4 Iconic Properties of the National Park Service
Story and Photos by Catherine Parker
To help the National Park Service celebrate its Centennial, I loaded up my car full of kids, aged 8, 12 and 13, to explore America’s best idea. With a loose itinerary of 28 national park sites, we hiked through summer vacation and pulled over at every scenic overlook that didn’t require an illegal turn.
In a summer of endless exploring, my favorite national park days began at night when I opened the door of an historic lodge room. With offerings ranging from iconic log-built inns to luxurious desert hideaways with sunbathing starlets, national park lodges offer memorable stays in some of the most cherished landscapes across the western United States.
Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
As I walked through its pair of red doors into the towering multi-story log building, I experienced all the wonder of a child. As my eyes were drawn upward to the vaulted log ceiling and then down along the rhyolite fireplace, the clamor of a guided tour in one corner drew my ears while the dining room’s slow-roasted prime rib caught my nose. Climbing the stairs, the pine newel post’s hand-burnished smoothness percolated gratitude for my moment to experience an American icon.
Before the establishment of the National Park Service, an unknown 29-year-old architect from Ohio, Robert Reamer, changed the landscape of architecture with a rustic yet whimsical style celebrating locally-sourced materials. At Old Faithful Inn, he harvested building materials just miles from the job site in the untamed corner of Wyoming during the winter of 1903-1904. The style evolved into National Park Service Rustic, or parkitecture, the predominant style of the western national park lodges.
During my stay in the Old House, or the original section of the Old Faithful Inn, the details gave it an irreplaceable, organic feeling that makes it my favorite national park lodge. The hand-forged iron room numbers led the way to my pine-paneled, double-queen room with a pair of divided-light windows to catch the afternoon breeze. My room offered period-appropriate accommodations that allowed my family the opportunity to unplug and decompress.
With furnishings provided by Old Hickory Furniture Company of Indiana and a sink set atop a vanity, guests experience lodging much like the first visitors did, without an attached bathroom. Immaculately clean showers in newly renovated bathrooms are a quick walk down the hall. For a tub bath, I found a tub room with an original claw foot tub, ready for a soak.
Though Old Faithful Inn is the crossroads of Yellowstone National Park during the day, the overnight guests claim it as the sun falls beneath the horizon. The Old Faithful Inn’s Dining Room draws guests with a menu featuring locally-sourced ingredients and meals served on the signature Old Faithful Inn china.
As the dinner service winds down, musicians entertain guests lounging in the mezzanines on each guest floor. The simple joy of playing a game with my family was transformed into the sublime by the ambience. Other guests read a book in a corner, shared the latest animal sighting over a glass of wine or addressed postcards to loved ones from original writing desks.
Not to be missed, the best place to witness Old Faithful Geyser is from the second-story balcony of Old Faithful Inn. Grab a glass of wine from the bar and toast this National Historic Landmark in America’s best idea, the national park.
Frontier Cabins at the Grand Canyon Lodge at the North Rim, Arizona
In a landscape that always reminds me of a Native American blanket, I discovered a new treasure. I left the idling tour buses at the South Rim and trekked to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
The journey had my 12-year-old son and I driving through fir forests and wildflower meadows. Located on a peninsula of the Kaibab Plateau near Bright Angel Point, the Grand Canyon Lodge at the North Rim offers guests an original log and stone building with patios, soaring log ceilings and walls of windows to view the canyon.
Constructed in 1936 by famed architect, Gilbert Stanly Underwood, the Grand Canyon Lodge houses the lobby, restaurants and shopping. The guest accommodations are housed in more than 100 cabin buildings featuring 218 rooms, next to the rim .
Grand Canyon Lodge’s Dining Room offers upscale dining with soaring log ceilings and a wall of windows perched along the rim. I enjoyed a seasonal baby spinach salad with strawberries and feta cheese while watching the late-day sun race for the edge of the canyon. Outside, guests found a seat and settled in with a cocktail for daily sunset celebration.
The exterior of our log cabin reminded my son of Lincoln Logs with its green roof and rough-hewn logs that have aged to burnt umber. Once inside, I opened the original divided-light casement windows to my private view of the Grand Canyon.
My cabin featured a full and a twin bed along with a shower-only bathroom; covering the basics for my son and myself. A Hickory Furniture Company writing desk offered a landing spot for the in-room coffee and phone.
Lake Quinault Lodge in the Olympic National Forest, Washington
For rustic luxury in a fairy land of ferns and moss, I found the idyllic Lake Quinault Lodge in the Olympic National Forest an ideal retreat for travelers needing more creature comforts.
Constructed in 1926, Lake Quinault Lodge features cedar shakes and original divided light windows. The evergreen shutters match the towering centuries-old spruce trees that surround Lake Quinault Lodge, adding charm to this hidden gem, a couple hours commute from Seattle.
A gracious lawn slopes towards Lake Quinault where Adirondack chairs provide the ideal spot to enjoy a book or a glass of wine. The white gazebo in the corner of the lawn provides a fairytale spot for weddings.
With several buildings to choose from, guests can opt for historic rooms in the main lodge or larger rooms with fireplaces or balconies. My double-queen room featured more amenities than traditional national park lodges, like Wi-Fi, a flat-screen television and in-room Starbucks coffee along with a sitting area and balcony overlooking the lake.
To cap off the evening, Lake Quinault Lodge lights a fire pit for lakeside s’mores. Watching my marshmallow toast as the sky glowed like the campfire’s embers was a highlight of my stay.
Inn at Furnace Creek in Death Valley National Park, California
Near the lowest point of North America sits a four-star historic property that hosts Hollywood stars and Paris socialites. Nestled in the largest national park in the lower 48, the Inn at Furnace Creek offers graciously appointed accommodations that luxury travelers have come to expect.
Built in 1927 with expansive views of the Panamint Mountains, the Inn at Furnace Creek offers a garden oasis in the desert of Death Valley complete with a spring-fed pool and poolside bungalows. For guests needing assistance in decompressing, spa services and massages are available poolside.
The Inn at Furnace Creek’s Dining Room offers fine dining along with a legendary weekend brunch and afternoon tea. Dining on the veranda allows guest unparalleled views of the valley and the mountains above.
My room featured an entryway that opened to a king room and a sitting area complete with a pair of upholstered chairs flanking a fireplace. With all the expected amenities like a flat-screen television, in-room stereo and a work desk with a charging station, my room also featured a large walk-in closet.
The bathroom featured vintage white hexagonal tiles, a jetted tub and separate shower. The signature toiletries had the aroma of desert wildflowers.
Along with luxurious surroundings, adventure awaits at the front door. Jeep tours, bike rentals and horseback riding is available close by with tennis courts located at the hotel. For the golfers, Death Valley has the world’s lowest golf course, a bucket list course for serious players.
If you Go:
Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful Inn is a seasonal property, open from early May until early October.
North Rim of the Grand Canyon’s Grand Canyon Lodge is also a seasonal property, open from mid May until mid October.
Olympic National Park’s Lake Quinault Lodge is open year-round.
Death Valley National Park’s Inn at Furnace Creek is open year-round with reduced services after Mother’s Day weekend until October due to the extreme heat of the summer.