Looking for an out of the ordinary escape?
Take your national park trip to the next level with these out-of-the-way ideas and landmark lodges.
Yellowstone National Park
When explorers entered what would become Yellowstone National Park and described a land where super-heated rivers kicked out plumes of steam, trees were made of stone, and the ground bubbled up beneath their feet, no one believed them. Over time, explorers and geologists would realize that Yellowstone’s geysers, hot springs, fumaroles, and mud pots were there to relieve the pent-up thermal pressure of a supervolcano called the Yellowstone Caldera. There are so many natural wonders to experience in the 3,500-square-mile-park which recently celebrated it’s 150th anniversary.
Don’t Miss: Bunsen Peak Trail
In a park packed with great trails, this one in the northernmost part of the park takes you through some of the best sights in Yellowstone. Best done in early morning or late afternoon, when the light is ideal, the hike is fairly short (just four miles round-trip) but requires some exertion on a series of steep switchbacks to the summit. On the lower slopes, you’ll find a bird’s-eye view of Golden Gate and Glen Creek Canyons with the Hoodoos and Mount Everts visible in the distance. Be sure to snap pictures of Mammoth Hot Springs and Mount Everts as they come into view—and the stunning panorama at the top.
Where to Stay: Lake Yellowstone Hotel or Old Faithful Inn
Captivating views of Yellowstone are best appreciated from Lake Yellowstone Hotel‘s elegant Sun Room, where classical music performances enchant guests most evenings during the summer season. First opened in 1891, an era where guests arrived by stagecoach, this National Historic Landmark received a multi-million-dollar renovation in 2014. Or, stay at the Old Faithful Inn, a 327-room historic inn crafted from local logs and stone in 1903 and 1904 and considered the largest log structure in the world. After a day spent exploring the park, guest relish in the opportunity to relax in the iconic lobby, where the massive stone fireplace provides compelling ambiance. During summer months, music often fills the air as guests retreat to comfortable chairs in the heart of the grand room or on one of the three mezzanines to read, play games, enjoy a snack, or people-watch.
Grand Canyon National Park
Are you ready to take a trip that will inspire you to take the scenic route like never before? The Grand Canyon Railway will wow travelers of all ages. With multiple departures every day from historic Williams, Arizona, you can skip the traffic (and parking!) and head into the park in this majestic way. Sip a cocktail as you watch the scenery change from high desert to prairie to pine—and listen to music that brings the Old West to life again. For adventurous visitors looking to create a true lifetime memory, this experience is not to be missed.
Don’t Miss: A Private Charter
For a more private, upscale experience, you can charter one of the newly refurbished Rail Baron cars: The open-air rear platform car (The Kansas) can accommodate 18 day passengers or six overnight guests; a parlor and lounge car (The Utah) can entertain 26 guests and has an onboard kitchen and bar; and a sleeper car (The California) can accommodate 44 guests during the day or 16 overnight and includes a second-story glass dome top with sofa seating for stargazing. Simply hire your car (or cars!) of choice, chose a steam or diesel locomotive, and take off for the canyon! During the holidays, don’t miss Grand Canyon Railway’s Polar Express, a 90-minute ride to the “North Pole” where you’ll sip hot chocolate and listen to the timeless Christmas story as servers dance and sing along to the music before Santa gets on the train.
Where to Stay: The Grand Hotel at Grand Canyon or El Tovar
The Grand Hotel is the only AAA Three Diamond Hotel near the Grand Canyon, just one mile from the South Rim entrance. Located in Tusayan, Arizona, this rustic yet elegant location gives visitors easy access to the park and offers the comforts and amenities travelers want. El Tovar is a National Historic Landmark hotel, perched just steps from the Grand Canyon. Completed in 1905, El Tovar provides a history-rich lodging experience on the South Rim of the canyon. Today, El Tovar retains every bit of the elegant charm that has attracted visitors throughout its colorful history. Past guests have included Theodore Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, and Sir Paul McCartney.
Death Valley National Park
The largest national park outside Alaska, Death Valley National Park in California spreads over 5,000 square miles of desert and mountains. It’s a landscape of striking contrasts, where snow lingers on peaks during winter, the occasional downpour brings forth a sea of wildflowers, and the dark sky offers star gazers a glittering treasure trove. Craft a perfect stay, filled with history and adventure, as you play golf below sea level, explore salt flats, ancient geological formation, chiseled and Badwater Basin—the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere.
Don’t Miss: Sunrise at Zabriskie Point
The spectacular views from Zabriskie Point are some of the most photographed in Death Valley National Park. The yellow and brown hills shaped by the powerful force of water take on a new beauty as the sun rises, and you’ll notice that views of the salt flats covering the floor of Death Valley are visible in the distance. After a day of hiking and exploring, catch sunset at Dantes View, which towers 5,575 feet above Badwater Basin, on the ridge of the Black Mountains. If the beauty and solitude inspire you to stay after dark, you’re in for a breathtaking treat: Death Valley National Park is an International Dark Sky Park, which means a visit during a new moon will provide a humbling glimpse of the milky way and stars above. A visit during a full moon is equally as grand, as you notice the salt flats below glow a ghostly white.
Where to Stay: The Ranch at Death Valley
The new-and-improved Ranch at Death Valley is a must visit for national park wanderers—and a must stay for those spending a few days in this majestic park. Set along Highway 190 next to the National Park Service Visitor Center, you can enjoy a classic town square with mission California architecture. The new restaurant, ice cream and coffee bar, general store, and Last Kind Words Saloon—which feels straight out of a western movie—are sure to impress.
Glacier National Park
With 762 lakes, 563 streams, and more than 25 names waterfalls, this national park is the perfect spot to enjoy the pristine water features and mountain landscapes of Montana’s gem. The picture-perfect mountain waters host canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding, boating, and fishing. Take advantage of guided tours and ranger-led activities, whether by foot, boat, or horseback.
Don’t Miss: The Famous Red Bus Tour of “Going the Sun Road”
This spectacular 50-mile, two-lane road spans the width of Glacier, crossing the Continental Divide at Logan Pass, a 6,646-foot summit. Traveling this road, you’ll experience every terrain the park has to offer.
Where to Stay: Cedar Creek Lodge or Many Glacier Hotel
In the town of Columbia Falls at the western entrance, Cedar Creek Lodge is a boutique hotel with a classic western look. It’s the perfect landing pad after a day of exploring, and offers everything from fly fishing to backcountry treks that leave right from the lodge. Or, stay at Many Glacier Hotel, a secluded five-story hotel built by the Great Northern Railway in 1914 to lure tourists to the Wild West. Dedicated to honoring their historic roots, the 214-room gem recently completed a multi-million-dollar renovation that included installing a replica of the magnificent double helix spiral staircase that was part of the original hotel, a wonder in its own right.