You are here

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.


For the bargain hunter, the beauty of Yosemite can still be enjoyed with an inexpensive stay at Yosemite Pines RV Resort & Family Lodging. The resort is now offering Yosemite-area lodging starting at only $29.00 for two nights for a yurt that can accommodate up to five people. Yosemite cabins start at only $39 for two nights for a basic cabin that can accommodate four people. With the Yosemite National Park entrance fee of $20 per car for unlimited entries for seven days, a family can spend less than $100 for two days of Yosemite-area lodging and admission to the park. These special rates are available at during the fall and winter season. Some restrictions apply. Yosemite Pines ( is an RV resort, campground, and lodge located near Yosemite National Park. Yosemite Pines offers Yosemite camping near Yosemite National Park with full hook-up RV and campsites ( Yosemite Pines also offers Yosemite lodging and cabins near Yosemite National Park with cabin and yurt rentals ( Amenities include a clubhouse, gold mine, gold panning, petting zoo, swimming pool, hiking trail, general store, children's playground, horseshoe pit, and volleyball.

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.

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?

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?

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 - 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.

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, 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.

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide

Recent Forum Comments