To fully appreciate the John Muir Lodge, it is essential to understand the turbulent history of lodging at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Like most parks, the earliest lodging was built as close as possible to the most scenic features; in this case the big trees. Sequoia NP featured a significant development in classic parkitecture style at Giant Forest Village, while Kings Canyon had a cluster of unspectacular lodging structures at the General Grant Grove. The Giant Forest Village went through nearly fifty years of controversy before it was razed, replaced by Wuksachi Lodge. The General Grant conglomeration was not terribly attractive, so few tears were shed when it was removed and eventually replaced by the John Muir Lodge.
The logic behind John Muir Lodge (and Wuksachi) marks an important shift in the National Park Service perception of park lodging. During the golden age of construction between 1905 and 1930, the park lodge was treated as an extension of the park itself. Primary structures either borrowed from the "Grand Hotel" concept, with fine revival appointments and carefully manicured lawns -- or an Adirondack Lodge/Swiss Chalet vernacular, for a more holistic fit with the surroundings. This was replaced by a "build nothing" period during the Depression and War years of the 1930s and 1940s, which gave way to the utilitarian "Mission 66" concept of the 1950s and 1960s. This in turn gave way to a muddled combination of "let it disintegrate" during the 1970s to "build a megaplex" during the 1980s. Finally by the 1990s people began to appreciate park lodges for their intrinsic contribution to the park experience, balanced by ever-increasing environmental awareness.
Enter John Muir Lodge.
Had John Muir Lodge been built during the 1960s, it would've been a sterile structure that resembled a self-storage facility. Had it been built -- or should we say, proposed -- during the 1980s, it would've been an overdone monstrosity with underground parking garage and video game room, never funded and dying on the drawing board. What we have instead is a modern motel unit with just enough rustictecture to make it look and feel like a park lodge. Whether you consider it an homage to park lodging, or a cheapened attempt, it does put the best "spin" on what can be built today. The fact that it exists at all demonstrates that the NPS has struck a good balance between visitor demands and environmental interests.
Interior detailing is designed to create a classic park lodge atmosphere. It almost works.
With time, the exterior will weather a bit, and look more harmonious with the surrounding cabins and CCC structures at Grant Grove Village. Inside, the wood beams lack the mass typically associated with lodge construction, but again, it's better than a Mission 66 motif. Furnishings are a mixed bag; as you can see from the main photo above, the mishmash in the Great Room (it isn't really a lobby) contributes nicely to the atmosphere.
Front entry: What a Red Roof Inn would look like if it was designed for a National Park.
Driving up to the lodge, the first visual is of the log balconies. This is a nice first impression, and it's an accurate one, because the balconies are really the best feature of this building. Wood rockers and chairs create a cozy spot for quiet conversation. Although the balconies are actually just prettied-up fire exits, there is very little foot traffic as most people use the main door in the lobby/great room area. The downside to all of these is that after you settle in the rocking chair and kick back, you're looking at an expansive view of the parking lot.