Although America’s national parks are prime destinations for RVers, very few national park campgrounds offer hookups. This often causes RVers to choose campsites at private campgrounds outside the park, which means driving in and out each day. This can be aggravating, especially if the park is large. It also wastes time that could have been spent inside the park.
One solution is to devote several nights of your RV trip to staying in a national park lodge. We have camped for many years in America’s national parks. In a series of four VW campers and three tents (we are scaling down) we have camped from the Everglades in South Florida to Olympic National Park in the state of Washington, and from Acadia National Park in Maine to Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park. We can tell you from our extensive traveling that staying in a national park lodge is an entirely different experience. Enjoy an evening reading a book in the magnificent lobby of Glacier Park Lodge. Wake up early and walk from your room in the South Rim’s historic El Tovar so you can gaze at the evolving colors of the Grand Canyon as the sun rises. Walk a quarter mile down the road from Bluff Lodge on the Blue Ridge Parkway and eat at a coffee shop that has changed little since it was built in the 1940s. There is something very special about spending time in national park lodges.
Nearly 90 national park lodging facilities in 35 national park units are scattered throughout the United States, most west of the Mississippi River. Some of the large and heavily visited parks including Yellowstone boast multiple lodges. Many people are familiar with the 105-year-old Old Faithful Inn, but Yellowstone also offers overnight accommodations at eight other facilities. Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins near the north entrance is in a historic area that now serves as park headquarters, but a hundred years ago was the site of Fort Yellowstone, which housed U.S. Army troops deployed to protect this beautiful but rugged land. Many of the fort’s buildings, including the hotel, continue to serve park employees, visitors and overnight guests. Lake Yellowstone Hotel (also called “Lake Hotel”) is a splendid historic hotel that was extensively renovated in the early 1990s and stands proudly overlooking the beautiful lake after which it is named. Yellowstone National Park also offers rustic cabins, a modern lodge in the Old Faithful area, and cabins and lodges near the park’s much photographed “Artist Point.”
California’s Yosemite National Park offers seven lodging facilities that range from the luxurious and expensive Ahwahnee in Yosemite Valley to much-sought-after tent cabins on Tioga Road, the park’s scenic mountain drive that winds across the Sierra. Death Valley National Park has four lodging facilities including upscale Furnace Creek Inn, a four-diamond AAA-rated facility that opened in 1927. Montana’s Glacier National Park boasts seven lodges plus the majestic Prince of Wales in neighboring Canada’s Waterton National Park. The two parks jointly comprise Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park.
Grand Canyon National Park offers six lodging facilities on the busy South Rim and one lodge on the more isolated and less heavily visited North Rim. The Santa Fe Railroad constructed the classic El Tovar on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in 1905. The lodge on the Grand Canyon’s North Rim and the nearby lodges in Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park were once owned by the Union Pacific Railroad, which donated these lodges to the National Park Service in 1972. Lodges are also in Oregon Caves National Monument in Oregon, Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona, North Cascades National Park Complex in Washington and Big Bend National Park in Texas. In the Eastern states, three lodging facilities are in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, and four are scattered along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina. And there are several dozen more!
Most national park lodges are owned by the U.S. government, but managed by private concessionaires that must bid for the right to operate facilities, including gas stations, grocery stores, and gift shops as well as lodges.
Concessionaires share a portion of their revenues with the park in which they operate as well as devote a portion of their funds to upkeep and maintenance.
As has been the case with much of the hospitality business, a few large companies are increasingly winning the right to operate our national park lodges. Xanterra Parks & Resorts, a private corporation once known as Amfac, operates a large number of national park lodging facilities including those in Bryce Canyon, Crater Lake, Grand Canyon (South Rim only), Yellowstone, Zion National Park, and all but one of the four lodges in Death Valley National Park. Forever Resorts, a subsidiary of Forever Living, operates lodges in Badlands, Big Bend, Grand Canyon (North Rim only), Grand Teton, Isle Royale, Mammoth Cave, Olympic, Lake Mead National Recreation Area and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Aramark, a company known for servicing all sectors of the hospitality industry, operates lodges in Mesa Verde, Olympic, Shenandoah, Glacier Bay National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
Staying in a national park lodge enhances a park visit because of the ambiance and convenience. Walk out the back door of your cabin at Bright Angel Lodge and you can peer over the rim of the Grand Canyon, perhaps the most spectacular natural feature in any of our country’s national parks. Stroll down the lane in front of Kettle Falls Hotel in Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota and you will stand on the spot where fur traders once portaged canoes around the falls. Guests at Ross Lake Resort in North Cascades National Park Complex in Washington sleep and eat in cabins that float on a beautiful mountain lake. At Crater Lake Lodge in Oregon you can walk out onto the back porch and enjoy gazing at what must be the bluest water on earth. We could go on but you probably get the picture, and what a beautiful picture it is.
Range in Price
National park accommodations can be pricey. Staying the night in a cabin at Jenny Lake Lodge in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park will set you back about $500. This is for two people and includes breakfast and dinner along with horseback riding. A room in Yosemite National Park’s Ahwahnee costs about the same but does not include meals at the lodge, which has one of America’s most beautiful dining rooms. At the lower end of the price scale you can stay in a nice cabin at Mammoth Cave National Park for about $80 per night. This Kentucky park is one our favorite places to visit and offers a nice two-story hotel and a motel unit in addition to cabins. Tours of the park’s extensive cave begin at the visitor center near the hotel. Inexpensive cabins are available in several national park areas including Yellowstone, Glacier, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Kings Canyon National Park. Most cabins have a private bath but some do not. Keep this in mind when you are making a reservation. Even relatively expensive older hotels such as Yosemite’s Wawona have a number of rooms that do not include private bathrooms. On the upside, you can save from $40 to $70 per night by taking care of business down the hallway.
Many national park lodges have short and busy seasons so it is important to make reservations as early as possible. Making reservations via the Internet is most convenient because you won’t have to wait on hold, a frequent and unfortunate byproduct when making reservations by phone. On the other hand, a phone reservation will allow you to talk with someone who can explain the facilities and options that are available. We have found that most travel agents are not particularly knowledgeable when it comes to national park lodges, meaning that it is up to you to undertake some research of your own before making a reservation.
If you are considering a unique vacation, one that will be remembered for many years by you and your children, take the plunge and reserve a room at a national park lodge. Better yet, stay in several lodges and enjoy the different experiences that each provides. By the way, there really is a Paradise and it is Paradise Inn in Washington’s Mount Rainier National Park. Giant fireplaces flank each end of a huge lobby in this classic old (the original structure was constructed in 1917) and quirky national park lodge. A huge grandfather clock built by a German craftsman ticks away as guests sit in overstuffed chairs gazing out the picture windows at the snow-capped mountains. This is what staying in a national park lodge is all about.
For additional information about national park lodges, visit http://www.valdosta.edu/~dlscott/national_parks/lodge.html
David and Kay Scott live in Valdosta, Georgia, and have spent more than thirty summers traveling to and through America’s national parks. They are the authors of Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges.
National Park Areas with Lodging Facilities:
(Number of lodging facilities in parentheses)
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve (1)
Canyon de Chelly National Monument (1)
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (4)
Grand Canyon National Park (7)
Buffalo National River (1)
Death Valley National Park (4)
Lassen Volcanic National Park (1)
Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park (3)
Yosemite National Park (6)
Mesa Verde National Park (1)
Cumberland Island National Seashore (1)
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (1)
Mammoth Cave National Park (1)
Isle Royale National Park (1)
Voyageurs National Park (1)
Ozark National Scenic Riverways (1)
Glacier National Park (7)
Lake Mead National Recreation Area (5)
Blue Ridge Parkway (4)
Cuyahoga Valley National Park (1)
Crater Lake National Park (2)
Oregon Caves National Monument (1)
Badlands National Park (1)
Big Bend National Park (1)
U.S. Virgin Islands
Virgin Islands National Park (1)
Bryce Canyon National Park (1)
Zion National Park (1)
Shenandoah National Park (3)
Mount Rainier National Park (2)
North Cascades National Park Complex (2)
Olympic National Park (4)
Grand Teton National Park (6)
Yellowstone National Park (9)
Nikki is a writer and editor for Do It Yourself RV, RV LIFE, and Camper Report. She is based on the Oregon Coast and has traveled all over the Pacific Northwest.