National Park Lodges – When to Splurge and When to Skip

[Last Updated Mar 30, 2022]

Many of the national parks in the West offer amazing accommodations in the form of historic hotels and lodges built at the beginning of the 20th century. Train travel made America’s national parks more accessible at the time, creating the need for accommodations within or nearby. Spending the night at a national park lodge isn’t cheap, and the amenities one might expect at that price point are often not there. Forget about pools, spas, and urban pampering – sometimes you can’t even get cable, satellite, or even WiFi.

But is the convenience of staying inside the park always worth it?

When deciding whether to stay inside the park, I usually take into account:

  • the size of the park (the bigger, the better off I am staying inside);
  • the popularity of the park and the timing of my visit (if the park is popular and I am visiting in peak season, I am better off staying inside the park);
  • the availability, price and amenities of accommodations nearby.

It’s great when these three factors all point in one direction, but sometimes it’s not an easy decision. I’ll splurge on the ones I’ve given BAG Awards to (Balabanova’s Alltime Greatest), so I’ve included them in my list of when to splurge, when to skip, and one I couldn’t decide on.

When to Splurge

Glacier Park Lodge & Many Glacier Hotel – Glacier National Park

Glacier Park Lodge was at the finish line for the 2017 Glacier Half Marathon. I’m the third person from the left šŸ™‚

Glacier is huge! On my first trip there, I stayed on the west side and spent much of my day driving around the whole south side of the park – on two different days – just to get to the east side. To avoid all of this, I recommend either Glacier Park Lodge or Many Glacier Hotel on the east side of the park. You’ll have easy access to some of the park’s best trails, and you’ll be closer to Waterton Lakes national park in Canada, which is in my 4-day Glacier itinerary. Glacier Park Lodge is just outside the park’s east entrance, while Many Glacier sits on Swiftcurrent Lake on park grounds.

Many Glacier Hotel

Lake Yellowstone Hotel – Yellowstone National Park

Lake Yellowstone Hotel
Image Source: Yellowstone National Park on Flickr, public domain

At 3,472 square miles, Yellowstone is really big. There is lots to see in three distinct areas of the park – the north side, the geyser basin, and the canyon area. Yellowstone is also hugely popular. Together with the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, it’s one of the most recognizable parks in the system. Since my visit in 2017 was right before the July 4th holiday, we opted to stay at Lake Yellowstone Hotel to beat the crowds and avoid the hour-long one-way drive into the park every day.

The Lake Yellowstone Hotel lobby

Despite the price tag, this hotel lacks cable and wifi service. Still, the onsite restaurant is outstanding, and we loved spending our downtime in the majestic lobby overlooking Yellowstone Lake. Multiple rainstorms rolled through during our stay, and we were rewarded with this gorgeous rainbow.

Jackson Lake Lodge – Grand Teton National Park

Jackson Lake Lodge lobby picture window

The views from the Jackson Lake Lodge are outstanding – those vibrant, glorious sunsets over the Tetons will forever be etched in my mind! Your only other viable option is to stay in Jackson Hole, WY, which as you’d expect is not cheap. May as well be in the park!

Lake Quinault Lodge – Olympic National Park

Lake Quinault Lodge

Once you find yourself on the west side of Olympic National Park, you’ll have limited lodging choices that don’t involve a tent. Fine, twist my arm to stay on this gorgeous property! Despite its remote location and its age – it turns 100 years old in 2026 – this property does have cable TV (not that you’d need it) and some rooms have gas fireplaces. Book early (9-12 months in advance) to get your choice of room.

View from the patio at Lake Quinault Lodge

Honorable Mention

The Inn at Brandywine Falls – Cuyahoga Valley National Park

The Inn at Brandywine Falls

This charming bed & breakfast is not a lodge, but it’s older than any other accommodation mentioned in this post. The area surrounding Brandywine Falls in Cuyahoga Valley in Ohio had actually been a bustling village in the mid 19th century. George Wallace built a sawmill here, harnessing the power of the river. He transferred the property to his son, James, who built the house that is now the Inn at Brandywine Falls in 1848. I am a sucker for historic buildings as it is, and the literal one-minute walk from the inn to the falls cinched it for me.

Brandywine Falls

When to Skip

Zion Lodge – Zion National Park

Zion Lodge
Photo by CheWei Chang on Flickr, shared under Creative Commons License

Of all the national parks I’ve visited, Zion alone has an exceptionally picturesque and well-developed town right outside its entrance. Springdale, population 500, swells in peak season. On 2 of my 3 Zion trips I stayed at the Cliffrose right outside the entrance. From there you can walk into the park and hop onto the seasonal shuttle. You’ll be on the trail well before everyone else. There’s one downside – you’ll be tempted to stay at the hotel to enjoy the picturesque views while in the pool or relaxing in the jacuzzi.

The jacuzzi at Cliffrose

El Tovar – Grand Canyon National Park

El Tovar

El Tovar is far from the only option inside Grand Canyon. Save your money and stay at one of the many other properties inside the park. Visit the the El Tovar for dinner instead, and time your dinner with the sunset if possible.

Lake Crescent Lodge – Olympic National Park

Lake Crescent Lodge

You’ll be tempted to stay at Lake Crescent Lodge due to its location right on the lake, but Port Angeles makes for a much better base from which to explore the Olympic mountain range. We stayed at the Quality Inn Uptown in Port Angeles, which was basic but clean with a convenient laundromat right across the street. The Quality Inn was also walking distance from the ferry to Victoria, British Columbia. Enjoy the lodge for lunch instead!

Lunch with a view at Lake Crescent Lodge

Paradise Inn – Mt Rainier National Park

Paradise Inn
Photo by the National Park Service

When I visited Rainier in 2018, Paradise Inn was under renovation. The $24.5-million restoration was finally complete in May 2019. We couldn’t go inside when we were there so I can’t tell you if the makeover was worth it. However, I can tell you about the fantastic jewel we found right outside the park entrance. We stayed at the Mt Home Log cabin, one of several available through Deep Forest Cabins. Amenities included a hot tub on the patio and our own kitchen, so we made sure to grocery shop before arriving for our fabulous 2-night stay.

Mt Home Log Cabin at Deep Forest Cabins

Chisos Mountain Lodge – Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park is big, so it might be tempting to stay inside the park at Chisos Mountain Lodge. The central location of the lodge ensures that you’ll be able to be on the trail early to beat the crowds. The best place to watch the sunset, Window View Trail, is right outside the lodge. However, the rooms are very basic and the lodge itself lacks the grandeur of some of the more well-known lodges on the West Coast. The wifi is iffy and cell phone service is non-existent. I recommend staying in Lajitas or Terlingua instead.

Toss Up

Crater Lake Lodge – Crater Lake National Park

The inviting veranda at Crater Lake Lodge

Crater Lake is not on the way to anything, and accommodations around the park are not plentiful. The closest town, Klammath Falls, lies about an hour south, making Crater Lake Lodge the preferred option. It’s much easier to catch a gorgeous sunrise or sunset if you’re staying in the park. However, due to the nature of my itinerary and the fact that I was traveling alone when I visited Crater Lake, I chose to base myself in Bend instead. The town is super cute, has an enviable number of breweries per capita and serves as a springboard to many other outdoor attractions and activities in Central Oregon, like Smith Rock State Park. My AirBnB room, with its private balcony and hot tub, cost 75% less compared to a night at Crater Lake Lodge. I couldn’t justify staying there in the end, despite the FOMO I get every time I see a gorgeous sunset photo from Crater Lake.

Smith Rock State Park

Let me know what you think of this list in the comments!

4 Comments on “National Park Lodges – When to Splurge and When to Skip

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