When many people think of the National Parks, they envision faraway, remote lands requiring long drives, strenuous backpacking and camping. While some parks might fit that mold (certain vast parcels in Alaska come to mind), this hardcore wilderness stereotype really isn’t the case. All across the country, National Parks are accessible wonderlands waiting to be explored, and not nearly as difficult to visit as you might imagine. One prominent element is the array of unique hotels and lodging options to be found in or near National Parks, all of which add unique character to the experience, let alone hospitality and comfort. From a lodge that overlooks the Pacific Coast in Washington’s Olympic National Park to a ghost town-turned-motel on the outskirts of Texas’ Big Bend National Park, here are some of the best, and most unique, hotels in America’s beautiful National Parks.
Kalaloch Lodge, Olympic National Park
You need to drive quite a while to get to Kalaloch Lodge, the Westernmost point in Olympic National Park, but the efforts are well worth it. Meandering through thick evergreen forests, along the shores of loch-sized lakes and between lush valleys, Olympic opens up along the Pacific coast before arriving at Kalaloch Lodge. Perched on a bluff overlooking the craggy coast, the views alone are breathtaking, featuring a vista of driftwood-lined beach, cascading waves, wooded inlets and islands bursting with tall trees. The lodge itself is equally as stunning. The charmingly rustic main lodge is a cozy nook for a meal at Creekside Restaurant, a seat overlooking Kalaloch Creek or resting your head at one of the quaint rooms on-site. The property also features numerous individual cabins, which are great for families, couples or groups, with front-row views of the beach and ocean. A pathway leads guests down to the beach, and there’s a small market store by the main lodge fully stocked with groceries, drinks, souvenirs and other provisions. Other nearby sites worth checking out include Ruby Beach and the Hoh Rainforest.
Hotel Hot Springs, Hot Springs National Park
Rising like a beacon over Arkansas’ historic Hot Springs (the name for both the city and the National Park), the 14-story Hotel Hot Springs is all about the views and the history of the area, right down to the thermal waters that have drawn visitors from across the globe for generations. Outfitted with endless photography and art from the Hot Springs, the property feels fresh and new while always staying true to its regional roots. It’s got 196 renovated and remodeled rooms, plus large suites and shuttle service to bring visitors to nearby Bathhouse Row, a famous stretch of vintage buildings that run through the heart of the park. Hiking trails and spa services abound in the area as well. Coming soon, the hotel will complete its expanded spa area, adding facilities that will feature the park’s world-famous thermal water.
The Stargazer Inn, Great Basin National Park
It doesn’t get much more remote — or tranquil — than this. So named for the fact that the skies above Great Basin National Park in Eastern Nevada are said to have the clearest starlit views of anyplace in the continental U.S., The Stargazer Inn is the quintessential destination for those looking for solitude. The small 9-room property, which is divvied into three separate buildings, is located along a stretch of Highway 50 nicknamed “The Loneliest Road in America,” ensuring utter rest and relaxation when you rest your head in any of its quaint rooms. With sleek, minimalist furnishings and a wanderlust-inspired restaurant called Kerouac’s, The Stargazer Inn is all about the simplistic pleasures of travel and escape. The entrance to Great Basin National Park is just up the street, and the fact that it’s one of the least visited parks in the country will ensure even more peace and introspection once you hit any of the numerous mountaineous trails, like Lehman Creek or Wheeler Peak. Keep an eye out for gnarly bristlecone pine trees, the oldest living organisms on Earth.
The Big Bend Holiday Hotel, Big Bend National Park
Nestled on the outer fringes of Big Bend National Park, a vast and distant desert landscape situated in the part of Texas where the Rio Grande curves inward, forming a giant bend along Mexico. The quintessential desert park, complete with roadrunners, rattlesnakes and sun-soaked mountains as far as the eye can see, necessitates the quintessential desert inn, and the Big Bend Holiday Hotel fits the mold perfectly. Located in Terlingua, Texas, a colorful ghost town that once thrived with miners, the hotel consists of several small motel-like rooms and larger standalone buildings, all anchored by the lively Starlight Theatre restaurant. The Cinnabar Suite is a cozy example great for couples or small families, featuring three rooms in a warm clay-colored space with a fire pit, hand-painted sink and beautiful custom tile work. When you're in the park, it's worth the drive to hike into Santa Elena Canyon and ascend the Lost Mine Trail.
Frontier Cabins, Badlands National Park
The perfect blend of luxury and rusticity, the Frontier Cabins on the edge of Badlands National Park in Wall, South Dakota, provide the sensation of camping along with optimal comfort. While a stone’s throw from the heart of Wall Drug, a convivial and kitschy wonderland of knickknacks, saloons, eateries and historic paraphernalia, the cabins are far enough removed to provide some separation and serenity as well. 33 different log cabins fill out the resort, each one fully loaded with top-of-the-line amenities and comforts. There’s also a guest laundry facility, an outdoor grill, hot tub, sauna and an enormous gift shop outfitted with lots of Native American products. The entrance to the wondrous Badlands is six miles down the road, where you can expect jaw-dropping views of buttes, prairies, fossil beds, wildlife and some of the most majestic sunrises and sunsets you’ll ever witness.
Teton Mountain Lodge, Grand Teton National Park
It’s hard to provide the wow factor when you’re juxtaposed against a backdrop as other-worldly as the mighty Teton Range in Grand Teton National Park, but the Teton Mountain Lodge in Wyoming’s Teton Village rises to the occasion. The sprawling luxury property, just part of a city-sized complex of inns, hotels, restaurants and outfitters, is a gem in its own right. It’s the most idyllic mountain lodge, with a huge rooftop jacuzzi providing front-row views of the rugged, snowy mountains; world-class restaurants and spa; top-tier hospitality; and immaculate, opulent rooms filled with roaring fireplaces, balconies, kitchens and more. All this right in the midst of Grand Teton National Park, with a tram located just steps from the resort that whisks visitors up into the mountaintops for surreal panoramas. Of course, the resort area is also teeming with hiking and skiing opportunities as well. Be sure and book a rafting trip on nearby Snake River, and keep your eyes open for moose and bears while hiking on trails like Taggart Lake.
Written by Matt Kirouac
Read more posts by Matt Kirouac