10 Best Lodges in the National Parks

The Ahwahnee in Yosemite National Park; Jim Brekke photo.

The Ahwahnee in Yosemite, rated the best lodge in the National Parks by ShermanTravel.com. Jim Brekke photo via Flickr.

We've covered park lodges before, but it is hard to resist this top 10 list. Picking the 10 best lodges in the park system is really impossible; it is just way too subjective. Just today I spoke on the phone with someone who had stayed at the very same lodge near Olympic National Park as I had just a few short months ago. Our experiences could not have been more different ... I thought it was great, he thought it was less than so-so. With that sort of difference of opinion for one lodge, I'm sure you'll find some places you agree with below, and others you'll wonder how they made the top anything. This list is compiled by ShermanTravel.com (found via Gadling):

Alaska to Hawaii to the Virgin Islands to Arizona and Montana, this list is all over the map. It would take A LOT of travel to see every place on this entire list. I imagine it would be pretty difficult to fairly rate every park hotel across the whole system, let alone rank them, especially considering the many inherent differences between them all. I'd think it would be a more accurate evaluation to compare just the top 10 lodges at the Grand Canyon, than it is to compare the historic structure in Shenandoah National Park against a lodge in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. But, having said all that, who am I to say it can't be done? Maybe this list is dead accurate, do you think so? Is it close? Did they leave off one of your favorites?

Comments

I find it ironic that a site so against "privatization" of park management implicitly endorses monopolistic pilfering of park profits by private concessionaires. I've said it again and again, but the feds spent $17 million (in 1995 dollars) re-building Crater Lake Lodge for a private company, which charges $200 a night and gives almost nothing back to the park.

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Reform the National Park Service!
http://NPS-reform.blogspot.com

Frank, what exactly do you mean by "gives almost nothing back to the park"? What is the fee that these lodges pay to NPS? Is it the same across the system or does it vary from park to park? I'm not familiar with how NPS manages their concession system but it sounds like you are. I'm interested in seeing how much the NPS earns off a place like the Ahwahnee.

Matt

Frank,
I find it ironic that you've got something critical to say about nearly every article posted on this site, and yet you implicitly endorse us by your repeated visits. You are correct, you have said it again and again and again, enough so that anyone who reads this site regularly knows your what your views are. I have a feeling you'll be back again soon, just in case we didn't get your point the first 100 times you left it.

You mention a lodge you liked by Olympic. Can you name it? I am looking for a great place to stay there. Thanks!

Marianne,

There are four main lodges inside, or very close, to Olympic NP. Which lodge you choose sort-of depends on the experience you are looking for. Kalaloch Lodge is on the coast, and some cabins and rooms look right out on the Pacific Ocean. Lake Quinault Lodge was designed by the same fellow who built the Old Faithful Inn. The lodge and restaurant at Quinault are terrific; it isn't uncommon for weddings to be conducted on the main lawn which leads to the lake. The lodging at Sol Duc Hot Springs is a little more rustic, but the main attraction there are the naturally heated pools. I covered Sol Duc in a movie presentation earlier this year on the website. Lake Crescent Lodge may be my favorite, but I haven't been there in many years. It's an old lodge right on the lake with a lot of little cabins.

The park's gateway communities also have a lot of lodging possibilities. The towns of Port Angeles, Squim, Forks, and (to a lesser degree) Aberdeen have plenty of hotels to choose from. Of these, my favorite is the Port Angeles Inn. It's got a nice view of the Straight of Juan de Fuca, and it has easy walking access (via stairs) to the downtown restaurants, and shops. It's also right next to a big Safeway, which makes picnic prep easy.

I'm not overly enthusiastic with privately run corporations charged with the lodging concessions in nationally held lands either. But do you really have any clue as to the reasoning behind these lease agreements? Strictly from an economic standpoint, what is your breakdown on operating costs (e.g., building construction costs, maintenance and upkeep of buildings AND grounds, salaries, benefits and general staffing issues like the associated training costs of hiring and managing a part-time staff, restaurant management, laundry services, HVAC systems, and trying to tie this all together with enough insight to competently respond to the multitude of questions pertinent to the specific locale in which you operate? The NPS was intelligent and foresighted enough to realize that it simply cannot fiscally compete in the professional hotel management aspect of operating a lodge facility on their properties, so they did the next best thing. For the benefit of ALL park visitors, they allow "privatization" of certain aspects of lodging, agreed to in consultation and with, and operated strictly within NPS guidelines, that allow for certain corporations to serve as middle-man between the NPS and those of us who visit. FYI- It is the NPS, NOT Xanterra, or their likeness, who determine annual lodging rates, where facilities are allowed to be erected, size of accomodations, etc. If you had any inclination to do your homework, you would find that the privateers are that in name only, and that the NPS pulls the majority the strings, and certainly holds all the aces in this deal. As well they should. If you are that bend out of shape about privately owned lodges on national lands, don't support them. Stay in a tent. Does that pose an issue?

How did you guys manage to drift so far off on a tangent? Franks's comments competely ignore the contents of the article. But I'll put in my two-cents worth on this bellyaching anyway. See editorial above. Then PLEASE try and maintain your focus!

A few quick notes -

The NPS has lots of concessions operating in the parks. Things like the park phone system and garbage service may be operated by a concessions. It is cost-effective to let others operate some services within the parks. It makes sense to me that lodge operations should be handled by a concessionaire. We don't need park rangers checking you into your room or changing your sheets. This does not mean there aren't problems in the system, but why should that diminish the stature of the hotel?

Let's not confuse the people who operate the lodges with the lodges themselves. This list states simply that the Ahwahnee is the best lodge in the parks, it doesn't say that Delaware North (the concession that operates the lodge) are the best. In a few years, some other outfit may be managing the hotel, but the hotel remains in the park, and the hotel may continue to be rated "the best". We can debate the best/worst concession contracts on another day, but for this article, as Lone Hiker says, lets see if we can maintain some focus.

Are there lodges in the parks that should have been included on this list? I've already suggested that maybe one of the Olympic lodges should be here, anyone second that opinion?

I find it ironic that you've got something critical to say about nearly every article posted on this site

Jeremy, I'm sorry you feel that way. However, during the last two weeks, I've only commented on 6 of the 21 articles on NPT, and that's far from "nearly every"; most of my comments, while they do involve critical analysis and offer a different view point, are not critiques of the articles themselves, but of the issues they cover.

Matt, I'm not sure what Xanterra's giving to the NPS now, but I'd guess it's a very small percentage. Before Xanterra assumed control of the Crater Lake Lodge, the concession returned 3% of their profits to the park, but for a number of years the contract was expired and the concession gave no money to Crater Lake.

My observation was not about the hierarchical value judgment of individual lodges. I was wondering why NPT, which often prints stories on the "plight of the parks", condones private profit from federally funded lodges (with the vast majority of those profits leaving the park) when parks are (supposedly) strapped for cash and could address budget shortfalls with a larger share of the profits? So in that way, it was related to the topic, but I'll leave the conversation to those who prefer to rank the taxpayer-funded, monopoly-controlled lodges in national parks.

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Reform the National Park Service!
http://NPS-reform.blogspot.com

The larger issue here is that concessionaires should be, in some people's view, returning more money back to the park from which they profit. Lodges run by XYZ company in parks are important, because there are better things for NPS to worry about than changing your sheets. However, XYZ company could (and should) be doing a better job of giving back to the park where it does business. Staying or not staying at a lodge isn't going to change anything. Only if we elect politicians who will change the status quo will the problem be solved.

And I would hardly say that Mr. Sullivan "condoned" park lodges in his original post. He did not endorse any lodge inside the parks...only the list of lodges and one "near" Oympic.

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jr_ranger
http://tntrailhead.blogspot.com
http://zinch.com/jr_ranger
http://picasaweb.google.com/north.cascades
President, CHS SPEAK (CHS Students Promoting Environmental Action & Knowledge)
Founder and President, CHS Campus Greens

OK, new question: If you had the opportunity to spend the night in any lodge within the entire park system tonight, which one would you choose, and why?

So much for focusing on content. But since the author raises a new question, my personal hands-down choice is Phantom Ranch. Location, location, LOCATION!!! There are no "casual tourists" to be had in the bottom of the abyss, which enhances the level of camaraderie amongst kindred spirits, akin to a true brotherhood of a "lodge". No other facility in the NPS network is remotely (no pun intended) close to fostering that type of closeness among guests. Even the canteen visitors from Bright Angel campground become part of the overall family, albeit somewhat like a second cousin. For that matter, in spite of what you're thinking, those river-running folk, to some degree "casual" due to the lack of physical effort expended upon reaching the lodge, have a unique perspective on the facility after days (and nights) on the river. Before you ridicule me for taking them seriously as more than casual invaders of the inner sanctum, if you've yet to experience the length of the Colorado via watercraft, you are indeed missing the most unique adventure the Canyon had to offer. But I would still prefer the trans-canyon hike with a night (or two, off season) at the Ranch to any stay in ANY lodge.

Oh, I wouldn't be so quick to say "no other lodge" in the park system can foster such camaraderie.

There are the backcountry chalets in Glacier that would come close, I think, and LeConte Lodge in Great Smoky Mountains, of course. Both require some relatively significant hoofing it to find a berth. And in Glacier, you can rub elbows with your fellow hikers while making your own dinners in true collective fashion at the Granite Park Chalet.

Others, no doubt, would point to the backcountry tent camps in Yosemite's high country. True, you don't cook your own meals, but you eat family style and so can regale your companions with park stories and foster community.

I'll be the first to admit that I have yet to visit, or will EVER visit the entire scope of facilities offered within the NPS. I also concede to the fact that all encompassing words and statements never live up to their billing. That said, and having no point of reference regarding LeConte, I will say that by the strict definition and personal experience the Yosemite sites don't quite qualify in the sense of the term "lodge". And to me the greatest difference is the fostering of community that evolved naturally at Phantom versus the somewhat uncomfortably "forced" nature that existed on my trek through Yosemite. To be sure, the location of certain regions within Glacier is quite demanding and remote enough to keep away the "casual tourists" to which I usually make it a point to avoid in my personal backcountry expeditions. And the chalet atmosphere does indeed lend itself to the kindred spirit. But to consider them a similar lodge is a bit of a stretch in my humble opinion. Maybe my issue is that after a week or so in the middle of nowhere, sometimes quite literally, almost ANY structure becomes highly appealing, even the Muav Cabin, so it's possible my perspective isn't the most objective on many of the NPS facilities. Phantom isn't opulent, by any stretch, but that's not high on my criteria or I obviously would have selected the El Tovar from the Grand Canyon facilities. I'm just saying that the effort expended to reap the "reward" of the lodge is the greatest draw for me personally. But this is just one of those debates that anyone can justify his/her opinion on with little dispute from the masses.

Has anyone thought about posting the room rates for the 10 best lodges? I Googled the rates for the Ahwahnee Hotel, and here's what I found:

Ahwahnee $408
Ahwahnee Cottages $408
Jr. Suites $499
Suites $893
Tressider Suite w/Library Parlor $984
Additional Adult in same room $21/night
Add. rollaway bed in same room $11/night

These prices to not include tax, which is an addtional 10%. This means that a suite at the Ahwahnee will approach and exceed $1000.00 per night!

I wonder how the other 9 "best" lodges compare in price?

I have to admit, I'm a real sucker for Roosevelt Lodge at Yellowstone and for White Wolf tent cabins in Yosemite. They are to me reminiscent of the old-fashioned park experience with a touch of civilization attached. I love waking in the mornings to the cool morning air, lighting up a fire in the wood stove... cup of coffee... I love the camaraderie of the lodge experience which both places afford. I also love the locations of these since they are both away from the main hubbub of these busy parks.

To me, the Ahwahnee is a beautiful, architecturally-stunning, upscale experience that I would prefer were at the park's gates rather than smack dab in the middle of Yosemite Valley. It's too late to do anything about it now, but if everyone could evacuate the building and a rockslide could bury it, I wouldn't mourn too much.

Jeremy,

Great start of a thread. Here's my new favorite:

The Chalet at Oregon Caves...I stayed two nites in a third floor room and had a gorgeous sleep listening to the waterfall out my open window. The ghost that lives across the hall didn't bother me a bit. The breakfast in the coffee shop below was yummy. Wonderful, relaxing place. I can't wait to stay there again. As I recall, the rates were very reasonable.

BTW: Ref The Ahwahnee...The name comes from the Native American word for Yosemite Valley which means "place of a gaping mouth." How unintentionally appropriate is that! ;)

Got to be Charit Creek Lodge in the heart of the Big South Fork. It's an old homstead that is now a walk/bike/horseback-in hostel at the confluence of Charit Creek and Station Camp Creek abot 2miles from the nearest trailheads. Head a mile from the lodge over in one direciton and you come to the Station Camp Crossing in one of the most remote parts of the Big South Fork Gorge. Go the opposiite direction for a few miles and you have a smorgasboard of huge standstone arches and stunning overlooks of the gorge.

www.nps.gov/biso
www.charitcreek.com/home.html

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jr_ranger
http://tntrailhead.blogspot.com
http://zinch.com/jr_ranger
http://picasaweb.google.com/north.cascades
President, CHS SPEAK (CHS Students Promoting Environmental Action & Knowledge)
Founder and President, CHS Campus Greens

I like your top ten list! I have not visited all of the National Parks, so I can't see that you left any off. We take our children to at least one of our nation's beautiful parks each year. We have actually stayed at the Ahwahnee, Big Meadows and Many Glacier and have reservations at Camp Denali for next summer. There is nothing like waking up and looking outside your window at God's creation. I encourage anyone planning a NP visit to make a reservation INSIDE the park that you plan to visit. Whether you spend the night in a tent camp or in a higher priced lodge, it will be worth it.