Parkitecture 101: National Park Design Style

Whether you call it National Park Service Rustic or Parkitecture, the lodges and facilities in our parks are some of the world’s finest examples of manmade structures existing in harmony with nature.

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Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite National Park

Architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood knew that there was no competing with the splendor of the natural surroundings when he set out to design Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Lodge. Completed in 1927, the foreboding structure sits beneath Royal Arch and boasts numerous staggered balconies and spacious windows that provide sweeping views of Half Dome, Glacier Point and Yosemite Falls. The green roofs and rustic stone columns complement the setting rather than distract from it.

Try This at Home: Install larger windows to bring the outside in. 

See Inside: The Ahwahnee

The Ahwahnee Hotel’s interior design mixes elements of Arts and Crafts with Art Deco, Native American and Middle Eastern influences. Movie buffs may recognize it from “The Shining” and “The Cain Mutiny.” Countless celebrities have visited this legendary example of Parkitecture including John F. Kennedy, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Desi Arnaz, Lucille Ball, Charlie Chaplin, William Shatner and Gertrude Stein.

Try This at Home: Establish an anchor color and accessorize with items that truly make you happy.

Hermit’s Rest, Grand Canyon National Park

Before beginning a project, architect Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter spent many hours in the area studying and sketching Native American ruins. By incorporating native stone and local timber into structures such Hermit’s Rest (1913), Colter created a distinct harmony within the unique environment. The National Park Service was not beyond her influence and consequently erected many buildings with similar designs. You might even say that Mary Colter is the Mother of Parkitecture.

Try This at Home: If you live in an arid climate, don’t grow grass. Use locally sourced rocks, bricks and tiles to landscape your home. 

Lake McDonald Lodge, Glacier National Park

Located in Glacier National Park, the rustic Lake McDonald Lodge is listed as a National Historic Landmark and is a member of Historic Hotels of America. Naturally, very few elements of the hotel’s aesthetic have changed since its doors opened in 1914. Many of the furnishings such as the lobby piano, log frames and several carved hickory chairs are original. Parkitecture purists will note that some of the Roycroft pieces and Stickley rugs are reproductions. Kanai craftsmen originally designed the lanterns for the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada. These are also reproductions.

Try This at Home: If your home has historic relevance, don’t rip it apart. If you must modernize, leave elements of the architect’s original vision. Often, total gut jobs devalue a home. 

Oregon Caves Chateau, Oregon Caves National Monument

A distinct trait of Parkitecture is a structure’s ability to blend well with its natural surroundings, and that’s why the Chateau at the Oregon Caves, with its rustic sense of space and locally sourced materials, shouldn’t be overlooked. The six-story building basically sits above a gorge on massive wood supports with the third floor coming in at eye level. That means the two lower floors “fall” into the gorge. Seeing is believing and the Chateau is not to be missed.

Try This at Home: Get out of the house, commune with nature and clear your mind. Staring at the same four walls may spark the desire to change them. Fresh air can lend a fresh appreciation for what you already have. 

The Lodge at the Grand Canyon

If the Lodge at the Grand Canyon didn’t have windows, a chimney and a roof, one might miss it – but that’s the point. Designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood in the 1920s, the breathtaking structure is located at the edge of the Canyon’s North Rim. The canyon side was constructed of battered and buttressed rubble masonry to mirror its surroundings with the gabled dormers dyed dark green to match the foliage.

Try This at Home: Substitute several small windows with one large one. Let the sunshine in. 

Painted Desert Inn, Petrified Forest National Park

What is now a National Historic Landmark almost fell victim to the wrecking ball in the 1970s. Built in 1937, the Painted Desert Inn exterior was originally made of petrified wood but is now red adobe. The Inn no longer hosts overnights guests, but exists as a museum and bookstore. We love how the sunbaked structure blends in with the Mars-like mountains of the Petrified Forest.

Try This at Home: Incorporate an existing natural color into your home exterior. If you love those purple hydrangeas, why not paint the trim the same color? Should this be too bold for you, accessorize your porch or walkway with that purple palette. 

Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone National Park

Constructed in 1904 out of nearby logs and stone, the Old Faithful Inn embraces the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts movement that structures should blend with their environment. It was designed by Robert Reamer and gave birth to rustic architecture, or Parkitecture. And it’s no surprise that many of Reamer’s peers were early preservationists as well as pioneers.

Try This at Home: Consider the impact your renovation will have on the environment and know where your construction supplies are sourced. 

Paradise Inn, Mount Rainier National Park

The Paradise Inn at Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington State is a classic example of American Parkitecture. The 100-year-old lodge with its steep green gabled roof looks as if it sprang up from the rich soil on which it sits. Han Fraehnke, a master craftsman, added much of the decorative woodwork and built the lodge’s rustic piano as well as the 14-foot grandfather clock.

Try This at Home: Handcraft something for your home and plant some wildflowers where you’ll see them every day.