Ask a dozen travelers what they want out of a hotel experience, and you’re likely to get a dozen different answers. Some can’t live without a luxe experience full of upscale amenities, while others prefer a rustic setting devoid of phones, internet access, spas, or lounges. You can get either experience (and just about everything in between) when you book a hotel or lodge at U.S. national parks.
The National Park Service (NPS) boasts 423 different areas that span more than 85 million acres in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. You’ll find plenty of lodging options, ranging from high-end facilities with all the bells and whistles to undeveloped places with great views and easy access to wilderness, hiking trails, and outdoor activities.
Keep reading to learn about some of the most amazing places to stay in national parks. Before heading out, be sure to check the NPS website at www.nps.gov for information on opening dates and hours, entrance requirements, contact info, and COVID-19 restrictions (if applicable).
Many Glacier Hotel, Glacier National Park, Montana
Glacier National Park is located along the Canadian border in a largely untamed area populated by one of the largest grizzly bear populations in North America. It’s fitting, then, that this hotel provides a throwback experience that doesn’t include TVs, air conditioning, or internet service. Instead of modern tech gizmos, you’ll get a five-story chalet with awesome views and no shortage of outdoor fun.
The hotel, built more than a century ago, is perched on the edge of Swiftcurrent Lake in the northeastern section of Glacier National Park – dubbed the “Switzerland of North America” because of its high mountains and clear blue waters. Following a 2016 renovation, Many Glacier Hotel now offers two suites, seven family rooms, and 205 guest rooms offering lakeside, deluxe, standard, and value lodging options. You’ll have easy access to boat cruises, horseback riding, and park tours on one of the famed Red Buses. In addition to grizzlies, you might see bighorn sheep, mountain goats, elk, moose, and deer.
El Tovar Hotel, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
The Grand Canyon is on the bucket list for millions of people around the country and world. It’s one of the most famous land formations in the world, surrounded by a national park that spans more than 1.2 million acres of stunning views and rich wildlife. El Tovar is located only 20 feet from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, which means you’ll have plenty of opportunities to get out and scout around.
The hotel was built in 1905 and designed by Charles Whittlesey, who was also the chief architect for the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway. He designed the El Tovar as a cross between a Swiss chalet and Norwegian Villa as a way to appeal to the elite of the era, who prized European culture. The building also features Native American motifs, hand-built furniture, and some of Whittlesey’s original drawings. It was declared a National Landmark in 1987. Movie buffs might also recognize the hotel from “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”
Volcano House, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
Do you have a secret urge to stay at the summit of an active volcano? Well, you’re in luck! The aptly named Volcano House is located near the Big Island’s Halema’uma’u Crater, which is situated near the summit of Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. This restored hotel offers 33 historic guest rooms – some with caldera views – along with a dining room specializing in Hawaiian cuisine, snack bar, lounge, gift shop, and access to daily tours and bike rentals.
The park itself protects some of the most unique geological, biological and cultural landscapes in the world. It rises from sea level to 13,677 feet and encompasses the summits of both Kīlauea and Mauna Loa.
Blackberry Mountain, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a veritable amusement park of biodiversity, with more than 19,000 documented animal and plant species, and perhaps five times that many not documented yet. It’s so diverse that it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can soak up all this nature while living in luxury at Blackberry Mountain, which features 36 freestanding log cabins, four of which have a second bedroom and outdoor spa. All have views of the Smoky Mountains. Luxe amenities include Egyptian cotton bedding, Bose smart speakers, and soaking tubs. Room rates include breakfast and dinner at the in-house restaurants.
After booking a sound bath session in the facility’s yoga loft, take a hike or tour around the park itself, which is full of gorgeous foliage during the fall and more than 1,700 types of wildflowers during the spring and summer. You’ll also have a chance to see about 65 species of mammals – including about 1,500 black bears – as well as 200 varieties of birds, 67 native fish species, and more than 80 types of reptiles and amphibians.
The Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite became a federally protected land in 1864 and today is probably best known for its scenic waterfalls. Over the park’s 1,200 square miles you’ll also find plenty of valleys, meadows, giant sequoias, and a vast wilderness area. The Ahwahnee, built in 1927, is a National Historic Landmark composed of 5,000 tons of stone, 1,000 tons of steel, and 30,000 feet of lumber. It falls under the category of a luxury hotel that combines Art Deco and Native American architecture and offers views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and Glacier Point. You’ll find a gift shop here that features the work of local artisans as well as a sweets shop, bar, heated outdoor swimming pool, daily afternoon tea, and the Ahwahnee Dining Room, which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Reservations are available year-round, so you can visit whenever you like. April and May are good months to see Yosemite’s waterfalls at their peak. The spring thaw quickly melts the snow above, creating powerful flows of water down the mountains. You’ll also see plenty of dogwoods during the spring.
Paradise Inn, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Mount Rainier rises 14,410 above sea level to the east of Seattle and features an active volcano and the most glaciated peak in the contiguous U.S. The volcano is surrounded by subalpine wildflower meadows, while the lower slopes of the mountain are cloaked by ancient forests. The Paradise Inn offers a no-frills way to enjoy the park’s wildlife. The smallish guest rooms feature log furniture and stone fireplaces with no TVs, phones, or internet access. Booking a standard room means you’ll be sharing a bathroom with others in your hall. The upside is, you’ll find hiking trails just outside the door and majestic views of Mount Rainier.
The park itself has more than 260 miles of maintained hiking trails that lead through the old-growth forest and on up to the high subalpine meadows flanking Mount Rainier. If you’re traveling with the family, good hiking choices can be found in the Longmire, Paradise, Ohanapecosh, Sunrise, and Carbon/Mowich areas of the park.
Jackson Lake Lodge, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Grand Teton is the highest peak in the Teton Range, rising 13,775 feet above the Jackson Hole valley floor. You’ll find plenty of water here – including the 15-mile-long Jackson Lake, numerous smaller lakes, and many streams. Jackson Lake Lodge got its start in 1950 when billionaire financier and philanthropist John. D. Rockefeller, Jr. hired architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood to design the building in a contemporary style. The lodge ended up combining modern materials with rustic accents such as wood grain-textured concrete. The idea behind it was to make national parks more accessible to all Americans. Today, Jackson Lake Lodge boasts several restaurants, adventure outfitters, and a heated outdoor swimming pool. It’s open from May to September.
If you book a trip in September you’ll get great views of the yellow aspens at Grand Teton, including reflections off of the park’s many lakes. There are also numerous recreational options such as hiking, boating, and fishing. If you’re into photography, you’ll find numerous steep and dramatic snow-capped peaks that can be shot from a distant meadow for a panoramic view, or closer up from one of the hiking trails.
Crater Lake Lodge, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Among the main attractions at Crater Lake are the pristine blue waters of the lake itself, and you’ll get a front-row seat at Crater Lake Lodge. The building has wooden beams in the lobby and a large stone fireplace that serves as a gathering area for visitors. Crater Lake Lodge is only open from May to October, and if you’re looking for a lake view from your guest room, you’ll want to get your reservation in early. There’s also a dining room if you want to scarf down some food after a day of hiking, fishing, or swimming.
Summer is the ideal time to enjoy the lake and the park’s 2,000-foot cliffs. More than 100 miles of hiking trails are available, including the 2.5-mile Mount Scott Trail, which offers excellent views of Crater Lake. For multiple views of the crater – which was formed by a volcano nearly 8,000 years ago – you should make your way to the Rim Road.
Zion Lodge, Zion National Park, Utah
Here’s the place where you can party like it’s 6,000 B.C. – which is around the time humans first started gathering beneath the sandstone cliffs that have made Zion National Park famous. Zion Lodge is surrounded by both the 3,800-foot sandstone cliffs and diverse wildlife, including 68 species of mammals ranging from the kangaroo rat to bighorn sheep, foxes, and mule deer. The lodge itself features standard hotel rooms as well as 40 cabins with private porches, and suites with sitting rooms and flat-screen TVs.
If you can visit during the fall, you’ll get a chance to see brilliant colors that light up Zion Canyon in a rainbow of red, orange, and yellow. The cooler temperatures also make it a good time to take advantage of recreational activities such as hiking, climbing, and horseback riding
Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Yellowstone is America’s oldest national park, so it’s no surprise that the Old Faithful Inn dates way back to 1904. The property has been described as one of the first examples of “parkitecture,” meaning it’s designed to help hotels and other part structures blend into the natural environment. The Old Faithful Inn ranks as the world’s largest log hotel. One of its prominent features is an 85-foot-tall stone fireplace in the lobby. The inn is also located near the famous Old Faithful Geyser, which can be seen from east-facing windows. Old Faithful Inn is only open May through October, so you’ll need to book a room at the adjacent Old Faithful Snow Lodge if you plan on visiting from November through April.
No matter when you visit Yellowstone, you’ll have a chance to see grizzly bears, elk, bison, wolves, and more than 1,350 species of vascular plants. Nearly 60 mammal species call Yellowstone home, along with bald eagles, ravens, sandhill cranes, trumpeter swans, and numerous other birds.