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Lodging in Yellowstone National Park
Lodging in Yellowstone runs the gamut. You can rough it in a plank-built cabin with a woodstove for warmth, or go all out for a presidential suite.
There are six lodging complexes and 2,160 rooms and cabins in Yellowstone. That's the good news. The not-so-good news is that many of these book up months and months ahead of summer.
Still, one concessionaire manages them all, so you can quickly check availability. Xanterra Parks & Resorts operates all the lodges. At their website you can quickly plunk in the dates you'd like to visit the park and quickly see what availability exists.
Where should you stay? What do you want to experience in the park?
Geysers and other thermal features? Look at the Old Faithful complex.
Waterfalls? Canyon Lodge is right near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and the Western Cabins here were recently refurbished.
Wildlife? Roosevelt Lodge is the closest you can get to the wildlife-rich Lamar Valley and still be in the park.
Paddling? The Lake complex and Grant Village area are right on the shores of Yellowstone Lake.
The Old Faithful Inn is my favorite lodge in the park, thanks to its rustic log-cabin construction and decor, while Lake Hotel is the best if you're looking to impress your significant other (and can afford a significant bill for multi-night stays). Many swear by the campy facilities at Roosevelt Lodge -- the lodge is for dining only, while the accommodations are in very rustic Roughrider Cabins (heated by woodstove, facilities down the path) and pretty rustic Frontier Cabins (two beds, and a bathroom).
The Old Faithful Complex
Mention "Old Faithful" and what usually pops into mind is the grand old log lodge. And while the Old Faithf Inn is the centerpiece, here you'll also find the Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins and the Old Faithful Lodge with its cabins. The result is a range of options to meet just about every budget.
There are three flavors of cabins at Old Faithful -- Western Cabins ($149), which are quite nice and reasonably affordable; Frontier Cabins ($96-$110), which have showers, sinks and toilets, and; Budget Cabins ($67), which have beds and communal restrooms a short walk away. The Western Cabins near the Old Faithful Snow Lodge also offer some accessible cabins with ramps and accessible bathrooms.
The front-side room ($220) at the Old Faithful Inn offered nice views of the geyser basin (though Old Faithful itself wasn't visible from this particular room), the furniture older but well-kept, beds comfortable, and bathroom facilities more than adequate and actually handsome, with a colorful tile pattern that carried a wildlife motif.
Other rooms in the inn, some without bathrooms, many without views of the geyser basin, range from a low of $96 per night to a high of $499 (the suite).
Lake And Grant Village
At Lake you have a wide variety of accommodations to choose from. In addition to the grand hotel, you also have Western Cabins, Frontier Cabins, and Pioneer Cabins similar in size and style to those at Old Faithful.
The hotel is 1920s' era gorgeous and much more pampering. Rates vary in style as well as whether your room faces Yellowstone Lake or the parking lot. There also is a two-story annex with "Standard" rooms that are less expensive and more modest than those in the hotel.
2011 rates in this array of facilities range from a low of $69 a night for the Roughrider Cabins at Roosevelt to $549 a night for the Presidential Suite at Lake Hotel.
Grant Village is a great location for boaters, as there's a launch there. The rooms are in six long, rectangular buidlings and are comfortable, but not elaborate.
The "hotel room with bath" ($152) here was decidedly motelish in both building layout and room style, but it was more than comfortable, the log furnishings nicely done, and the hot water in the shower readily available.
Though distant from the Upper, Midway, and Lower geyser basins, the complex here is right on the lip of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and just a dozen miles from the Norris Geyser Basin, the hottest and most colorful thermal basin in the park.
There's a mix of accommodations here: Lodge rooms ($170) that, like those at Grant Village, are motelish but comfortable; recently updated Western cabins ($179), and; more dated and simple Frontier cabins ($96).
The Western Cabin is the best bet at Canyon. Inside character-rich beetle-killed pine is in heavy use throughout, from the bed frame to the desk, dresser, wainscoting and even the trim.
Mammoth Hot Springs
At park headquarters you'll find another nice range of options, from simple rooms ($87) in the hotel with bathroom facilities down the hall and rooms with bathrooms ($120) to cabins -- some with bathrooms ($112), some without ($81), and even some with hot tubs ($217) -- surrounding the hotel.
Though farthest from the park's geothermal wonders, this lodge arguably is the front door to excellent wildlife viewing in the Lamar Valley just to the east. Wolves, elk, bison, antelope, bighorn sheep, coyotes and even bears can be seen in the early summer and fall in the valley.
The main lodge is for taking meals, while the surrounding cabins come in two flavors: Frontier cabins ($110) offer two double beds and a simple bathroom, and Roughrider ($65), which have two beds, a short walk to communal bathroom facilities, and a woodstove to keep warm when the nights turn cold.
Don't be discouraged if you initially strike out. There are always last-minute cancellations, and sometimes group tours that reserved large blocks of rooms back in December failed to book them all and release rooms en masse, so it doesn't hurt to check back on a regular basis for cancellations. Unfortunately, the concessionaire does not offer a wait-list.
If, despite your best efforts, you can't land a room in the park for your desired dates, make a blood oath to start earlier next time and then turn your sights to the gateway communities. West Yellowstone and Gardiner are the closest to the park; both actually share a boundary line with Yellowstone.
West Yellowstone, though, has more than 2,000 rooms in summer and, if you prefer geysers over wildlife, is closer to the geyser basins so you might want to look here first. West Yellowstone to Old Faithful and its geyser basin is 30 miles and will take about 45 minutes, maybe longer if you stop along the way. You easily could spend a day with stops at the Firehole Canyon Drive, Fountain Flat Drive, Fountain Paint Pots, the Midway Geyser Basin, and the Upper Geyser Basin along with Biscuit Basin and Black Sand Basin. And that's without taking any hikes.
If you prefer wildlife watching and have your sights set on scoping out the Lamar Valley for wolves, bears, bison and elk, then Gardiner is closer than West Yellowstone ... but not as close as Cooke City or Silver Gate. Though decidedly smaller and less commercial than any of the other gateways, Cooke City and Silver Gate are so very colorful and charming that a night or two here wouldn't be a mistake if you don't mind not having a Starbucks or Domino's to deliver.
Cooke City to Roosevelt is a flat drive right through the Lamar Valley. Again, much to see. While the distance is only about 30 miles, you'll want to take your time stopping here and there to look around or to take a hike.
Jackson and Cody are so far away (56 and 53 miles, respectively), that using them as a basecamp for a Yellowstone visit would not be the Traveler's first, second, or third recommendation.
If you've somehow managed to be shut out of all indoors accommodations, campgrounds and RV parks are your remaining options.
Yellowstone has a dozen campgrounds, but reservations are accepted for just five campgrounds: Madison, the Fishing Bridge RV campground, Bridge Bay, Canyon, and Grant Village. The other seven -- Mammoth, Norris, Tower Fall, Slough Creek, Pebble Creek, Indian Creek and Lewis Lake -- run on a first-come, first-served basis.
To check availability in the five where reservations are accepted, you can call 307-344-7311 for same-day reservations, or 866-439-7375 for future dates. You'll find RV parks in all gateway towns.