In the fall, things start slowing down a bit in the country's national parks. Some close altogether for the cold weather seasons, while others stay open with smaller crowds, cooler temperatures, and, every so often, great accommodation deals. Thanksgiving is traditionally the holiday that American families spend together -- four whole days to unite, bond and eat. Instead of staying home and slaving over the stove, oven or deep fryer, get back to nature and take the family out for some fresh air, recreation and scenic landscapes to celebrate this holiday season.
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park is open and thriving during the Thanksgiving long weekend. You still have time (just) to secure a booking to stay at either Maswik Lodge or Yavapai Lodge (tel. 888/297-2757; www.grandcanyonlodges.com), unfortunately all the other in-park lodging in the Grand Canyon is already sold out for the period. A standard queen room at Maswik over the holiday period is priced at $162 per night based on double occupancy. A room with two queen beds, which can comfortably accommodate two adults and two children is priced at $148 per night. You can dine in style at the El Tovar restaurant on Thanksgiving with holiday menu items a la carte in addition to a prix fixe menu. A Thanksgiving dinner will be available from 11am to 10pm on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Lake Quinault Lodge (tel. 800/562-6672; www.visitlakequinault.com) in stunning Olympic National Park is a historic property (listed on the National Register of Historic Places) on the shores of Lake Quinault. Over the Thanksgiving period, there are still rooms available at the Lakeside building, located just a short walk from the historic main lodge. These spacious rooms are perfect for families, with either a king sized or two queen sized beds plus a queen-size sofa sleeper and balcony with a partial view of Lake Quinault. All rooms are priced at $194 per night. Thanksgiving Day brunch at Lake Quinault Lodge will be served from 12pm-7pm. It will include specialties like cider and honey brined turkey stuffed with aromatic herbs and vegetables, slow roasted prime rib with au-jus, and creamy horseradish and honey baked spiral ham with a wholegrain mustard glaze. Leave some room for the sweet potato soufflé with candied pecan topping, white chocolate bourbon pecan pie and pumpkin pie. The cost is $27 for adults, $22 for seniors and $13 for children ten and under. Reservations for the brunch are required. To make reservations call tel. 360/288-2900.
Rooms are still available for lodging at Sequoia National Park (tel. 866/807-3598; www.visitsequoia.com) over Thanksgiving weekend. Rates range from $194 to $240 per night at the upscale Wuksachi Lodge on the night of November 27, but nights either side are considerably lower (like $114 on Thanksgiving eve for a room with two queen beds that can accommodate two adults and two children or $139 for a king room with breakfast for two). As is the tradition at the Lodge, a special a la carte Thanksgiving menu has been developed and will be served from noon to 9 pm. Try delicious dishes like Venison stew, peanut soup with apples and nutmeg cream, traditional roasted turkey with rosemary gravy, or roasted half duck with pomegranate glaze. Desserts include pumpkin pie and roasted chestnut and cranberry bread pudding. Dinner reservations are required and can be made by calling the Wuksachi Lodge front desk tel. 559/565-4070.
Tenaya Lodge (tel. 888/514-2167 www.tenayalodge.com), located two miles from Yosemite National Park's southern gate has a long tradition of celebrating the holiday season. This Thanksgiving, there are rooms but they're on the pricey end of National park stays. Standard rooms are sold out but deluxe rooms with better views range from $253 to $295 per night over Thanksgiving. There's a lot going on at Tenaya over this four day holiday with the grand season opening of the ice skating rink, the Grand Ballroom Thanksgiving buffet with live entertainment and visits from Santa (adults $35, seniors $29 and children four to 12, $17), a gingerbread house decorating workshop ($45 per family including taking home the actual gingerbread house you make) on November 28, and the Christmas tree lighting ceremony accompanied by the Sierra Chamber Singers, holiday cookies and photos with Santa on November 29.
Evergreen Lodge (tel. 209/379-2606; www.evergreenlodge.com/thanksgiving.html) is a historic Yosemite hotel nestled in the woods bordering Yosemite National Park. Fully furnished traditional mountain cabins include bathrooms, private decks, heating fans, and Sirius satellite radio. This Thanksgiving weekend (Wednesday, November 26 to Sunday, November 30, 2008) Evergreen is offering three- and four-night holiday getaway packages with accommodations, daily breakfast, a special Thanksgiving feast and dessert buffet, one guided recreation activity, a sunset hayride, a welcome basket, and evening activities like a pre-Thanksgiving party, campfires, s'mores, movies and bingo. For couples, this package for two adults in a newly-built traditional cabin is $310 per night for three nights and $250 for fourth night. For families of two adults, one to two kids or a third adult in a two bedroom family cabin, the price is $450 per night for three nights and $375 for the fourth night plus $30 per night for a third child (ages two to12). If you are into hiking, the cables may be down at Half Dome but there are still several adventurous hiking opportunities open throughout November. Try the 14 mile hike to the top of Eagle Peak, a 3,400 foot elevation with a commanding view of the Three Brothers and the trail pretty much to yourself once you get beyond the top of Yosemite Falls. Although Yosemite Falls may be dry by late November, Vernal and Nevada falls run year round. Depending on the weather this November, you may get to experience the season's first snowfalls.
If a wet and wild turkey day is more your thing, Dvorak Rafting and Kayaking Expeditions (tel. 800/824-3795; www.dvorakexpeditions.com) has a special "Rio Grande: Colorado and Santa Elana Canyon" rafting trip that will take you through the rapids and canyons of spectacular Big Bend National Park. The four-day, forty mile expedition along the Texas-Mexico border departs from the Lajitas, TX river access point on November 19, 2008. Raft on Class II and II rapids beneath magnificent sheer limestone walls towering up to 1,500 feet and spend evenings by a campfire. Adults pay $640 per person (13 years or above and children aged five to 12 years pay $585 each. The price includes pre-trip meetings to finalize details, a personal floatation device, waterproof storage bags and equipment, accommodation (under the stars or in roomy four season tents with floors, flys and warm sleeping bags, atop self-inflating pads), professional experienced guides with first aid, CPR and Swiftwater Rescue training, and all on-river meals beginning with lunch the first day and ending with lunch the last day.