While many national parks offer hotels inside the gates, you can also find great—and oftentimes, better—lodging options right outside the parks. These alternatives to national park lodges offer valuable amenities and unique experiences, from complimentary breakfast to train-car accommodations. Consider one of these national park lodge alternatives for your next family vacation.
1. Moose Creek Cabins and Inn – West Yellowstone, MT
Located just blocks from the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park and a picturesque 30-mile drive from Old Faithful, the charmingly quaint wooden cabins at Moose Creek make the ideal alternative to the overpriced and underwhelming lodges inside Yellowstone. There are numerous accommodation choices for almost any size family, but the two-story Family Log Cabin is your deluxe option for exploring Yellowstone; it sleeps up to eight with a mix of queen, double, twin and bunk beds, multiple bathrooms, a living room, and a fully equipped kitchen. As if that’s not enough, there are complimentary cookies and hot beverages always waiting for you and your kids in the lobby, and bison, wolves and steamy geysers waiting inside the park!
2. West Glacier KOA – West Glacier, MT
Minutes from the famous Going to the Sun Road via the west entrance of Glacier National Park, West Glacier KOA isn’t just darling to look at; it’s also the #1 KOA in North America—and for good reason! Everything you need for an epic national park adventure with the kids is here, from an outdoor pool surrounded by lounge chairs and umbrellas to the convenience of washers and dryers, plus daily activities like family arts and crafts nights to magician and comedian performances. Book any number of deluxe bi-level cabins, some with beds and bathrooms, for up to 10 guests; they also offer full kitchens and linens and pets are allowed.
3. Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite – Fish Camp, CA
When visiting El Capitan and the Yosemite Valley, you want an elegant resort as grand as the natural world that will envelope you and your family. This resort, comprised of a luxurious lodge, cozy cottages, and premium cabins near the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, fits that bill to a tee. The Family Explorer Cabin features a second bedroom with a full bed on bottom/twin on top wooden bunk bed setup, as well as a massive 90-square-foot covered outdoor porch off of the living room to soak in the sounds and smells of the pine tree forest. No matter where you stay onsite at the Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite, your family will have full access to all the resort has to offer, including indoor and outdoor pools with evening dive-in poolside movie screenings, a total of four hot tubs (two of which are, sublimely, adults-only), and a game room with an air hockey table, board games, tabletop shuffleboard, billiards, and video game systems. The resort also offers a bevy of outdoor activities year-round, from ice-skating and snowtubing in the winter to archery and guided hikes in the summer.
4. Izaak Walton Inn – Essex, MT
There are family cabins at the Izaak Walton Inn, and they are woodsy and idyllic for a national park vacation. But the real reason you want to consider a stay at this hotel outside of Glacier National Park is to shack up in a real train car made luxurious with modern comforts (but not at the expense of the authentic charm of old-style rail travel). The Northern Pacific Caboose specifically sleeps up to six with a queen size-bed and gas fireplace in the master bedroom, and two sets of bunk beds in a second bedroom. A full kitchen with four-burner stove and oven is also inside this beautifully restored, Instagram-dream of an old fashion caboose. To up the ante for train lovers, there’s a bridge over the tracks serving as a stellar spot with mountains and rivers forming the perfect backdrop to view the still functioning Historic Great Northern Railway service going past.
5. C Lazy U Ranch – Granby, CO
You could stay at a hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, located at the foot of Rocky National Park… or you could enjoy a dude ranch AND national park vacation with a stay at C Lazy U Ranch. On Fridays in the summer, guests are treated to a cookout breakfast featuring fresh house-made donuts, local trout, eggs, bacon, sausage, seasonal fruit, and C Lazy U Ranch’s famous pancakes made fresh on an outdoor griddle. Also included are traditional American West activities like hatchet throwing, archery, fly fishing, and horseback riding (no matter the season!), just to name a few.
6. Under Canvas Moab – Moab, UT
There are several Under Canvas glamping locations in the U.S., most of them conveniently located near national parks. But Under Canvas Moab—7 miles north of downtown Moab—gives you a front row seat to two of the best of American’s Best Idea, with Arches and Canyonlands National Parks a mere red stone’s throw away. While this cluster of luxurious glamping tents are stunning on a screen, and you will undoubtedly make jaws drop when you share photos of your kids posing on the evocative wooden decks or draped in luxurious linens in their beds beneath the canvas tents, it’s important to remember that this is still camping in the sense that you are out there in the desert. The temperatures fluctuate wildly out here and some of the tents share a communal bathhouse, meaning dark-of-night treks to pee. But if you want something truly memorable during your visit to Utah’s iconic national parks, skip the in-park lodges and have an epic glamping experience Under Canvas.
7. Cliffrose Lodge – Springdale, UT
Bordering the remarkable Zion National Park is this stunning lodge (that charges NO resort fees!), perfect for a southern Utah national park family vacation. Enjoy scenic views from the outdoor pool and hot tub, each constructed in red rocks that blend seamlessly with the natural environment, and let your kids zoom down the slides of the playground onsite. Each of Cliffrose Lodge’s luxuriously appointed rooms, from double queens with 55-inch HDTVs to two-bedroom villas with 14-foot vaulted ceilings and full kitchens, feature magnificent views of Zion and the immaculate gardens which give this property its blissful name.
8. Crater Lake Resort – Fort Klamath, OR
Calling this cluster of rustic cabins a resort is a bit of a stretch. But what you’ll find at Crater Lake Resort is an authentically outdoorsy experience about 4,900 feet above sea level, along a creek, in a wooden area roughly 8 miles from the grandiose Crater Lake National Park. Each cabin includes a private bathroom, as well as linens, kitchen essentials, satellite TV and Wi-Fi. There’s also a community BBQ area with fire pit, where you can make new friends and share tales of adventures inside the park.
9. Highbrook Motel – Bar Harbor, ME
Forget every negative thought you have about motel life. In Bar Harbor, home of the sublime Acadia National Park, is this elegant slice of Americana called Highbrook. This immaculate, family-run motel will have your gang well-rested and ready to explore the East Coast’s glittering gem of a national park. Free Wi-Fi and complimentary grab-and-go continental breakfast is about the extent of the amenities on offer, but when you’re a free shuttle bus from downtown Bar Harbor and steps from hiking trails leading straight into Acadia, what else do you need?
10. Bearskin Lodge on the River – Gatlinburg, TN
Okay, we admit it—we love the idea of Great Smoky Mountain National Park’s Leconte Lodge, the highest guest lodge in the eastern United States, accessible only on foot. But you don’t have to hike for miles to find good accommodations near the park. Instead, stay in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, at the Bearskin Lodge on the River. Located less than 10 miles from the park and, most importantly for your family, easily accessible by car, this property blends nicely into its surroundings and provides families a hospitable and comfortable home base from which to explore the Great Smoky Mountains. Custom hickory furniture, gas fireplaces, and real hardwood flooring in the guestrooms brings the outside world in to make you feel surrounded by nature, even after you’ve all kicked off your hiking boots and settled in for the night. Wake up every day refreshed with a free breakfast and then float along the lazy river before setting off an another remarkable national park adventure.
Jeff Bogle lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia with his wife, two daughters, and three cats. He is an award-winning photographer and respected travel journalist with bylines on Reader’s Digest, Good Housekeeping, PBS, Esquire and more. Jeff (probably) spends too much time in England watching football and far too many hours plotting his family’s future travel adventures. Find Jeff on his own site, Out With the Kids.