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Weighing Yellowstone: Planning a trip to famed park

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Yellowstone, America’s first national park, is one of our country's most popular tourist destinations. More than 4 million visitors visited the park in 2017, nearly two-thirds of whom arrived during June, July and August.

Mammoth Hot Spring

Cabins with and without private bathrooms sit behind Mammoth Hot Spring Hotel. 

At more than 2.2 million acres, Yellowstone is – outside the mammoth Alaska parks – one of America’s largest national parks.

First-time visitors are often surprised at its size, and how long it can take to drive from one location to another within the park. Consider it is 56 miles of relatively slow driving from the park’s north entrance to the Old Faithful area.

Iconic Old Faithful Inn

Iconic Old Faithful Inn is one of three lodging facilities in the Old Faithful area.

The park’s large size and numerous interesting features point to a multi-day stay meaning you will need overnight accommodations.

Lodging is available in Gardner near the park’s north entrance and in West Yellowstone just outside the west entrance. However, most visitors, including the two of us, prefer to spend our nights in the park.

Early evenings are a great time to explore park features that are inundated with crowds during the day.​

Yellowstone is home to nine lodging facilities. We have stayed in all nine, many several times, during more than a dozen park visits. Accommodations range from rustic cabins without a private bath to upscale guest rooms in a handsomely renovated historic hotel.

Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins

Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins at the north end of the park in what was once a U.S. Army fort.

The nine lodges are spread throughout the park with one (Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins) near the north entrance, one (Roosevelt Lodge Cabins) in the northeast section, one (Canyon Lodge and Cabins) in the Canyon area, two (Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Cabins; Lake Lodge Cabins) near the north shore of Yellowstone Lake, one (Grant Village) 20 miles inside the south entrance, and three (Old Faithful Inn, Old Faithful Snow Lodge, Old Faithful Lodge Cabins) in the Old Faithful area.

Our favorite hotel has always been Lake Yellowstone Hotel, a beautiful, renovated hotel located in a quiet section of the park.

Built in the late 1800s, the hotel has 153 guest rooms in two long wings. The bright, airy sunroom is a great place to read a book, chat with guests or listen to the string quartet that entertains guests most evenings near dinnertime.

The lodging complex includes cabins and a separate Sandpaper Lodge nearby the main hotel.

If this is likely to be your only Yellowstone visit or you prefer a location with more activity, consider accommodations in the Old Faithful area.

Canyon area

Five modern lodges were recently built in the Canyon area of Yellowstone.

Old Faithful Inn, the iconic lodge of the park, offers rooms with and without a private bath. We like the ambiance of the “Old House,” the original portion of the building, but most rooms in this section are without a private bath. Rooms in the two wings each have a private bath.

Old Faithful Snow Lodge, the newest facility in the Old Faithful area, offers a more relaxed atmosphere than Old Faithful Inn where the lobby bustles with people exploring the hotel. Old Faithful Lodge Cabins is a series of rustic cabins near the inn.

Yellowstone’s newest lodging is in the Canyon area where five very nice lodge buildings, each with approximately 80 guest rooms, replaced more than 300 cabins that were removed. Nearly 100 nicer cabins remain.

Canyon is the largest and most centrally located lodging complex in the park. The new lodge buildings make this a preferred choice if you don’t want to move between lodges during your stay in the park.

Grant Village

A recently remodeled room in Grant Village. A coffee shop and restaurant are nearby.

Grant Village was always our least favorite Yellowstone lodging facility, not only due to its remote location at the south end of the park, but also because the lodge buildings and guest rooms reminded us of commercial motels along an interstate highway.

A recent remodeling of the buildings and rooms resulted in remarkable improvement making a stay here much more desirable. The location is still a negative unless you prefer a single location from which to explore both Yellowstone and Grand Teton.

The Mammoth area once served as a U.S. Army fort but is now home to a hotel and a series of cabins with and without private bathrooms.

Located at the north end of the park, a stay here means considerable driving if you intend to explore the park from this single location.

A night or two at Mammoth is best combined with another couple of nights at Canyon, Lake Yellowstone or the Old Faithful area.

Cabins in the Roosevelt

Cabins in the Roosevelt are popular with visitors although most do not have a private bathroom.

Yellowstone’s smallest lodging area is Roosevelt Lodge Cabins in a relatively isolated northeast section of the park. Roosevelt has 80 cabins, most without a private bath and built in the 1920s. The location near the Lamar Valley where Yellowstone wolves are frequently seen is very popular with regular visitors.

There is a lot more we could mention about Yellowstone, including visiting in winter, but we’re out of space.

A word of advice; better start making reservations now if you plan to visit Yellowstone this summer.

Lower Yellowstone Falls

Lower Yellowstone Falls in Yellowstone's Canyon area.

David and Kay Scott are authors of “Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges” (Globe Pequot). Visit them at They live in Valdosta, Ga.

View the Scott’s national park lodge videos at

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