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The holiday season is fast approaching and if you'd like to share the festivities surrounded by the beauty of lakes, forests, and rugged mountains rather than urban sprawl and shopping malls, you'll need to book soon. Many park properties are offering special Christmas dinners, Yuletide activities and New Year celebrations.

Yosemite

Yosemite is spectacular in winter, with snow capped mountains, frozen lakes, outdoor alpine sports, and historic properties to stay at.

For a Christmas event to remember, get thee to The Ahwahnee at Yosemite National Park (www.yosemitepark.com) for a night of 17th century feasting and entertainment at the annual Bracebridge Dinner. This festive gala experience has been celebrated here for over 80 years and "performances" are held nightly on December 15, 16, 18, 19, 21, 22, 24 and 26, 2008. A four-hour extravaganza, the dinner is a pageant of classic carols and Renaissance rituals with over a 100 players recreating the roles of Washington Irving's character Squire Bracebridge and his family, their servants, the Lord of Misrule, minstrels, jugglers, jesters, and other performers. The Ahwahnee Dining Room serves as the Great Hall and stage for the festivities and is ornately decorated with wreaths, an elaborate Squire's table, banners and traditional Yuletide accoutrements. The highlight is a lavish seven-course banquet that is a feast for the eyes and the stomach. 2008 Bracebridge lodging packages are priced as follows at the three different Yosemite in-park properties:

  • Two nights at the Ahwahnee for $1,654, one night $1,205
  • Two nights at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls for $986, one night $871
  • Two nights at Wawona Hotel for $1,074, one night $925

Prices include accommodations for two people, a voucher for a Bracebridge ornament redeemable at The Ahwahnee Gift Shop, a portrait sitting and one portrait, dinner for two at the Bracebridge Celebration (on the second night of a two-night package), shuttle services provided for guests at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls and Wawona Hotel and gratuities. Tax is additional. 

Wawona Hotel at Yosemite is offering a Victorian Holiday package with special make-your-own ornament and cards craft-time, cider and cookies in the lounge, story reading, caroling, a holiday ornament and breakfast in the dining room, set in the splendor of the historic Wawona Hotel, a National Historic Landmark. The package is available December 12, 2008 to January 1, 2009 with double room with private bathroom; rates starting from $119.

Two miles from Yosemite's southern gate you will find Tenaya Lodge (tel. 888/514-2167; www.tenayalodge.com), one of the area's most family-friendly hotels during the holiday season. It offers fun for kids throughout the month of December with sledding, ice skating and horse-drawn sleigh rides outdoors, and hot cocoa, gingerbread house competitions, and cookie decorating workshops indoors. This year, Tenaya offers kids aged four through 12 an extra special opportunity -- the Dinner with Santa package, which gives children the chance to dine with Santa and his elves. For $330 per room, your child will get to spend two hours of their evening on a holiday adventure as "elves" lead them in special activities, games and crafts. At the end, they will enjoy an exclusive group dinner with Santa. This package is only available December 21 and 23, 2008. Children can share their room with up to two adults. Tenaya's New Year's Eve package for two adults starts at $572 which includes one night's lodging, dinner for two, live entertainment and party favors, as well as a champagne toast, and balloon drop at midnight. You will also enjoy a late check-out and a New Year's Day champagne breakfast for two.

One mile outside the Park's western entrance is Evergreen Lodge (tel. 209/379-2606; www.evergreenlodge.com) which is also offering holiday-special packages. For the nightly cost of $315 per couple or $460 per family (two adults and one or two children ages two through 12), the "Christmas at Evergreen" package includes the following: cabin accommodations; a Christmas Day feast or, on another night, a three-course dinner; daily buffet breakfast; packed trail lunches; one guided recreation activity (hike or snowshoe walk); a sunset hayride; a gift basket; holiday crafts activity for the kids; and evening campfires with s'mores. Prices are pre-tax, and a two-night minimum is required. If you're staying three nights, you'll receive all of the aforementioned plus an additional three-course dinner. Scheduled events for the holiday period include a tree-lighting ceremony, a "letters to Santa" afternoon and the decorating of Christmas flamingos. Guests are invited to open their gifts around the lodge fireplace on Christmas morning. This deal is available for stays December 17 to 28, 2008.

Zion

Zion Lodge (tel. 888/297-2757; www.zionlodge.com) in Utah's Zion National Park offers Zion in Winter rates from December 1, 2008 through March 15, 2009. The nightly rate for a Sunday-through-Thursday stay is $80 for a standard room, $90 for a western cabin, and $110 for a suite. On Fridays and Saturdays, the rate is $95 for a standard room, $105 for a western cabin, and $125 for a suite. The rates are only $10 higher than weekend rates during the holiday periods of December 23 to 30, 2008 but the offer is not available on December 31, 2008. Taxes and gratuities are extra and each additional person in the room is $10. Mention the promotion code WNTR when making reservations. Zion's Annual Christmas Day Buffet costs $25 for adults and $12.50 for children aged three to 12. Reservations can only be made by calling the Red Rock Grill at tel. 435/772-7760.

Wake up to 2009 at Zion National Park with a one-night package that includes overnight accommodations, deluxe dinner for two people and a special late night reception. The reception begins at 11pm with complimentary appetizers and a cash bar. It culminates at midnight with a festive New Years Eve champagne (or sparkling cider) toast. Rates are $146 for a standard room, $156 for a historic cabin with a gas log fireplace and $181 for a spacious two room suite. Taxes and gratuities are not included. Use promotional code NYE when making reservations.

Sequoia

Montecito Sequoia Lodge (tel. 800/227-9900; www.montecitosequoia.com) is nestled beside a small private lake in the Sequoia National Forest, surrounded by magnificent Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks and offering spectacular views of the high Sierras and the Great Western Divide. Spend an old-fashioned Christmas with all the trimmings surrounded by the beauty of Sequoia in winter with snow covered pine and fir forests. The Lodge's Christmas Eve and Christmas Day special has standard double rooms for $169, family rooms that sleep three or four people for $179, larger rooms for four to six people for $189 and family suites that sleep up to eight people for $299 on December 24 and 24, 2008 only. For stays from December 26 to 31, 2008, the rates are $339 to $799 per night. Children aged four and under stay free.

Grand Canyon

Winter travel to the Grand Canyon National Park means visiting the South Rim and staying in one of the properties in the Grand Canyon Village. Maswik Lodge (tel. 888/297-2757; www.grandcanyonlodges.com) has rooms available over the Christmas and New Year period with rates starting as low as $86 plus tax per night for a room with two queen sized beds in a separate building from the main hotel. This price is based on double occupancy and additional people in the room pay $9 each. There are also rooms available at Bright Angel Lodge and Cabins from $76 per night plus tax and the Yavapai Lodge has rooms with two queen beds priced from $102 plus tax or a king room from $146 plus tax over Christmas. Each property is located less than half a mile from the South Rim, within easy walking distance. Although there are no rooms left, Christmas dinner at the historic log chalet style El Tovar Hotel, just footsteps from the South Rim, is a tradition in the Grand Canyon and there are free shuttle buses that can transport you from your hotel to El Tovar. The sit-down dinner will be priced around $40 per person (menu details and price yet to be finalized). Please telephone the hotel directly for dinner reservations on tel. 928/638-2631.