What Was Your Most Unique Lodging Experience>


One of the Western cabins at Bryce Canyon National Park/Kurt Repanshek file

I’ve stayed in national park lodging from Cape Lookout National Seashore on North Carolina’s Outer Banks to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Alaska. While some of those stays were very memorable, others were easily forgettable.

There have been nights in extremely basic lodgings (the cabins on Great Island at Cape Lookout, the cabins at Colter Bay in Grand Teton National Park, and the tent camps at Yosemite National Park), and a few in extremely sumptuous lodgings (Lake Hotel in Yellowstone National Park). And there have been nights spent in my own tent and lean-tos on the Appalachian National Scenic Trail that surpassed some of the park lodgings in overall experience.

There have been nightly rates that took my breath away, and accommodations that made me wonder why they were going for nearly $300 a night.

There are many lodges I haven’t spent a night in, including such high-end places like The Ahwanee at Yosemite, the El Tovar at Grand Canyon National Park, or Jenny Lake Lodge at Grand Teton. With that understood, here are my top five lodgings:

1. Lake Hotel, Yellowstone. This gorgeous, Colonial Revival structure on the north shore of Yellowstone Lake is elegant. Its accommodations are extremely comforting after a long day in the park, and if you snag a lakeside room the views are beautiful. The Sun Room off the dining room is a great place to relax with your favorite beverage while a string quartet plays. The history is rich, as the hotel was built in 1891 and today lays claim to being the oldest existing hotel still standing in the park system. It’s not cheap, with rooms in September ranging from $359 to $1,000. 

2. Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone. Sit in a rocking chair on one of the interior balconies of the inn after sundown amid the log railings with their crooked branch supports with a view of the crackling fire in the massive, four-side fireplace down below, and you know you have one of the best perches in the National Park System. The rooms aren’t necessary something to write home about, but the entire experience — the magnificent log structure, rooms with views of the Upper Geyser Basin’s waterworks, the history tied to the world’s first national park — is superb. Rates are variable, from low $200s to over $1,000 a night.

3. Zion Lodge Cabins, Zion National Park. Located on the floor of Zion Canyon across from the lodge, these log cabins are charming, with hardwood floors, small stone-lined gas-log fireplaces in a corner, and queen or double beds. They’re not as spaced out as one might like, but they’re cozy. Rates in the mid-$200s and up, depending on the season.

4. The Inn at Death Valley National Park. Long known as the Furnace Creek Inn, this lodging rivals Lake Hotel. Its stone and adobe construction and Mission-style architecture are something you won’t quickly forget. With a landscape of palm trees you can explore via stone pathways and a pool to relax in before, or after, dinner, this serves as an elegant (albeit expensive) base camp for exploring the park. Rates quickly go from about $300 to over $400 a night.

5. The Lodge At Bryce Canyon, Western Cabins, Bryce Canyon National Park. A late-September, early-October stay in one of these cabins is a great way to close out a tour of the national parks in Utah. Gas fireplaces take the chill off the night, peaked ceilings held up by Ponderosa logs take you back a century, and the very short walk to the edge of the colorful rock amphitheater can make you feel like you own the park. Low $300s/night.

All of the above carry a definite sense of place, unlike some park lodgings that are nothing more than roadside motels. My list also is West-centric, mainly because there aren’t many park lodgings in the East or Midwest, and those I’ve stayed in didn’t greatly impress.

How about you? What are your favorite accommodations in the National Park System? Can we build a definite list of the best places to stay?

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