En español | Planning a vacation that includes staying at a national park? Go east! Eastern park lodges may be less glamorous than their grander western counterparts, but you'll find plenty of scenic, bucolic locations and, frequently, lower room rates. Consider these five lodges east of the Mississippi.
Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia
This narrow, 18-mile-long Atlantic island is packed with photoworthy scenery, including salt marshes, sand dunes, and oak and pine forests. The stately 15-room inn is pretty darn nice, too. Built by Andrew Carnegie's brother Thomas for his daughter in 1900, it became an inn in 1962 and is still overseen by the Carnegie family. The 200-acre property is perfect for activities such as biking and birding, but guests particularly love the island's wild horses. Room rates start at $525 a night but they're all-inclusive: You get three meals a day, cocktail hour snacks, equipment (bicycles, beach chairs, umbrellas, kayaks, fishing gear), history and wilderness tours, and ferry treks to and from the island. Book six to 12 months in advance.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
This white Greek Revival farm home has everything you want in an inn. It's cozy (only six rooms), historic (built in 1848) and close to major park sites (a five-minute walk to Brandywine Falls). Located about 30 minutes from Cleveland's Hopkins International Airport, the house features a front porch with tree-lined views and a library stocked with books and games. You also get candlelit breakfasts in the dining room (the staff bakes its own bread and serves fresh chocolate chip cookies each evening). The inn gets busy, so call about reservations: “We could have openings for the next day but be completely full three weeks later — it's like roulette,” says innkeeper Katie Hoy. Room rates start at $158 a night and availability increases from November to March. Don't be deterred by cold weather: The picturesque property looks especially beautiful in the snow.
Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
With more than 400 miles of dark underground passages, the aptly named Mammoth Cave is the world's largest-known cave network. If you're more of a surface dweller than a spelunker, you can explore the Green River and 84 miles of hiking trails, which are easily accessed from the 54-room property. Room options include cottages and two motel-like buildings surrounded by large oak trees and red maples. Renovations were completed in 2017 with upgrades to the cafe, gift shops and the Green River Grill, which emphasizes local foods — from ice cream to grass-fed Angus beef. Summer is peak season, so book about 60-90 days in advance (room rates start at $93 a night for the cottages and $136 in the lodge). Also book one of 14 ranger-led tours of the cave in advance. Slots fill up fast.
Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina
This 51-room inn sits near the peak of 5,759-foot Mount Pisgah, offering up-high views of the Shenandoah mountains. Don't miss the observation deck, which was enlarged in 2016: It's a peaceful spot for gazing at the rolling, wooded mountains and sipping a glass of wine. You'll also find stellar views in the inn's restaurant (order the mountain trout, which comes from local lakes). For many guests, the inn's biggest appeal is its backwoods serenity. “People get up here and say it's like a weight falls off them,” says owner Bruce O'Connell. The inn is busiest in autumn, so book one year in advance to see fall foliage. Rates start at $180 a night, $234 a night in October.
Open: April 1 to Oct. 31
Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
Love lakes? The park's four two-story, motel-style buildings are located on the shore of Lake Superior and all 60 rooms offer water views. Choose a room on the first floor, says David Scott, coauthor of The Complete Guide to National Park Lodges: Those rooms have decks so you can sit outside and watch the sunrise (the park also offers cottages with kitchens and one-room cabins). Isle Royale was America's fourth least-visited national park in 2018, most likely because it's so isolated. Passengers arrive by seaplane (about a 25- to 45-minute flight depending on your departure point) or boat (anywhere from three to 7.5 hours). The payoffs include no crowds and wide-ranging scenery. The park is home to over 600 types of flowering plants and 30 types of ferns. (You might even spot a moose). Make reservations far in advance: Cabins for 2019 were fully booked before the park even opened for the season. Summer rates start at $234 a night for two people in a lodge room and $227 a night for a cabin.
Open: Early June to early September