Little more than a century ago, riding the rails to one of the national parks’ grand lodges ranked among the most luxurious vacations you could take in the US. And while plenty of park stays remain exclusive—so much so that year-long waitlists aren’t unheard of—your options have expanded considerably, from historic log-and-stone icons to new safari-inspired tented camps.
Still, for all the lodgings’ variety, the very best have at least one thing in common. They offer unrivaled views of—and access to—some of the greatest shows on earth: spouting geysers, teeming wildlife and smoking calderas, to name a few. Here, 12 of our favorite cases in point.
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The Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
A joint venture of the Yellowstone Park Association and the Northern Pacific Railroad, the Old Faithful Inn opened at the heart of America’s first national park in 1904. Since then, the lodge has become renowned for not only its namesake geyser views—but also its debut of a distinctly American architectural style: “Parkitecture,” also known as “National Park Service Rustic,” relies heavily on endemic materials, hand-hewn finishes and an overall harmony with nature. And there could be no grander prototype than the Robert Reamer-designed Old Faithful Inn. One of the world’s largest log structures, it goes big on everything from lobby height (nearly 80 feet) to fireplace materials (500 tons of rhyolite) to interior balconies (four levels’ worth).
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The nearly 330 guestrooms, by contrast, range from cozy quarters with shared bathrooms to spacious suites. But whatever the room category, it doesn’t include AC, WiFi or TV—and nobody seems to mind. Old Faithful Inn fills up fast for its May-October season, so book as early as possible.
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Jenny Lake Lodge, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Occupying another prime swath of Wyoming wilderness barely 30 miles from Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park packs all manner of magic, from glittering spires to mirror-like glacial lakes. And the most famous example of the latter, Jenny Lake, is home to a beloved eponymous lodge that’s tucked into a stand of spruce at the foot of the Tetons.
Having evolved from a 1920s dude ranch to a AAA Four-Diamond eco-resort, Jenny Lake Lodge kits out its 37 old-timey cabins with everything from down comforters to heated floors. Check out the individual room categories for details, and book the Signature Stay for nightly five-course dinners in The Dining Room (famous for locally-sourced specialties, award-winning wine selections and stunning Teton views); daily gourmet breakfast; guided horseback rides (these fill up fast; sign up ASAP); cruiser-style bikes; and other amusements and activities. And because of the lodge’s small scale, outsized reputation and limited season (June to early October), this is another one of those places with the possibility of year-long waitlists.
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Four Seasons Resort and Residences Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Sitting at the gateway to Grand Teton, with a whole roster of excursions in both that park and neighboring Yellowstone, the Four Seasons Resort and Residences Jackson Hole is the ultimate middle ground. And while the local wildlife-viewing ops have long been amazing—as you might expect along a superhighway for elk, bison, moose and bears—the resort is introducing an adventure in September that’s unequivocally bucket-listy: a Day with the Wolves. A private flightseeing trip will serve as the appetizer (think aerial views of Old Faithful) before touch-down at Yellowstone, where an expert guide will school you in the history and behavior of the local gray wolves before you set out to find them. For all their elusiveness, these remarkable creatures were hunted down and eliminated from Yellowstone in the 1920s, then reintroduced in the 90s. Now, a portion of each trip’s proceeds will go to continued conservation efforts.
Back at the Four Seasons, you’ll find the same level of luxury that you would at any of the brand’s outposts. In Jackson Hole, that means everything from marble bathrooms to celebrity chef partnerships to seasonal ski concierges. On that last note, yes: The nearly 160-room resort stays open in winter (and year-round), a distinct local advantage.
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Zion Lodge, Zion National Park, Utah
Zion’s only in-park lodge was commissioned by the Union Pacific Railroad and designed by Parkitecture giant Gilbert Stanley Underwood in the mid-1920s. Though a fire destroyed the main building in 1966, many of the surrounding cabins survived—and the restored central structure nods to the original design.
While this is the rare historic park lodge that comes with WiFi and TVs in its 81 rooms and suites (the 40 cabins have neither), screen time probably won’t figure prominently into your stay here, given what’s right outside. Zion is a hiker’s paradise packed with red rocks, slot canyons and tiered waterfalls. Angel’s Landing is the park’s most famous hike, but if you’re looking for something that requires less stamina and adrenaline, consider the scenic drive that cuts through the main section of Zion Canyon and lets you access the trails that run along the Virgin River (the same river that leads to the otherworldly Emerald Pools). Post-adventure, head to the Red Rock Grill, where anything you order will be paired with stellar canyon views—especially if you’re sitting on the deck. Both the grill and the lodge are open year-round.
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Under Canvas Bryce Canyon, Utah
About an hour from Zion sits another of Utah’s crown jewels: Bryce Canyon National Park, the sunset-hued hoodoo hotspot. And on a nearby plain—with red rock and mountain views for days—sits a newly debuted outpost of glamping favorite Under Canvas. A solar-powered, safari-style camp with 50 tents, the resort has plenty to do onsite, from yoga in the morning to campfires, s’mores and live music at night. But the resident Experience Coordinator will also help you plot your off-campus activities, as you’re literally surrounded by stunning excursion possibilities.
For starters, you’re on Bryce Canyon’s doorstep—and whether you go out with a guide or on your own, you can hike, e-bike or drive through the park’s spire-filled dreamscape. Also within easy driving distance are Red Canyon (home to more hoodoos); Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument (the geologic wonderland infamously shrunk by the previous administration, then restored to 1.87 million acres last year); and Widstoe (a little ghost town last populated—at least by the living—in the 1930s). At day’s end, stretch out on your meticulously appointed bed and—if you’ve booked a Stargazer tent—stare up at the dazzling display. Open through September 26, 2022, and from May 11-September 26, 2023.
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Maswik Lodge South, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
The Grand Canyon National Park’s first new lodging in more than 50 years, Maswik Lodge South is a 120-room reimagining of a 1970s predecessor, but the esthetic harkens back to an even earlier time when the Fred Harvey Company and Santa Fe Railroad opened a motor lodge here in 1927. Though the new complex has modern interiors with everything from AC to satellite TV, the reintegrated original stone pillars lend a sense of history, while the surrounding ponderosa pine forest lends a sense of place—one that’s particularly fragrant from your private patio.
You’ll be close enough to the main Maswik Lodge that all its services are easily accessible, perhaps most crucially, the Transportation & Activities Desk. You’ll want to avail yourself of—or at least consider—the full range of Grand Canyon options, from rafting to mule riding to historic train touring. Also accessible at the main lodge is the all-important food court, where you can refuel on pot pies, mac ‘n cheese and other hearty favorites. The restaurants, like the lodge, are open year-round.
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El Tovar Hotel, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Albert Einstein slept here. So did Teddy Roosevelt and Oprah. Indeed, the Grand Canyon’s longest-standing hotel—not even a mile from the Maswik Lodge—has had star power since birth. El Tovar, which debuted in 1905 as another of Fred Harvey’s famed creations, aimed to lure high society with lodgings that fell somewhere between Swiss chalet and Norwegian villa. And whether it was the Europhile design—or the hotel’s placement right on the rim of the canyon—something clearly worked.
Countless visiting dignitaries have since checked into the Presidential Suite (then again, several have been actual presidents), but another longstanding favorite is the Zane Grey Suite. A memorabilia-filled ode to the legendary Western novelist who honeymooned at the hotel in 1906, this spread includes a balcony that looks out onto the historic Hopi House—with bonus views of the Grand Canyon. Beyond these 78 unique rooms and suites—with the national park for a backyard—El Tovar also offers up plenty of adventure. Just don’t return to the hotel famished from hiking or rafting without reservations for El Tovar Dining Room. They’re required at lunch and dinner, and you’ll see why—given the number of day-trippers who likely had the same idea. The good news for everyone is that the restaurant and hotel are open year-round.
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Many Glacier Hotel, Glacier National Park, Montana
Another Swiss chalet-inspired and railway-funded paragon of Parkitecture, the Many Glacier Hotel opened on the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake in 1915 and quickly became known as “the gem of the West.” The structure is unquestionably grand, particularly in the four-story, vaulted-ceilinged lobby with interior balconies and a helical staircase (the latter a replica of the original). But the remote location—far from the well-trodden Going-to-the-Sun Road—adds to the appeal.
In this stunning swath of Glacier National Park, there’s so much to see and do that the absence of TVs and WiFi in the 214 guestrooms won’t matter. The shortlist of local adventures includes kayak trips, horseback rides, lake cruises, hikes to glaciers and tours on the park’s famed Red Buses. Book at least one meal at the Ptarmigan Dining Room, where the microbrews and craft cocktails pair beautifully with the peak-filled panorama. The restaurant, like the hotel, is open from June to mid-September.
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The Ahwahnee, Yosemite National Park, California
California’s most iconic national park is home to the almost as iconic Ahwahnee. This Yosemite Valley lodge—another of Gilbert Stanley Underwood’s Parkitecture standouts—has hosted everyone from Ansel Adams to Queen Elizabeth to Barack Obama since its 1927 debut. And as dazzled as visitors have always been by the centerpiece dining room—with its soaring ceilings, pine trestles, granite pillars and massive chandeliers—the views from its larger-than-life windows don’t hurt either. In fact, without even leaving the hotel grounds, you can spy Half Dome, Glacier Point and Yosemite Falls.
Beyond the main lodge, where the 97 rooms range from standard to presidential (JFK was famously among the occupants of the latter), you’ll find 24 cottages. You’ll also find internet access that’s unexpected in a national park hotel so historic and secluded. But the only thing you’re likely to be doing online is posting shots from the Yosemite Falls Trail, Mirror Lake Loop and all the other stunning hikes you’ll be doing. Note that while the hotel is typically open year-round, it will be closed January 2 - March 2, 2023, for restoration.
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Oasis at Death Valley, Death Valley National Park, California
Initially opened in 1927 as the Furnace Creek Inn, this enclave hosted the Hollywood A-List from the outset—first because the studios booked rooms here for desert film shoots, then because the stars returned for fun (and seclusion). In fact, Clark Gable and Carol Lombard spent a portion of their honeymoon at the Inn. The property has since morphed considerably, expanding to include a second hotel—the Ranch at Death Valley—plus the world’s lowest elevation golf course at 214 feet below sea level.
After falling into disrepair, the complex has recently undergone an epic renovation (complete with 22 new casitas, 80 new cottages and 224 refreshed rooms) and is now the AAA Four Diamond Oasis at Death Valley. Note that the “oasis” part isn’t figurative: Amid the surreal salt flats and rock formations of Death Valley National Park, the property occupies an actual oasis, where 80,000+ gallons of water rise to the surface daily. And while you can stay year-round, you may not want to stray much farther than the swimming pools in summer. In fall, however, once temperatures drop into the 60s and 70s, the biking, hiking and horseback riding trails call. Each desert adventure is its own reward, of course, but hitting the new spa once you’re back at the Oasis is a nice bonus.
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The Lodge at Crater Lake, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Overlooking the cerulean gleam of Oregon’s Crater Lake from the rim of the caldera, Crater Lake Lodge is one of the most dramatically positioned icons of Parkitecture. Below lies the nation’s deepest lake, and though you may not be able to see all 1943 feet down to the bottom, the water is astoundingly clear. Little wonder an eponymous national park and lodge were established here in 1902 and 1915, respectively.
You’ll still feel that bygone era in the lodge’s great hall—all rustic stone fireplaces and exposed beam ceilings—and 71 TV-free rooms, where many of the lake views rival anything you could see on a screen. For a closer look at the water, take the Cleetwood Cove Trail down to the shore and hop a boat (make sure the tours are on offer when you’re there) or brave a brisk dip (the surface temperature barely cracks 60 degrees). If you haven’t warmed back up by the time you reach the top of the trail, check out the sustainably-sourced soups of the day at the lodge’s restaurant—open from May to early October, as is the lodge itself.
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Volcano House, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
Another historic caldera rim hotel—which you can’t miss because its street address is literally 1 Crater Rim Drive—overlooks the Kilauea Caldera at the summit of the youngest and most active shield volcano in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. What that vantage point translates to, in visual terms: mesmerizing and ever-shapeshifting plumes emanating from the Halemaʻumaʻu Crater—the main geologic feature you’ll see if you book a Volcano Crater View or Deluxe Crater View room from among the 33 rooms (total) on offer here. The panorama is particularly dramatic from the hotel’s Rim Restaurant, where the tables by floor-to-ceiling windows are a sunset hotspot. Another is Uncle George’s Lounge, named for George Lycurgus, who acquired the original mid-19th-century Volcano House in 1895.
Since then, the hotel has evolved almost as consistently as the volatile landscape it overlooks, but the lava rock fireplace is one of several historic touches you can find throughout the property—while modern additions include in-room WiFi and sound machines. Of course, the main draw is what lies outside your front door: The surrounding national park is home to—among other standouts—Mauna Loa, the world’s largest volcano.