort in the most luxurious hotels available.

Mayflower Tours has built a strong business on travel to the national parks since its early days in the 1970s. Today the company offers a broad assortment of national park tour possibilities. New for this year are Great Volcanoes of America’s West, West Virginia Mountain Rails and Trails, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe and Wine Country and Winter in Yellowstone.

Globus takes the prize for offering the Grandpappy of National Parks tours, its Centennial Celebration: 100 days of GoParks!, which takes in 35 national parks from Hawaii to Maine. It will include a wide variety of experiences from wine tasting in Washington to viewing bison near Custer State Park to encountering the wildlife of Denali National Park in Alaska.


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