What better way to end a fall day of hiking in Glacier National Park than to enter the Many Glacier Hotel and settle comfortably into one of the armchairs before the cracklin’ fireplace in the hotel lobby? Along with the popping wood and flickering flames, the soft smell of wood smoke mingles with the steam wafting from your hot chocolate, Irish coffee, or hot tea.
Or maybe you’ve just returned from sampling Shenandoah National Park’s resplendent forest colors on the hike to Lewis Falls and back to Big Meadows Lodge, where the fireplace is blazing and the chairs filling with park travelers discussing their day in the mountains.
The first setting offers Rocky Mountain views of panorama-sweeping mountains reflected in Swiftcurrent Lake. The second, Appalachian splendor within a kaleidoscope of color. Both lodges are great base camps for fall treks into the National Park System, but they aren’t the only ones. Let’s take a look at some of your lodging options across the system. What follows isn’t intended to be an all-inclusive list, but rather a cross sampling of what you can consider.
There are no accommodations within this mountainous park’s boundaries, but there are plenty nearby from which to base your explorations of the reds, yellows and oranges of Acadia’s forests of oaks, maples, and beeches. Bar Harbor offers cozy water-front cottages, charming bed-and-breakfast options, and even grand hotels.
But you shouldn’t restrict your search to Bar Harbor. Expand it to Southwest Harbor, where you’ll find the elegant and time-honored Claremont Hotel (800-244-5036) not far from Somes Sound, and to Northeast Harbor, where you might consider the Asticou Inn (800-258-3373). To find a home or cottage to rent for an extended visit on Mount Desert Island, check with the Davis Agency (207-244-389).
Anywhere along this leafy 469-mile parkway will guarantee you brilliant fall colors thanks to the more than 130 tree species. Welcoming inns, B&Bs, lodges, roadhouses, and chain motels dot the route. Among them is the Peaks of Otter Lodge (866-387-9905) located at Milepost 86 some 20 miles south of Roanoke, Virginia.
Earlier this year, Delaware North Parks and Resorts took over management of this 60-room property that comes with views of Abbott Lake.
Western fall viewsheds are decidedly different than those in the East. Here the foremost color is the gold of aspen leaves rattling on the breezes, though Gambel oaks add some vivid reds. Out the door of the Bryce Canyon Lodge (877-386-4383) and its surrounding cabins you also have the glowing amphitheaters of Bryce Canyon.
The lodge itself is historic, dating to 1925. It stands surrounded by Ponderosa pines and is just a short stroll from the park’s rock hoodoos.
The lodge’s accompanying Western Cabins boast gas fireplaces, perfect for taking the chill off an October or early November night at 8,000 feet. In nearby Tropic you can find some B&Bs, including the Stone Canyon Inn (435-679-8611) that backs up to the park.
There is just one lodge inside the park—LeConte Lodge (865-429-5704)—and you need to make reservations long in advance and then hike to reach it. Otherwise, the park’s surrounding towns hold your options, with comfortable B&Bs as well as chain motels.
You can rent cabins and homes in the woods near Bryson City, N.C., from Hidden Creek Cabin Rentals (888-333-5881) or look to the Tennessee side of the park and the cabins and B&Bs in the mountains that overlook Gatlinburg.
Meandering through the states of Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee, this scenic drive with its vibrant forests of oak, beech, and hickory offers a multitude of lodgings from which to enjoy the fall weather. You might opt for a rustic log cabin at the French Camp Bed & Breakfast Inn (662-547-6835) near Milemarker 181, or stay within the 175 acres of woodlands that serve as a backdrop for the Natchez Hills Bed and Breakfast (931-285-2777) that is affiliated with the Natchez Hills Vineyard in Hampshire, Tennessee. Relax after—or before—dinner with a tasting of one of the vineyard’s merlots or rieslings.
Fronting its namesake lake, the Lake Crescent Lodge (866-476-5382) offers rooms in motel-style, stand-alone units, as well as in four Roosevelt Fireplace Cottages, handsome cabins with warm, hardwood flooring and stone fireplaces.
Outside you not only have the lake for boating and fishing, but nearby is a trail that winds not quite a mile to Marymere Falls through the park’s beautiful lowland forests lush with hemlocks, firs, red cedars, spruce, huckleberry, Oregon grape and Salal.
Kalaloch Lodge (866-662-9928) on the southwestern corner of the park is the perfect perch from which to “storm watch” in the fall as Pacific storms slam the coast and its sea stacks.
Though less well-known than the Yellowstones, Shenandoahs, and Everglades of the National Park System, Ozark NSR offers outstanding fall color in southeastern Missouri thanks to its forests of oak, sycamore, cottonwood, birch and maple. While the Jacks Fork and Current rivers offer paddling opportunities through this colorful landscape, the Big Spring Lodge (573-323-4423) with its 14 cabins provides the lodging in this corner of the Ozarks.
One of the best parks for listening to the shrill singing of bull elk courting their ladies, Rocky Mountain is without lodging inside its borders. Instead, Estes Park on the eastern side of the park and Grand Lake on the western side offer many options. At Estes Park you have a rich choice of cabins filling the canyon that leads to the Fall River Entrance, or you can stay in the stately Stanley Hotel (1-800-976-1377).
At Grand Lake, you might choose a cabin on Moose Lake or one on Grand Lake.
Big Meadows Lodge (877-847-1919) and Skyland Resort (877-847-1919) are the park’s two historic lodges. Both are well-situated in deciduous forests that showcase the season’s best colors. Their character—floors worn by millions of footsteps, banisters and chair arms rubbed smooth by millions of hands, the history of those who built these fine lodges—add much to your vacation.
Outside the park, your options expand in the gateway community of Front Royal or down into the Shenandoah Valley on the west side of the park with its inns and B&Bs.
Crisp fall nights seem to bring the park’s wildlife alive and into sight as the bull elk serenade their harems with bugling, bison are on the move to wintering grounds, and bears are gorging themselves for the winter. The park has nine lodging options (866-439-7375) ranging from the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel to the venerable Old Faithful Inn. Aspens glowing gold and maples and scrub oaks flaming red help color the green pine forests.
Where should you stay? Old Faith is ground zero for geyser gazers, while Canyon Lodge and the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel place you closer to the Lamar Valley with its premier wildlife viewing.
The historic Zion Lodge (888-297-2757) in Zion Canyon is the location most park visitors want. The lodge, the only accommodations inside the park outside of campgrounds, is rimmed by the canyon’s soaring sandstone walls, just a short walk from the rippling Virgin River, and within easy reach of some great hikes. You’ll find a combination of motor lodge rooms and beautifully renovated cabins complete with gas fireplaces and hardwood floors, much like those at Bryce Canyon.
Cool, not cold, weather dominates fall here. Along the Virgin River that flows through the canyon, cottonwoods in fall turn golden yellow and bigtooth maples add splashes of scarlet to the canyons and trails.
Those are just some of the lodging possibilities that exist in the National Park System. To learn of more, visit your favorite park's website, click on the "Plan Your Visit" button in the left-hand column, and then "Things To Know Before You Come," and, finally, the "Lodging" button.