Have you been to a National Park like Yosemite, Mount Rainier, Yellowstone or Crater Lake and admired the architecture of the vistor centers and lodges? This style is known as “Parkitecture” or “National Park Service Rustic”. Let’s look at some of the most famous examples and plan a tour to see them all! Let’s check them out all the way from the Northwest to Southeast!
The basic idea behind Parkitecture or National Park Service Rustic Architecture is that any structure built in a park should harmonize with its environment. It should be built of local natural materials and should blend in with surroundings in color, shape and style. Thus rustic architecture varies between parks, with pueblo revival in the southwest and stone and wood chalets in the mountains. Typically materials and buildings appear weathered and rough so that they look like they’ve been in place a long time. Parkitecture is not an architectural style itself, but rather a movement of harmonizing with the local setting that incorporates and includes different architectural styles.
One of my favorites, Mount Rainier National Park is centered around the majestic peak. It was the fifth national park to be inaugurated and has beautiful examples of Parkitecture.
The National Park Inn at Longmire is a prime example of rustic architecture and sits at the start of the Wonderland Trail. The Paradise Inn is a 2.5 story hotel that has beautiful details made from silvery local cedar wood. At Sunrise you’ll find a visitor center and other buildings that are also lovely examples of the Parkitecture style.
The deep blue lake might capture all your attention but when you turn away you might notice the interesting architecture at Crater Lake. You’ll find the impressive Crater Lake Lodge as well as the visitor center and other smaller structures.
You can stay at Crater Lake Lodge or just head to their back porch to have a drink and stare at the gorgeous view overlooking that famous blue body of water.
Glacier Park Lodge and Many Glacier Hotel were originally built as part of a railroad development project around the park to serve visitors. Check out the soaring 3-story ceilings in the Glacier Park Lodge lobby supported by tall douglas fir columns. You can book your stay at Glacier Park Lodge here.
Many Glacier Hotel is conceived as a series of chalets with a Swiss alpine theme that stretch along the shoreline along Swiftcurrent Lake. Why a Swiss theme? The Great Northern Railway which built the hotel was planning to market the area as the “American Alps”.
Lake McDonald Lodge is another hotel at Glacier National Park with a Swiss theme. The hotel has a stone base and wooden upper levels. Interestingly the lodge entrance faces the lake rather than the road. This is because originally hotel visitors arrived by steamboat. The Going-to-the-Sun Road was not finished until 1933.
You can still get to Glacier National Park by train and it’s convenient to stay at one of the Glacier Park lodges. They are some of the last to still have a railroad connection. (Taking a long Amtrak journey? Check out these 10 things you should bring onboard!)
The Ahwahnee Hotel is one of the most famous park lodges and a perfect example of National Park Rustic. However, the earlier buildings in the park are wonderful examples as well. Check out the Yosemite Conservation Heritage Center which was built by the Sierra Club in 1903.
Looking for places to stay in and around Yosemite National Park? Take a look at our guide to the best lodging in the area including the Ahwahnee Hotel.
El Tovar is a large hotel built twenty feet from the very edge of the south rim of the Grand Canyon. El Tovar opened its doors in January, 1905, as the luxury hotel at the Grand Canyon for the Santa Fe Railway. The building’s style remained steeped in the late Victorian predeliction for the exotic with its roof turret and chalet-like balconies and terraces. Whittlesey’s use of log-slab siding and log detailing on the first floor created that rustic frontier atmosphere that the railroad sought. The dark color of the building and the dark interiors contributed to the woodsy ambience. The dark exterior color gave added architectural importance to the building s silhouette–easily distinguishable by its turret and varied roof forms as the most important structure on the south rim by the way it was outlined in the sky.
A female architect was not the norm in the early 1900s but Mary Jane Colter definitely made her mark. Colter designed several buildings at the Grand Canyon including the Hopi House, Desert Watchtower and Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon.
On the north rim of the canyon you’ll find the Grand Canyon Lodge which is a complex that includes the main lodge and more than 100 cabins. The lodge structures sit on Bright Angel Point, a promontory on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. The basic cabins are constructed of logs while the main lodge and deluxe cabins are covered in stone. Everything was designed to blend with the landscape of rocky outcroppings and forest. The Grand Canyon lodge was designed by architect Gilbert Underwood who also designed the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite as well as buildings in Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and at Mount Hood.
The Painted Desert Inn is a wonderful example of work by architects Lyle Bennett and Mary Jane Coulter work as well as Hopi artist Fred Kabotie and the many workers who labored on the project.
The building is in pueblo revival style and blends in with the colorful desert surrounding it. To me, the murals and furnishings on the inside really make this place extra special. The former dining room and coffee shop depict aspects of Hopi life and ceremonial symbolism on the walls and chairs. Also be sure to notice the rug patterns painted on the concrete floor and hammered tin chandeliers in some of the rooms. The skylight is also a marvel with beautiful hand-painted scenes in the glass panes.
Petrified Forest National Park is also home to another set of striking structures. The Painted Desert Community Complex was designed by famed architects Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander in 1958. They currently to serve as the park’s headquarters, and originally encompassed a self-contained village with visitor services as well as housing for staff. It’s a National Historic Landmark that has been undergoing renovations. While these buildings are modern in design and do not have the typical rustic feel of Parkitecture they are designed to fit in with the environment and protect visitors and residents from the areas unrelenting sun and wind.
Check out our Guide to Petrified Forest National Park for more to see and do around the area.
One of the most majestic national parks, Zion’s impressive rock cliffs dwarf all human activities in the canyon. But still, the lovely Zion Lodge is worth a look. Sit in the wooden rocking chairs on the front porch at sunset and watch the deer browse in the front field.
The Zion Lodge is part of a Historic District, all designed by Gilbert Underwood. The buildings feature wood and stone elements and include the hotel and stand alone cabins as well as employee housing.
Another Utah lodge designed by Gilbert Underwood, the Bryce Canyon Lodge is the only remaining original structure built by this acclaimed architect. The rest have been damaged or destroyed and rebuilt or renovated at some point.
The complex includes a two story lodge as well as private cabins all with distinctive matching shingled roofs. All of the building feature stone and wood construction.
The hoodoos and rock formations at Bryce remind me of otherworldly dwellings themselves. Do you agree?
This beautiful park in northern New Mexico is known for its fascinating Ancentral Pueblo ruins however the visitor center and Frey Lodge (park headquarters) are excellent examples of Civilian Conservation Corp- built rustic architecture. The buildings were meant to resemble a traditional Pueblo village and were used to temporarily house scientists and their families while working on the Manhattan Project in nearby Los Alamos.
The buildings at Bandelier are now an official National Historic Landmark.
Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s apprentices, the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center at Rocky Mountain National Park is a fabulous structure that both stands out and fits in with the local setting. Triangular motifs echo the surrounding mountains and the building is clad in local stone.
I hope you enjoyed this quick guide to some examples of Parkitecture across the United States. Be sure to also take a look at our many guides to national parks and monuments. Here are a few:
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