5 Swank Vacation Homes To Stay At During The National Parks Centennial

Editors' pick: Originally published August 17.

The National Parks Service turns 100 this year, but you don't have to sleep on the ground to celebrate that fact.

Though Yellowstone and other national parks and monuments were established earlier and President Theodore Roosevelt and Sierra Club founder John Muir championed conservation well before, the National Parks Service's establishment by President Woodrow Wilson on August 25, 1916, eventually preserved more than 450 sites for future generations. While the service is celebrating this year with commemorative coins, stamps and other detritus that grandparents will give to kids, the best way to take in the parks system is to visit on your own.

Unfortunately, the timing of this anniversary isn't great. By August 25, many college kids are back at school, already and many families have used up their vacation days visiting places that their tax dollars aren't paying for and handing over exorbitant sums to visit attractions nowhere near as impressive as the Sawtooth Mountains or the view from Hurricane Ridge in the Olympics. The nation is just about burned out on vacations and ready for fall, school and football season.

It's also a time when folks trying out camping for the first time have decided they either love it and want to spend more of their off hours sleeping beneath stars and canopies of trees, or absolutely hate it. They've been eaten alive by mosquitos, drenched in sweat after sleeping in tents-turned-greenhouses and have had just about enough of washing the scent of campfire out of their clothes each weekend. The latter group has decided that their favorite campsite is somewhere with air conditioning and their favorite tent is better known as a hotel.

These folks aren't left out of the national parks experience entirely: they just need to be gently introduced to it. Fortunately the National Park System and its surrounding communities are dotted with surprisingly plush accommodations for a service built on roughing it. With help from TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals, we found five properties that allow travelers to celebrate the gift the nation was given 100 years ago, but still show an appreciation for more modern amenities like private showers, hot tubs and entrances that don't open and close with a zipper...

5. Ridge Alpine Cabin
5. Ridge Alpine Cabin

Check out the digs here

Location: Glacier National Park, Mont.

Cost: From $215 per night

The million-acre Glacier National Park along the Canadian border predates the National Parks Service by six years, but is one of its system's crown jewels.

Bearhat Mountain reflecting into Hidden Lake, Grinnell Glacier still carving its way into the terrain, the surrounding mountains that dwarf you as you drive in on Going-To-The-Sun road: all of it remains impressive more than a century later. All of it is much easier to traverse on a good night's sleep in a warm bed with clean clothing available.

The cabins at The Ridge at Glacier were hand built by one man who had specific ideas about how Glacier should be enjoyed. In this case, it's from an 880-square-foot, two-bedrooms, one bathroom cabin with room for six people, views of the ridgeline, a stackable washer-dryer and a full kitchen with full-size refrigerator, dishwasher, disposal, microwave, oven, stove top, spices and more. The guy behind this cabins roughed it so you wouldn't have to. The least you can do is reward him for his efforts by taking a shower, warming up a Hot Pocket and sleeping in.

4. Yosemite River Rock
4. Yosemite River Rock

Check out the digs here

Location: Yosemite National Park, Calif.

Cost: From $700 per night

Yosemite dates back to a decree from Abraham Lincoln, but it didn't come under full federal control until 1906. That's still a decade before the National Parks Service was established, which means Yosemite has had time to acclimate to the needs of its visitors.

This newly constructed three-bedroom, two-bathroom home, for example, sleeps ten within its surprisingly plush lodge surroundings. All the nature is safely behind large picture windows in the sprawling great room. You can take in the forest and mountain views from leather sofas around the stone fireplace, or you can ignore it altogether and watch preseason football on a 65-inch 4K television.

A kitchen filled with stainless steel appliances, granite counters and a "rustic" table for eight is straight out of an HGTV remodeling show, as are the king-sized bed, walk in closet and travertine shower in the master suite. There's a queen-sized bed in the second bedroom and bunk beds and wall beds throughout the rest of the house. There's even a loft with yet another 65-inch 4K TV, complete with satellite television and a Blu-ray player. A washer-dryer and a gas grill round out the perks and help make this cabin a nice little refuge when the Civil War-era landscape gets a little too rough for your liking.

3. Teton Townhouse
3. Teton Townhouse

Check out the digs here

Location: West Yellowstone, Mont.

Cost: From $300 per night

Geysers, bears, mountain ranges: you don't need a whole lot of reminders of why Yellowstone was the national park that started it all back in 1881.

What you will need is a reminder to get out and explore it instead of hanging around watching satellite TV near the wood stove in the great room of this rough-hewn gem of a townhouse. This two-story, 2,500-square-foot rental has four bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, six new queen beds with room for 12 and a full kitchen. It doesn't dazzle you with amenities, but it's incredibly cozy and has a certain lure for large groups who are less prone to smelling sulfuric geysers and staring at bison than they are to sit around the fire, swap stories and feel the chill of fall approaching.

2. The Magic Moose
2. The Magic Moose

Check out the digs here

Location: Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

Cost: From $463 per night

We love featuring Pigeon Forge not only because it's home to Dolly Parton's Dollywood amusement park, but because it's within striking distance of Smoky Mountains National Park, the Gatlinburg Space Needle, the Ober Gatlinburg amusement park, the Hollywood Star Cars Museum and various Ripley's Believe-It-Or-Not attractions.

Meanwhile, this seven-bedroom, seven-and-a-half bathroom lodge in the middle of Sherwood Forest features sprawling views of the Smokies from its decks (and hot tub) and its stacked stone fireplace surrounded by windows. There are two master bedrooms with televisions, a jacuzzi tub and a game room with a pool table and foosball all on the first floor, but there's more awaiting after you take an elevator down to the lower two levels.

Five more bedrooms -- including two with private baths -- another fireplace and a home theater with reclining theater chairs all sit below and provide a whole lot for the price of admission. If that cost seems steep, just remember than it can cover up to 28 people.

1. Villa Sereno
1. Villa Sereno

Check out the digs here

Location: Indio, Calif.

Cost: From $1,500 per night

Yeah, this is definitely the place to stay in a Clinton-era park.

Nearby Joshua Tree National Park has been preserved as a natural area since 1936, but it only achieved national park status in 1994. However, if you're renting this mini resort during the centennial week, it's likely less to hike Joshua Tree than it is to scout out a party palace for Coachella weekend next year.

You get this resort's 1,000-thread-count sheets, sofas around the outdoor fireplace, five acres of lawn and a three-bedroom, three-bathroom villa with room for up to eight guests all to yourself. You also get two casitas adjacent to the villa that can accommodate up to 18 adults, with six full bathrooms between them and flatscreens with satellite and cable in each room.

Forget the indoor kitchen -- outside, the second kitchen area has a Viking range, barbecue, professional-style bar with beer taps, a refrigerator, pizza oven and more. There's a game room with pool table, air hockey and foosball. There's a pool and hot tub situated between waterfalls and a fire pits. There's a four-hole putting green with sand traps, a full-times groundskeeper and the owners' Arabian horses grazing nearby. Just in case you thought this was going to be a complete rager, just know that the owners are sharing the five-acre estate with you and that all of their equestrian trophies in the villa serve as a reminder that they can take you to the cleaners if you even think about trashing the place. It's a horse ranch right in the middle of polo and golf country, so conduct yourself accordingly -- and get it all out of your system at Coachella or during a hike through Joshua Tree.

Advertisement

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.