Editor's note: As the summer wears on, David and Kay Scott find themselves in Yellowstone National Park to tour the park's lodging options for an update to their book, The Complete Guide To the National Park Lodges.
Greetings from Yellowstone National Park. The road trip is now in its 11th week and we have driven about 7,400 miles through 16 states.
Despite high gas prices and a sluggish economy, things are humming in America’s first national park. There is lots of traffic, people are swarming the gift shops, and lines are often encountered at the restaurants. If families take one major national park trip they seem most likely to head for Yellowstone.
Our last report was from Montana’s Glacier National Park. We typically depart Glacier driving south by way of Helena and enter Yellowstone through the west entrance that leads to the Old Faithful area. This time our first night’s stay was at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel in the park’s northern section, so we took U.S. Highway 89 that leads southeast to Great Falls and then swings south toward the park.
The drive from Great Falls to Livingston is quite scenic and there was very little traffic. Several years ago we discovered a nice campground on U.S. 89 midway between Glacier and Yellowstone in Lewis & Clark National Forest. This trip the campground had few other campers and the weather was perfect with evening temperatures in the high 40s. Plenty of firewood was available for extended evening and morning fires. Another positive was the $5 camping fee using our senior Interagency Pass (the old Golden Age Passport). This represented the first time in 24 nights we had slept in the tent.
By the way, we apologize for mistakenly substituting Northern Pacific Railroad for Great Northern Railway in an earlier report. The Glacier lodges are associated with the Great Northern, not the Northern Pacific. We have a Great Northern Railway – Glacier National Park T-shirt to prove it.
In a related development, on the way to Yellowstone we stopped in Livingston, Montana, and visited the old Northern Pacific/Burlington Northern depot now being utilized as a railroad museum. The depot was built in 1902 as the transfer point for train travelers who wished to head for Yellowstone on one of the park’s famous yellow buses.
Yellowstone has nine lodges scattered throughout the park. Our schedule includes a night in Mammoth, a night in Canyon, followed by four nights in the lodges of Grand Teton National Park before returning to Yellowstone for four additional nights. Our final Yellowstone night in Lake Hotel allows us to exit Yellowstone’s east entrance through Cody and head for Cedar Pass Lodge in Badlands National Park.
The current report provides a description of lodging at Mammoth, Roosevelt, and Canyon, three park facilities we have just visited. The remaining six Yellowstone lodges will be covered upon our return from Grand Teton.
On a related note, the current concession contract for Yellowstone is nearing an end with a new contract scheduled for late 2013. The current contract requires concessionaire Xanterra Parks & Resorts to pay 11.5 percent of revenues generated in the park into a reserve and maintenance fund. Another 2.5 percent of revenues is paid to the NPS as a franchise fee.
According to NPS Concession Specialist George Helfrich, Xanterra generated approximately $85 million of Yellowstone revenues during 2010. The current concessionaire has a contractual interest of about $20 million, meaning a different concessionaire would be required to pay Xanterra that amount to assume the new contract. The $20 million does not include personal property such as bedding and furniture, much of which is owned by Xanterra, and would have to be purchased or replaced by a different concessionaire.
Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins is a large complex near the park’s northern entrance. Here travelers can choose hotel rooms with or without a private bathroom or cabins with or without a private bathroom. Cabins without a bath, at $80 per night, are some of the cheapest lodging in the park. Hotel rooms with a private bathroom at $120 per night are a good buy.
We have generally considered Yellowstone lodging rates to be reasonable compared to rates charged in many other parks. Mammoth also serves as the location for park headquarters and we generally enjoy a stroll around the former army buildings in which park administration is housed.
Elk are generally lounging somewhere in the vicinity. Early this morning they were grazing immediately outside the hotel entrance.
Mammoth is some distance from many of the park’s popular features, which means it serves best as an overnight stop when also staying at another location, say Old Faithful or Lake. Otherwise, Mammoth guests are likely to experience long drives to other areas of the park.
Roosevelt Lodge in the northeast portion of the park is Yellowstone’s smallest lodging facility. This is the nearest lodge to the Lamar Valley, where Yellowstone’s elusive wolves are most likely to be spotted.
Roosevelt has two types of cabins for rent: Rough Rider and Frontier. Rough Rider cabins do not have a private bathroom and rent for only $65 per night, the park’s cheapest sleep.
Frontier cabins are larger, nicer, have a private bathroom, and rent for $110 per night. Most cabins at Roosevelt are in the Rough Rider class. On a positive note, public bathrooms with toilets, sinks, and showers have been remodeled.
Canyon Village is Yellowstone’s largest lodging facility, and it offers two very different classes of cabins plus two modern lodge buildings.
Most cabins fall into the Frontier category that cost $96 per night. In truth, these look pretty grim on the outside and could use a little interior sprucing up although they do have new linens, spreads, and drapes.
The second class of cabin lodging, Western cabins, had their interiors extensively refurbished and are quite attractive, at least on the inside. These rent for $179 per night, about the same as rooms in the two lodge buildings. The lodge buildings have 81 modern rooms with bright interiors filled with western pine furniture.
The lodges are unusually nice for national park lodging. Canyon, because of its size, has never been one of our favorite places to stay, but its central location makes it a good stop for travelers who will remain in a single facility during their stay in the park.
From Yellowstone we're off to Signal Mountain Lodge in Grand Teton National Park. The sky is blue so it looks like we are likely to have another day of sunshine. Our next report will be from Yellowstone’s southern neighbor.