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How To Do the National Parks in Style

Grand Teton National Park

If you’re not a fan of camping but still want to experience the beauty of a US National Park, don’t worry! There are plenty of options for comfortable, convenient, and even luxurious accommodation. In this week’s video, I’m sharing my tips for planning a great trip to a National Park without roughing it too much.

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Option 1: Stay in a Park Lodge

Many National Parks have lodges that are located right in the main park areas, near the visitor center and trail heads. While this may not be the most luxurious option, it is comfortable and convenient. The lodges are often historic and have unique architecture, making them worth a visit even if you don’t stay there.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • Paradise Inn, Mount Rainier NP, Washington – Built in 1916 and a great example of “Parkitecture,” this hotel is located right at the base of the Wonderland Trail, one of the best hikes in the park.
  • Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming – This is what you think of when you think of a park lodge, with seven-story log-pole atrium and a massive stone fireplace in the lobby. The hotel is so iconic that it was named a national landmark in 1987.
  • The Ahwahnee, Yosemite NP, California – This 1927 hotel is conveniently located right at the base of Half Dome and known for its beautiful architecture incorporating Art Deco, Arts & Crafts, and native American design elements.
  • Lake Crescent Lodge, Olympic NP, Washington – Come for the Victorian-era sunroom, stay for the lake views.
  • Crater Lake Lodge, Crater Lake NP, Oregon – Completely renovated in the 1990s, this lodge is located right on the crater rim and offers views that can’t be beat.
  • Jenny Lake Lodge, Grand Teton NP, Wyoming – One of the best, with a renowned restaurant and unbeatable mountain views. A great base for hiking Hurricane Ridge and exploring the old-growth Hoh Rainforest.
  • Lake McDonald Lodge, Glacier NP, Montana – Also designated a national monument in 1987, this lodge is one of the best examples of Swiss chalet-style architecture in the country.
  • El Tovar Hotel, Grand Canyon NP – Another iconic, landmarked lodge that set the tone for the “National Park Service Rustic” style found in many other park lodges, it feels like an upscale hunting lodge on the canyon’s South Rim.

Option 2: Stay Outside the Park

If you want something more luxurious, staying outside the park is your best bet. You have options ranging from luxury resorts to Airbnbs, so you’re sure to find something that works for you.

PRO TIP: Make sure to look closely at where the accommodation is located. Some places may be listed as “near” the park but actually be too far away to be practical. I recommend checking the driving distance all the way to the main park areas, since visitor centers and the main trailheads are often well inside the park boundaries.

Here are some options to consider:

  • Amangiri, Canyon Point, UT – An ultraluxury option right outside Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which both offer stunning scenery. Though the resort advertises itself as being near Bryce Canyon, Zion and Grand Canyon National Parks, they’re too far you’re driving; but if you can afford to stay here, you can probably also afford to book one of the resort’s private scenic helicopter flights to these iconic parks.
  • Amangani, Jackson Hole, WY – Another ultralxury option from Aman, located in the Jackson Hole ski resort area right outside Grand Teton national Park.
  • Grand Lake Lodge, Estes Park, CO – This hotel has been serving guests visiting nearby Rocky Mountain National Park since 1920.
  • Bar Harbor Inn, Bar Harbor, ME, or Asticou Inn, Mount Desert Island, ME – Two great options outside Acadia National Park.
  • Blackberry Mountain, Walland, TN – A luxurious all inclusive resort located within an hour’s drive of the visitor center at Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Stay tuned for a full report, coming soon!
  • Under Canvas (various locations) – Offers safari-style luxury tents near several of the parks.
  • ULUM Moab, Moab, UT – Also from Under Canvas, this property combines hotel-like public spaces with luxurious tented suites, and offers easy access to both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.
  • The Inn at Death Valley, Death Valley, CA – A favorite with movie stars like Clark Gable and Marlon Brando since 1927, this privately-owned resort in Death Valley finished a $155 million renovation in 2018 and offers pools, a golf course and a spa.

Option 3: Combine with a Nearby City

If you’re short on time or don’t want to spend all your time in the park, consider combining your National Park visit with a nearby city for a great “best-of-both-worlds” trip. Several cities, both large and small, have National Parks located nearby.

Here are some cities with nearby parks:

  • Seattle, WA: 1.5 hours from Mount Rainier National Park
  • Denver, CO: 1.5 hours from Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Miami, FL: 30 min from Everglades National Park
  • Jackson, WY: 20 min from Grand Teton National Park
  • Palm Springs, CA: 1 hour from Joshua Tree National Park
  • Asheville, NC: 1.5 hours from Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Top Tip

No matter which option you choose, my number one tip is to plan as early as possible. National Park accommodation tends to sell out quickly, and post-Covid, the parks have become even more popular. Some parks also require timed entry, shuttle transportation, timed tickets for certain popular trails, so it’s important to do your research and plan ahead—or you can call me and I can do it for you!