Waiting for the end in Alaska

In Alaska, they save the best for last.

Whether it’s the final boat tour of a glacier, the last nights in a cabin outside a remote national park, or the final Inside Passage cruise of the season, the Last Frontier loves its endings. Read more “Waiting for the end in Alaska”

How can you miss your national parks if they never go away?

My sons Aren and Iden Elliott jump for joy on Friday, the second day we visited Grand Teton National Park.
My sons Aren and Iden Elliott jump for joy on Friday, the second day we visited Grand Teton National Park.

Maybe we should thank the United States Congress for shutting down our government, which closed America’s national parks for 16 unbearably long days.

I am.

For most of last week, my family and I sat in our vacation rental at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, waiting, hoping, praying that Grand Teton National Park would reopen. When it finally did last Thursday, we immediately drove our rental car to the closest entrance.

“Welcome back,” I said to a smiling park ranger.

“Glad to be back,” he replied. And he sounded like he meant it.

I handed him my credit card and my National Parks annual pass, and asked him for a renewal. Ours had expired during the closure, fittingly.
Read more “How can you miss your national parks if they never go away?”

The most congested national park in America is …

… Yosemite National Park in California. That’s according to a new survey by TomTom, which aggregated the average speeds of vehicles traveling through the parks, based on anonymous user-shared data using its navigation devices.

Of the top 10 most visited National Parks, Yosemite and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho have the longest individual traffic jams, with 3.5 and 2.8 miles respectively, it found.
Read more “The most congested national park in America is …”

Is National Park Reservations defrauding summer travelers?

Click on the National Park Reservations site, and for a moment or two, you might think you’re visiting a government-operated reservation service. There’s a familiar tree logo, a park-like color scheme, and, of course, the words “National Park” repeated throughout the pages.

Arlene Adams thought she was dealing with the real thing — which, for the record, is this site — a few weeks ago when she tried to make reservations at Yosemite National Park.

I am writing to advise your readers of a problem I encountered when making a lodging reservation at Yosemite National Park. I am afraid I am out $73, but hope I can prevent others from making the same mistake.

I used a Web site I believed to be the reservation site for the National Park service, National Park Reservations. While reading info on the various lodging options, nowhere on the individual hotel pages was there any mention of a 10 percent booking fee.

In fact, here’s the e-mail she received when she requested a price quote:

Dear Arlene,

I received your request for lodging at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls. I can make the reservation 1 year and 1 day in advance so I will make the reservation tomorrow am and I will send a confirmation email tomorrow.


Adams believes the 10 percent booking fee should have been disclosed at that time. It wasn’t.

When the reservation was confirmed the following day, I received this notice:

“National Park Reservations has charged an additional ten percent non-refundable fee in the amount of $73 to your credit card, as described on our website and phone message.”

I went back to the website, and at the very bottom in VERY small print was the 10 percent notification.

Yosemite doesn’t charge a booking fee — just one night’s deposit, which is fully refundable up to seven days in advance. That doesn’t sit right with Adams.

I believe the site has made itself look like a NPS Web site in order to defraud the public. I will lose that 10 percent booking fee, but want to advise others to avoid this Web site, and save themselves money by booking directly with the National Park.

Is National Park Reservations defrauding its customers? Yes and no.

Yes, only in the sense that it looks “official” at first glance. But only at first glance.

Consider the prominent notice on the front page of its site:

National Park Reservations is a reservation service providing lodging and activity reservations both inside as well as in the gateway communities of the United States National Parks. National Park Reservations is not an authorized concessionaire of any National Park nor are we in any way affiliated with the National Park Service of the Federal Government. National Park Reservations provides the ability for its customers to make reservations through a toll-free telephone number at 1-866-875-8456 or by submitting an online request form.

For this service, National Park Reservations charges a 10% non-refundable reservation fee based on the total dollar amount of reservations made.

I checked to see if this language had been added recently, since travel companies will often add extra disclosure when they believe an article or blog post is imminent. A look at the Internet archives reveals the wording hasn’t changed in years.

Should National Park Reservations have disclosed the 10 percent booking fee by e-mail? Not necessarily. A link to its terms and conditions would have been helpful, but if a customer agrees to a price, a third party is free to mark up the rate to whatever the market will bear.

If National Park Reservations had done this the other way around — quoting Adams the regular rate and then surprising her with a 10 percent booking fee — I would have had a problem with that.

Adams’ bigger point, which is that you can get a better price from the official government site, isn’t lost. But for some summer travelers, booking through a site like National Park Reservations might be more convenient.

As long as they’re disclosing their fees up front, I can’t fault them for anything.