Road Trip 2011: The National Park Lodges

They won't be traveling by a big yellow bus, but David and Kay Scott soon will be heading out for a swing through the National Park System to update their lodging book.

The two of us will soon depart for a tour of national park lodges in order to gather information for a revision of our national park lodging guide. We undertake these journeys every three years with the first trip in 1996, prior to the book’s first edition.

We typically drive 9,000 to 11,000 miles while staying in and exploring as many of the lodges as possible. We don’t have the time nor money to stay in all the lodges. For example, in Yellowstone we will stay in four of the park’s nine lodges, but spend time visiting the other five facilities. At the South Rim of the Grand Canyon we will spend three nights at Yavapai, but spend time at Maswik, Thunderbird, Kachina, El Tovar, and Bright Angel Lodge.

This trip will omit eastern lodges in Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway that we visited last summer. We will also miss delightful Kettle Falls Hotel in Voyageurs National Park and Rock Harbor Lodge in Isle Royale National Park where we stayed several years ago. These two lodges are quite isolated and visits require more time than we have available this year.

Planning the trip is labor intensive because of the narrow window available for each stay. Once the first reservation is made, the remainder of our stays must occur on or near a particular date. Kay takes care of all this on a spreadsheet. Our first reservation this trip was at Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim, probably the toughest ticket in national park lodging. Grand Canyon Lodge opens late, closes early, is not particularly large, and remains at 100 percent occupancy virtually the entire season. This year we will be at the North Rim on May 16 and 17, the first two days of its scheduled opening.

We use the word “scheduled" because openings on the North Rim are tentative depending on the weather. After securing two nights at the North Rim we worked backward to lodges in Glen Canyon, the South Rim, Canyon de Chelly, Mesa Verde, and Big Bend in order to obtain a starting date for the trip. We then made reservations forward from the North Rim to Bryce Canyon, Zion, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and on around the country. We will be omitting Death Valley National Park, which we visited last March.

Memorial Day and July 4 are always a headache because lodges fill early and reservations are difficult to obtain. Although we were able to get a July 3 reservation at Prince of Wales (July 4 isn’t a big deal north of the border) and a July 4 reservation at Glacier Park Lodge, we will be spending Memorial Day weekend in Fresno, between stays in Kings Canyon and Yosemite. As an aside, the smog seems to be worse on each trip when we descend the mountains from Kings Canyon National Park to Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley. On the plus side, Fresno has a great minor league baseball stadium where the Grizzlies play. Unfortunately, the team will be playing in Colorado during the coming Memorial Day weekend.

Numerous changes have occurred since our first trip in 1996 when we stayed in Sequoia National Park’s Giant Forest, a complex that was soon taken down and replaced up the road by Wuksachi, a much more luxurious facility where we stayed on subsequent trips. During that first trip we couldn’t visualize building another lodge in Sequoia even though a ranger told us it would happen and Giant Forest was scheduled for closing. Turns out, she was right on the mark. Not only was a new facility constructed in Sequoia, but John Muir Lodge was added in 1998 in the Grant Grove area of neighboring Kings Canyon National Park.

The old Snow Lodge was still operating in Yellowstone during our first trip, although we stayed next door at Old Faithful Inn. It seems as if the old Snow Lodge was being used during summers for employee housing when we visited. Snow Lodge has since been replaced by Old Faithful Snow Lodge, an upscale facility in this popular section of the world’s first national park. Two additional smaller lodges have been constructed in the Canyon area of Yellowstone since our initial visit.

In Yosemite, numerous cabins were removed in the valley following a major 1997 flood. Three buildings next to the river were removed at Flagg Ranch in John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway soon after our first trip. Flamingo Lodge in Everglades National Park is no more after suffering major hurricane damage in 2005.

We often encounter people we have previously met at a different location. Cavallo Point at the Golden Gate, the newest national park lodging facility in Golden Gate National Recreation Area, opened during the summer of 2008 under general manager Dominie Lenz, a person we met several years earlier when she was managing Crater Lake Lodge, and later, Furnace Creek Resort, for Xanterra.

We were surprised one summer when we discovered general manager Bill Ahler at Olympic’s Lake Crescent Lodge. We had met Bill on two previous trips when he was at Grand Canyon Lodge at the North Rim. The manager we met at Wawona in Yosemite had become the manager at Glacier Bay Lodge in Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park just before we visited there the first time. The registration desk at Glacier Bay Lodge was staffed by a person we had talked with the previous spring at Death Valley’s Furnace Creek Inn. Parkies always seem to be on the move.

Changes have occurred since our last trip in 2008. Forever Resorts, the new concessionaire at Bryce Canyon Lodge, is no longer the concessionaire at Lake Crescent Lodge. Stovepipe Wells and Panamint Springs Resort in Death Valley National Park are each operating under new concessionaires.

Volcano House in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is seeking a new concessionaire and temporarily closed for major renovation. As noted in an earlier article, Bluffs Lodge on the Blue Ridge Parkway is closed for the upcoming season and seeking a new concessionaire. Rocky Knob Cabins in the same park will be operated by a new concessionaire this year.

Glacier Park, Inc., concessionaire for all but one of the Glacier National Park properties, has acquired Grouse Mountain Lodge in nearby Whitefish. A new set of camper cabins will be available starting this year in the Manzanita Lake area of Lassen Volcanic National Park. We will report from there in early June. As Sonny and Cher said with such feeling, “the beat goes on.”

The first leg of the trip will be the longest at nearly 1200 miles to Chisos Mountain Lodge in Big Bend National Park. From there it is on to Far View Lodge in Mesa Verde, Thunderbird Lodge in Canyon de Chelly, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell Resort in Glen Canyon NRA, and so on.

Depending on Internet connections, we will provide Traveler readers with updates along the way. We plan to tell you about the lodges, the crowds, the food, and other bits of information related to the parks and their lodges. We’ll even tell you about the smog in Fresno.

Until then.

Comments

Have a GREAT trip and be safe!!

Looking forward to some vicarious travel this summer.

Really enjoyed your Lewis & Clark travels last year, looking forward to reading about your adventures this year.

This is an epic, grand, brilliant vacation. So envious. I helped on Cavallo... it's a special, rare place. I hope you enjoy yourselves... be safe, have fun.. and keep doing what you obviously know how to do: live life, live it well... and enjoy it every step of the way! =)

Amazing adventures !We even duplicated a few of them with great success. Couldn't do without your books. They come along in our backpack. THANKS!

There's another hotel in a national park in San Francisco--the wonderful Argonaut at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. Kimpton Hotel Group rehabilitated the historic California Cannery warehouse seven years ago and still operates this boutique, four-star hotel today. The building also houses the park visitor center and the NPS Pacific West Information Center, and is ideally situated across the street from Hyde Street Pier, where the park's fleet of historic ships are moored.

You are obviously living the good life. Have a great trip.