Premium Classification III

current image of grand canyon  lodge at the north rim

photo courtesy S.W. Clyde

Grand Canyon Lodge Grand Canyon NP, 1928
Classification III
North Rim, Bright Angel Point & Transept Canyon.
Theme: National Park Rustic
Architect: Gilbert Stanley Underwood
Interior Design: Underwood, et al.
Exterior Features: Kaibab limestone, ponderosa logs, log-slab siding.
Wood Frame Construction by the Utah Parks Co. for the Union Pacific Railroad, 1927-1928. Some cabins of wood frame construction, some of true log construction.
Known Timeline:
Lodge complex with 100 standard cabins, 20 duplex cabins opened June 1, 1928
5 "quadruplex" cabins built between 1928-1932
Lodge and 2 duplex cabin units destroyed by fire, September 1, 1932
Drawings for rebuilt lodge completed 1936
Lodge reconstruction 1936-1937
9 standard cabins moved to campground, 1940
Operated by Utah Parks Co. 19--
Operated by Amfac/Xanterra Corp. 19--
Concession awarded to Forever Resorts, December 31, 2007


In any study of Grand Canyon Lodge, the most obvious, most essential factor in its significance is that it was originally designed by the legendary Gilbert Stanley Underwood. But the key to understanding Grand Canyon Lodge is to recognize that it is located at the North Rim -- far from the madding crowds -- and by definition is a much different experience than anything at the South Rim.

grand view from the grand canyon lodge

the Grand Canyon Lodge is set right on the rim.

The main lodge building is the hub for every activity except the actual lodging. Rooms include the lobby, dining hall, recreation room, a "western saloon," the amazing sun room, a cafeteria, kitchens, and offices. All bedding is found in various cabins, which range from simple to deluxe, all rustic in appearance. The atmosphere isn't that of a hotel; it feels more like a pricey Adirondack summer camp for adults. It was intended to be a rustic summer resort, and it fits the bill perfectly.

The main lodge building is nestled right on the canyon rim; from below it almost seems to cling to the cliff. Unlike the South Rim lodges that are buffered by walkways and lawns, Grand Canyon Lodge is separated only by railings or windows. The canyon itself presents a much different face here -- it doesn't reveal itself with the same massive vista found at the opposite rim. The Lodge is at the end of an arm that divides Roaring Springs and Transept Canyons, which are side canyons of Bright Angel Canyon, which of course is a side canyon of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. In any case, it simply means that you aren't peering directly down into the deepest part of the abyss as at the South Rim.

old image of grand canyon lodge

Underwood was undoubtedly influenced by Mary Jane Colter's practice of designing structures that seem to rise from the Canyon itself.

Parkitecture enthusiasts generally point to Grand Canyon Lodge as the most authentic, least-altered of all the great park lodges. They're arguably correct in that assessment, however, a strong case could be made for exactly the opposite. Considering that Stanley's original was destroyed by fire and rebuilt with significant differences, it could be said that Grand Canyon Lodge is actually a new lodge built on the site of the first. Completed in 1928, it was ravaged by a fire in 1932 that began when sparks flew from one of its massive hearths.

The main lodge was rebuilt a few years later using most of the original stonework, but it was with some striking differences that bear mentioning here. The original had a second story dormitory which was not rebuilt. Most significantly, the original had a massive, shallow roofline defined by a central observation tower. This gave the original structure a California/mission flavor. The rebuilt lodge had none of that, in fact using steeper rooflines with a greater emphasis on decorative logwork. The double-gable entry hints at the former styling, but that's the extent of it. The look of the "new" lodge is clearly National Park Rustic, and the joy is that it is virtually unchanged since 1937.

double gabled front entry of grand canyon lodge

The front entry faintly echoes Underwood's original mission styling.

As mentioned above, there are no beds in the main lodge. Guests choose from a few different levels of cabins, priced accordingly. There is also a building with motel rooms; this is newer and not generally regarded as the most desirable lodging by park architecture enthusiasts. The layout requires longer walks to and from the main lodge building than would be expected in a typical hotel. Although this is one of the most charming aspects of Grand Canyon Lodge, it qualifies as more of a cabin and lodge experience than as a pure National Park type lodge.

vintage image

Vintage black and white photo, also of the "new" 1937 lodge.

The Experience

A Rustic Camp with the Comforts of Home...

The Grand Canyon Lodge is a unique experience at Grand Canyon National Park. Time spent in the main lodge building affords you new sensory experiences, sights, and discoveries. Although busy, the lobby creates a sense that "the pace is slower here." From the massive plate glass windows to the rugged chairs on the veranda to an elegant evening in the dining room, Grand Canyon Lodge is simply terrific. The layout of the structure is virtually unchanged since 1937, which means that you are walking in historic footsteps -- just not the original experience Underwood intended.

The rimside location is wonderful, to be sure, but be advised that it is a different sort of wonderful than the South Rim. Perhaps not as sudden or seemingly dramatic, but definitely more inviting. The South Rim puts you right at the ultimate view; the North Rim makes you yearn to explore.

Another factor not to be overlooked is the North Rim's "Arizona Strip" location. This a slice of Arizona cut off from the rest of the state by the canyon itself. Entry into the strip is available only via the bridge at Marble Canyon, or through other states. It has the feeling of a land in limbo that contributes to the sense of remoteness at Grand Canyon Lodge. Definitely a "get away from it all" kind of place.

Rooms are typical of a National Park property in that even though the structures may be seriously aging, the property is meticulously cleaned and maintained. The size and style of some of the cabins may not work well for travelers accustomed to today's sprawling suite hotels. A few cabins have 3/4 baths (showers - no tub) that a fussy traveler may not care for.

For those who can deal with a little less elbow room and a little more walking around, the Grand Canyon Lodge is in a class by itself.


Premium Classification III

The Grand Canyon Lodge will enhance a visit to Grand Canyon National Park. The design, decor, location, and historic value are important and an overnight stay will be memorable. For some visitors, it is the experience of a lifetime. Although the lodge and some of the cabins are worthy of higher classification, the majority of cabins, called "Frontier" or "Pioneer," along with the motel rooms, limit the rating. Overall, the Grand Canyon Lodge is classified in the third highest tier by the National Park Lodge Architecture Society.

Top of Page

NPLAS Dedicated to the Preservation and Appreciation of National Park Lodges

NPLAS Home Page Classifications Lobby Bellhop Bookstore Concierge

The Cabins

Above, one of the deluxe cabins. Called "Western Cabins," these have porches and full baths and are the more desirable -- and more expensive -- located in the pine forest northeast of the main lodge. Below, the "Pioneer" cabins, a more rustic, less expensive option on the Transep Canyon side.

Grand Canyon NP Lodges

Grand Canyon Lodge Resources

Recommended Reading