Lodging in America’s national parks ranges from barebones tent cabins (Housekeeping units in Yosemite Valley may even be a step below this) to fashionable lodges with upscale amenities.
Choose the former and you may well end up with an evening meal of grilled hot dogs, pork and beans, a bag of Fritos, and a six-pack of Bud Light. Splurge on the latter and you could enjoy an evening with a gourmet meal accompanied by fine wine.
We have stayed in national park lodging at both ends of the spectrum. This includes rustic cabins with mice and spider webs rather than a private bathroom, and upscale inns with evening turn-down service. Both were enjoyable, in their own way, but it is nice to occasionally pamper yourself by staying in one of the upscale lodging facilities.
Of nearly 90 national park lodges in the U.S., we have selected five that can reasonably be called “luxurious,” at least in comparison with other national park lodging facilities.
Frequent travelers accustomed to upscale hotels and resorts are unlikely to consider the five facilities to be in the same category as a Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons Resort, but in terms of service, amenities, and, of course, price, they are certainly in the upper-echelon of national park lodges.
National park lodges sometimes offer specials and packages that can result in reduced room rates. For example, Cavallo Point is currently offering a mid-week special of “stay three nights, pay for two nights.” Likewise, lodges frequently charge lower rates for “shoulder seasons” when room demand is reduced.
We have excluded lodges that offer limited availability of “special” luxurious rooms such as suites. Grand Canyon’s El Tovar and Yellowstone’s Lake Hotel each offer several upscale and relatively expensive suites that many park visitors would consider luxurious. Prince of Wales Hotel in the Waterton Lakes portion of Waterton Glacier International Peace Park offers two luxury suites that any traveler would consider luxurious.
Furnace Creek Inn (Death Valley National Park) – The original Inn, constructed by the Pacific Coast Borax Company, opened with twelve rooms in 1927. Additional rooms, a swimming pool, tennis courts, and a golf course were added during the next several years. Furnace Creek Inn is an AAA-rated four diamond facility that has retained its original grandeur. Sixty-six rooms range from relatively small hillside rooms on the back side to two-room suites, each with a living room plus a bedroom with a king bed. Rates range from $320 to $458 per night. The Inn is closed during summer months. Furnace Creek Inn is a luxury hotel in a unique environment.
The Ahwahnee (Yosemite National Park) – Considered by many park travelers as the crown jewel of national park lodges, the Ahwahnee was built in the late-1920s to be an expensive, luxurious hotel. The hotel did and still does meet these standards. The lodging facility offers 123 rooms, both in the main six-story hotel, and in a series of nearby secluded cottages. Rooms are quite nice, but the real focal points are its Great Lounge, with a 24-foot-high beamed ceiling, stained glass windows, and two massive stone fireplaces, and the spectacular dining room with its 34-foot-high vaulted beamed ceiling and floor-to-ceiling windows. It is worth a visit just to eat a meal in the dining room. Room rates range from $450 to $525 per night not including suites.
Jenny Lake Lodge (Grand Teton National Park) – An unusual luxury lodging facility, Jenny Lake Lodge is comprised of 37 well-maintained rustic cabins situated in relatively secluded wooded area. A few of the cabins are freestanding, but most are duplex units. The lodge is rated four diamonds by the AAA. Unlike most other national park lodging facilities, the rates at Jenny Lake Lodge include breakfast, a five-course dinner, use of bicycles, and horseback riding. A complimentary shuttle is available to nearby Jackson Lake Lodge and to the town of Jackson. Daily rates range from $599 for single and duplex cabins, to $850 for suites that include a bedroom and separate parlor.
Cavallo Point (Golden Gate National Recreation Area) – America’s newest national park lodge, Cavallo Point consists of historic military quarters plus new contemporary buildings that offer a total of 142 rooms. The setting, just below the north terminus of the Golden Gate Bridge, is outstanding, with views of the bridge available from some of the rooms. The Contemporary rooms are bright and airy while Historic rooms offer a better feel for this early-1900s U.S. Army post. A cooking school, an attractive spa, and complimentary transportation to nearby Sausalito are offered by the lodge. Daily rates begin at $265 for Historic rooms and $310 for Contemporary rooms. Suites and Contemporary rooms with a view of the bridge are considerably more expensive.
Greyfield Inn (Cumberland Island National Seashore) – The Inn, constructed in 1901 as a home for a daughter of business tycoon Thomas Carnegie, has ten rooms in the main house, and an additional six rooms in two separate, but nearby cottage buildings. Rooms in the main house differ in size and furnishing, and most require use of shared bathrooms. Rooms in the cottage units each have a private bathroom. Because Cumberland Island, Georgia’s southernmost barrier island, has no bridge access, guests must arrive via the Inn’s private boat that departs from Fernandina Beach, Florida. Daily rates range from $395 to $595 with a two-night minimum stay requirement. Rates include breakfast, a sack lunch, and a semi-formal dinner during which jackets are required of male guests.
David and Kay Scott are authors of The Complete Guide To the National Park Lodges, which currently is in its sixth edition. They are frequent contributors to the Traveler