National Park Lodging: What’s your favorite place to stay?

This is where it all started for usYou almost always have a range of options when you’re choosing National Park lodging.

Camp under the stars, backpack to a primitive spot in the backcountry, rent an RV, find accommodations outside the Park, or book one of the many lodges inside the Park.

We recently hit the road for what promised to be a memorable California trip with stops in Solvang, Big Sur, Monterey, Yosemite National Park, and Santa Barbara.  Just over 10 years ago, we got married at a winery in Solvang, CA and made the plan to return this year.  We booked the Wine Valley Inn where our entire wedding party stayed a decade ago and it was a natural starting point for an epic trip to see some of the best that California has to offer.

The government shutdown forced us to change our original plans which included time in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks.  But the result, in broad strokes, was exactly what we had expected – lots of great sights and experiences accented by a few cool lodging options to call home if only for a night or two.

We had booked our nightly accommodations in advance.  In Yosemite, we booked the Yosemite Lodge which was adequate, offering a fantastic central location without breaking our budget but certainly a more rustic experience than the Ahwahnee Lodge.

The next leg of the trip was a short drive south to Kings and Sequoia where we had booked at the John Muir Lodge.  The Shutdown forced us to reroute our trip with a last minute booking at the Eagle Inn in Santa Barbara.  Save the tears and sympathy.  It was awesome and we managed to get a killer last minute rate using Hotel Tonight!

We had a fantastic trip, the four of us, despite the shutdown and the last minute scrambling to formulate a Plan B.  Truth is, I wouldn’t change anything about it.  Of course, we still need to finish the trip and that’s a good reason to plan for the Giant Sequoias in the Spring.

But I do still have a lingering question about our lodging choices.  I don’t wonder what it would have been like staying at the Ahwahnee, but rather how it would have played out if we had rented an RV for the trip.  That was our initial plan – rent a travel trailer that we could pull behind the King Ranch and see the Parks as nomads.

Would the trip have been different?  Would it have been better or just different?

I know our planning would have been different.  Meals would have been cooked on the Camp Chef PRO 90 for starters instead of the quick runs to the Food Court at the Yosemite Lodge.

The budget for gas would have been much higher (despite my surprise using the Yakima Skybox for the first time – aerodynamics changed far more than I had anticipated) and the stops to refuel more frequent.  How would that have changed the experience for my boys, 2 and 5 years old?

Your turn – Where do you like to stay when you visit a National Park?

It doesn’t have to be said, but there is no right or wrong answer.  Most likely, if you’re like me, lodging decisions are often dictated by those you are traveling with.

When I am in adventure mode with friends, it’s always a campsite and good times.  The family usually leans towards boutique hotels with charm and an unassuming exterior.  We love finding those hidden gems that deliver far more bang for the buck than the heavily publicized hot spots.

What do you base your lodging choices on?  What currently reigns as your best experience so far?  I really want to know.


  1. calipidder says:

    Okay, I’ll go first. 🙂

    It depends on the park. For my ‘backyard’ parks – the ones I spend a lot of time in – I tend to go minimalist just outside of park boundaries. I know all the BLM and Forest Service lands and where to pull off and dispersed camp out of my truck or outback. It’s my favorite way to camp, really. Solo, quiet, flexible, and no annoying neighbors or expensive hotel rooms to worry about. I sleep so well in the back of the pickup when I’m out in the middle of nowhere!

    If I’m going to a park for the first time or I’m not very familiar with the area, I’ll reserve a campsite ahead of time. I want to enjoy my time exploring a new location, not stressing about finding a place to stay. I’ll admit that I don’t enjoy established campgrounds (despite the facilities) as much as dispersed camping but it’s an easy choice to make in an unfamiliar park.

    My last option is usually a hotel or lodge. I usually only go this way if it’s the off season and roads and campgrounds are closed. Although, Yosemite has a pretty sweet deal in the winter where they reduce the cost of their unheated tent cabins to whatever the overnight low temperature was the night before. So if it’s a frigid 15 degrees one night, you’re paying $15 the next night. I like to take advantage of that deal each year and spend a winter weekend in Yosemite Valley!

    • Truck camping is the best. We have a spot in the Dixie National Forest that we refer to as “Camp Alpha”. Best times there.

      I really enjoy the Watchman Campground in Zion. That is my camping default though we really enjoy the Pioneer Lodge with the boys. They have half log benches outside each room that are perfect for a Coleman stove – great way to take my elevated cuisine on the road!

      The Yosemite tent cabin option in winter sounds awesome! I was aware of that deal but it gives me incentive to go back this year and finished what we started before the shutdown.

      Thanks for weighing in Rebecca!

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