Crater Lake Lodge, Crater Lake NP, Oregon







National Park Lodges

An Introduction to America's National Park Lodges


    An overnight stay in a national park lodge is a excellent way to enhance the experience of a national park visit. The lodges are generally situated in scenic areas where guests are able to enjoy a variety of activities and experiences. Several lodge dining rooms, including those in Yosemite's Ahwahnee and the North Rim's Grand Canyon Lodge, are magnificent. Walk a short distance outside the front door of The Chateau at Oregon Caves and take part in a ranger-guided cave tour. Walk down the lane from Kettle Falls Hotel in Minnesota's Voyageurs National Park and stand beside a waterway where French-Canadian trappers long ago portaged canoes. Stand on the second-floor deck of Cedar Grove Lodge in California’s Kings Canyon National Park and delight in the roar of a rushing mountain stream. Walk out back of Oregon's Crater Lake Lodge (photo upper left) and enjoy a view of one of North America's most beautiful lakes. Gaze out the window of Olympic National Park's Kalaloch Lodge and take in the Pacific Ocean surf crashing into the driftwood-filled beach. These are just a few of the experiences enjoyed by travelers who choose to stay in a national park lodge.

     Lodging in America's national parks varies from the exquisite to tent cabins. Likewise, prices range from $65 per night for tent cabins in Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park's Colter Bay Village to over $700 per night at Jenny Lake Lodge in the same park. Rooms in Yosemite National Park’s Ahwahnee (photo right) cost approximately $500 per night depending upon the date. The wide range of facilities and prices makes it important to understand the type accommodations being reserved. National park visitors are sometimes disappointed with their lodging facilities, but it is often because they didn't fully understand the type lodging that was reserved.  A different and more suitable facility may have been available in the same park or at the same location. National park lodges are often rustic and without many amenities you may be accustomed to in commercial hotels. You are unlikely to have access a swimming pool, may be without a television, and don't expect that someone will be available to park your vehicle. Some lodges don't have telephones in the rooms.  You may even find that it necessary to walk down the hallway to use a shower.  Remember, these facilities are in national parks, not downtown Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York City. Many of the lodges were built decades ago and some over a century ago.

Lodging Availability

     Most of the 405 areas administered by the National Park Service do not offer lodging within the park boundaries. For example, some very popular national parks such as Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee/North Carolina), Acadia National Park (Maine), and Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado) do not offer regular overnight visitor accommodations within the parks. At the opposite extreme, Yellowstone National Park has nine lodging facilities scattered about the park, including three in the Old Faithful area. Yosemite National Park in California has four very different lodging facilities in Yosemite Valley, one hotel (the historic Wawona) near the park's south entrance, and two locations with tent cabins on Tioga Pass in the High Sierra. Shenandoah National Park (Virginia) has three lodging facilities and the Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia and North Carolina) offers two locations with overnight accommodations. Six lodging facilities are offered in Montana's Glacier National Park, plus Glacier Park Lodge that sits across from an Amtrak stop.  Many Glacier Hotel is situated in what many consider the most scenic location of any national park lodge.  Oregon Caves National Monument offers a unique lodge with nearby cave tours provided by National Park Service rangers. Use the link to the left for a complete listing of national park lodging facilities.

    Overnight lodging facilities in the national parks are operated by private concessionaires, not the U.S. government or the National Park Service. For example, Xanterra Parks & Resorts, a private corporation, operates all the lodging facilities in Crater Lake National Park (Oregon), Zion National Park (Utah), Glacier National Park (Montana), and Yellowstone National Park. The same company also operates two of the four lodging facilities in Death Valley National Park (California) and all but one of the lodging facilities on Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim (Arizona).  Forever Resorts operates lodges in Big Bend National Park (Texas), Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah, photo upper left), Grand Canyon National Park (North Rim only), Isle Royale National Park (Michigan), Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky), and Badlands National Park (South Dakota). ARAMARK, a large and diversified hospitality business, operates lodges in Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado), Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (Arizona), Glacier Bay National Park (Alaska), Yosemite National Park (California), and Olympic National Park (Washington).  Delaware North is the concessionaire for lodging in Shenandoah National Park (Virginia photo right), Sequoia National Park (California), and Olympic National Park (Washington).

    The superintendent at each national park exercises ultimate oversight over retail operations, including lodging, and must generally approve the prices charged for rooms, food, tours, and items sold in gift shops. In most cases, the National Park Service owns the buildings although some remain under private ownership.  This latter group includes The Inn at Furnace Creek, The Ranch at Furnace Creek, and Panamint Springs Resort in Death Valley National Park.   In some instances, the concessisonaire retains a partial leasehold interest, such as when major improvements or additions paid for by the concessionaire have occurred.

Facilities and Occupancy

    Most national park lodges are at maximum occupancy during busy summer months (winter months for Virgin Islands, Hawaii Volcanoes, and Death Valley national parks) so it is advisable to make reservations well in advance if you plan to travel during high season. For very busy units including California's Yosemite National Park, it is not unusual for reservations to be made nearly a year in advance. Likewise, make reservations for Yellowstone National Park lodging at least five to six months ahead of the expected arrival date. It helps to be flexible with regard to the dates and types of rooms you will accept. Rooms without a private bath are less expensive and generally easier to book because most U.S. travelers demand private bathroom facilities. The famous Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park offers rooms with and without a private bath. Likewise, Lake Crescent Lodge in Olympic National Park, both National Park Inn and Paradise Inn in Washington's Mount Rainier National Park, and the Wawona in Yosemite National Park each offer both types of guest rooms. Rooms with a community bathroom are likely to save $50 or more per night compared with rooms that include a private bathroom. Even rooms with a private bath can vary in quality at a given location. For example, the Old Faithful area of Yellowstone National Park offers rustic cabins, rustic rooms in Old Faithful Inn, and upscale rooms at the newly constructed Old Faithful Snow Lodge.

    Lodges in regions that experience harsh winters are generally open seasonally.  For example, Glacier National Park lodges close each fall and reopen in late spring or early summer.  Likewise, Oregon’s Crater Lake Lodge and Mount Rainier’s Paradise Inn each receive huge amounts of snowfall and have relatively short summer seasons.  All three lodges in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park close for the winter and only two of Yellowstone’s nine lodges, Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, are open during the winter.  Snow Lodge can be reached only via snow coach and snowmobile.  Lodges in areas with more temperate weather conditions are often open year round.  Chisos Mountains Lodge in Big Bend National Park is open all year. Likewise, the Ahwahnee, Yosemite Lodge, and Curry Village in Yosemite National Park are open all year. 

Chateau at the Oregon Caves, Oregon Caves National Monument, Oregon

Reservations and Cancellations

    National park lodges typically require at least one night's deposit when a reservation is made. Some lodges require more than one night's deposit, sometimes substantially more.  For example, Triangle X Ranch in Grand Teton National Park requires a deposit equal to 35 percent of the total cost and doesn't accept credit cards for a summer stay.  Cancellation policies vary by lodging operation, so it is important to inquire about the refund policy in the event your plans change. It is not unusual that at least 48-hour notice is required for a refund. Also, be certain to request that a confirmation be sent by mail or email so you can carry it along on your trip. On two occasions our reservations had been lost and the confirmation slips saved us. Make certain the confirmation includes a receipt for the deposit.

Rock Harbor Lodge - Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

    We have discovered that most travel agents have limited knowledge of national park lodges.   They may have stayed in Old Faithful Inn or experienced a trip to Yosemite or Glacier, but that's about it.  Thus, travel agents may be of limited assistance in offering advice for a trip to a national park.  On the other hand, reservation agents for the lodging concessionaires are generally quite knowledgeable.  They can help with choosing a place to stay in parks that have multiple lodges, and provide assistance with park tours.  In addition, no reservation fee will be charged if reservations are made directly with lodging concessionaire.  You should not be required to pay a reservation fee for making a reservation at a national park lodge.

Planning a Stay
    While it is most convenient to stay in a single lodge, we sometimes choose to move from one lodge to another within the same park. For example, during a trip to Yosemite National Park we might spend a night at the Wawona near the south entrance, three nights at Yosemite Lodge, Curry Village, or the Ahwahnee in Yosemite Valley, and another night at White Wolf or Tuolumne Meadows on Tioga Road.  These are very different areas and a stay in each location allows a much better appreciation for Yosemite.  Likewise, you might want to spend two or three nights at a lodge on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and another two nights at Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim.   In Glacier National Park, it is beneficial to stay in two or three lodges, depending on the amount of time you plan to devote to the park.  For example, a stay at Lake McDonald Lodge on the west side of the Continental Divide can be combined with a stay at either Many Glacier Hotel or Glacier Park Lodge on the east side of the park.  You may also want to add a night at the Prince of Wales just across the Canadian border. Yellowstone and Glacier are such large national parks that staying in more than one lodge will almost certainly result in a much more enjoyable trip, especially if it is likely to be your only visit.

    Comprehensive information about all national park lodging facilities is available in The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges by David L. and Kay W. Scott.  The eighth edition of this book is published by the Globe Pequot Press and retails for $19.95.  It includes room rates, reservation information including phone numbers and web sites, room recommendations, dining options and costs, activities, maps, how to reduce expenses, color photos of the lodges, and information about pets.  The book is available from local bookstores or online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million.  The main cover photo is Crater Lake Lodge in Oregon's Crater Lake National Park.  Order the eighth edition of  The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges from Amazon.

Authors in front of Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone National Park

David and Kay Scott have traveled America's national parks for forty years including six summers devoted to the park lodges.  They have stayed in all nine of Yellowstone's lodges and all eight of the lodges in Glacier National Park.  They have spent several nights in each of the three lodges on the Blue Ridge Parkway and the three lodges in neighboring Shenandoah National Park.  During each stay they explore the rooms, sample the food, and talk with the employees and guests.  These experiences have allowed them to author the most thorough and personal book on America's national park lodges.  The photo at left shows the authors beside one of Yellowstone's historic yellow buses in front of iconic Old Faithful Inn.  Visit our home page.

Ahwahnee - Yosemite National Park, California