AAA Travel Team

By John T. Garcia

Usually, it takes a harsh winter for us to yearn for travel, but with the state of the world as it is, that yearning has arrived long before the leaves even had a chance to change colors.

And because of the pandemic, restrictions on travel outside our country's borders seem to change on a weekly basis. That being said, I'm sure there are plenty of places that you have yet to discover in the United States, with the national parks being high on that list. National parks must be recognized by an act of Congress and the first was Yellowstone National Park in 1872. It would take another 44 years for the establishment of the National Park Service, which today operates 62 national parks throughout the United States.  

Many people don't realize that America's early railroad companies were instrumental in creating our national parks. Because of their energetic public relations efforts, the Northern Pacific Railroad  aided in the national park designation of Yellowstone. The Southern Pacific Railroad worked diligently behind the scenes to help Yosemite (California) and Crater Lake (Oregon) obtain their national park statuses in 1890 and 1902, respectively. Also, the Great Northern Railway paved the way for the creation of Glacier National Park (Montana) in 1910.

Today, the National Railroad Passenger Corp., otherwise known as Amtrak, offers plenty of trips to visit the national parks through its Amtrak Vacations program, which has packages for everyone, and all include tours of the national parks.

The Grand Canyon Getaway takes you to, you guessed it, the Grand Canyon, in a four-day package which includes a trip on the Grand Canyon Railway. The Rails to the Grand Canyon also features  the Grand Canyon Railway and national park tour but also includes roundtrip on Amtrak from Los Angeles in a five-day package.

The Glacier National Park Getaway takes you to Montana to experience Big Sky Country in a four-day tour while the 10-day Glacier National Park Express takes you from Chicago to Seattle on
Amtrak, visiting the national park along the way but also providing tours of both Chicago and Seattle.  

If you want to visit more than one national park on your journey, Amtrak has you covered. The Grand National Park excursion will take you to Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon in a 13-day, multistate trip. Besides tours in the national parks, you also will visit Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Los Angeles in a roundtrip journey from Chicago. 

Another Grand National Parks package can take you to the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Glacier national parks, while also touring San Francisco and Seattle on a 14-day roundtrip journey from Chicago. 

And what will you see at these at national parks? Let’s break them down. 

Grand Canyon National Park 
It might have taken more than 35 years from when the first bill was introduced to get national park status for this Arizona landmark, but the Arizona landmark recently celebrated its 100th anniversary as a national park. Officially designated as such by an act of Congress on February 26, 1919, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has become the second-most visited national park in the United States behind the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee. 

The canyon, formed by the flowing Colorado River, is considered one of the natural Wonders of the World since many of the river’s tributaries have created canyons of various depths over thousands of years. 

From hiking down into the canyon or just enjoying the view from the rim, the park provides something for those who love the outdoors.  

The Grand Canyon Railway started taking visitors  to the Grand Canyon before it was even a national  park, back in 1901. Now, you can travel from Williams, Arizona, into the park and also spend the night at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel. 

Glacier National Park 
Deep valleys, ancient forests and alpine scenery are only part of what makes Montana’s Glacier National Park so utterly incredible. It’s also home to more than 130 pristine lakes, five national historic landmarks and more than one million acres that boast parts of two mountain ranges, more than 1,000 species of plants  and hundreds of species of animals.  

The Amtrak station in Glacier National Park is located less than 300 steps away from Glacier Park Lodge, making it the most hassle-free way to travel.  

Yellowstone National Park
As you enter Yellowstone National Park, you will see the beauty that has been thrilling visitors for more than 150 years. Approximately half the geysers in the world are located in Yellowstone, as well as fumaroles and bubbling mud pots. But the star of the park is Old Faithful, so named because officials can predict the next eruption of the cone geyser within 10 minutes. 

The park also features hundreds of species of wild birds and exotic plants. Outdoor activities abound, including hiking, kayaking, fly fishing, skiing and snowshoeing. 

Continue heading north to explore West Yellowstone’s lower loop, where you’ll see the Old Faithful Inn, Isa Lake on the Continental Divide and other landmarks. 

Yosemite National Park 
A pictorial favorite of photographer Ansel Adams, hikers and tourists, Yosemite is indeed one of the most beautiful places on earth. 

For outdoor enthusiasts, the region offers a vast selection of trails, from easy to challenging. East of the Yosemite Falls, the valley divides up into spectacular glacier-carved valleys and granite basins, providing intriguing trails in all directions.  Dominating this area is Half Dome, its rounded summit looking 5,000 feet down to the valley ground. The Half Dome vertical north face is a titanic-size wall above the Tenya River as well as the sheerest cliff on the continent.  

If you are planning on visiting multiple national parks, you may want to consider purchasing a National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass. It provides admission to the national parks for one year from the date of purchase. Find more information at nps.gov

To get going with Amtrak Vacations, contact your AAA Northway Travel Advisor. Start your trip by stopping in your local office, calling 877-222-8283 or clicking on AAA.com

John T. Garcia is managing editor of AAA Now!