Industry Spotlight: High Country Motor Lodge

Photo By: High Country Motor Lodge

Even the most well-traveled overlander needs to take the occasional pit stop to relax, reorganize, and plan the next leg of the journey. If you’re going to take some time off from the road, it’s best to do it at a place that’s designed with the adventurous spirit in mind. That’s exactly what you’ll find at the High Country Motor Lodge. Read on to learn how this unique haven came to be and a few more details that set it apart from your average hotel. 

The Deck & Courtyard | Photo by High Country Motor Lodge

“Rivers have always been at the center of Grossman family traditions. Every year, starting from when I was eight years old and very nearly without fail, my parents took me rafting —and later—kayaking through the Idaho wilderness…” recalled John Grossman. 

Now Chief Executive Officer of Classic Hotels & Resorts, a leading hospitality development and management company, John invariably draws influence from his years on the water to navigate the ever-changing, fast-paced hospitality environment. When the chance arose to purchase and re-make a 1962 Holiday Inn off Route 66 on the way to Grand Canyon National Park, he jumped at the challenge without hesitation. As the concept driver and visionary behind Classic Hotels & Resorts’ branding, marketing, design, and programming, John is passionate about melding boutique hospitality experiences with outdoorsmanship, adventure, and all that rivers, mountains, and winding roads have to teach. The resulting concept is the all-new High Country Motor Lodge in Flagstaff, Arizona.


John Grossman’s passion for kayaking came at an early age. His family often floated stretches of the Salmon River, Lower Snake River, and Selway River in their home state of Idaho. By age 12, however, John was competent enough to paddle his own kayak, and by 14, he successfully kayaked the entire Middle Fork of The Salmon. At the age of 15, he entered his first Whitewater Rodeo on the Payette River, jump-starting his career as a competitive kayaker and unintentionally setting the course for his future. 

Canyoneer Buck Boren | Photo by High Country Motor Lodge

“I began work as a river guide on the Day Stretch of the Main Salmon in central Idaho with a local outfitter called White Otter. I spent two summers guiding, living, and working in the small town of Sunbeam, Idaho, which is about twenty miles outside of Stanley, Idaho.” Around this time, he started kayaking more difficult stretches of the rivers in the region. At age 18, he completed his first successful “Top to Bottom” run of the North Fork of the Payette, a world-renowned Class V River and proving ground for aspiring extreme kayakers and rafters from around the world. He then moved to Boulder, Colorado, to attend the University of Colorado and promptly engaged with the school’s kayak club. Later that year, he received his first sponsorship from Wave Sport Kayaks and was placed on their regional white water team. “Throughout college, I traveled during the summers to compete throughout the region. My pursuit of new rivers and seldom run rapids took me to Montana, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, Idaho, Wyoming, California, and Colorado.” Following graduation, John spent the summer competing regionally in the Western U.S., and later, a trip to France and Northern Spain, where he participated in several contests. As a crowning achievement, he won the Rabioux River Rodeo on the Durance River, which remains one of the most popular and well-attended whitewater events in Europe. 


A Junior Suite | Photo by High Country Motor Lodge

John first fell in love with the world of hospitality when he became a river guide in his late teens. “At the young age of seventeen, being handed a sixteen-foot ore boat and assuming the responsibility for the safety, well-being, and joy of paying clients was a new and exciting challenge.” Aside from the primary goal of avoiding injury or even death, John learned how to perform under pressure while practicing a calm and steady disposition during times of stress. “Furthermore, our full-day trips included socialization and meal offerings, which required a level of maturity and responsibility beyond my years at that time and plenty of opportunity for on-the-job training and personal development,” John explains. 

READ MORE: Trips & Trails: Copper Bottom Pass & El Paso Pipeline Road

As an expedition kayaker, he entered into dangerous and volatile river environments where high levels of teamwork, planning, experience, communication, and social cohesion were required for safe passage. “During my time spent on these types of river expeditions, I learned how to assess my own skills and limits with honesty and precision, both for my well-being and that of the team, who I would rely on for assistance and vice versa.” In this unique setting, he cultivated the ability to think creatively and clearly in chaotic surroundings. “It is an ability I still appreciate and utilize today. And while my day-to-day life is far less dangerous – from a physical perspective – these experiences continue to guide my understanding of teamwork, personal responsibility, and assessments of risk and reward.”


The Pool & Cabanas | Photo by High Country Motor Lodge

Since opening in the Spring of 2022, High Country Motor Lodge has offered premium accommodations amidst the stunning backdrop of the San Francisco Peaks, undoubtedly inspired by John’s extensive adventure-travel background and the hotel’s proximate location to the Grand Canyon corridor. “As the most iconic multi-day, wilderness river trip in North America, if not the world, the Grand Canyon is a bucket list trip for expert and amateur rafters and kayakers alike.” Melding vintage style, contemporary design, and an adventurous spirit, High Country Motor Lodge is purposed as a space to re-energize and realign after a long day’s travel. From stylistic touches of warm woods and golds against deepening shades of blue to thoughtful amenities and innovative experiences, all aspects have been carefully considered to create a sanctuary for the senses. 

Because of his love for rivers and for the Grand Canyon, in particular, John immediately recognized Flagstaff’s gravity for guides and outfitters. “Most commercial and private river trips to the area start and end here, and while there are many great hotels in and around Flagstaff, none seem well-positioned to cater to outdoor enthusiasts.” John and Classic Hotels & Resorts seek to capitalize on this opportunity. “As I approached the design of the hotel and the components of the experience, much of my time was spent thinking about how river runners, many of whom will visit the Grand Canyon, would most naturally use the space.”

The resulting project concept and design reflect these specific considerations:

The General Store

The Main Lobby | Photo by High Country Motor Lodge

Upon arrival, with anticipation of the travels to come, visitors often need that one final item to complete their adventure kit. This gave rise to the idea of The General Store, a decidedly outdoorsy boutique mercantile with quality equipment and food to fuel any good trip. Partner vendors include Patagonia, Roark Revival, Raen Sunglasses, Daughter of the Land, Dr. Bronner, Salt & Stone, High Sun Low Moon, Miir, Iron & Resin, Linkage, Polaroid, Dad Grass, The Land Mark Project, Barebones, Hemlock Goods, and Kinfolk, among others. “Many of the purveyors are 1% for the Planet Business Members, as are we. It is important to us to have partners who share our commitment to environmental conservation.” Joining in 2018, Classic Hotels & Resorts was 1% for the Planet’s first-ever hotel management company. John believes there’s a role that his uniquely positioned boutique hotels can play in opening people up to a sense of shared responsibility for, and delight in, the health of our planet.

Nordic Spa Experience

Nordic Spa Experience | Photo by High Country Motor Lodge

“One of the best things about running rivers in the Western U.S. are the hot springs. While there are not any in the Grand Canyon specifically, there are others in the region, and river runners often route their road trips to and from the river to stop and soak.” As a result, John and his team created a Nordic Spa at High Country Motor Lodge to introduce this sacred practice to guests – all with enhancements that provide additional health benefits found in the “thermal bathing” approach made popular in recent years by the likes of Wim Hof. “After a transformative trip down the Grand Canyon, it’s hard to imagine a better way to reintegrate into society than by gathering a group of your river mates and recounting memories of the trip while rotating through a Nordic circuit.” The experience includes a private sauna, hot tub, cold plunge, and relaxing outdoor fire pit.

The Mug Club

Mugs of the Mug Club | Photo by High Country Motor Lodge

“One of my favorite aspects of growing up in a small mountain town was the understated sense of community and belonging. After a long day of adventure in the mountains, we’d all gather for a beer and a bite at the local pub to recount fish tales of all sorts.” With this in mind, John conceived a program specifically for Flagstaff residents in the hotel’s all-new bar and lounge. “I always appreciated the pubs that take it one step further to embrace locals, which is especially important for towns subject to high volumes of transient travel.” Flagstaff is one such place, and creating conditions for local river guides to know they are appreciated and at home, is the basis for the Mug Club. 

The Mug Club rules are simple:

  1. Mugs are free but can’t be bought.
  2. Just show up and ask for one, if one is available, it’s yours. If not, you go on a waitlist.
  3. To maintain your status as a Mug Club Member, you must drink from your mug at least twice a month.
  4. Mugs hold 22 oz, but we charge you for a 16 oz pint.
  5. Mug Club Members have access to special events, such as Beer Maker Dinners with local brew masters and notable sporting event viewings.
  6. Once you get a mug, you don’t want to lose it! The waitlist gets long quickly.

Sounds of the High Desert

The General Store Mercantile | Photo by High Country Motor Lodge

An integral part of every river trip is the journey, sometimes hours or days long. And memories made on the road are enhanced by the soundscape that accompanies the landscape. John has always placed emphasis on music pairings at each of the properties, but for this project, in particular, it proved an essential component. “Having come of age during the era of cassette mixtapes, it seemed natural to connect to this era of music listening.” Working with notable rare music re-issue label Numero Group, High Country Motor Lodge hosts a curated collection of mixtapes. Each is designed to transport back to a simpler time: From the forgotten road trip, a sound salute to the lonely highways of the west, to an atmospheric auditory voyage through the cosmos.

READ MORE: Trips & Trails: Crown King Road and Senator Highway in Arizona

Art Selection: Earth First Protest Art

The artwork throughout High Country Motor Lodge is specially curated. Drawing influence from historical figures and influential works relevant to the surrounding outdoor experience. Featured in two prominent locations are large tapestry prints of Katie Lee: Author, singer, adventurer, and most fondly known as The Goddess of Glen Canyon. The first image depicts the white cataract boats of Mexican Hat Expeditions being towed across Lake Mead. The Grand Canyon was Katie’s first time on the Colorado, but she soon became familiar with the river as a guide with Mexican Hat. She traversed both the upper and lower sections of the canyon — a rare accomplishment — especially for a woman at that time. And although the thrilling rapids of the Grand Canyon caught Katie’s attention, it was the tranquil turquoise waters of the Glen Canyon that kept it. The second work, aptly titled Mud Maiden, shows Katie being covered in mud by her river partners, Frank Wright and Tad Nichols, on the banks of the Colorado deep in Glen Canyon’s gorges. Self-entitled “We Three Trips,” these remote excursions had a profound impact on Katie, inspiring her lifelong advocacy against Glen Canyon Dam until her death in 2017. Her activism work against the Dam and Lake Powell still lives on through her folk music, essays, and books.

The Game Room | Photo by High Country Motor Lodge

Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang serves as the literary muse behind the protest banner that hangs in the Game Room over the fireplace. A deliberate nod to the Earth First movement the book helped inspire. The canvas reads Hayduke Lives with an illustration of the Earth Liberation Front’s monkey wrench and stone hammer. Abbey’s novel is a telling of vandalism in the name of nature, following an eclectic ensemble of ecowarriors in their mission against environmental exploitation of the American Southwest. One such character is George Washington Hayduke. A gruff ex-green beret with a penchant for guns and violence who would protect his patch of the desert from urban development by any means necessary: “Hayduke thought. Finally the idea arrived. He said, ‘My job is to save the f*cking wilderness. I don’t know anything else worth saving. That’s simple, right?” An award-winning writer, Arizona resident, and activist in his own right, Abbey’s extensive body of eco-fiction has directly influenced government policy and the actions of conservationist groups alike. He has also inadvertently shaped everyday language with the now-common term monkeywrenching, meaning the commission of usually illegal acts of sabotage motivated by environmentalism.

Take Off & Re-Entry

Cosmic Cottages | Photo by High Country Motor Lodge

“One of my favorite aspects of a river trip is the anticipation of the adventure ahead, which includes countless hours of planning, organizing, packing, loading, unloading, and re-packing on the boat ramp before launching into the known unknown of a multi-day trip. Conversely, the worst thing about a river trip is the aftermath, which is lowlighted by the ‘gear-plosion’ that occurs after take-out and back at the motel, the night before returning to real life.” As a reimaged motel with direct access from rooms to the parking area, John Grossman, in tandem with Adean Studios, designed High Country Motor Lodge not only to be a convenient location to gear up or offload but as a restful retreat for sportsmen of all recreations by integrating clever touches such as bulk gear storage racks allowing for more useable space in each room.  

Disclaimer: This paid story was produced in partnership with High Country Motor Lodge

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