From Luxury Lodges to Glamping Resorts: How to Visit National Parks in Style
It didn’t take me long to convince Karen that the sensible thing to do at the age of 49 was to quit our jobs and head out to see all 58 U.S. national parks (this was in 2010; today there are over 400 NPS sites, with 62 of them designated official national parks). We quickly realized, however, that arranging logistics for a journey of this magnitude would not be easy. Adding to the challenge, Karen announced a few days into our planning that she refused to spend the night any place where there was even the slightest chance of waking up and finding a mouse on her head.
Karen, an avid reader of lodging reviews, had run across a one-star description of a park lodge in which the reviewer complained of waking up in the middle of the night to find a mouse perched on her husband’s head. From that moment on, it was my responsibility to ensure—no, guarantee—that we would not experience such a calamity while on our tour of the national parks.
We made it to all of the parks with no mouse-on-head encounters, thankfully, and we learned a lot about the different lodging options available when visiting our magnificent public lands. One thing we can say for sure: where you stay will affect your entire park experience. If you don’t plan on setting up a cot next to your car and sleeping under the stars at highway rest stops while 18-wheelers rumble past you—we’ve seen people do this very thing—and would prefer to have a roof over your head, the following categories of lodging can be found throughout the parks, and close by.
Historic lodges, with their rustic yet majestic architecture, take you back to the grand old days when the world was just beginning to discover our incredible national parks. In addition to giving you a glimpse into the past, park lodges put you right where the action is; you can’t match the convenience of waking up in the park. Many sell out up to a year in advance, however, we’ve been successful at catching last-minute cancellations at some of our favorite park lodges.
Lake Crescent Lodge, Olympic National Park/Photo by Matt and Karen Smith
Nearby Hotels and Motels
Many national parks sit adjacent to charming communities, such as Moab outside of Arches, Springdale outside Zion, and Gatlinburg outside Great Smoky Mountains. These park towns offer a wide selection of traditional lodging options that are convenient to the parks and allow you to experience the local flavor of the area, with shops, restaurants, breweries, etc.
Mom & Pop Cabins/Resorts
If you want to move up the charming scale—even to the “darling” level—check out some of the family-owned cabins and resorts close to the parks. We’ve even found many hidden gems just outside crowded parks like Yosemite, Mount Rushmore, and Rocky Mountain. These cabins are usually rustic and self-contained, with a bit more space to stretch out and small kitchens where you can cook your own meals.
Luxury Lodges and Resorts
Visiting the parks doesn’t always mean you have to forgo the finer aspects of life; many luxury resorts and lodges are just waiting to pamper you in style. If we have to drag ourselves to some of them in order to give you a first-hand report, it’ll be tough, but we’ll endure a few massages, some roof-top pools, and stocked wine cellars just for you.
Many Glacier Hotel, Glacier National Park/Photo by Matt and Karen Smith
If you want to dip your toe into the world of camping, instead of lying on the cold hard ground shivering ‘til dawn, how about staying in a hip, safari-style tent in a comfortable bed with fine linens? Some glamping tents even come with private bathrooms and hot showers. And while you’re lounging in a hammock with a cold drink, staff members build roaring campfires and provide fixings for s’mores. Now that’s what I call camping.
While not all of these lodging types are available at every park, we’ll be sharing some of our favorite finds throughout the country to help you plan your next park adventure! Without any mouse-on-head encounters, hopefully.
Under Canvas glamping at Mount Rushmore National Memorial/Photo by Matt and Karen Smith
Header photo: Cabins at Zion National Park/Photo by Matt and Karen Smith
Matt and Karen Smith are the authors of the Dear Bob and Sue series of books and the hosts of the Dear Bob and Sue podcast, where they share stories about their visits to all the national parks and other public lands.