Some National Parks have unique backcountry lodging options: ranches, camps, and even chalets. Staying in one is somewhere between staying in a campground and staying in a great lodge. After a rewarding—and often challenging—trail, you'll leave the crowds behind and get closer to nature while still having a bed to sleep in. Expect spectacular settings but not luxurious amenities. To take advantage of these unique hike-in lodgings, you'll need a sturdy backpack, a sleeping bag, and your own food. TIP: Book far ahead, as many take reservations up to a year in advance.
Granite Park and Sperry Chalet, Glacier National Park
Montana's Glacier park has two backcountry lodges left over from when early travelers arrived by train and toured on horseback. From late June to early September, hikers (and riders) can venture beyond Going to the Sun Road to stay overnight in bear country in relative luxury. It's a shorter hike to Granite Park Chalet (image, right) which has a kitchen for guests use (bring your own food). Sperry Chalet offers meals and has great views of Gunsight Peak, Mt. Edwards, and Lake McDonald.
High Sierra Camps, Yosemite National Park
Six backcountry camps in the Sierra Nevada Mountains are open from Mid-June to mid-September. Each camp is unique, whether it's the alpine setting of the highest elevation camp, Vogelsang, or Glen Aulen's "beautiful valley." Platform tents have dorm-style beds; some camps even have hot showers. Independent hikers should try applying through the lottery system but Yosemite Mountaineering School also runs guided multi-day hiking trips.
LeConte Lodge, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
This Eastern park is a hiker's paradise for its many trails through old growth forest. For a special stay on the Tennessee side, take either the 6.5-mi Trillium Gap trail or the steeper Alum Caves Bluffs trail to rustic cabins at 6,360 feet near the summit of Mt. LeConte. Deck rocking chairs are the perfect place to take in the mountaintop views and star-gaze away from civilization. The lodge is open from late March to late November and family-style meals are served.
Phantom Ranch, Grand Canyon National Park
You can reach Phantom Ranch by riding a mule or hiking down one vertical mile below the Grand canyon's rim. In a grove of Cottonwood trees on the north side of the Colorado River, the cabins and lodge were designed by architect Mary-Colter in the 1920s. Rustic dorm-style lodging is available year-round and there's also a canteen. Book mule and multi-day rafting trips up to a year or two in advance. Hikers should book up to 13 months ahead.
Image courtesy of Hiker 1 on flickr