One of the pure joys of being an American (or a visitor to America) is visiting our wonderful national parks. As we get older, we seem to enjoy life’s simple pleasures just a bit more, ones that are so richly present at these parks.
Yellowstone National Park was the first national park, one that should be on everyone’s must-visit list.
This incredible park spans two million acres across three states. The park’s five different entrances make each path a distinct experience.
Planning your visit
When planning a trip to Yellowstone, there are a variety of options for organizing your tour through the park depending on your preferences. You can arrange walks with guides or custom guided tours via bus, mini-bus, vans and snow-coaches.
Private tours, available through Yellowstone Forever, focus on wildlife, geology, and hiking. Yellowstone Forever is the official non-profit partner and fundraiser for the park, working to “create opportunities for all people to experience, enhance, and preserve Yellowstone forever.” (Sounds like an organization we all should support!)
Starting out in Cody
One route we suggest starts in Cody, Wyoming, a town built and designed by the legendary cowboy and showman, Buffalo Bill Cody. Flying into the small but convenient Yellowstone Regional Airport in Cody is simple and low stress, an easy five-minute drive to downtown Cody. Before you begin your one-hour journey to Yellowstone, we highly recommend spending some time in the town.
You’ll be taken back in time as you stroll the historic streets. Some of the area’s many highlights include the Old Trail Town, Buffalo Bill’s Irma Hotel and the Cody Stampede Rodeo. Cody is known as the “Rodeo Capital of the World” so the rodeo is not to be missed.
When you begin your excursion to Yellowstone, a great way to start is by driving through the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway heading toward the Roosevelt Lodge. If you like rustic but comfortable accommodations, check out their cabins. It’s worth noting that this is the campground that Theodore Roosevelt once frequented.
You’ll be pleasantly surprised by all the food choices, too. From the lavish and hearty prime rib buffet at the Irma Hotel to the fresh farm-to-table delights at The Local, you’ll find many delicious options.
Pause along the way
We enjoyed the Roosevelt Lodge Dining Room where you can feast on “Frontier Fare” that includes delicious bison burgers, wild game Bolognese, elk-mini burgers, bison tamales, and Roosevelt beans. If you like meat and have a hearty appetite you’ll need to try different varieties of the local offerings. For those who are a little less adventurous, try the house-fried chicken or Montana Ranch beef burger. Remember, you’re in Yellowstone Country! You will definitely be pleased with the quality and ample portions.
As you continue on your journey over the Dunraven Pass to the Canyon Village area, your next stop should be the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Experience the very spot that inspired Thomas Moran’s famous paintings of the Upper and Lower falls.
Moran’s paintings and the findings from the 1871 U.S. Geological expedition convinced Congress to designate “a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people,” thus creating the world’s first national park, Yellowstone.
Next up is Hayden Valley. If you’re visiting during the spring and early summer you might be lucky enough to see newborn bison and elk calves. If you’re bird watchers like us, you’ll spy bald eagles, sandhill cranes and many more.
- Be aware that animals come very close to the road and even cross back and forth. There are plenty of signs posted but it bears repeating that you should keep at least 100 yards between you and bears or wolves, and stay 25 yards from all other wildlife. Although some of the animals look like they don’t move that fast, don’t be fooled. They can move very quickly when they think one of their offspring may be in imminent danger.
- We encourage you to watch and take photos from a reasonable distance. Be aware of traffic, too. It sometimes gets a bit congested when herds cross the roads or are posing for photos.
One of the real traveler gems is the Lake Yellowstone Hotel & Cabins. Noted architect Robert Reamer oversaw renovation of this lakeside spot that originally opened in 1891 when Yellowstone was America’s only national park. You’ll be struck by the elegance of the Colonial Revival style columns when you arrive. The hotel is listed on the park’s Register of Historic Places and is the oldest hotel in Yellowstone.
The accommodations at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel are impeccable. All the rooms are comfortably elegant. Don’t expect a lot of in-room technology, though. You will only find a Wi-Fi connection in the Lake Lodge, which is ten-minute walk from the main hotel. There are no televisions or radios in the rooms.
I loved the opportunity to “log off” for a bit to truly enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
You may want to swipe the adorable bear soap that will greet you in your bathroom. He’s cute as a button and makes a wonderful souvenir. If you want to bring some home for friends they are available for purchase in the lobby gift shop. Many other unique Yellowstone-inspired art works and jewelry items are also available for purchase.
We enjoyed dinner and breakfast in the hotel’s beautifully renovated dining room. The large windows overlook Yellowstone Lake and beyond. Just walking through the dining room you’ll notice the big smiles of those dining there who are enjoying the views. The food and experience of the dining room will definitely be one you’ll remember.
Although this is a fine dining experience, it’s in a casual setting so don’t worry about bringing your fancy duds.
From the Southwestern Elk Raviolis, to the Twin Falls, Idaho trout, bison tenderloin and grilled quail – every dish was prepared to perfection complemented by an excellent wine list. Don’t be shy about what you’d like either. I wanted something special to drink so the bartender created a cocktail for me using a local huckleberry vodka that was out of this world. Be sure to leave room for dessert, too. The Sticky Toffee Pudding and Yellowstone Caldera warm chocolate truffle torte with molten chocolate middle are worth the splurge.
If you’re looking for something a bit less fancy, the Lake Lodge Cabins might be up your alley. They have over 180 cabins with private baths in Western and Frontier styles and more basic Pioneer cabins, too. One of the joys of the Lake Lodge is sitting on the front porch in a rocker any enjoying the view of Yellowstone Lake.
Visiting Old Faithful
Next up on your tour, Old Faithful Village home of the iconic Old Faithful geyser. Many people come to Yellowstone just to see this although it is only one of many, many must-see sites in the park.
The design of the historic Old Faithful Inn, another Robert Reamer-designed lodge, is often referred to as “parkitecture.” The vast history of the lodge can be learned on a free walking tour that begins in the lobby. If you spend any amount of time in the open lobby space, you’ll hear the audible gasps of other visitors first witnessing the grandeur and beauty of the lodge.
Old Faithful is located just steps away from the main lodge. Thankfully, the geyser is pretty predictable, erupting every 60 to 110 minutes. There’s a sign in the lobby to help point out the next eruption.
Although Old Faithful is the big daddy geyser at Yellowstone, you’ll want to walk around the boardwalks, taking in the smaller lesser-known geysers and hot springs.
We were fortunate to have a geyser that rarely erupts do so during our visit.
- Be sure to stay on the boardwalks. Again, there are plenty of signs and warning but accidents have happened with people trying to get ridiculous “selfies.” Be smart, follow instructions and you’ll have a very pleasant and inspiring visit.
The Old Faithful Inn has many different types of accommodations and is the most requested lodging in the park. From premium suites to rooms in the Old House, with or without private baths, and everything in-between. The outdoor deck in the front of the Inn is ideal for grabbing a chair and watching the Old Faithful show in comfort.
The Old Faithful Dining Room is a must, offering a wide variety of food choices. If you’re looking for a value-priced meal, the Western Buffet is a great way to grab what you want and get back to the sightseeing. If you’re looking for a more relaxing meal, you can order from a menu with salads, steaks, sandwiches and fresh fish.
Whether you decide to on a road trip through Yellowstone on your own or with a ranger-guided tour, you are in for a journey of a lifetime.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- Customized guided tours of Yellowstone National Park can be arranged, covering park history, plants and flora, wildlife habitat and more; these tours can be organized to meet your own comfort level.
- Accommodations range from camping, rustic to luxurious within Yellowstone National Park.
- Spending time at this national treasure is a wonderful multi-generational trip, enabling grandparents to see their grandkids’ faces light up as they see their first bison or geyser.
- While there’s a breadth of outdoor activities, there are also plenty of places to stop and just enjoy the view and catch your breath.
- In summer, the parks are full of travelers from all over the world. Try to get an early start to the day because there are traffic jams and long lines in the middle of the day.
- Yellowstone is a huge park, spanning three states. Make sure you plan accordingly, leaving plenty of time to see everything. This is not a trip to hurry through.
- Dress for the seasons. Layers are best for the change of temperatures. As you head up the mountains, the air will get cooler.
- Not all parts of the park are open year-round, so be sure everything you want to see is open when planning your visit.
- Make reservations at any of the park’s hotels and restaurants well in advance of your trip; accommodations are limited.
- It’s important to keep in mind that television, radios, and air conditioning are not available in park lodging.
- One more tip: Cancellations happen every day because travelers make reservations so far in advance. It doesn’t hurt to check availability throughout the season in you have some flexibility in your travel schedule.
About Cody and all its delectable food options:
- Previously on FoodTravelist: Taste of the Old West in Cody, Wyoming
IF YOU GO
*All photo credits: Sue Reddel and Diana Laskaris
Share GOT on Pinterest!