As the National Park System celebrates its centennial, Recreation News will be looking at both iconic and regional units of the National Park Service. And, even city-bound, high-rise urbanites know the NPS’ Yellowstone and the Tetons as the iconic American wilderness. Yellowstone, the world’s first national park, and the Grand Tetons, to the south, open a landscape from a time before Lewis and Clark.
Last year, some 4 million people entered Yellowstone, raising annual visitation by a third and making in-park accommodations nearly impossible to find. While portal towns offer some quality economy accommodations, staying inside the parks adds intimacy, proximity, and immediate access to a range of park-sponsored activities.
Within the parks, the lodgings serve as hubs for adventure. The Jackson Lake Lodge in the Tetons is typical, with visitors joining hikes, trail rides, raft trips, fishing, and ranger-led activities, or simply reveling in the main lobby’s panoramic view of the Teton Range. It also offers a variety of accommodations, several shops, and numerous dining options.
Just before dusk, diners and drinkers on the Blue Heron Lounge’s deck frequently see moose and other megafauna on the expansive plain stretching out to Mount Moran.
Lodging concessionaires in both parks meet challenging standards for sustainable and ecologically appropriate operations.
The Grand Teton Lodge Company and Yellowstone’s Xanterra make a point of their commitment to sustainability and gentle interactions with the environment. Some park lodgings have even begun a program of incentives to guests for reducing the amount and impact of housekeeping services.
Autumn in the park
Regardless the corporate policies or park regulations, in autumn at Mammoth, Yellowstone’s administrative hub, the backcountry and front country mingle in a bizarre ballet. Cars, grumbling big trucks, recreational vehicles, and legions of tourists maneuver around Big Bob, the boss bull elk of the Parade Ground herd. Across from park headquarters and the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, a towering 12-point royal elk guards his harem of three dozen cows and spars with rival bulls on the open parade grounds and onto the boulevard medians.
For too many visitors, their automobile’s windshield frames their park experience. A park lodging can serve as a home base for going beyond the scenic pull-offs, out into the 99 percent of the parks that people rarely visit.
Yellowstone’s iconic Old Faithful Inn serves as trailhead for numerous paths leading through nearby geyser fields or up onto the surrounding heights. The world’s largest log building, the inn features an 85-foot tall lobby, a huge rough stone fireplace, overhanging balconies, and railings made of spectacular twisted gnarled logs. A night’s stay can include seeing the Old Faithful geyser firing silver-white under a full, howling-wolf moon.
Because of the network of roads that connect the parks’ major attractions, accommodations outside of the parks can be convenient, as well as economical. However, spinning-out stories of the day’s exploits at the Old Faithful Inn’s Bear Pit Bar or gracefully dining at the Lake Hotel can be as quintessential a park experience as seeing buffalo herds or rafting the Snake River.
Insider tip: To ensure your opportunity to enjoy lodgings inside Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, make your reservations well in advance. A year is not too soon.
Know the park’s properties and what each offers, and then plan where you’d like to stay. Also, plan a second choice and be flexible with your dates and choices. And, be prepared to fill any gaps with out-of-park accommodations, such as the Yellowstone Park Travel Lodge in Gardiner, Mont., or The Virginian Lodge in Jackson Hole, Wyo. Go offseason; try mid-autumn when the crowds of visitors have thinned and many of the animals are very active and more visible.
For more information:
Grand Teton Lodge Company: gtlc.com
Yellowstone National Park Lodges: yellowstonenationalparklodges.com\