Summer Travel: Luxe Hotels In Or Near National Parks

grand canyon
Flickr user YoTut

Planning a trip this summer? Why not make it family friendly with at trip to a national park? While we love spending our days hiking, biking or riding the river, we’re not always about camping out or grabbing the nearest roadside motel after a long day outside. Here are some of our favorite luxe hotels in or near national parks:

Budget Tip: Time it right by visiting a National Park in the US on August 25th (National Park Service Birthday), September 28th (National Public Lands Day) or Veterans Day Weekend (November 9-11th), the parks won’t charge admission!

Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park
Yellowstone National Park is the world’s first national park with 2.2 million acres of natural wonders and wild animals. Top sights include the Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake, the Grand Prismatic Spring on the Lower Loop, Mammoth Hot Springs on the Upper Loop and Yellowstone Falls near the shared section of the two. At the southern edge of Yellowstone Park lies Grand Teton National Park, which boasts majestic views of the jagged peaks of the Teton Ranges and miles of hiking and wildlife watching by Snake River.

Stay here:
Hotel Terra Jackson Hole (Jackson Hole, Wyoming)
Located at the gateway to Grand Teton National Park and a short one hour drive to the southern entrance to Yellowstone National Park, the LEED-Silver Certified and AAA Four Diamond luxury Hotel Terra Jackson Hole’s has a special “Passport to the Parks” package that offers three nights lodging, a seven-day park pass and more.

Or Try:
Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa (Teton Village, Wyoming)
The AAA Four Diamond Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa is also steps from the entrance to Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park and one hour south of Yellowstone. Their “National Park Explorer” package includes a $50 gas voucher and daily breakfast credit for a three-night stay, as well as a seven-day park pass.

Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and has a depth of over a mile. Known for its visually overwhelming size and intricate and colorful landscape, the Grand Canyon boasts some of the world’s most jaw-dropping and dynamic views.

Stay Here:
L’Auberge de Sedona (Sedona, Arizona)
Situated just 45 minutes south of The Grand Canyon in Sedona, Arizona, this luxurious hotel offers a special package that helps guide travelers to and from the canyon named one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The two-night package offers a day-long tour and breakfast credit.

Saguaro National Park and Coronado National Forest
Divided into two sections, called districts, Saguaro National Park is 91,442 acres, 70,905 acres of which are designated wilderness. The park gets its name from the saguaro, a large cactus, which is native to the region. Close by is the Coronado National Forest, which is spread throughout mountain ranges in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. Divided into five ranger districts, each consist of multiple “ski island” mountain ranges.

Stay here:
Tanque Verde Ranch (Tuscon, Arizona)
Tanque Verde translates as the “green pool,” a name given by the Pima Native Americans due to the seasonal river that runs through the land to create a mountainous desert oasis of vibrant cacti and various unique plants. All-inclusive rates mean that three meals daily are covered, and the resort offers a number of activities, including guided hikes, biking and horseback riding.

Banff National Park
Spanning 2,564 square miles of valleys, mountains, glaciers, forests, meadows and rivers, Banff National Park is one of the world’s premier destination spots and one of the most visited national parks in the world.

Stay here:
Fairmont Banff Springs (Alberta, Canada)
Nestled in Canada’s first national park and the world’s third, the Fairmont Banff Springs, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built in 1888 as a Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) hotel.

Shenandoah National Park
This 200,000-acre park is haven to deer and songbirds and is an ideal location for outdoor activities for the whole family. It’s also an easy drive from major cities like Washington, D.C., and Richmond. If we were planning a day trip, we’d do the challenging yet manageable hike called “Old Rag” along Skyline Drive and take a pre- or post-trip visit to nearby Charlottesville.

Stay here:
Salamander Resort & Spa (Middleburg, Virginia)
Salamander Resort & Spa is set to open this August in the heart of Virginia wine and horse country in the quaint 18th-century village of Middleburg and a short two-hour scenic drive along Virginia’s Skyline Drive to Shenandoah National Park. Set on 340 acres of farmland, the brand new resort offers a culinary program led by Chef Todd Gray of Equinox Restaurant in D.C., including two restaurants, a wine bar, a cooking studio and a two-acre culinary garden; a world-class spa with 14 treatment rooms and an onsite equestrian program to rival any other in the world.

Photo Of The Day: Grand Teton

grand teton

Grand Teton National Park, captured here by Flickr user oilfighter, is breathlessly beautiful. A major destination in American mountaineering – and a deeply beautiful destination for less adventurous travelers – Grand Teton is surely on the short list of top U.S. National Parks.

Photographer oilfighter has developed a happy habit of snapping nature at particularly majestic moments. Check out his archive on Flickr to see evidence of his special talent.

Upload your best photographs to the Gadling Group Pool on Flickr, and be sure to enable downloading. We pick our favorite images from the pool to be future Photos of the Day.

2012 Summit For Someone registration is now open

Summit For Someone offers great adventures while giving backBig City Mountaineers, the non-profit organization that provides urban youth with opportunities to build life skills through wilderness mentoring experiences, has announced that registration is now open for their 2012 Summit For Someone program. SFS gives adventurous travelers the opportunity to climb some of the world’s most iconic peaks, while raising funds to support the Big City Mountaineers program.

The process is simple. First, you select a mountain that you’d like to climb, such as Mt. Hood in Oregon or Mt. Whitney in California. Each of the mountains has a pledge value assigned to it ranging from $2400 for alpine rock climbs up to $8500 for a full blown mountaineering expedition. By signing up to climb a particular peak, you agree to raise the pledge amount for Big City Mountaineers. Once you’ve reached that goal, you’ll join a Summit For Someone climb on that mountain.

The SMS website has a full list of 2012 climbs which can be viewed here. Some of the mountains available include Grand Teton in Wyoming, Mt. Rainier in Washington, and Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Difficulty levels range from beginner, meaning no mountaineering experience at all, to advanced, which is reserved for those who already have a variety of technical climbing skills. There are a number of intermediate options as well, offering something for everyone.

The beauty of the Summit For Someone program is that it gives travelers an opportunity to take part in a true mountain climb and a real adventure, while also raising funds to support a fantastic youth program. If you’re considering options for travel in 2012, perhaps an SMS trip would be the perfect opportunity for you.

[Photo credit: Walter Siegmund via WikiMedia]

Jackson Lake Lodge: Culinary Surprise in the Grand Tetons

I dashed off to Jackson Hole for a few days not too long ago. Driven by the need to unwind for a bit and a decade-long desire to visit the setting of some of my favorite novels (by Tim Sandlin), I set my sights on the Grand Tetons and didn’t look back. What I found upon my arrival at the Jackson Lake Lodge, one of the three hotels in the area run by the Grand Teton Lodge Company, was an unexpected culinary experience that capture me from the moment I saw the menu.

The mid-tier offering of the Grand Teton Lodge Company – with Jenny Lake Lodge at the upper end and Colter Bay Village the bargain offer – the Jackson Lake Lodge has spacious and comfortable rooms, though they are of course consistent with the price point. This is what made the property’s high-end restaurant, Mural Room, particularly exciting: it was an inspired and local menu at an affordable hotel.

Normally, mid-range hotels deliver solid, reliable, basic fare, with a decent steak constituting the top end of the menu and the rest of it being rather pedestrian. Mural Room stands that thinking on its head, with an exciting menu that blends creativity, local favorites and ol’ reliable dishes that you’d expect to be on hand for those who aren’t terribly adventurous. Of course, the local touches on the Mural Room menu are not surprising. When bread is served, it comes in the shape of a carefully sculpted moose – not my scene, but I do understand the appeal in general. Instead, I was drawn to the menu items that took advantage of the area’s local fare, such as hazelnut and ginger buffalo carpaccio and southwest and molasses spiced elk loin. Whether you go for the unique local stuff or stick to the standby dishes (like the prime rib), you’ll walk away satisfied, as the chef clearly has his act together.

What really blew my mind wasn’t the local ingredients or even the entrees. Rather, it was the lobster and brie bisque. Served with chunks of lobster and a creamy soup around it, the dish was an unexpected seafood delight far away from the place these crustaceans call home.

The price points were a bit high for the Jackson Lake Lodge: the restaurant offered entrees at close to $30 or more (in most cases) in the company’s mid-level property. That said, there’s always room to splurge while on vacation, and a bargain vacation often has room for a fantastic meal that defines the trip’s culinary experience. Mural Room delivers this experience – to the point where you’ll probably want to make reservations a week before you arrive.

My trip to Jackson Hole was long anticipated, which of course led to unnecessarily high standards. Mural Room delivered, becoming the defining moment of my trip. Some properties have a culinary surprise buried deep in the website – this is one of them.

Three all-inclusive vacation packages for summer

The best part of all-inclusive trips is that the thinking is taken out of the equation. Want a second drink? Hell, a second entrée? Go for it! There’s no reason not to … because the bill is already paid. I had my first brush with the all-inclusive concept last summer, and I’m sold on it, especially since I get impatient while waiting for the bill (when the meal’s over, I just want to get on with my life). So, I was pretty excited to see a handful of all-inclusive deals come across my desk or this summer.

So, take a look below at what’s coming at Vail Resorts, Curtain Bluff and Grand Teton National Park in the next few months. You’ll probably find a vacation idea to turn you on and make the coming warmth even better!

1. Vail Resorts Epic Summer Package
Head out to Colorado for this family-oriented package. Everything is covered, from airport pickup to drop-off, with plenty of activities to keep you and the kids busy. You’ll also have access to a guide who can show you the best rivers to raft, trails to hike and so on. At $249 a day for adults, you’ll pick up a savings of more than 38 percent … and you won’t have to cobble together the itinerary yourself.

2. Grand Adventure Package
If you prefer peace and quiet – not to mention being enveloped by nature – check out Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. The Grand Adventure Package includes accommodations at Jackson Lake Lodge, a rafting trip on the Snake River and hiking through Grand Teton National Park. You’ll also receive all meals and even more activities, depending on how long your stay is. A four-night package starts at $1,902 for two adults and two kids, with seven nights starting at $3,806.

3. Curtain Bluff in Antigua
Curtain Bluff is an all-inclusive resort, but the deal for the summer can be found in the rate. For a mere $322.50 a night (and up), you can go deep-sea fishing, reef snorkeling or SCUBA diving, among other activities. I’m a big fan of the spa – and the restaurant, skippered by an Alain Ducasse-trained chef.

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