Navigating the complex system of reservations and deadlines that spoil too many traveler’s plans if not known in time
Reservations for lodging inside of National Parks can be super complicated, especially when there’s not a uniform set of standards across all of the parks! We moved a Yellowstone trip back an entire year because I assumed that reservations there would work just like they did at Grand Canyon, and logged on to find that the dates I wanted weren’t available at all.
With that in mind, we compiled a quick guide to the different reservation rules for the major park lodges. Take a look through and please let us know if you have any questions in the comments section below – we’re glad to help!
For purposes here we will organize the parks by the regions colored below (from left to right: Pacific, West (Central), Southwest, Midwest, Southeast, Northeast). We will then go through the regions similarly, from West to East, below. Within each region, we will list the parks alphabetically.
Crater Lake (Oregon) – Book exactly one year out, date by date
Lodging reservations at Crater Lake Lodge and Mazama Village Cabins open EXACTLY 365 days in advance, so if you’ve got exact dates you want, you’ll want to log on several days in a row to book those dates as they become available, one date at a time. https://www.travelcraterlake.com/
*Pro-tip: Once you have all of your individual reservation days, call to make sure you get the reservations merged so you can stay in the same room for the duration of your trip.
Denali (Alaska) – No specific timelines
There are four privately owned wilderness lodges in the Kantishna area that are all on private land but inside of the boundaries of Denali National Park. If I had to pick one today I’d choose Denali Backcountry Lodge based on the overview from their website and the reviews I’ve read. We are also familiar with the concessionaire Pursuit as they run lodges in Glacier National Park among other places.
Just outside of Denali is the Grand Denali Lodge which is a larger hotel and quite a bit less expensive than the in-park lodging I’ve seen. You’ll likely be using park buses in large part while in Denali so location is a bit less critical for most travelers.
Hawaii Volcanoes (Hawaii) – Book roughly 11 months out
There’s a beautiful lodge 4000 feet above sea level inside of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Reservations are available online roughly 11 months in advance at the Volcano House which also has cabins and camping available.
Joshua Tree (California) – Camping only – 6 months in advance
Joshua Tree has nine campgrounds but no in-park lodges. Campground reservations can be made up to 6 months in advance. The busy season is February-May, but I’d also recommend reservations on weekends and holidays. It’s 20-30 miles to Palm Springs and other communities with lodging. Our pick would be the Fairfield Inn Twentynine Palms – Joshua Tree National Park.
North Cascades (Washington State) – Sign up for the waitlist in February & March
Ross Lake Resort has a waitlist system to reserve their floating cabins. You need to sign up in February or March, provide them with more details, and then they’ll work to fill the most possible cabin reservations. There is also an updated last-minute availability table they maintain on the website but since the reservations are so hard to come by they’re rarely surrendered.
Olympic (Washington State) – Reservations open 13 months out
Olympic National Park offers lodging at several different in-park locations with two different vendors so you’ll need to know where you want to stay at each. My vote goes for a few nights on the very quiet west coast at Kalaloch Lodge, and then on the north side of the park at Lake Crescent Lodge. The park is almost 1 Million acres so exploring all of it from one location will result in a lot of extra driving. A few nights at Kalaloch on the southwest allows for time to explore the coast, and then shifting to the north side at Lake Crescent is much closer to Hurricane Ridge and north shore sights.
These reservations open 13 months in advance just like Glacier, but the 2022 summer availability isn’t open yet as they’re still trying to settle some plans at this point. Lodging here is also handled by two vendors so you’ll want to start at the National Park Service site for finding the correct websites for booking.
Sequoia/Kings Canyon (California) – Reservations open 365 days out
Wukaschi Lodge is the most modern option here, as well as the signature hotel of Sequoia NP, however with over 7,000 feet in elevation be sure the conditions are good for you to drive there! The stone-and-cedar lodge has spectacular alpine views from its many massive picture windows. The John Muir Lodge is another lovely option if you’d prefer to stay in Kings Canyon. This beautiful lodge features open beam ceilings and a stone fireplace with a redwood mantel salvaged from a historic cabin in Sequoia NP. This is your choice if you want a quieter, cozy place to relax. Reservations are available on their website 365 days in advance.
Yosemite (California) – Reservations open 366 days out
In-park lodging here is managed by Yosemite Hospitality and reservations are available 366 days in advance. The Ahwahnee is a luxury hotel that comes with a great location, high-end dining, and a price tag to match. The Yosemite Valley Lodge is a more accessible in-park option although still expensive.
WEST (CENTRAL) REGION
Arches (Utah) – No specific deadlines applicable
Arches also doesn’t have any in-park lodging options, however, there are lots of great choices in Moab just 5 miles from the park entrance. We loved staying at the Red Cliffs Lodge which is right along the Colorado River with a great view of the park to the west. We would also look at the Springhill Suites Moab which wasn’t open when we visited but looks like a lovely place to stay with the kids.
Badlands (South Dakota) – No consistent schedule for booking
The Cedar Pass Lodge is the only in-park lodging at the Badlands, with cabins available for rent as well as RV sites and camping. The Badlands are quite remote so staying on-site is a big advantage and time savings. The season runs from late April through late October, and you’ll need to check on their website year to year to find when reservations open as there is no set schedule. Demand is highest during the summer months as is the case with most national park sites.
*Pro-tip: If you can, approach The Badlands from the East rather than from the West for the best scenic views.
Glacier (Montana, and some parts up into Canada) – Book 13 months out
Reservations available 13 months in advance so on July 1st, 2021, all of the reservations for July 2022 will become available. I’d grab nights on the west side at Lake McDonald Lodge or Apgar Village, and on the East Side at St Mary Village.
The Many Glacier Hotel is a beautiful spot on the east side but if you’re planning to day trip around, it’s hard to get in and out of to explore the rest of that side of the park. You can also head north to stay in Waterton at the Prince of Wales Hotel (if the Canada border crossings are open, of course).
Grand Teton (Wyoming) – Deadlines unspecified
There are several great places in Grand Teton to stay in-park that are worth researching as the experience at each of them can be very different, but here are some we think are stand-outs. The Triangle X Ranch is the only operational dude ranch in a National Park. Jackson Lake Lodge is a great central location with cottages, lodge rooms, dining, and activities. Colter Bay Village has more rustic cabins and tent cabins as well as dining and other activities. The real gem of the park though, if you are ready to splurge a bit, is Jenny Lake Lodge. It is a AAA Four-Diamond resort that also carries a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence, which is hard to find in in-park lodging. A luxury park experience, but it’s the breathtaking views that are truly priceless. We’ve never found any set information or dates regarding when reservations open for future seasons.
Rocky Mountain (Colorado) – Varied, no in-park lodging
There are no lodges or hotels inside of Rocky Mountain National Park, so most end up looking for lodging options in Estes Park on the East Side and Grand Lake on the West Side. There are a ton of wonderful lodging choices in Estes Park, but our sentimental favorite is the YMCA of the Rockies. This isn’t your typical YMCA. It’s surrounded on 3 sides by RMNP, has a ton of lodge rooms and cabins of all shapes and sizes, all the way up to family reunion cabins that can sleep all of your extended family! Reservations for lodge rooms open on January 1 for summer stays June 1 – Nov 30, and then open on July 1 each year for Winter/spring stays between December 1 and May 31. Cabin reservations are more complicated, and more information is found in this great overview document.
On the west side, we love the Grand Lake Lodge. It’s just outside of the border of RMNP and has amazing views from the front porch and restaurant over Grand Lake.
*Pro-Tip – The west side of RMNP is where we’ve had most of our moose sightings so it’s always on our list when we make a trip. More than once we’ve seen 5 or more moose in one evening along the Kawuneeche Valley between the Visitor Center up to the Bowen-Baker Trailhead. We’ve had some luck in the (very) early morning as well, but nothing beats dusk.
Yellowstone (Wyoming) – Book at 12:01am (MT) on June 1st for the next summer
If you’d like to stay in Yellowstone in the Summer of 2022, take a nap on June 1, as you’ll want to stay up until Midnight mountain time. Reservations for all of the lodges will open up for the entire summer season at that time. A national historic landmark and the largest log structure in the world, the big (and somewhat expensive) prize here is the Old Faithful Inn for its central location in the park, proximity to and view of iconic Old Faithful Geyser, and magnificent towering lobby with massive stone fireplace. If you really want to feel the history, stay in one of the “Old House Rooms” just off the lobby. Read descriptions closely as there is minimal electricity and some rooms have bathrooms down the hall, but you aren’t going to be hanging out in your room anyway. Go enjoy the view from the massive balcony or play cards with your family around a dimly lit table while listening to live piano music wafting up from the first floor of the lobby. (These are some of Karen’s favorite memories of Yellowstone from her childhood.)
*Pro-tip: Tour groups start dropping holds 3-4 months out so reservations do open up again a bit sometimes. Also, free cancellation ends 30 days before your reservation, which also means more people cancel at this point as well. If you are dedicated, consider even checking the website every day. It’s not unlikely to find something if you have flexibility on where to stay. We even extended our stay at Mammoth Cabins for an extra night while we were there as we figured it was worth asking and the front desk agent told us she would have a likely cancelation if we checked back in with her the next day. Jackpot!
*Pro-Tip: Yellowstone is so vast that if you’re planning to spend several days there, I think it’s worth booking at 2-3 different locations so you can reduce the driving time spent between each.
Mammoth Hot Springs is our favorite location at present with access to the Lamar Valley* for wildlife spotting. It is also very close to Gardner, MT if you need to get any kind of reliable internet service for a while when staying in Yellowstone. Canyon and Lake offer their own interesting experiences. There are other options too, so find what suits your needs best.
*Pro-Tip: Lamar Valley has been our absolute best site in the country for wildlife spotting! It is impossible to miss the 100s of bison, but we’ve also seen numerous bears, moose, wolves, and much more here!
Zion (Utah) – Book 13 months out
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Zion Lodge is the only lodging inside of Zion National Park. Reservations are available on the 13-month advance cycle that many other parks use. Zion is roughly a 2 ½ hours drive from Las Vegas so it makes a great add-on and family adventure if you can get away for a day or two.
*Pro-Tip: Staying in-park allows you to easily use the Shuttle Tram service that can get you to trailheads without the hassle of driving and parking
Big Bend (Texas) – Book June 1st for the following year
At remote Southwest Texas, the Chisos Mountains Lodge is the only in-park lodging at Big Bend National Park. Reservations for the following summer season open on a specific date each year, June 1, 2021, for the 2022 season. There are other lodging options in nearby areas that you can find on this site though we’ve found them minimally appealing to families as many are geared for just 2 people. We’d had this on our tentative itinerary for our upcoming 2021 Summer trip but took it off in large part for this reason. (That said, our itineraries usually start incredibly broad anyway, so while took off Big Bend for this year, we haven’t written it off for future trips.)
Grand Canyon (Arizona) – Reservations generally open 13 months in advance
At the South Rim, we love the Bright Angel Lodge and Cabins, as well as the lovely El Tovar Hotel. Both are right on the rim of the canyon and make for wonderful exploring or stargazing after the daytrippers have headed back for the night.
The Maswik Lodge is a short walk from the rim and also has great rooms and more services at the Maswik Village. I can’t find anything in writing but these reservations seem to be open 13 months in advance.
Phantom Ranch is the true gem here for your bucket list if you are ready to take on the big hike. Overnight Cabins and dorm-style accommodations are at the bottom of the Grand Canyon where hikers or mule riders can stay. Reservations are very competitive, made through an online lottery 15 months in advance, and can be made for small parties or larger groups of 10-20 people.
Grand Canyon Lodge is the only lodging available at the much more remote North Rim. They do not have opening dates set for 2022 so you will need to check the Grand Canyon Lodge Website for more information.
Cuyahoga Valley (Ohio) – Reservations available up to 2 years in advance
There are two lodges inside Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the Inn at Brandywine Falls and Stanford House. The Inn has a lovely setting right on the falls and is a small bed and breakfast with just 6 rooms available. While we see no set deadlines, we’d recommend booking as early as possible due to such limited rooms. The two-story historic Stanford farmhouse has 9 bedrooms for up to 30 people and can even be booked as the entire house. Reservations open in March and you can book up to 2 years in advance.
The entire park is surrounded by Akron/Cleveland so there are lots of lodging options just outside of the park offering as much variety as you could ask for. We’d look to the Towneplace Suites Cleveland Streetsboro or the Residence Inn Akron Fairlawn.
Isle Royale (Michigan) – Book one season prior
Located right on the shores of Lake Superior, the Rock Harbor Lodge might be one of the more challenging lodges to get to! You have to take a ferry or seaplane over to the island. There are lodge rooms, cottages, and camper cabins available so you can stay in comfort and explore this amazing national park. Rates and seasonal dates vary year to year and reservations can be made the prior season.
*Pro-tip: Though never fully predictable, if you catch it at the right time you just might get to catch the awesome Aurora Borealis, also known as The Northern Lights! Check the forecast and if it looks clear, take a nap and then bundle up for a cold night outside watching one of the greatest natural shows in the world.
Everglades (Florida) – Varied options for accommodations outside the park
There is no in-park lodging at Everglades but a large amount to choose from in nearby cities like Homestead, Everglades City, Chokoloskee, and even Miami. You know we’re Marriott fans so we’d be looking at the Fairfield Inn Homestead Florida City, TownePlace Suites Miami Homestead, and TownePlace Suites Miami Kendall West. We’d suggest staying in Homestead if at all possible, so you are closest to the park (assuming you are using a car vs. boat) as well as being right near the route out to the Florida Keys, so there are lots of exploring opportunities from here.
Great Smoky Mountains (Tennessee & North Carolina) – Reservations Vary
There’s only one lodge in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and it is the LeConte Lodge, which is only accessible by foot. It is the highest guest lodge in the eastern US at 6400 feet. There are five different trails you can take to access the lodge, ranging from 5-9 miles so lace up your boots and bring your packs! Reservations for the following year become available at some point usually later in the summer before so you’ll have to keep watch. A limited waitlist is available for current year reservations.
If hiking to your accommodations isn’t your thing, the NPS site recommends checking in many of the nearby communities for lodging. Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge seem to be the most popular (and crowded) touristy options, with Gatlinburg offering the closest option to spend as much time in the park as possible. We have a special affinity for North Carolina and that whole area around the park as well. The Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina is a truly beautiful drive.
There are so many options though, this is one place you may want to research more geared to your own preferences. Also, consider if you are focused entirely on the National Park or want to explore the areas outside of the park as well. You may also choose to spend a few days on each side. Karen happened on this site recently and has put a couple of these on our list of “experiences” to check out. While we’re certainly not in Kansas, her top pick goes hands down to check out Dorothy’s House and OZ the next time we’re nearby!
Hot Springs (Arkansas) – No applicable deadlines, all options outside of the park
There are no in-park lodging options at Hot Springs National Park, which is only a few blocks long, but there are other options right nearby, in and around the city of Hot Springs. We’ve written an entire post already about visiting HSNP including our lodging recommendations of the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa as well as the Towneplace Suites Hot Springs. You can read the whole post here: Destination – Hot Springs, AR.
Mammoth Cave (Kentucky) – Open-Ended Availability
Mammoth Cave National Park isn’t a huge park, but there is a lovely in-park lodging option in The Lodge at Mammoth Cave. There are lodge rooms, historic cabins, and even a day-boarding kennel for dogs and cats. There is lodging outside of the park but mostly a 30-45 minute drive away. There seem to be no limitations that we can find on when reservations can be made.
Shenandoah (Virginia) – Book 13 months out
Reservations at the Big Meadows Lodge at Shenandoah National Park open roughly 13 months in advance. In late April 2021, I could see online availability through May 19, 2022, but can’t find anything in writing about their actual reservation dates or policies. It’s a beautiful lodge, one mile from Skyline Drive at mile 51 so it’s a great place to visit when you’re driving to/from Washington DC.
Acadia (Maine) – Camping is the only in-park option and books 60 days out
Acadia has two campgrounds but no lodges. The park is relatively small and there are lots of lodging options in Bar Harbor and nearby towns. This site had a good overview of different options in the nearby area. If money were no option, the Bar Harbor Inn & Spa is the gold standard in our eyes, but in the real world where money does matter, we would most likely pick the Hampton Inn Bar Harbor.
Always at home when we are together!
In closing, we haven’t listed every single national park here so you may have to do a bit more research on your own depending on where you are heading. We did try to cover the most popular parks though, and hopefully give you an idea of the different systems and timelines so you know what to pay attention to. Please share your favorite stays or any good reservation tips you may know that we haven’t discovered yet! We are trying to build a community here and there’s always more we can learn from each other.