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National Park Lodge Basics & Reservation Realities

"If you build it, they will come" could apply to the railroad companies who laid track in the early 1900s to lure wealthy Easterners westward. But these scrappy companies took the declaration an inspired step further by building luxury hotels at the end of the line. Today, the rails don’t drive tourism to the U.S. and Canadian parks all that much. But the lodges still do. And you don’t have to be wealthy to stay in one.

What National Parks have Historic Lodges?

The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway finished a 65-mi railroad spur from Williams, Arizona, to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and built the spectacular Arizona lodge El Tovar. Union Pacific helped finance lodges at Bryce and Zion, Northern Pacific was behind the hotels in Yellowstone, and the Great Northern Railway built Glacier Park Lodge, many Glacier Hotels, and the Prince of Wales Hotel.

For a inspiring list of our top choices, see our Slideshow: The 8 Best National Park Lodges of the West.

What Makes them Great?

Unlike previous wilderness accommodations that were built like city hotels so guests would feel safe, these new lodges incorporated materials from the environment like the lodgepole pines and Rhyolite stone used in building Old Faithful Inn. As long as these nature-inspired structures had creature comforts—which then, and in some cases now, doesn’t include in-room televisions—architects felt guests would be happy.

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When to Reserve a Room

Reservations at historic lodges should be made six months to a year in advance (for Yellowstone, definitely 12 months in advance) directly with the lodge’s Internet sites; however, you can always check for last-minute cancellations. Be wary of other Internet reservation services that charge a non-refundable fee of up to 12 percent to book the lodging. TIP: Dining reservations at lodge restaurants often can be made when you book your room.

What to Expect

Some lodges were built more than 100 years ago, when rooms and beds were smaller. However, the difference in room size is more than offset by the huge amount of public space offered on the properties. The availability of television and Internet access varies from lodge to lodge.

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