Editor's note: Summer is a great time to find yourself in a national park, and having a room to spend the night in is even better. While inflation is pushing the costs of lodging ever higher, our lodging experts, David and Kay Scott, have found 10 national park accommodations where you can bunk for less than $100 a night. And you won't be sleeping in a tent.
The economy appears to be slowly recovering from its funk, but unemployment remains high and many of us are finding it prudent to cut back on spending, including dollars devoted to travel. Unfortunately, travel expenses, including both the cost of an overnight stay and the expense of getting somewhere, are increasing. During 2010 the cost of lodging away from home increased 2 percent, the cost of private transportation went up 5.3 percent, and the cost of public transportation increased 4.9 percent. So, how do we save a few bucks if we want to spend several days in a national park?
In general, national park lodging facilities are pricey. There are valid reasons for this including extended seasonal closings (Rock Harbor Lodge in Isle Royale National Park is open for only four months annually) and high maintenance requirements for historical facilities and structures. Consider that Paradise Inn in Mount Rainier National Park was closed for two full seasons while major structural work was done. Many of the lodges are in remote locations where the cost of purchasing goods, services, and, especially, energy, can be quite high.
Still, some national park lodging facilities can be had for under $100 per night. And we don’t mean sleeping in tents or being required to use a community bathroom. You are not going to find a $100 room at The Ahwahnee in Yosemite National Park nor Furnace Creek Inn in Death Valley National Park, even in the off-season. However, there are rooms for less than this price, and they are convenient to the sights and activities inside the parks.
Below are 10 national parks in which you can book a room for under $100 per night. Each facility offers a private bathroom and a hard roof over your head. The listed prices don’t include taxes that possibly could, in some instances, boost the overall cost to slightly over $100. In addition, some of the listed rates are for summer 2010 because rate changes require NPS approval and are often delayed. We don’t claim the list is all-inclusive, or that the lodges noted should necessarily be considered bargains. Still, for your consideration:
* Badlands National Park Cedar Pass Lodge has one-bedroom cabins for $85 per night and two-bedroom cabins for $15 more. The small but clean cabins are near the restaurant and a short walk from the recently remodeled visitor center. This is where we were introduced to the “Navajo Taco.” Cedar Pass Lodge is in an unusual setting and a place we always enjoy staying.
* Blue Ridge Parkway Bluffs Lodge, a small lodging complex with 24 rooms at Milepost 241 rents front rooms for $85 and backside rooms with better views for $95. Eating at the nearby 1940s coffee shop is a real treat. The concessionaire for Bluffs did not renew its contract and the National Park Service is currently soliciting a new operator for the lodge.
* Buffalo National River Buffalo Point offers both rustic and modern cabins that rent for $86 per night. Smaller motel-type lodge rooms rent for $70. Two of the modern cabins offer an excellent view of the river that flows through a deep gorge and is not accessible from the lodging complex. A restaurant open seasonally is within walking distance.
* Death Valley National Park Two of the four Death Valley lodges offer rooms for under $100 per night. Stove Pipe Wells Village Hotel near the center of the park offers small rooms surrounding the historical courtyard for $80 per night. Standard rooms are about $100. A restaurant, store, and small NPS visitor center are also part of the complex.
Panamint Springs Resort is a unique and isolated operation on the western side of park. Motel-type rooms have one queen ($79), one king ($84), or two doubles ($94). A cottage and rooms with three doubles are more expensive. The main building, which looks like it should be located in Key West, has an interesting bar that offers 100 varieties of beer and serves excellent hamburgers. What more can you ask?
* Glacier National Park Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, a mile down the road from better-known Many Glacier Hotel, has one-bedroom cabins for $90 per night The cabins are quite rustic and closely spaced. Cabins without a private bath are available and rent for about $20 less. This is the lowest-cost lodging in this wonderful park. A short walk from the lodging complex offers some of the most spectacular scenery in America.
* Grand Canyon National Park. Maswik South, on the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, offers motel-type rooms and fairly nice cabins for $92. The cabins might be the best buy of any of the South Rim’s lodging facilities. Although not directly on the Rim, cabins are within walking distance and are also near a cafeteria and shuttle stop. A standard double at Bright Angel Lodge, a facility nearer the rim, also rents for $92 per night.
* Mammoth Cave National Park. Mammoth Cave Hotel offers some of the least expensive rooms in any national park with nearly all rooms renting for under $100 per night. One-bedroom Woodland Cottages rent for only $59. These rustic units are located in a shaded area but do not have air conditioning, an issue during a hot, humid summer day. The nicer Heritage Rooms at the main hotel are more expensive at $89 per night. This is a great buy. Mammoth Cave National Park is one of our favorite places to visit.
* Oregon Caves National Monument The Chateau at the Oregon Caves offers several economy rooms for $99. Standard, Deluxe, and Suites are available at higher prices. This is one of the most unusual (the exterior is covered with tree bark) and under appreciated lodges of any national park. A restaurant and coffee shop are in the building and NPS-guided cave tours are a short walk from the Chateau entrance.
* Ozark National Scenic Riverways Big Spring Lodge and Cabins has CCC-built rustic cabins that rent for $65 to $80 per night depending on cabin size. The cabins are nicely spaced and sit on a heavily wooded hillside. The lodge serves as a convenient base from which to kayak, canoe, or tube this beautiful river. A cozy restaurant in the registration building serves regional specialties.
* Yellowstone National Park Xanterra Parks & Resorts, lodging concessionaire for the world’s first national park, offers rooms for under $100 at three of the park’s nine lodging facilities. Canyon Lodge and Cabins, located near Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, has two classes of motel-style units. Renovated Frontier cabins rent for $99, while nearly identical un-renovated Pioneer cabins rent for $73. Lake Lodge Cabins near Lake Yellowstone offer Pioneer cabins for $69 and larger Frontier units for $96. Old Faithful Snow Lodge & Cabins has motel-style duplex cabins for $98. These latter units are located in the busy Old Faithful Geyser area.
True, it's getting late in the year to snag one of these bargains, but there could be some left out there. If nothing else, keep this cheat-sheet for next year's planning purposes.