MSNBC’s Top 10 National Park Lodges List Draws Curmudgeonly, but Gentle Criticism

That’s the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge on the far shore of Lac Beauvert in Jasper National Park. The (very expensive) hotel is nice, but the park’s not one of ours. Photo by appaloosa via Flickr.

MSNBC recently published a list that caught my attention. It bears this title: Top 10 National Park Lodges and this subtitle: Sleep in style on a summer escape to our nation's national parks.

As you can imagine, I perused the list with eager anticipation.

Here are the ten parks on MSNBC’s list:

Ahwahnee Hotel (Yosemite National Park, California)
Many Glacier Hotel (Glacier National Park, Montana)
Banff Springs Hotel (Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada)
Big Meadows Lodge (Shenandoah National Park, Virginia)
Jasper Park Lodge (Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada)
Crater Lake Lodge (Crater Lake National Park, Oregon)
Jenny Lake Lodge (Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming)
El Tovar (Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona])
Cavallo Point ("Golden Gate National Parks", California)
Paradise Inn (Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington)

I couldn’t help but notice that two of the first five lodges listed are not in the United States. This stretches the concept of “our” national parks a tad too far. No wonder the Canadians say we don’t give them enough respect!

I’ve got a bit of a problem with that ninth pick, too -- or rather, the specified location. Perhaps I’m being a tad curmudgeonly, but I feel the need to point out that there is no such place as “Golden Gate National Parks.” That’s the name that San Francisco Bay Area boosters expect the park to have some day, assuming that the “let’s upgrade it” campaign spearheaded by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi holds sway in Congress. Meanwhile, it’s still Golden Gate National Recreation Area, just like it has been since October 27, 1972.

These things said, I have to agree that there are some mighty fine park lodges listed here. I’d be interested to know what our Traveler readers think of these choices. Also the prices. Peak season rates at Jenny Lake Lodge, for example, start at $550 a night for two people.

Disheartened, but not dissuaded, I will continue my quest for the perfect national parks lodge list.


To be fair to the writer, it's in the "US and Canada" travel section. Looks to me like whoever wrote the headline didn't read the whole thing.

I'm from the USA and oddly enough, the only two lodges on the list that I've stayed in are the Canadian ones. Although both were great experiences, Banff Springs Hotel is in town and doesn't really feel like it's in a national park. Jasper Lake Lodge is one of my favorites. High on my "to do next" list are Many Glacier Hotel, Crater Lake Lodge and Paradise Inn. I agree with you, though, the rates are a bit intimidating. So, what makes the perfect national parks lodge list? What parameters would you include?

I agree that including Canadian parks is cheating. And no lodges from Yellowstone? As for Cavallo Point: I know this is an adapted use of Fort Baker buildings, but why was it allowed? The concessions laws say that the NPS should not have concession operations where the service or merchandise can reasonably be secured outside the park. There is no shortage of hotel rooms in San Francisco. For years, people have approached Cabrillo National Monument with proposals to build a hotel or restaurant there. There can be little doubt that with its spectacular view of San Diego, such a place would be a financial hit. But, there is no way to justify such a concession at the park. Sure, Golden Gate NRA wanted to find a way to preserve the historic buildings at Fort Baker, but why a commerical lodging business? I think this website has previously noted the many odd workings of GGNRA - is it a national park or a government/private sector land management enterprise? Good question.

Such lists, of course, are entirely subjective. That said, there are some glaring omissions, such as Yellowstone's Old Faithful Inn, if you like rustic atmosphere, or Lake Hotel, if you prefer elegance. Either, in my book, surpass Many Glacier, which, though in a spectacular setting, needs some serious restoration work and renovations. The rooms are small and cramped, the furnishings shabby. Or at least they were when I visited in 2005.

Also missing is the Furnace Creek Inn in Death Valley, another top lodging in my opinion. And what of the Stanley Hotel, which, although outside the park boundaries, long has been tied to Rocky Mountain National Park?

What goes into the perfect national park lodging list can not easily be defined. Do you want rich, rustic flavor, such as that which originally went into the Old Faithful Inn, the Bryce Canyon Lodge, Grand Canyon Lodge, and other creations of the original "parkitecture" movement? Do you want more modern amenities and, dare I say, class, such as can be found in The Ahwahnee and Lake Hotel? Should the setting be remote and presumably pristine? Should a decent restaurant be part of the package? What of cost? While Jenny Lake Lodge certainly exudes rustic charm with service to boot, and meals included, $550 a night seems a tad much, no?

Kurt: You established a new word in your blog that has been a important contribution to the National Parks: Parkitecture! When I review some the architecture or "parkitecture" of the past that was established back in the 1920's, and post war 1930's with the civilian conservation core (CCC), I take a moment to reflect with respect (and great awe) the men and women that put these enormous projects together and gave us some of the most beautiful architecture, bridges, trails and infrastructure of the world. The enormous undertaking of these projects still today brings us much pleasure to see and visit. The past architects had a very special talent blending in the natural surroundings of the landscape with it's design concepts that fitted well with it's environment. More less to say, "form follows function" which was coined by the famed architect Frank L. Wright. I deeply regret today, we don't have that same passion and movement to re-establish our National Parks on the same level or plateau of inspiration, dedication and commitment, which definitely reflects from the lack of true leadership in this country. The National Parks today are nothing but a parasitic breeding ground for corporate interests and to the corporate pimps that pander for it's greed.

Thank goodness my favorite, the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, a group of tent cabins in Yosemite, isn't on the list. It's hard enough now to get a reservation there. Staying at the TML is a much more authentic national park experience than at all those fancy places far removed from nature.

I almost mentioned TML, Kath;-)

Of course, not all tent cabin accommodations were created equal. While Curry Village utilizes the same tent cabins as those at TML, I'd never put Curry Village on a "best lodging" list.

Kurt, you're absolutely right about Curry Village. That is more accurately called a tent slum; crowded, noisy, filthy bathrooms, penned in between the roads and parking lot, large unappealing dining hall with food that provides calories but nothing else. TML and to a lesser extent White Wolf Lodge have a different ambience entirely. Small, quiet, better dining, least until I posted here about how wonderful TML is.

10 lodges......average MINIMUM cost per room a scant $280.50 per night + tax, (as you'll see noted in the article, room rates begin at the base prices listed and most accommodations within the lodges are notably higher, especially if you require a "room with a view"), min/max for BASE rooms of $85/$550, and 85 bucks doesn't even get you a bathroom. I wonder if you get a bed or a cot in a closet. If you seriously can't think of anything better to do on your visit to "our national parks" (OK, I'll cut the Canadians in, but Dr. Bob's right, San Fran doesn't qualify) with your $300+ dollars than literally waste it for one day's lodging, with no meals, gratuities, or any other amenities included, you deserve everything bad in life that happens to you. Really folks, for what amounts to paying the equivalent of almost $40/hour for a place to sleep, or $30/hour if you sit on the veranda and have a cocktail or two, oops, forgot to factor in the cocktail....make that $40/hour either way, you must be educationally impaired.

In other threads we've bandied about the pricing of simple entry fees to certain NPS units being well above the level that allows for a large segment of society to even consider visiting. I say, kick out corporate run lodging, let people know they've about to embark on a trip to a National Park, not some damn country club, spare the useless amenities which only serve to drive the cost of day-to-day business operations through the roof, regain control of basic operational costs and stop running these lodges as luxury hotels. If a certain segment of the population stops visiting because they aren't going to be treated as though they're "special", fine, let 'em stay home and watch TLC, Discovery, PBS, or the other outlets where these fine landscapes are displayed. All that money being wasted, no monetary benefit to the NPS, and people actually have the gall to raise issues with the entrance fees and permit costs? Somebody needs to kick you in the vertical smile and dislodge your head from the orifice in which it’s become "lodged".

My favorite lodge in the Canadian Rockies is Num-Ti-Ja Lodge in Banff National Park. It is located on the shores of Bow Lake, just off the Icefields Parkway. This facility was personally designed and constructed by mountain man, adventurer, guide, and big-game hunter Jimmy Simpson. I highly recommend Room 13. The service at the Lodge is outstanding as are its views of Bow Lake, the Wapta Icefield, and the Bow Glacier. The scenery from the vantage point of Num-Ti-Jah Lodge is featured on recent Toyota TV ads.

The prices for rooms at Crater Lake Lodge in Crater Lake National Park, starting at $143.00 per night, are quite a bit lower than the prices quoted for many of the other top ten lodges. I think the prices for the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite starting at $450.00 US, with suites going over $1000.00 per night, are far beyond the economic means of the greater majority of national park visitors.

Owen Hoffman
Oak Ridge, TN 37830

Lone Hiker, I read a biography of Stephen Mather. He, the first superintendent of the national parks, was the mover and shaker behind putting luxury lodgings in the parks. The thinking was that until the elite of Washington, D. C. and the east coast had what they considered to be a comfortable place to stay, they wouldn't support the expansion of the national parks system. So that's why there is a presidential suite at the Ahwahnee. It was a smart plan and he had the best interests of the park system in mind when he did it.

I am shocked that not one of the Yellowstone Lodges is on that list! However, Jenny Lake Lodge is my favorite lodge ever, National Park lodge or otherwise.

Hi Kath-

Mather's writings are not lost on me. But the pandering to the societal elite stage of the development of the park system is not only a waste of facilities in the modern era; it is counterproductive to the current fiscal constraints imposed by the modern day DC elitists. An idea that served its intended purpose, indeed it was, but the time has come for the idea to evolve and develop a new direction better suited to the current state of the parks. Mather got the results he wanted. Now a new paradigm is required to continue Mather's legacy.

I'm not shocked Yellowstones lodges are not listed... We stayed in the cabins at Lake Lodge and they are in desperate need of updating... $150 -200 a night for a full size bed that sags in the middle and 1970 furnishings are not what I call great. We did have beautiful room in Canyon Lodge at $200+ for the night but the cabins that surround that village looked like they needed much updating as well. I am positive that many of the other lodges in the Yellowstone park are quite lovely but Xanterra,who runs all of these sites, really need to take in consideration that the prices they charge are not in keeping with the shape some of their facilities are in. I would not have minded paying a reduced fee for the substandard room if I thought I was getting a bargin...We love to stay in Yellowstone because it is so close and beautiful but I think the next time we go, we will look at staying just outside the park.

Lone Hiker, it's unclear what you are suggesting. Obviously the rates are high, but also obviously they are not too hgh because these lodges are usually booked up. The room rates are subject to the immutable laws of supply and demand. I don't stay in the Ahwahnee because it is too expensive, but I wouldn't want it to be turned into some sort of dormitory, with bunk bed in the main hall or the elegant dining room turned into a mess hall, in the name of some sort of socialistic idea of fairness. No new lodges will likely be built within the national parks. The old historic lodges must be maintained as part of the park's living history.

About a year ago I looked into the issue of lodging (and even dining) rates in the national parks, as some certainly are eye-catching (and wallet-draining). There seem to be at least two factors that seem to be immutable:

1. NPS compares/matches lodging rates to rates outside the parks. So in the case of Grand Teton, for instance, you've got tony Jackson and its high rates. Should the NPS cap rates in the park when compared to those in Jackson? Should it do that and then subsidize the concessionaires?

2. Places like Yellowstone and Glacier not only are relatively remote (and so have higher building costs), but the seasons are shorter than in places such as Zion or Sequoia, and so concessionaires have a shorter period of time to make their revenues and yet still have year-round bills to pay.

Yet another issue involves the bureaucracy that has evolved around restoration/renovation of lodgings in the parks. In the case of historic structures (ie. Many Glacier, Lake McDonald Lodge) there are costly requirements when it comes to renovating these places. Plus, I've been told the NPS is not the easiest agency to deal with when it comes to getting approval not just for renovations in general but also when it comes down to what color of paint is used.

Lone Hiker - the entire concept of entrance fees is unsupportable. The NPS gets less than $100 million from entrance fees from the 130 parks that charge them. This is wrong on so many levels: 1) parks that do not charge fees are at a budget disadvantage and are left to fight over the 20% leavings, 2) fees exclude some users, 3) the time and staff spent on collecting fees comes from the fee income itself, 4) it makes the NPS little more than an offshoot of the IRS, 5) some parks are now collecting more fees than they can spend since they are limited to spending them on building things. Imagine if Congress proposed to raise the NPS budget by, say, $250 million and as part of the deal eliminate all entrance fees! The public would love it and who would be against the Congressman who sponsored the bill? Grand Canyon was $2.00 a car in 1987 and $25 a car by 2007. That is more than a 12-fold increase in 20 years. What will it be in another 20 years- $300 a car? Entrance fees have never been a good idea.

Rangertoo is saying something we need to keep hearing over and over again: no fees !

NPS right now feels it has no choice but to accept them or face either bankruptcy or wholesale abandonment of the Mission. But for very little money Parks could be supported without the fees. The whole fee idea is just one more way ideologues are trying to split parks from the people and make them dependent upon a commercial constituency.

These guys who think this way are on automatic pilot, and they inflict their ideology on everyone in every situation. One of the ways the Iraq situation got so messed up is these guys went into Iraq to privatize the banks (the White House head of domestic staff was sent to Iraq to so redirect Iraqi banking), the oil companies, transportation etc. It was no surprise that they abandoned the protection of Iraqi antiquities or government offices.

Also, Kurt, on your point on concessions, of course the United States should help underwrite the kind of concessions all Americans can afford. American's need to experience these places, and it should be national policy to help them experience the parks.

I am not against them providing some high-end accomodations to help subsidize the rest, provided that the Elite receives no other special benefits of access to the park. Address overuse through reservations, not pricing policy.

Lone Hiker is on to something, and that is the removal of the government/corporate relationship that exists in national park lodging. How much money could parks retain for soap and clean toilets in campgrounds if more than 2% of your $550 a night went to the park instead of large multinational corporations that have been granted a monopoly by a taxpayer funded government agency?

I agree that the lodges are reserved well in advance almost year round. I submit that this phenomenon is more a function of exclusionary building, thereby limiting availability, in keeping with the sound business practice of manipulating the consumer by utilization of the theory: "limited supply maintains higher demand, resulting in a perpetually high (read: inflated) fiscal response by the supplier to the general marketplace". This is one of the oldest and most detestable tricks in the business bible folks. What should be raising your ire is that this methodology is successful if and ONLY if supported internally by, in this case, federal land management practices prohibiting or at the very least restricting commercial development inside the boundaries of NPS units while simultaneously maintaining a "dead zone" near to the parks that makes parkland lodging appear affordable due to the lack of reasonable alternatives. This "bonus" isn't something that the property managers ignore when calculating how big a bite to remove from your vacation budget. How else can you justify the meager accommodations for the outlandish investment? Sorry, but I place a slightly different definition on the term VALUE when I'm making an outlay of personal finances, and I do my level best not to give away the store solely for "convenience". You, on the other hand, can and will do as you please, laughing all the way, ho ho ho.

Am I suggesting a boom in cheap hotel rooms (e.g. Motel 6, HoJo's) to be constructed on NPS lands? The simple thought of which starts my stomach acids over-producing...HELL NO! But I am an advocate of leaving the comforts of home at home. Who needs frilly bed skirts and Pay-per View movies in the middle of nowhere, as many denizens of urban life like to refer to the national parklands? Give 'em hiker rooms, a shower stall (3/4 bath), a decontaminated mattress and a ceiling fan; fresh air and a view of why they came out to the "wilderness" to begin with; memories to take home instead of shampoo bottles, ash trays and mints of their turned down bedding. Lower the overhead by reducing amenities. Maintain or increase overall profitability and place that funding DIRECTLY into the coffers of whatever unit we're debating. Too much to ask?

Hooray and well said ---- from an 84 year old that has visited most of these parks over the past 50 or so years and seen the areas turned into "some damn country club" and agree whole heartedly that some important factors have been lost. I could go on and on but I think previous commentors have pretty well said it all ----- even so I will be visiting Death Valley and some others again this 08/09 winter trip from Maine.

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