Mention the term “backpacker hostel,” and the first image that may come to mind is a no-frills accomodation full of bunk beds and college-age students backpacking around Europe. But, as some savvy outdoor adventurers know, hostels are also located in or near many U.S. National Parks, offering a whole new way to experience the wilderness in these storied destinations.
Hostels date back to the early 1900’s, and as they made their way into the United States, many began popping up on the outskirts of U.S. National Parks. Built on the foundation of community and affordability, they’re an excellent option for outdoor enthusiasts who are craving some of the creature comforts while immersing themselves in the wilderness. They’re also a great way to cap off a long backcountry trip. Here, some recommended favorites that take the idea of “backpacker hostel” to a whole different level.
Polebridge, a small town on the northwest edge of Glacier National Park, is home to three main attractions: a single bartop saloon, a 100-year old Mercantile, and the North Fork Hostel—arguably the most unique accommodations you’ll find in the National Park system. It’s also the closest you can get to the backcountry without stepping foot on the trail.
First established in 1976, the property is now run by a local who doubles as a Glacier ranger. The house sleeps well over 20, thanks to an array of accommodations ranging from bunks, to a refurbished 1950’s trailer known as the Green Zucchini, to a one-bedroom log cabin—the Goat Chalet—that’s outfitted with a wood-burning stove.
Even with those creature comforts, you’ll still get a rustic outdoor experience, as the entire village of Polebridge runs entirely without electricity and the hostel boasts one of the “spiffiest outhouses” on the North Fork. In the summer, the hostel’s greenhouse, which spans the entire width of the house, blooms with seasonal vegetables and herbs. In the winter, snow drifts peak at the hostel’s roof, and cross-country skiers can enjoy endless miles of powdered trails.
Just southwest of Olympic National Park in Westport, Loge at the Sands offers standard amenities like affordable beds, community kitchens, and cozy common areas. But the property takes its outdoor-centric amenities as step further by billing itself as the “ultimate surf camp”, providing guests with several ways to experience the local surf culture. Among its offerings: equipment rentals, classes, surf lessons, and guided outdoor trips, thanks to local partner, evo gear.
The property is a natural fit for surfers, hikers, bikers, creatives, and active locals. At the end of a rigorous day of cold-water surfing, mountain biking, or sea kayaking, hang out around a campfire with other adventure-minded guests.
Two other cities in the state, Leavenworth and Snoqualmie Pass (both driving distance from Mt. Rainier National Park), are home to Loge hostels. In addition, in spring 2018, Loge opened another location just south of the mighty Mt. Hood in Bend.
On the banks of the Yellowstone River just 10 miles north of the Yellowstone National Park entrance, you’ll find the North Yellowstone Lodge & Hostel. Guests come to hang out at the lodge’s private river beach, explore its acre of private apple orchard, and do some fly fishing onsite.
Visitors can escape the crowds, especially those visiting during the high season, can relax at Chico Hot Springs Resort & Day Spa in Paradise Valley, a 25-minute drive north. The century-old western resort greets visitors with two natural hot spring-fed pools, which steam in the foreground of the Absaroka Mountain Range and have been attracting locals since the 1890’s. You can still take a dip in the 100-plus degree water to soothe sore muscles after a rugged Yellowstone hike.
Whether you’re gunning for the Appalachian Trail’s 2,000-milers list or tackling a simple day hike, you won’t regret a stay at the Mountain Harbour Mountain Harbour Hiker’s rustic Hostel, which also has a treehouse open for guests. Nestled on the eastern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the hostel fits eight guests who sleep in a rustic cabin above the barn, complete with a wood burning stove, fridge, stove, and shower.
Mountain Harbour is quite an upgrade for thru-hikers who’ve been on the trail for some time, as the hostel sits a stone’s throw away—just 0.3 miles—from the AT. In fact, hikers might even smell burgers cooking at the hostel’s newly opened food truck. Another added bonus: As long as there are four guests or more, guests can enjoy the Mountain Harbour’s famous breakfast.
Late June is a great time to stay, since visitors can head to Roan Mountain Rhododendron Gardens, the world’s largest natural rhododendron garden, to see the flora in full bloom. Winter is memorable, too, with the area blanketed in snow.
Just 26 miles outside Yosemite Valley, the Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort and Hostel offers travelers easy access to the towering rock faces of El Capitan and Half Dome, as well as the region’s sprawling redwood forests.
The grounds offer a wide mix of entertainment and accommodations—a perfect fit for any type of guest, from lone backpackers to families. For as little as $27 per night, hostel guests have access to a full garden, bonfire pit, health spa, concert stage, yoga classes, and full-service cafe all on the same property. For more outdoorsy types, consider booking one of the hostel’s canvas, Yosemite-style tent cabins, built on a wood frame. Guests also have access to hard-sided heated cabins, which are ideal for winter months.
Written by Erica Zazo for RootsRated.
Featured image provided by Erik Wolf