En español | If your ideal national park experience involves sipping a Huckleberry Smash cocktail while gazing at a deep-blue mountain lake, book a room at Glacier National Park’s Many Glacier Hotel in Montana, one of the nation’s most majestic national park lodges. The cocktail — which features whiskey, lemon juice, ice and huckleberry syrup — is a specialty of the place. The hotel is a classic among the many park lodges built from the Rockies to the Pacific in the early 20th century by railroad companies trying (successfully) to lure well-heeled Eastern tourists across the country for nature-filled getaways.
They're hugely popular, so make reservations as early as possible — even a year in advance at the hottest lodges, including El Tovar at the Grand Canyon — especially if you want to stay during the peak summer season. Yellowstone’s lodges, such as Old Faithful Inn, can be booked beginning in May for the following summer (so you can make reservations for the summer of 2020 in May 2019). Check for cancellations if you can't immediately get a reservation.
The rooms aren’t always cheap, but even if you don’t spend the night, these grand lodges are fun spots to grab a drink or a meal or just to explore.
Here are five of our top picks:
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Built in 1915 and remodeled in 1995, this epic, rustic lodge sits on the rim of the lake, and about half of the 71 rooms have waterside views. The main entrance leads to the aptly named Great Hall, with its wood beams and large stone fireplace — the perfect place to read, play board games and talk with other guests after dinner. Room rates start at $197 a night, and if that’s too pricey, just enjoy the rocking-chair lake views from the veranda or have dinner in the dining room, where the menu includes hazelnut-crusted halibut and grilled venison. The lodge is also a departure point for cruises of America’s deepest lake (maximum depth: 1,949 feet), which was formed after a volcano collapsed 7,700 years ago.
Open: May to October
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
The 78-room hotel sits like an elegant fort overlooking the canyon’s South Rim, and whether you’re a guest or a visitor (room rates start at $217), check out the unbeatable sunset views from the veranda at the El Tovar Lounge. Dinner at the hotel’s pine-and-stone dining room, which includes murals from the Apache, Hopi, Mojave and Navajo tribes, is so popular that the restaurant takes reservations up to 90 days in advance (try the salmon tostada, which has been on the menu for decades, and ask about the outdoor dining area so you can gaze at the canyon). El Tovar, a National Historic Landmark, opened in 1905, and no two rooms are alike. Guests have included Bill Clinton, Paul McCartney and Teddy Roosevelt, who donated a moose head that still hangs on the hotel’s walls.
Yosemite National Park, California
Staying here isn't cheap — room rates start at $426 a night — but you don't need to book a room to roam around this truly majestic hotel in Yosemite. Built in the 1920s, this iconic architectural gem almost blends into the grey mountains behind it (the hotel was built with 5,000 tons of stone and 30,000 feet of lumber). Inside, you’ll find views of landmark sites such as Half Dome, Glacier Point, and Yosemite Falls, as well as hand-made stained-glass windows, hand-stenciled beams, and a mix of Art Deco and Native American designs. While you’re wandering, don’t miss the Solarium, the Mural Room (featuring a fireplace and wildlife paintings), and the Winter Club room (floor-to-ceiling windows and fascinating photos of long-ago winter athletes). And check out the beautiful restaurant, which has a 34-foot-high beamed ceiling and floor-to-ceiling windows. If you stay for a snack, sample the boysenberry pie, a hotel favorite for more than 50 years.
Glacier National Park, Montana
With its towering snowcapped peaks, the park is sometimes called the Switzerland of North America, and this lakeside lodge fits right in: The five-story, 214-room hotel resembles a Swiss chalet. Rooms start at $211 a night, and activities include cruises, horseback rides and evening ranger talks. Many Glacier opened in 1915 and was partially renovated in 2016. You'll enter a spacious, three-story lobby, which contains two interior balconies supported by fir and cedar pillars. The best spot to enjoy those Huckleberry Smash cocktails is on the hotel deck, overlooking Swiftcurrent Lake, with views of Grinnell Point and Mount Henkel (you might even spot bighorn sheep and bears). David Scott, coauthor of The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges, considers this hotel's setting the most scenic of all. He also recommends the park’s Glacier Park Lodge, Lake McDonald and Prince of Wales hotels.
Open: June to September
Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Summer is the most popular time to stay at Paradise Inn: The rustic 121-room hotel provides views of blooming wildflower meadows, and since you’re already in the park — rooms without a private bath start at $126 a night — you can instantly enjoy the wilderness without slogging through traffic at the entrance. Popular, easy trails that are accessible from the hotel include the Skyline Trail to Myrtle Falls (a one-mile round-trip and wheelchair accessible) and Nisqually Vista Trail (a similar distance that takes about 45 minutes to walk). When you're in the 103-year-old lobby, with its high ceilings and exposed timber beams, look for the 60 lampshades decorated with local wildflowers and the made-from-timber piano once played by Harry Truman. Staying for dinner? Try the bison meatloaf and huckleberry cobbler. Note that it's a great place to unplug, since there's no TV, internet or phones in the rooms — a plus for some visitors.
Open: May to early October