Do all you can to stay inside park borders at least 1 night. It’s not that the gateway towns around the parks don’t have excellent lodging options: They do. But there’s something absolutely magical about bunking right where the action is. You’ll be treated to a quieter, wilder park after the daytrippers depart, and without the light pollution from civilization, a dazzling night sky awaits. You’ll also be inside the park during the prime wildlife-watching times of dawn and dusk; it’s quite something to be able to roll out of bed and spy elk, bison, and even bears and wolves steps from your room. What’s more, you’ll skip the sometimes-lengthy drive into the heart of the parks from the gateway towns, maximizing your time.
Carefully consider your lodging choices before you book. Yellowstone is a vast park, and you might spend several hours driving between its top attractions even when you start inside—so where you sleep can have a big impact on what and how much you’ll be able to see in a day. Grand Teton is a bit more manageable, but staying at the southern versus northern ends can determine whether you can venture into Yellowstone the same day, too. If you’re most interested in geysers, shoot for a room at Old Faithful; grab a cabin at Roosevelt Lodge or a campsite in the Lamar Valley if you want to join the dawn wolf-watching patrol; go for Lake Yellowstone Hotel, Colter Bay Village, or Jackson Lake Lodge if you’re into water activities. That said, though, take advantage of any park lodging you can. Hotels and campsites are in high demand, and every one offers its own incredible experience.
Where to Stay in Yellowstone
Yellowstone hosts more than 4 million visitors each year—so in-park rooms are at an absolute premium. That’s doubly true for summer, but demand is also high in spring and fall. Solution: Book your rooms early. A year or even more in advance is not too soon. Make reservations directly with Yellowstone National Park Lodges, run by concessionaire Xanterra Parks & Resorts (tel. 307/344-7311; www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com). But don’t despair if you’re late to the party: Cancelations mean that scattered rooms open up almost every day, even in high summer. To snag one, call several times a day to check for new openings, and be ready to snap up anything that opens up.
Most of Yellowstone’s lodges are open from early May to early October, with a few opening their doors in early June. Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins and Old Faithful Snow Lodge are the only options that remain open in winter for the cross-country skiing and snowmobile/snowcoach crowd. Both reopen in mid-December and shut down again in mid-March, though Mammoth is scheduled to be closed for renovations in the winter of 2017-18. All park lodges are typically fully booked for most of the summer/fall season, but it’s easier to land a room in the first few weeks of May. While visitation used to slow down after Labor Day, in the past few years things have remained humming until the last lodges close, so don’t count on an easy autumn getaway.
The park lodges have been lovingly maintained in the historic style in which most of them were built—meaning you won’t find in-room TVs or Wi-Fi, pools, or continental breakfasts. Rooms have heat (sometimes from a woodstove, as at Roosevelt Lodge) but no air conditioning, which is usually not a problem in Yellowstone’s cool climate. It’s all part of the away-from-it-all charm of a Yellowstone vacation, but if you must have cable TV and Wi-Fi, stay in one of the more modern hotels in a gateway town.
What You’ll Really Pay
The prices quoted here are rack rates, the maximum that the hotels charge; it is likely that you’ll end up paying these rates in Yellowstone and Grand Teton unless you arrive in spring or fall. The concessionaires do not offer a great deal of discounts, thanks to the short summer season in both parks and the fact that occupancy is near 100% all summer long. During slow times, however, it’s possible to obtain a room at an expensive property for the same rate as at a more moderate one.
In both parks, April and October are the bargain months, but the sheer number of visitors the rest of the year overwhelms the capacity. If you’re looking for a bargain, your best bets are the gateway cities of Cooke City and Gardiner, Montana. In Cody, Wyoming, you'll be lucky to get a room for less than $100 per night in peak season; in Jackson, Wyoming, $200 is a more realistic baseline for in-town lodgings. You'll want to shop online for deals, but I tend to look hard in Teton Village in summer: You still have easy access to Jackson (and better access to Grand Teton National Park), but the rooms here are intended for the winter ski crowd, and summer vacancies are the norm. In winter, save money by staying in Jackson and taking the free shuttle to the slopes at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
Note: Quoted discount rates almost never include breakfast, hotel tax, or any other fees.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.