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Ageless Fascination: America's National Parks

Ageless Fasci-Nation - America's National Parks

More than one-third of all Americans have traveled to a family reunion in the past three years, and although it is impossible to know the precise number, many of those reunions were held at U.S. national parks. With just a quick glance around the lobby of the venerable Old Faithful Inn or a walk along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, you'll see travelers of virtually every age.

According to experts at country's largest national park concessioner - Xanterra Parks & Resorts - multiple-room bookings for intergenerational families peak in the summer time.

"Most parks offer a wide range of activities for travelers of every physical ability and age, so many multi-generational groups tend to split up and explore the parks at their own pace by day, then meet [later] for dinner," said Judi Lages for Xanterra Parks & Resorts. "National parks are a very good choice because they allow families to bond but still spend time participating in activities that are of most interest to them, especially when some members of a group prefer a vacation with no surprises, while others want to constantly see and do new things."

National parks can satisfy every traveler's personality. With more than 70 parks and close to 400 National Park Service-operated units, there are plenty of places to visit. Each park offers something in the form of geology, wildlife, colorful characters, historic architecture and a wide range of outdoor activities.

Educating visitors about environmental sustainability, history and culture takes a deft understanding of the needs and perspectives of each age group, and Xanterra-operated parks offer a variety of programs with the diversity of visitors in mind.

The South Rim of Arizona's Grand Canyon National Park is a good example.

While a hike to the bottom of the Canyon and back is a feat for the only the fittest of travelers, a leisurely walk around the rim can offer visitors of all physical abilities a wonderful introduction to the Canyon's geology. Xanterra has prepared a self-conducted walking tour of Grand Canyon Village, which features numerous historic buildings and breathtaking views. The free brochure includes descriptions of places like El Tovar Hotel, a historically and architecturally significant lodge completed in 1905 at a cost of $250,000. Visitors can shop for Native American artwork in the Hopi House gift shop, visit the Grand Canyon History Room in Bright Angel Lodge or enjoy a cup of coffee in the lobby of the famous El Tovar.

As one of the country's largest and most fascinating national parks, Yellowstone National Park has always been a traditional multi-generational travel destination. While all members of a group can watch the wonder of geysers and other thermal features, those with more of an adventurous spirit and good physical abilities can also go hiking in the backcountry or participate in a horseback trail ride. Others can enjoy a walking tour of the 100-year-old Old Faithful Inn, fish in Yellowstone Lake with a guide or take a guided motorcoach tour ride in a vintage touring vehicle to watch the sun set. Yellowstone's boundaries encompass the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

In California's Death Valley National Park breathtaking scenery surrounds hikers as they travel to the Racetrack - a geological phenomenon featuring rocks that have mysteriously slid over a dry lakebed - or the lowest point in the Americas at 282 feet below sea level. The human history in the park is well-documented at the Harmony Borax Works and Scotty's Castle, a Spanish hacienda-style facility comprised of eight buildings that feature beautiful furnishings and spectacular tile-work from Spain, Italy and the United States. In the early 1900s, Walter Scott - "Death Valley Scotty" - convinced Albert Johnson, an insurance executive from Chicago, to finance his gold mining expeditions.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park and the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park are often part of the same vacation. Even though the three parks are within easy drives of each other, they have their own distinct personalities. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon displays the canyon in all of its sheer immensity. Utah's Zion features world-famous hikes with much of the activity originating from the canyon floor. Bryce, also in Utah, is famous for its wind-blown rock formations and an easily accessible canyon that was described aptly as "a tough place to lose a cow" by a local rancher. All feature lodges designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood for the Union Pacific railroad.

The 183,224-acre Crater Lake National Park in Oregon is the country's fifth national park, established in 1902. At 1,947 feet, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the country and is surrounded by lava walls 500 to 2,000 feet high. Popular activities include taking a breathtaking narrated boat ride or drive around the lake, hiking to the various scenic viewpoints or immersing oneself in the history of the Crater Lake Lodge.

All generations can relate to Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Vintage voting booths allow visitors of all ages to "vote" for their favorite president. Displays include artist Gutzon Borglum's original models and actual tools. Film footage and interpretive displays make this a must-see destination. The South Dakota memorial has been named the No. 1 family destination in the U.S. by FamilyFun magazine.

Celebrating its centennial this year, Petrified Forest National Park in Northeastern Arizona offers not only some of the world's largest and most colorful concentrations of petrified wood, but also the dramatic badlands of the Painted Desert, archeological sites and displays of 225-million-year-old fossils. Open every day except Christmas, the park is particularly spectacular during the winter months, when park visitation drops dramatically and visitors feel as if they have the entire park all to themselves. A 28-mile park road offers a wide variety of overlooks as well as entries to hiking trails.

Wildlife viewing in Florida's Everglades National Park is unparalleled. Birdwatchers will spot more than 200 species of birds in the winter, including egrets, storks, roseate spoonbills and an occasional bald eagle. The best places to see the birds are at ponds, particularly in the dry winter months. The Anhinga Trail is one of the most dependable areas for wildlife viewing, where children and adults alike are often thrilled by the opportunities to watch close-up the park's abundant reptile residents including alligators, crocodiles and snakes. Wildlife watching is best during the winter when the animals gather around water-filled gator holes.

When it comes to traveling as a family - there's a park for wherever you want to go whenever you want to go. It's a known fact that history, culture and nature's beauty makes for a fascinating escape no matter what age you are -- especially when you're experiencing it with the ones you love.

(Source: Xanterra)

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