Where to Stay in Yellowstone National Park: Comparing Three Lodges Inside the Park
June 19, 2021
Yellowstone National Park offers nine lodges and five campgrounds for guests in the summer months. The lodges are spread across the park and each one has its own unique charm. In June 2021, I stayed at three different Yellowstone lodges in three different areas of the park. This post provides details on each one to help you decide if you should stay inside the park, and which to pick if you do!
- If you plan to stay inside of Yellowstone, the number one thing you need to know is to book way in advance. All lodge and camping reservations for 2022 opened up in early June 2021 and are going quickly. I booked my accommodations 8 months in advance of my stay, although I recommend you book even earlier.
- None of the lodges in the park have air conditioning. The rooms do come equipped with fans. The summer temperatures in Yellowstone have highs that average in the 60’s and 70’s °F in the summer, so this was not an issue for me.
- Many of the lodges and cabins have options to book a room with or without a bathroom. You can save some money by booking the rooms without bathrooms and using the communal bathrooms. Be sure to look carefully at the type of room you’re booking so that you know what to expect.
- I don’t know what the future holds, but lodge openings are changing quickly due to the pandemic in Summer 2021. Xanterra cancelled one of my lodge bookings about a month out due to Covid-19 restrictions, but later reversed the decision about a week out and I was able to rebook. The only notification was an unclear email and it was very hard to get a hold of them on the phone to confirm what was really open. If you have a booking in Yellowstone, make sure that you read every email carefully and that Xanterra emails do not go to your spam folder.
- Pets are allowed to stay in many of the cabins offered at Yellowstone, but not inside the actual hotels. If you bring your pet, be aware that they are not allowed on any trails, boardwalks or in the backcountry. They must stay leashed, not be left unattended and stay within 100 feet of established roads and parking areas.
- The current cancellation policy for 2022 bookings allows for free cancellation until 30 days out. A $25 fee is charged for cancellations and changes less than 30 days out. With free cancellations options, go ahead and make a reservation a year in advance, even if you’re unsure!
Overall, it was definitely worth it for me to stay inside of the park. It was a lot easier to get up for sunrise and stay out until sunset, which avoided many of the crowds in popular areas of the park. If you really want to maximize your time, I would recommend splitting your trip across multiple lodges so that you’ll be in a different area of the park each night. If you prefer to stay in one place, it’s still wonderful to be close to everything that Yellowstone has to offer no matter where you stay.
I went into the trip with low expectations for the actual quality of the hotel rooms but my expectations were exceeded in two out of the three hotels. If you book early, there are plenty of options inside of the park to meet your needs.
Looking for a list of what you shouldn’t miss while visiting Yellowstone? Check out my list of over 50 things to see and do while visiting the park!
Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel is located in the northwest corner of the park in close proximity to the North entrance and the fascinating Mammoth Hot Springs. One wing of the hotel was built in 1911 and the rest of the hotel in 1936. The hotel went through major renovations in 2017 and 2018. As a part of these updates, the hotel was brought up to code for earthquakes, fire and ADA compliance. They did an excellent job of keeping the historic charm of the hotel post-renovations. I really enjoyed my stay at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and thought that it had great value, since I paid less here than I did at the other two lodges.
Attached to the lobby, the ‘Map Room’ has a giant map of the United States with 15 different types of wood from nine different countries. There is a spiral staircase that leads up the second floor and photos of visitors to the hot springs in the late 1800’s adorn the hallways. I stayed in a deluxe room with two queen beds and it had beautiful details. The bathroom had a clawfoot tub with white tiles lining the walls of the bathroom and the room included a mini fridge and small seating area.
One of my favorite touches that came with every Yellowstone Lodge was a little bear carved out of soap!
Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel often has elk grazing on the grass right outside of the hotel and is one of the only lodges that is open through the winter. (The North Entrance is also the only entrance in Yellowstone that stays open for regular cars throughout the winter). Best of all, the hotel is within walking distance of the gorgeous Mammoth Hot Springs. I enjoyed the sunrise from Mammoth Hot Springs and it was stunning to see the light reflect against the pools of water.
- Wifi is available for hotel guests and I had consistent cell service with Verizon in this area.
- A gas station and general store are located very near to the Mammoth Hotel.
- The Albright Visitor Center is located across the street from the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.
Prices at the Mammoth Hotel start at $124 for cabins without bathrooms and get up to $664 for suites. My deluxe room with a private bathroom and two queen beds for four adults was in the middle in terms of cost.
The Mammoth Hotel offers several different room options depending on your needs. Here are the current offerings:
- Rooms with one king bed or two queen beds inside of the lodge with private baths
- Suites inside of the lodge
- Frontier Cabins with two queen beds and a private bath
- Frontier Cabins that also have a hot tub included
- Cabins without bathrooms
- Two-room cabins without bathrooms
Right across from the lobby of Mammoth Hotel, there are two restaurants; the Mammoth Dining Room and the Mammoth Terrace Grill. The Mammoth Dining Room is a higher end option with a variety of meals such as salads and burgers. The Dining Room was take-out only when I visited. The Mammoth Terrace Grill is a lot more casual, with fast food options like burgers, hot dogs and fries. I ate dinner and breakfast from Mammoth Terrace Grill and thought that it was decent food at good prices.
I was pleased with the vegetarian options at Mammoth Terrace Grill and throughout the entire park. Mammoth Terrace Grill offers a black bean burger.
There is also a general store near the hotel. The general store has some grocery options like loaves of bread, snacks, ramen and other staples. The prices are not outrageous for the food in the general stores, but you still may want to stock up on food before entering the park.
The best part about the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel is being so close to the Mammoth Hot Springs! This beautiful area is known for a unique hot spring area that is quite a bit different from the other geothermal attractions in the park. A hot, acidic solution emerges from the ground and dissolves limestone on its way, creating a hardened rock formation that forms a stair step pattern. Take advantage of staying so close and visit at sunrise or sunset, when you'll see incredible reflections of light on the springs. The rocks glowed brightly in the changing light when I visited at sunrise, and I had the area almost all to myself.
Also within walking distance of the hotel, you can visit Fort Yellowstone. Fort Yellowstone is a collection of buildings that housed the military originally responsible for the park. In 1910, there were as many as 324 soldiers living in this area of the park. The National Park service has a self-guided walking tour on their site that provides information as you walk about a half mile around the different buildings.
At Mammoth, you are about 35 minutes from the scenic Lamar Valley (the best place to see wildlife in Yellowstone). The hotel is also close to many popular hikes, such as Osprey Falls, Bunsen Peak and the Hoodoos. Be sure to visit the Roosevelt Arch at the North Entrance. The massive arch serves as a gateway to Yellowstone and was built in 1903.
Make time to visit Lamar Valley during dawn or dusk for an incredible opportunity to spot wildlife. However, be sure to keep a wide distance and do not approach the animals.
Finally, the Mammoth area is close to the Boiling river and Yellowstone Hot Springs, places where you can swim in the hot spring water. The Boiling River is inside of the park but closed until further notice as of this writing. Yellowstone Hot Springs is a swimming pool facility outside of the park with pools of natural mineral water.
If Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel is booked, look for a hotel in Gardiner. This small town is only 15 minutes away from the Mammoth Hot Springs area and has several hotels, a variety of restaurants and a grocery.
Canyon Lodge is a great modern and central option for your stay inside of Yellowstone. A portion of Canyon Lodge is one of the newest lodges at Yellowstone and is the largest sustainable lodge in the US National Parks. It is located deep inside the park in very close proximity to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Canyon Village has over 500 rooms and cabins. The newest lodge buildings were completed in 2016. I stayed in a room with 2 queen beds and a bathroom that included a mini fridge, small table and fan. In general, the room and hotel didn’t have as much charm as Mammoth Hot Springs, but it was nice and felt new.
One nice perk about Canyon Village is the self-driving shuttle named TEDDY, short for The Electric Driverless Demonstration in Yellowstone. Yellowstone is participating in a pilot program that is testing the future of autonomous vehicles. When I visited, it was shuttling passengers between the dining area and the lodges. For the second half of summer 2021, it will take a route between the nearby campgrounds and the dining area.
The Canyon Village area is equipped with everything you need and is located deep inside the park. The central location makes for a long drive from all entrances, so there are few crowds arriving at sunrise and staying until sunset. Staying in this area is a great way to beat the crowds, especially for visiting the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone next door.
- Wifi is available only in the registration building and in public spaces. I had little cell service in this area.
- A gas station and general store is located near Canyon Lodge.
- The Canyon Visitor Education Center is located near the restaurants and general store.
Prices at Canyon Village start at $264 for a standard room with one bed and go up to $801 for a suite.
The Canyon Lodge has a variety of different sized rooms and all of the lodging here includes a private bathroom. The options are:
- A standard lodge room with one queen sized bed
- A deluxe lodge room with two queens or a king
- A deluxe lodge room with two queens a porch
- A suite lodge room with multiple rooms
- A cabin with two queens (some cabins are pet friendly)
I liked that the sink was outside of the bathroom in my room at Canyon Lodge, it made it much easier for four people to get ready!
Most of the food is located about a five minute drive or a few minutes walk from the lodges. There is a large parking lot which has multiple restaurants, the visitor center, the post office and a couple of shops.
One dining option in Canyon Village is the Canyon Eatery. The Canyon Eatery serves fresh food in a cafeteria setting with several themed food stations to choose from. There are options for a wok bowl, with rice or noodles, your choice of veggies, protein and sauce. I was impressed with the quality of the food here and really enjoyed the tofu and fresh vegetables! The cafeteria also serves breakfast with options of biscuits, home fries, scrambled eggs and more. Be prepared for long lines in the cafeteria.
I also enjoyed a can of wine from the Canyon Eatery cafeteria!
Right next to the Canyon Eatery, the Canyon Fountain and Grill serves food like burgers in a diner setting. It had limited hours when I visited in June 2021. There is another restaurant at the lodges, the M66 Grill, which was closed for summer 2021.
The best part about Canyon Village is its proximity to the incredible Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone! The lodges are only a five minute drive to viewpoints on the North Rim of the Canyon. It’s well worth it to catch a sunrise or sunset over the canyon.
This area is located 50 minutes from Mammoth Hot Springs and an hour from Old Faithful. Canyon Village is also located just north of Hayden Valley, a beautiful scenic drive where you may spot bison, elk, wolves and bears. After a scenic drive through Hayden Valley, you’re also close to the interesting thermal area called Mud Volcano.
Canyon Village is in the center of Yellowstone, so the alternative lodging outside of the park is spread out in all directions. It is an hour and 20 minutes from West Yellowstone to the west, an hour and 10 minutes from Gardiner to the north, and a little over 2 hours from Cody to the east.
Inside of the park, Canyon Village is not far from other lodging options like Roosevelt Lodge to the north (when the section of road connecting these two hotels reopens), and Lake Yellowstone Hotel to the south.
Old Faithful Inn is a beautiful historic log cabin and the most iconic place to stay inside of Yellowstone. The inn was built 1903-1904 and many of the original fixtures and furnishings are still there today. When you enter the lobby, you can gaze up at stories of wooden logs, a giant fireplace that is made of the rock from Yellowstone’s caldera. A massive clock hangs on the impressive fireplace. The national historic landmark is what inspired today’s “parkitecture” and is one of the largest log-style structures in the world.
In the early days of the hotel, dancing was customary six nights a week and string quartets played from the “Crow’s Nest,” a treehouse-like structure that extends up to the roof. The building survived a massive earthquake in 1959 and a nearby fire in 1988, and still stands strong in its original form. The Old Faithful Inn is the most iconic place you could stay while visiting Yellowstone.
The original guest rooms in Old Faithful are located right off the lobby on the upper floors. They are called the “Old House” and have the same log cabin feel on the inside. They do not have bathrooms, so you will need to use the communal bathrooms down the hall. These gorgeous rooms are booked the quickest.
There are also wings that were added later to expand onto the inn. Within both wings, there are a variety of room types, from standard sizes to suites. Most of these rooms have a full bathroom included. I stayed in the west wing and it felt like we were placed in the basement. It was amazing to be able to stay in the inn, but my room in the west wing was by far the most dated and least comfortable out of the three lodges I stayed at inside of the park.
It was a long maze of hallways to reach my west wing room from the Old Faithful Inn lobby. While it was fun to stay here, the quality of the room itself was not worth the price I paid for it. If you don’t enjoy dated hotel rooms, consider staying in the Snow Lodge instead.
Right next to the Old Faithful Inn, there is additional lodging available at the Old Faithful Lodge and the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. The Old Faithful Lodge has pet-friendly cabins and the Snow Lodge represents a more modern version of “parkitecture,” constructed with log columns and a cedar shingle roof. The Snow Lodge was completed in 1999 and has been recognized for its design.
I recommend staying in the “Old House” rooms inside of the Old Faithful Inn to get the full experience. If these are booked up, I recommend staying inside of the newer Snow Lodge before staying inside one of the wings of the Old Faithful Inn.
- Wifi is available for guests only at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Old Faithful Lodge. It did not work inside of my room. I had a small amount of cell service in this area of the park.
- Two gas stations, numerous general stores and restaurants are located near the Old Faithful Inn.
- The Old Faithful Visitor and Education Center is right next to the inn and another iconic piece of architecture.
- There is also a facility in the area that provides basic medical services and car repair for those who need it.
The Old Faithful Snow Lodge is open in the winter, but special transportation via snowmobile or snowcoach must be arranged.
The cost of staying at the Old Faithful Inn starts at $222 for a room with one queen bed and no bathroom in the Old House, and goes up to over $1000 for a suite.
Old House rooms do not have their own bathrooms, while the rooms in the wings of the hotel do. Some rooms have views of the Geyser Basin but it's not guaranteed. The options for room type are:
- Rooms with one or two beds in the Old House
- Standard rooms with one or two queen beds
- Deluxe rooms with one or two queen beds
- Junior suites and suites with separate rooms.
I stayed in a standard room and it did not include a mini fridge.
There are multiple restaurant options around Old Faithful. In the Old Faithful Lodge, there is a cafeteria with options including rice and noodle bowls, sandwiches and BBQ. While they served similar food to the cafeteria at Canyon Village, the food was not as fresh here. Right next to the cafeteria inside of the Lodge, there is a great little ice cream shop.
Eat your food or ice cream on the porch of the Old Faithful Lodge for a great view of Old Faithful!
Inside of the Snow Lodge, the Obsidian Dining Room is a higher end dining option. They have an extensive menu that includes stuffed squash, ravioli and trout. When I visited, they were only serving takeout orders and the wait to receive your food was very long.
Inside of the Old Faithful Inn, there is a coffee shop and bar. I highly recommend enjoying a cocktail (try the huckleberry margarita) on the second floor deck of the inn, where there is a great view of Old Faithful. There is typically a Dining Room inside of the lodge but it was closed during summer 2021.
The most famous feature in Yellowstone, Old Faithful, is right outside of the hotel. In addition, there are many more geysers to see in the Upper Geyser Basin. This area contains the largest concentration of geysers in the world! You could spend hours exploring the Upper Basin area and waiting for geysers to erupt.
In addition to the Upper Geyser Basin, this is a wonderful central location for many more hydrothermal features in Yellowstone. You are minutes away from Grand Prismatic Springs, Biscuit Basin, Fountain Paint Pots, the West Thumb Geyser Basin and more. If you want to see as many geysers and hot springs as possible, this is the area for you.
The Old Faithful Inn is about an hour away from the town of West Yellowstone. West Yellowstone is right on the western edge of the park and has numerous lodging options, along with restaurants, guided tours and more.
Inside the park, Old Faithful Inn is adjacent to the Old Faithful Lodge Cabins and Old Faithful Snow Lodge.
Overall, I thought that Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel provided the best value and Canyon Lodge served the best food out of these three Yellowstone hotels. The Old Faithful Inn was a good experience but unless you snag one of the Old House rooms, I don’t think it’s worth the high price tag.
If you want to stay at just one, I would recommend Canyon Lodge as the best place to stay in Yellowstone. It is centrally located within the park so you’re in a great location to explore in all directions. Plus, the experience of visiting viewpoints along the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone with no crowds (at sunset), cannot be beat.
While you’re planning your trip to Yellowstone, be sure to check out my list of over 50 things that you shouldn't miss while visiting America’s First National Park.
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