Across the national park system there are dozens of lodges and thousands of rooms. How do you decide which one would work best for you? That's always a tough question, particularly when you've never been to the park on your agenda.
While there are many national park guidebooks out there that include sections on lodging, they don't always cover every possibility, and if they do, it's often just in passing. The solution just might be "The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges," ($18.95 MSRP) a comprehensive, almost encyclopedic, book by David and Kay Scott that launched its fifth edition earlier this year.
Within the book's nearly 250 pages you'll find the rundown on lodges and rooms from Alaska to Wyoming.
This book has to be a labor of love, because few if any authors get rich writing guidebooks. Believe me, I know.
The Scotts' book was built on more than two dozen summers and quite a few Christmas vacations spent on the road in the parks. To prepare this latest edition the two spent 92 days on the road, drove 11,000 miles through 30 states, and stopped in on 66 national park lodges and spent 56 nights in 46 different lodges. Not only did they sleep in the rooms, but they also toured as many as possible to give you, the reader, the best possible rundown on what's available. That's impressive.
Before the Scotts share with you what they found, they provide a quick primer on national park lodge stays. They give an overview of the wide range of facilities you'll find -- from "luxurious and expensive facilities....to very rustic cabins without bathrooms"-- touch on accessibility, and move through reservations, rates, payment methods and even pets in the parks.
The Scotts even suggest ways to cut down on your vacation expenses: "Accepting a room without a private bathroom (if available) can often save $40 to $50 per night compared to rooms with a private bath," they write. "Another money-saving strategy is to spend every second or third night camping. Most parks with lodges also have campgrounds that charge $12 to $20 per night."
They also cite the well-known strategy of hauling some of your own food -- bought outside the park where items likely will be less expensive -- in coolers that can be refilled with ice at park lodges.
Each section on a specific lodge also contains a beautiful pencil-sketch of the facility by Carole Drong, as well as renderings of park maps so you know where the lodges are in relation to the rest of the park.
If there's a weakness in this book, it's that the Scotts are not judgmental when discussing accommodations. David told me that they decided to leave it up to the visitor to "make their own judgments." That might be fine in some instances, but if you're traveling across the country to a park you've never visited to stay in a room or cabin you've never seen, well, I think it'd be nice to have some insights before you book your reservation.
For instance, in my books (National Parks of the West for Dummies and National Parks With Kids) I point out that Camp Curry in Yosemite National Park is the last place you'd want to stay in Yosemite because of its overcrowding, noise and filth. At the same time, I found the facilities at Yosemite's Tuolumne Meadows Lodge to be a much more reasonable and enjoyable experience, even though you stay in the same tent cabins they feature at Camp Curry.
That said, the Scotts' book is a great resource in that it really provides the lowdown on lodging possibilities. Details practically drip from the pages. For instance, in discussing the log cabins at Colter Bay in Grand Teton National Park, the couple writes:
"Cabins 637 and 639 are each freestanding, with a nice porch overhang. Unit 212, with floor to ceiling windows on one wall, was once an artist's studio and is the most unusual cabin at Colter Bay. One-room cabin 471 was constructed more than one hundred years ago and is the oldest cabin in the Colter Bay complex."
If you spend a lot of time in the parks, or are planning your first visit, this book is a great resource.