interior of John Muir Lodge

NPLAS photo copy freely

John Muir Lodge Kings Canyon NP, 1998
Not classified.
Location: Near General Grant Grove, Sequoia/Kings Canyon NP
Theme: National Park Rustic/Modern Motel
Interior Design:
Exterior Features: Log features and log-slab siding.
Known Timeline:
Current occupancy 30 units, 2009


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 details

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.

the exterior of john muir lodge

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.

The Experience

A Modern Motel, Dressed to Impress

John Muir Lodge doesn't cut it as a full-fledged park lodge. Check-in is located in a separate building; there is no "front desk" on premises. The log exterior is certainly charming, but it isn't hard to see that this is more of a Fairfield Inn than a traditional National Park Lodge. The setting is very nice. The only drawback is that the visible portion of the exterior is completely dominated by a parking lot. It appears that little or no thought was given to landscaping nor curb appeal.

Interior decor is rustic and adds a nice touch. The quality of the furnishings, however, is rather mediocre; the light fixtures and lamps resemble typical Home Depot offerings. These will have to be upgraded if the concessioner hopes to elevate the perception of this lodge. Few if any of the pieces in the great room "lobby" could be considered special. The room itself must be adjacent to the mechanical services section of the facility; when the room is empty there is an annoying and very audible hum.

Hallways and rooms are spotless; cleaner and in better condition than many properties in the park system. The quality of the room, bath, etc. is very good and represents an excellent value. It's unfortunate that the facility as a whole just needs a bit more character to make it all work.

Not Classified

John Muir Lodge is a high quality motel/lodge experience that provides an excellent value for the location. Room quality is equivalent to a fully modern hotel chain. The great room and some qualities of the complex are worthy of Classification III, premium. The John Muir Lodge as a whole is not classified by NPLAS because it has no historic value, and does not provide a significant National Park Lodge experience. In most respects this lodge is worthy of classification but has not yet become an inextricable part of the park.

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John Muir vs. Wuksachi

Random foliage

NPLAS members recalling and seeking to recapture the heyday of the Giant Forest Village aren't going to find it at either, although we have to give a slight edge to John Muir Lodge. Located within the Grant Grove Village complex, a series of historic buildings and cabins, John Muir has more "there" there. Home to a small NPS Vistors Center, cafe, gift shop, US Post Office, and general store, it is also the location of the "front desk" for John Muir Lodge. The buildings are quaint parkitecture; they seem to fit perfectly in the forested surroundings. For an authentic NPS experience we recommend Bearpaw High Sierra Camp, a daylong trek into the Sequoia backcountry, or the cabins at Grant Grove Village for non-hikers. These are a more rustic situation. If all the comforts of home are required, John Muir Lodge currently represents a better value, however the scenery at Wuksachi is simply fantastic.

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