National Park Road Trip 2011: Yellowstone National Park Lodges, Part III

Lake Hotel offers the most opulent accommodations in Yellowstone National Park. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

Editor's note: Before leaving the Rocky Mountain West, David and Kay Scott made one last swing through Yellowstone National Park to inspect the lodging possibilities at Lake and Grant Village for an update to their book, The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges.

Greetings from Yellowstone National Park, where we are preparing to leave the park following a two-night stay at Lake Yellowstone Hotel. This morning we got up early and walked down the hall to the sun room to sip some coffee and enjoy the sunrise. The sky is cloudless, the lake is shimmering, and the distant mountains are glowing. A young employee who is mopping the sun room’s large wood floor just told us that his job at Lake Yellowstone Hotel sure beats college.

Sometimes referred to as Lake Hotel, this is the oldest lodging facility remaining in the park, and plans are in the works for several years of major construction and refurbishment. This includes structural work to the foundation as well as complete renovation of the rooms. Rooms are likely to be renovated in stages as rotating sections of the hotel are closed over a number of years.

The lobby at Lake Lodge is a relaxing gathering spot. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

The original plan would have already begun the renovations, but money is scarce and the hard winter caused problems to other buildings that needed expensive repairs. In addition, substantial funds are being expended on redoing the kitchen at Old Faithful Inn.

We encountered a real surprise during this year’s visit to Yellowstone. Since our last visit three years ago, concessionaire Xanterra Parks & Resorts placed Keruig coffeemakers in the upper-tier lodge rooms and cabins. As you are probably aware, these upscale appliances use the infamous K-cups that make a single serving of coffee or tea.

It turns out that many guests have great difficulty figuring out how the machines work and end up calling the desk to complain and ask for help. This despite step-by-step instructions that are on the machine and also printed on a card placed prominently beside each coffeemaker.

In truth, the coffeemakers seem almost foolproof, but nothing is surprising in the world of hospitality management.

Our last report was from Old Faithful Inn. Differences between the Old Faithful area and the Lake area are amazing. It is almost like the two areas are in different parks. Old Faithful has more people, more traffic, more buildings, more thermal activity, and more nearby things to see and do. Lake is a quiet area where everything seems to take place at a more leisurely pace.

Novice visitors to the park generally prefer Old Faithful, while those who have been here on numerous occasions often prefer Lake.

We mentioned in an earlier Yellowstone report that the Frontier cabins at Canyon looked somewhat grim from the outside. In Xanterra’s defense, the park experienced a severe winter that lingered into the spring, making maintenance more difficult than usual. Many of the park’s buildings sustained damage and unfavorable spring weather delayed much of the normal maintenance.

This report, the third about Yellowstone’s nine lodging facilities, will cover Lake Hotel and Lake Yellowstone Lodge Cabins, both located in the southeastern section of the park at Lake Village. It will also cover Grant Village, located near the park’s southern entrance.

Grant Village carries a roadside motel appearance. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

Grant Village, more than any other Yellowstone lodging facility, has the appearance of a commercial lodge you might find outside the park. Picture a mammoth Holiday Inn Express with multiple buildings. Grant comprises six virtually identical two-story buildings, each with 50 nearly identical rooms.

The buildings, constructed in the early 1980s, are widely spaced in an oval configuration spread through a heavily treed, but not particularly scenic area. The rooms are about what you might find in a nice motel, except for a limited number of rooms with one queen bed that are relatively small.

Grant Village is popular with tour groups moving between Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. The village offers two restaurants plus a coffee shop near the registration building. Basically, Grant is a place for an overnight stop, but not a good base from which to explore the park.

Lake Lodge Cabins is comprised of a large log building containing a cafeteria and huge lobby, plus 186 cabins in three classes. The least expensive are Pioneer cabins that have a private bath and rent for $69 per night. Frontier cabins are Pioneer cabins that have been upgraded with a new foundation, a new interior, and removal of the ceiling tiles which exposes log beams. The Frontier cabins rent for $106 per night. The top cabins at Lake Lodge are 100 Western cabins that rent for $179.

The Pioneer Cabins at Lake Lodge are the least expensive lodgings at Lake. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

The Westerns were recently renovated and are quite nice. Choosing a cabin here depends on how much time you will be spending in your room. If planning a late arrival and early departure, go for the cheapest option and save over $100.

Perhaps the best feature of Lake Lodge Cabins is the large covered porch that spans much of the front of the main lodge building. We enjoy sitting in one of the rocking chairs and reading a book while occasionally gazing at Lake Yellowstone and the distant mountains. We enjoy it so much that we walked to the lodge the other afternoon from nearby Lake Hotel where we are staying.

The second lodging facility in Lake Village is Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Cabins, our favorite in the park. Lake Hotel retains much of the grandeur from when guests arrived via steamboat from West Thumb following a stagecoach ride from the Old Faithful area. The hotel is large, with 158 rooms. Rooms in the hotel cost $207 and $223, with the latter on the lake side.

Rooms at Lake Hotel are the most upscale you'll find in the park. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

The hotel was renovated in the late 1980s, but is showing its age, the reason for the major renovation that will take place over the next several years.

In addition to the main hotel, rooms are also available in the adjacent Annex building (formerly used for employee housing) and 110 nearby cabins. The cabins were totally renovated from 2002 through 2005 and are quite nice. Annex rooms are $149 and cabins rent for $130. We would choose a cabin over a room in the Annex.

One of the park’s first ranger cabins and a historic gift shop sit between Lake Lodge and Lake Hotel. The gift shop was built in 1922 by Charles Hamilton, who went on to establish a major presence with numerous visitor facilities in the park. The building in Lake Village was his first and includes a soda fountain with equipment that was installed in 1938. The octagonal building with wings was totally rehabilitated from 2009 to 2010.

The gift shop remains open and is worth a visit even if you don’t need a T-shirt or ice cream cone. Well, that’s it for Yellowstone and, for that matter, the northwestern part of our trip.

Now we're heading east through Cody, Sheridan, Buffalo, and Rapid City to Badlands National Park, where we will spend a night at Cedar Pass Lodge. On the way, we may drop in at Mount Rushmore and spend a night camping at Wind Cave National Park. We’ll let you know how it goes.

Comments

I have enjoyed reading your reports. If you are going to visit Rapid City, then I am sure you know about Custer State Park. While it is not a National Park, it is beautiful and has a lodge, The State Game Lodge, that is very nice and has a rich history. This State Park rivals may National Parks I have visited. You should visit there and include it in your report as well.

Do the Pioneer Cabins have the coffee makers as well? Is the Frontier Cabin much better than the Pioneers?