A retro renovation on Route 66: My stay at a modern-day motor lodge
The prevalence of highway and air travel has rendered Route 66 virtually obsolete as a means of getting from point A to point B, but luckily there are a number of proprietors focused on reinvigorating attendance to and preserving the history of this historic roadway.
As a lover of road trips and all things retro, when I learned a renovated motor lodge had opened along Route 66 in Flagstaff, Arizona, around the same time my family was planning our first visit to the Grand Canyon, I knew we had to book a stay.
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The High Country Motor Lodge has lived many lives. The property did stints as a paper mill, a Howard Johnson and a Days Inn before finding new life as a boutique hotel. The rustic aesthetic was elevated by luxurious Malin + Goetz bath amenities (a personal favorite), soft bedding and plush furnishings, and the vintage vibes were bolstered by in-room tape decks and mixtapes and midcentury-inspired fixtures.
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The guest rooms surround an inviting courtyard with a large pool, fire pits and lawn games to encourage families, friends and soon-to-be-friends to gather. The communal aspect — something that is becoming rarer in an age where you can check in to your hotel and order room service without interacting with a live human — turned out to be my favorite thing about the hotel.
Although Flagstaff is just over two hours from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), it is the closest major international airport to the northern Arizona town. American Airlines and United Airlines both fly into Flagstaff Pullium Airport (FLG) if you want to skip the drive, but unless you are flying from a few select cities like Denver or Dallas, you'll probably spend more money and time getting there than simply flying into Phoenix.
Because Arizona's natural beauty is prime road trip real estate, we flew into Phoenix and thoroughly enjoyed the scenic journey to Flagstaff.
The property has 120 guest rooms and suites and three stand-alone "Cosmic Cottages." Rooms have either one king or two queen beds, and accessible and pet-friendly rooms are available.
Room rates start at $119 per night for a standard room, $134 for a courtyard view and $319 for a Cosmic Cottage. My family of five paid $229 per night for a courtyard-view room with two queen beds (my children are small enough to share a bed ... for now).
High Country Motor Lodge does not participate in any of the major loyalty programs, but it is bookable through travel rewards platforms like the American Express Travel portal. Cash prices are equal to booking directly with the hotel and points pricing starts at 17,000 Amex Membership Rewards points per night.
- We spent most of our time at the hotel in the gathering areas. We played foosball, pool and board games, sipped craft beers in the lounge and made friends with other families in the courtyard.
- My children had never seen a cassette tape before this trip. My 5-year-old became obsessed with playing the provided mixtapes for us and made sure to put on the nighttime mix before bed.
- While not included in the cost of our stay, the breakfast at The General Store was well worth the price. My egg sandwich was served on a brioche bun with pancetta, smoked provolone and a perfectly runny egg, and my kids could hardly choose a favorite from the fresh pastries.
- There was no closet or chest of drawers in the guest room, which left only a clothing rack, wall hooks or under-bed floor space for storage.
- Our room had only one tiny waste bin, which we filled up (and emptied ourselves) multiple times during our two-night stay.
- The pool is not heated. We visited in the middle of July and the water was cold enough that my kids only swam for 15 minutes before bundling up in towels and relaxing in the lounge chairs.
- There was no shelf in the shower for toiletries.
In my opinion, all the best things Arizona has to offer are outside. High Country Motor Lodge encourages guests to get outside for activities and gorgeous mountain views, but also does an exceptional job of bringing the outdoors in with an earthy palette of blues and greens, camp-style mugs and big, bright windows inside the guest rooms.
Although it's been fully renovated, you still get a sense of the hotel's history and it's easy to see how much care went into retaining the motor lodge feel. The draped exposed wire on the overhead lamp and vintage-style minifridge felt like they could have been there for decades, though I presume both are new.
We stayed in a courtyard-view room with two queen beds. All of the courtyard-view rooms are close to the pool, but I prefer the first-floor rooms for quick and easy access to the pool and other amenities.
Inside, the room had white walls and crisp, white bedding, but the door and accents were painted in a blue almost as dark as the night sky. The chairs were upholstered in a green similar to the pine trees outside our door and there was a small table with a leather catch-all tray.
Without a closet or dresser, storage options were limited to a row of hooks on the wall, a clothing rack with one shelf and the area underneath the beds. The area outside the bathroom housed a minifridge, coffee and tea maker (and the appropriate amenities), vanity and sink and a full-length mirror.
The toilet and shower were separated from the vanity area by a door (that lacked a lock). Due to the building's age, I imagine, the toilet lacked flushing power. Surprisingly, though, the shower had the best water pressure I've found in any hotel to date.
The 50-inch flat-screen TV had streaming capabilities that were simple to set up with a QR code.
The hotel forwent in-room phones and opted for a text service. I didn't use the service during my stay, but I certainly didn't miss the in-room phone.
Food and drink
The General Store is a dining outlet and full-service bar in the main lobby. In the morning, you can get hot and cold coffee drinks, cold items like granola and chia seed pudding, fresh pastries and warm breakfast sandwiches. Later in the day, there's salad, pizza and sandwiches.
My breakfast sandwich cost $10 and came with a side of grapes. Definitely not a budget breakfast, but it was tasty enough that I didn't mind.
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The lounge menu was not only varied but interesting, as well. I opted for a local IPA from Mother Road Brewing down the road from the hotel. My husband had The Ring of Fire, a custom boilermaker — one of four on the menu — made with a passion fruit lager and a shot of mezcal.
The lobby also houses a small grab-and-go shop with drinks, snacks, souvenirs (including a take-home set of the in-room mixtapes) and replacements for anything you may have forgotten at home.
Amenities and service
The service during our stay was outstanding, and not just because everyone we interacted with was wearing tan Dickies-style overalls. When the front desk agent saw we were traveling with kids, she placed us in an easy-access first-floor room. When our cassette player wasn't working properly at check-in, a new one was waiting for us when we returned from a day of adventuring.
We took full advantage of the board and table games in The General Store and the pool (until it became too cold to take), but because we visited so soon after the hotel's opening, the hot tub and Nordic spa weren't quite ready for guests.
The three-hour time zone change sent me to bed fairly early during our stay, but before I went to bed I saw large groups huddled near the fire pits, talking and laughing together instead of checking how many likes they received on their last Instagram post.
Out and about
I live where I do because I can easily walk to the library, the gym and my favorite coffee shop. I look for easy walkability when choosing a hotel and the High Country Motor Lodge certainly ticked that box. There were plenty of dining options and even the local Mother Road Brewery within walking distance.
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If you hop in the car and venture out a bit farther, you can see the night sky at the Lowell Observatory, visit the Barringer Crater or head to historic Williams, Arizona, the last town to have its section of Route 66 bypassed by highways.
The hotel's accessible rooms are designed with roll-in showers, shower seats, grab bars and other features to accommodate wheelchairs. Hearing-accessible rooms with strobe fire alarms and doorbells are also available. The common areas of the hotel are located outside in the courtyard or in a one-story building that is also wheelchair accessible.
The best hotels are more than just a place to sleep on vacation — they are part of the vacation. High Country Motor Lodge provided some of my family's happiest memories during our Grand Canyon vacation and I think a "laid-back luxury" motor lodge may be my new favorite type of hotel.