U.S. national parks afford a communion with the great outdoors like no other, whether ogling North America’s highest mountain peak, staring into the canyon abyss of one of the world’s Seven Natural Wonders, or awaiting the eruption of a legendary geyser. The lodges that grace these landscapes have served to redefine “roughing it,” opening up the backwoods to nature enthusiasts who might otherwise balk at sleeping under the stars. Sure, our top ten national park lodges might not necessarily qualify as luxury outside of the park, but we can assure you that their amenities are welcomed in the midst of remote wilderness, and that their stunning architecture, storied pasts, and simply spectacular settings verge on the extravagant.
This massive granite and timber lodge – ideally situated in the heart of California's Yosemite National Park, and within view of iconic sites like Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and Glacier Point —houses 99 rooms (and an additional 24 cottages). Completed in 1927, the Ahwahnee boasts massive stone fireplaces, elegant tapestries, and grand public rooms that bear a striking resemblance to those at the Overlook Hotel seen in the movie version of "The Shining", right down to the blend of Art Deco and Native American design motifs. One of the most magical times to visit is in the winter, when the lodge’s Great Lounge plays host to cozy events like the Bracebridge Dinner, a 17th-century English Christmas celebration complete with seven-course dinner, costumed characters, and lively carols.
Big Meadows Lodge
At 3,510 feet above sea level, the views alone warrant a stay at Big Meadows Lodge. Located deep within the wilderness of Virginia's Shenandoah National Park, guests to this great lodge can count deer, and a multitude of other grassland mammals among their parkland neighbors. More than just a base for park adventures, Big Meadows is an architectural attraction in and of itself: Constructed in the late 1930s from area lumber and stones from the nearby Appalachian range, it’s also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Accommodations run from in-lodge rooms and suites to private cabins. Whichever option you choose, pack your imagination: TVs and telephones are scarce.
Camp Denali & North Face Lodge
Nestled amid wildlife and wildflowers in the heart of Denali National Park in Alaska, the eco-friendly Camp Denali & North Face Lodge offers intimate lodging in an unparalleled wilderness setting. It's certainly the only park lodging that offers direct views onto snow-clad Mt. McKinley’s (North America’s highest peak) spectacular crest, when the fabled 20,320 foot behemoth is cooperating, of course (it's more often than not covered by clouds). North Face Lodge's 15 rooms are matched by a lobby complete with a crackling fireplace, while sister property, Camp Denali, offers up 17 cozy, private cabins. The principally organic meals center around homegrown vegetables and jams and syrups derived from the tundra wild berries; naturalist guides lead guests on outdoor adventures from hiking to wildlife watching.
Crater Lake Lodge
Although the first stone was laid for Crater Lake Lodge in 1915, this deluxe in-park lodge was remodeled several times until its grand 1995 reopening, when it became the symbol of Oregon that it is today. With a cheery staff, hot cocoa-and-a-blanket welcome, and patio rocking chairs on hand, Crater Lake calls to mind resort destinations of yesteryear, replete with star-gazing families snuggled by a fire. Located on the very edge of the crater rim, there is no want for views here, with the dining room offering some of the best peeks into the crater. In-lodge rooms and personal lofts are outfitted with basic amenities (you won't find wireless Internet here), but the family experience — sans modern-day distractions — is priceless.
Jenny Lake Lodge
Yellowstone National Park’s historic, 1904 Old Faithful Inn is an absolute must-see for its immense lobby, gnarled wood staircases, and proximity to its namesake geyser, but when it comes to booking the most rustic-chic room in the region of northwest Wyoming that encompasses the sister parks of Yellowstone and Grand Teton, the four-diamond-rated Jenny Lake Lodge is where it’s at. Nestled among the lodgepole pines at the base of Grand Teton National Park, the lodge’s 37 cabins feature down comforters, handmade quilts, and spectacular views of the jagged Tetons. Breakfast, dinner, horseback riding, and bicycling are included in the price, but televisions and radios aren't to be found, and telephones are only available upon request.
Maho Bay Camps
For an experience that’s more about being one with nature than simply seeing it, grab a ferry to remote St. John, and stay in one of the 114 canvas tents of Maho Bay Camps, in the Virgin Islands National Park. But be prepared: While the accommodations are comfortable, this stay is more camp than lodge, with bathhouses a walk away, and only the most basic amenities provided. Visitors of all tastes are sure to be accommodated, though: Those looking for a total retreat can enjoy art, yoga, and holistic workshops; budget travelers can inquire about work-stay programs; while those seeking a little more luxury can try Concordia Eco-Tents, Harmony Studios, or Estate Concordia Studios, all deluxe sister resorts of Maho Bay.
Many Glacier Hotel
The wilds of Glacier National Park beckon with attractions for the outdoor enthusiast, from vast forests and over 700 miles of Montana trails, to meadows, mountains, and, of course, glaciers! But perhaps the activity-laden center of it all is Swiftcurrent Lake, which teems with boaters and shoreline hikers, all overseen by the Swiss-chalet charm of the five-story Many Glacier Hotel along its shores. With its marvelous lakeside rooms, balconies boasting stellar alpine views (keep an eye out for bears), and a cozy lobby with a fireplace to warm up by, you're likely to feel like you've stumbled upon Switzerland itself. Despite being constructed as far back as 1915, Many Glacier remains the park's largest hotel and it still wows visitors with its breathtaking location.
While the landmark South Rim El Tovar Hotel, built by Hopi craftsmen in 1905, may get all of the glory for its historical charm and architecture, there is certainly no Grand Canyon property more appreciated than the Phantom Ranch. Located at the bottom of the canyon, its remote locale makes it a veritable oasis for the forlorn hikers and mule-bound trekkers that reach the bottom of this seeming abyss. Set underneath shady cottonwoods just north of the Colorado River, guests who descend this far can bed down comfortably in rustic air-conditioned cabins and dormitory-style lodgings, soothe tired muscles with a hot shower, hit the canteen to refuel, and set up a base for even more hiking or angling.
For a piping-hot getaway, shack up at the Volcano House, near Kilauea crater in the Big Island’s Volcanoes National Park. Originally built as a house of worship to the volcano goddess, Pele, the dwelling has since housed Mark Twain and F.D.R., and, today, offers country-style accommodations at a safe distance from the spewing summits. The best of the 42 rooms — all with Koa-wood furnishings and Hawaiian quilts — have crater views, while others overlook lush forests and Mauna Loa Mountain, the world’s most massive volcano, rearing up 13,677 feet from sea level. Kilauea itself is also the world’s most active volcano, making this place one geological — and tourism — hot spot.
The best way to absorb the stunning scenery of Utah’s first national park is to stay right in the middle of it at the Zion Lodge — the only lodge on park grounds. Surrounded by vast canyons and soaring sandstone cliffs, the property is an ideal base for treks through Zion’s narrow ravines, forested plateaus, and Virgin River waterways. Classic log cabins here are the accommodations of choice, with gas-burning fireplaces, porches, and pine carpentry, while the standard motel-style rooms attached to the lodge have either a balcony or porch. But, it’s the easy access to the wild playground of Zion that makes these digs so popular; you'll be within striking distance of famous sights and trails like the Zion Narrows, Angels Landing, Emerald Pools, and Kolob Arch.