Best Places to Stay in National Parks with Kids
Let the kids roam free. See wild animals in their native habitat. Find fields of wildflowers. Roast a marshmallow. Take a hike. And forget about the phone. That’s what a National Park vacation is all about. Make it a road trip and stay in a national park. It’s not all camping. Find three of the best places to stay in National Parks with kids.
Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
As I walked through a pair of red doors and into the towering multi-story log building, I experienced Old Faithful Inn through my senses. Drawing my eyes upward I studied the vaulted log ceiling then followed the rhyolite fireplace to the ground floor.
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 newel post’s hand-burnished smoothness soothed my soul. And for that moment I was grateful 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 give it an irreplaceable, organic feeling. The hand-forged iron room numbers lead the way to a pine-paneled, double-queen room. And a pair of divided-light windows catch the afternoon breeze since the rooms lack air conditioning. With period-appropriate accommodations and no TV, radio or WiFi, take an opportunity to unplug and decompress.
With furnishings from Old Hickory Furniture Company of Indiana, guests experience the Old House much like the first visitors. So the room lacks an attached bathroom. Though find a sink set on top a vanity.
Down the hall, find immaculately-clean showers in newly renovated bathrooms along with toilets. For a bath, private tub rooms offers original claw-foot tubs, ready for a soak.
What to do at Old Faithful
Old Faithful Inn is a crossroads of Yellowstone National Park during the day so find it covered with travelers. Though the overnight guests claim it as the sun falls below the horizon.
The Old Faithful Dining Room features a menu with locally-sourced ingredients. And meals are served on the signature Old Faithful Inn china for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
In the multi-story lobby musicians fill the space with music. Entertaining guests as they lounge in comfy chairs in the mezzanines located on each floor. The simple joy of playing a board game with loved ones transforms into the sublime by the ambience. Other guests read a book in a corner or share the latest animal sighting over a glass of wine. And while sitting at the original writing desks, some address postcards.
Not to be missed, the best place to see Old Faithful Geyser erupt 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–North Rim, Arizona
In a landscape that reminds me of a Native American blanket, I discovered a treasure. Leaving the tour busses at the South Rim, I drove to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Driving through fir forests and wildflower meadows, the trip to the North Rim is greener thanks to more rain. Located on the Kaibab Plateau peninsula near Bright Angel Point, find the the Grand Canyon Lodge at the North Rim ($-$$). Guests enter an original log and stone building with patios, soaring log ceilings and walls of windows overlooking the canyon.
Constructed in 1936 by famed architect, Gilbert Stanly Underwood, the Grand Canyon Lodge houses the lobby, restaurants and shopping. Then find 100 cabin buildings featuring 218 rooms for guest accommodations.
The dining room at the Grand Canyon Lodge offers upscale dining, like seasonal baby spinach salad with strawberries and feta cheese. With a soaring log ceiling and a wall of windows watch the late day sun race for the edge of the canyon. After dinner, guests gather on the stone patio perched along the rim and enjoy the evening show from a rocking chair–the sun set.
The exterior of our log cabin reminded my son of Lincoln Logs with its green roof and rough-hewn timber, aged to rich 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. A Hickory Furniture Company writing desk offered landing spot for the in-room coffee and phone.
Lake Quinault Lodge in the Olympic National Forest, Washington
In a fairyland of ferns and moss, the idyllic Lake Quinault Lodge ($$-$$$) in the Olympic National Forest offers an ideal retreat for travelers. With modern amenities, like an indoor swimming pool, get a remote setting with creature comforts.
Constructed in 1926, Lake Quinault Lodge is covered in cedar shakes and feaures original divided light windows. The evergreen shutters match the towering centuries-old spruce trees that surround Lake Quinault Lodge. Find a property with New England charm in the PNW, a couple hours from Seattle.
A gracious lawn slopes towards the 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 hosts wedding ceremonies.
With several buildings, find historic rooms in the main lodge or larger rooms with fireplaces or balconies in an adjecent building. My double queen room featured more amenities than traditional national park lodges, like Wi-Fi, a flat-screen television and in-room Starbuck’s 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 late day sky glowed like the campfire’s embers was a highlight of my stay.
How to Plan a National Park Vacation
Not only are National Parks an inexpensive getaway, a trip to a park is educational with free Park Ranger programs, including special programing for kids, the Junior Ranger Program.
First, check out the NPS.gov website to get the basic information. And best of all, National Parks charge admission by the week and by the carful. Most park admissions are $30 a week or so.
Research and find the top sights to see on your trip. Then find lodging that fits your family’s needs. Most parks offers basic camping sites and RV sites. Larger parks offer cabins for rent and others offer lodging, modern or historic. Reservations need to be made as soon as possible for in-park lodging.
Then find out what are the musts and see if the park offers tours. And remember to pack hiking shoes, water and snacks.