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Luxury Lodging in Our National Parks


The lodge rooms at Cavallo Point in Golden Gate National Recreation Area are among the most luxurious in the National Park System. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

Lodging in America’s national parks ranges from barebones tent cabins (Housekeeping units in Yosemite Valley may even be a step below this) to fashionable lodges with upscale amenities.

Choose the former and you may well end up with an evening meal of grilled hot dogs, pork and beans, a bag of Fritos, and a six-pack of Bud Light. Splurge on the latter and you could enjoy an evening with a gourmet meal accompanied by fine wine.

We have stayed in national park lodging at both ends of the spectrum. This includes rustic cabins with mice and spider webs rather than a private bathroom, and upscale inns with evening turn-down service. Both were enjoyable, in their own way, but it is nice to occasionally pamper yourself by staying in one of the upscale lodging facilities.

Of nearly 90 national park lodges in the U.S., we have selected five that can reasonably be called “luxurious,” at least in comparison with other national park lodging facilities.

Frequent travelers accustomed to upscale hotels and resorts are unlikely to consider the five facilities to be in the same category as a Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons Resort, but in terms of service, amenities, and, of course, price, they are certainly in the upper-echelon of national park lodges.

National park lodges sometimes offer specials and packages that can result in reduced room rates. For example, Cavallo Point is currently offering a mid-week special of “stay three nights, pay for two nights.” Likewise, lodges frequently charge lower rates for “shoulder seasons” when room demand is reduced.

We have excluded lodges that offer limited availability of “special” luxurious rooms such as suites. Grand Canyon’s El Tovar and Yellowstone’s Lake Hotel each offer several upscale and relatively expensive suites that many park visitors would consider luxurious. Prince of Wales Hotel in the Waterton Lakes portion of Waterton Glacier International Peace Park offers two luxury suites that any traveler would consider luxurious.

Furnace Creek Inn (Death Valley National Park) – The original Inn, constructed by the Pacific Coast Borax Company, opened with twelve rooms in 1927. Additional rooms, a swimming pool, tennis courts, and a golf course were added during the next several years. Furnace Creek Inn is an AAA-rated four diamond facility that has retained its original grandeur. Sixty-six rooms range from relatively small hillside rooms on the back side to two-room suites, each with a living room plus a bedroom with a king bed. Rates range from $320 to $458 per night. The Inn is closed during summer months. Furnace Creek Inn is a luxury hotel in a unique environment.

The Ahwahnee (Yosemite National Park) – Considered by many park travelers as the crown jewel of national park lodges, the Ahwahnee was built in the late-1920s to be an expensive, luxurious hotel. The hotel did and still does meet these standards. The lodging facility offers 123 rooms, both in the main six-story hotel, and in a series of nearby secluded cottages. Rooms are quite nice, but the real focal points are its Great Lounge, with a 24-foot-high beamed ceiling, stained glass windows, and two massive stone fireplaces, and the spectacular dining room with its 34-foot-high vaulted beamed ceiling and floor-to-ceiling windows. It is worth a visit just to eat a meal in the dining room. Room rates range from $450 to $525 per night not including suites.

Jenny Lake Lodge (Grand Teton National Park) – An unusual luxury lodging facility, Jenny Lake Lodge is comprised of 37 well-maintained rustic cabins situated in relatively secluded wooded area. A few of the cabins are freestanding, but most are duplex units. The lodge is rated four diamonds by the AAA. Unlike most other national park lodging facilities, the rates at Jenny Lake Lodge include breakfast, a five-course dinner, use of bicycles, and horseback riding. A complimentary shuttle is available to nearby Jackson Lake Lodge and to the town of Jackson. Daily rates range from $599 for single and duplex cabins, to $850 for suites that include a bedroom and separate parlor.

Cavallo Point (Golden Gate National Recreation Area) – America’s newest national park lodge, Cavallo Point consists of historic military quarters plus new contemporary buildings that offer a total of 142 rooms. The setting, just below the north terminus of the Golden Gate Bridge, is outstanding, with views of the bridge available from some of the rooms. The Contemporary rooms are bright and airy while Historic rooms offer a better feel for this early-1900s U.S. Army post. A cooking school, an attractive spa, and complimentary transportation to nearby Sausalito are offered by the lodge. Daily rates begin at $265 for Historic rooms and $310 for Contemporary rooms. Suites and Contemporary rooms with a view of the bridge are considerably more expensive.

Greyfield Inn (Cumberland Island National Seashore) – The Inn, constructed in 1901 as a home for a daughter of business tycoon Thomas Carnegie, has ten rooms in the main house, and an additional six rooms in two separate, but nearby cottage buildings. Rooms in the main house differ in size and furnishing, and most require use of shared bathrooms. Rooms in the cottage units each have a private bathroom. Because Cumberland Island, Georgia’s southernmost barrier island, has no bridge access, guests must arrive via the Inn’s private boat that departs from Fernandina Beach, Florida. Daily rates range from $395 to $595 with a two-night minimum stay requirement. Rates include breakfast, a sack lunch, and a semi-formal dinner during which jackets are required of male guests.

David and Kay Scott are authors of The Complete Guide To the National Park Lodges, which currently is in its sixth edition. They are frequent contributors to the Traveler

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$300 to $500+ per night for a room? I hardly call that accessble for "regular" folk! Did we really protect these wonderful places to make them playgrounds for the rich and elite?

Many of these places do exist for a reason. The Ahwanee was built at a time when the NPS needed influential people to help with its survival.

In many ways, anyone can enjoys these places. Anyone can walk into the Great Lounge at the Ahwahnee and sit down for a few minutes. During winter they typically have both fireplaces going. Anyone can walk in for a meal too.

Furnace Creek Inn has a different situation. I understand that the land (as well as the golf course) has never been owned by the NPS.

Most of these places have less expensive lodging options, from camping to motel-style rooms.

Yes, the 'common folk' can walk into these wonderful places and sit down, have a drink, whatever & watch 'the rich at play'. Kinda like the peasants could enter the castle and have the privilege of watching royalty eat their dinner, but never being allowed to join them. Then after the meal, they would be able to buy the leftover scraps at the kitchen door. (This is true, I'm not making it up).

I'm not in the hospitality business, so I can't judge cost vs profit, but it seems to me that these places are over-priced for what they offer. They are 'Ritz-Carlton' level prices but not 'Ritz' level services. I've eaten at a few of the dining rooms & the food has been good, but not that superior. I've peeked into rooms (thank you, housekeeping!) & they are not Ritz by any means.

Prices should be more in line with what is provided, then maybe more people could afford to stay there, even if only for a 'once in a lifetime' vacation. The current prices are too much for even that for most of the American public. These are, after all, 'our National Park Lodges' in 'our National Parks'. It's just too bad that 'We, the People' can't afford to stay there!

stormy: (not verified) on May 25, 2010 - 8:06am.

Prices should be more in line with what is provided, then maybe more people could afford to stay there, even if only for a 'once in a lifetime' vacation. The current prices are too much for even that for most of the American public. These are, after all, 'our National Park Lodges' in 'our National Parks'. It's just too bad that 'We, the People' can't afford to stay there!

There's a price level for everyone. I camped in Yosemite Valley last year for $20/night. Yosemite Valley had tent cabins, hard-sided cabins, and motel-style accommodations. I do feel that Yosemite's management has received well-deserved criticism for not addressing the removal of much of the campsites after the 1996-7 floods, but there are options.

The Ahwahnee has no problem selling out during the summer months. I don't begrudge the contractor making a profit. Few companies contracted to do this kind of work are in the business solely out of the goodness of their hearts. I wouldn't expect that the only accommodationsshould be equivalent to motels and mid-priced hotels. I have no problem if there's a limited high end; the Ahwahnee has less than 150 rooms.

I also noted that Furnace Creek Inn is very different. The ownership of the land and buildings was never transferred to the NPS. It's considered private property, and the NPS has no say over their rates.

I don't know about "once in a lifetime" as far as the lodging goes. For myself, the important thing is to experience the park. They've got no VIP line for the backpacking/day use permits (although I guess the Yosemite High Sierra Camps are a sore spot to some) and there's no VIP parking in the regular parking lots. I generally prefer cabins and camping. However - I don't begrudge anyone who's willing to pay to stay in one of these places or the NPS for allowing them to exist.

We have stayed at Jenny Lake Lodge twice now in the past 10 years. I am definitely on a budget but I set aside the money knowing that we are going to stay in a terrific lodge in a fantastic national park - Grand Teton. It is well worth the penny pinching.

One other note - knowing that we are going out there also means we splurge on our means of travel. We book Amtrak in first class sleepers out to either Denver or Glacier or somewhere else. We know this isn't the fastest way to do this but the journey is all part of the trip. We visit several national parks and spend at least a week doing this. I only get to do this about every five years but it makes it so well worth it.

Thank you Grand Teton & the Jenny Lake Lodge for a truly wonderful vacation experience.

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