Where Should I Stay in Yellowstone?

When I first started researching a Yellowstone National Park trip, I was not aware of how many hotels, lodges and cabins there were at the park. I only really knew about the Old Faithful Inn. The park is very large, and driving to each section can take a long time. You want to stop and see the sights and there may be traffic jams due to animals on the roads. It is not safe to drive when it is dark because you may hit an animal. You do not want to hit an elk or buffalo!

About a year ahead, I started to research the different areas and concentrate on what we wanted to see the most. We decided to split our time between the Old Faithful area, Mammoth Hot Springs, Roosevelt and Lake.  Reservations open May 1st for the next summer. If you want an Old Faithful Inn room with a bathroom, a Roosevelt Lodge cabin with a bathroom or a Mammoth hot tub cabin, you must book ASAP. Xanterra runs the hotels and lodges at Yellowstone. You want to book through their web site or call them directly.  Here are some pictures of the different locations and what is near them.

The Old Faithful Inn area is very crowded during the day. Around the hotel and Old Faithful were the most crowds we saw the whole trip. A short walk away, the Upper Geyser Basin was much less crowded. At nighttime a ton of people also cleared out. We held a room in the old house section of the Inn. It had a sink, but shared bathrooms down the hall. The bathrooms were very clean and the shower stalls had shower gels and shampoo in them. The Inn is beautiful and they do give tours during the day so you can learn the history.

The Mammoth area is near the North Entrance and Mammoth Hot Springs. Mammoth Village has a hotel, cabins, a post office, visitor center, chapel and restaurants. Historic Fort Yellowstone is here and there is a walking tour you can do.  Elk are often seen in this area.  We stayed in a hot tub cabin and it was nice after walking all day.

One of our favorite locations was the Roosevelt Lodge and Cabins. Roughrider Cabins are basic and have a stove for heat. This location is near Lamar Valley and the Northeast Entrance. You would get to the Beartooth Highway from this entrance. You can sign up for the Cowboy Cookout during the summer and ride a horse from the Roosevelt Stables or take a stagecoach! The Lamar Valley is beautiful and a great place to watch for bears and wolves. If you want a cabin with a bathroom, you have to book on May 1st for the next summer. There are only about 14 of these cabins! Otherwise there are shared bathrooms.

The next area we stayed in was near Lake Yellowstone. There are several nice hikes near Lake. You can take boats out or go on a guided Lake cruise. The Lake Hotel rooms are refurbished and expensive, but there are also bright yellow cabins here. Lake Lodge is next door and more rustic. There are cabins in this area as well. You can walk over to the Lake Hotel’s dining room. This is a good spot to get to Hayden Valley and The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone as well. There is a nice large laundry area at the Lake Lodge.    

I hope this gives you some info on where to start planning. There are other areas to stay at near Canyon and Grant Village as well as campsites spread throughout Yellowstone. The Old Faithful area also has the Snow Lodge and Cabins. TripAdvisor has some great info that you may want to start with. Yellowstone Treasures is also a wonderful book for research! 

The Crow’s Nest at Old Faithful Inn

High in the rafters at the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park, is an enchanting place called the Crow’s Nest. It is said that Robert Reamer, the architect that built the Inn designed it from a childhood fantasy. Bands used to play here for guests high in the air. It is 76 feet up and looks like an amazing tree house.

When I was researching our Yellowstone trip, I came across info on the Crow’s Nest. It turns out you can call the Old Faithful Inn bell desk, and if there is space during your stay, they will take you up to the Crow’s Nest and the roof of the Old Faithful Inn for flag lowering. I was lucky to read this in May when they first opened for the season. I was able to get a spot for our August trip!

We met at the bell desk at 6pm as requested. The bell person that we went up with told us another family might be joining us and was that OK. We said sure. We waited a bit more for the family to show up, but only the mother decided to go. (Wow, who would turn this down? Maybe someone was afraid of heights!) Then we set off for the stairs. They keep the stairs to this area locked for safety.

People were watching and wondering why we got to go past the gates. It pays to do some research ahead of time.

The Crow’s Nest was amazing, but the real honor was getting to lower the United States flag and state flags on the roof of the Inn.

This would be a great thing to surprise someone with on your trip. It is pretty high up, and the railings are low so be prepared. It can be windy as well. The view of the Upper Geyser Basin and Old Faithful is stunning.

 

Castillo De San Marco and Fort Matanzas National Monuments

Beautiful. Old. Saint Augustine was founded on September 8, 1565. The Castillo De San Marco was started in 1672. The fort was declared a National Monument in 1924 and the site is about 20.5 acres. The fort was built with limestone called coquina. Because it is so porous, canon balls stuck in the walls instead of shattering them!

Saint Augustine is a great place to visit if you find yourself in Florida.  It is a nice day trip from Central Florida. There are lots of shops, restaurants and museums. 

We really wanted to visit to see the forts and get our National Passport book stamped!

The Castillo De San Marco was beautiful and the views of the ocean were really relaxing. We spent a lot of time walking around and looking at everything.

Fort Matanzas is located about 15 miles before Saint Augustine and the Castillo De San Marco. It was built by the Spanish in 1742 to guard Matanzas Inlet and Saint Augustine. It was also declared a National Monument in 1924. You reach the fort by boat and there are timed tickets you get at the visitor center/gift shop.  We missed a boat on our way in to Saint Augustine, so we got tickets for the last boat trip of the day. This wound up being great-Craig and I were the only ones on the boat. We got a private tour! They did not rush us at all and we were even able to lower the Spanish military flag at the monument.      

 

 

 

 

 

Road Trip Planning

When we started talking about our California National Park road trip and our Grand Circle road trip (UT, CO and AZ), I turned to two web pages and apps I use a lot for travel planning. One is Roadtrippers. I love their site and app. The website can be a little buggy with older browsers and computers, but it has helped me map out a few trips now.  We used the app in Florida to get from Central Florida to Saint Augustine and back without a hitch. You can view where you are driving on the app and see restaurants and interesting sites nearby that you may want to stop at. It also shows hotels and gas stations if you want. I find the estimated times that it will take you to get to the next stop pretty long, but you can get a rough idea by the distance. If you are looking for ideas, there are also fun stories and trip suggestions on their website and Facebook page. 

My favorite trip planning tool (other than TripAdvisor and guide books) is TripIt. I can make an itinerary and plan out our whole trip. TripIt lets you forward air, hotel, cruise, Open Table, and car rental confirmations to them by email and they automatically load them into your trip itinerary. I have 4 trips on there right now and 90% of the time it knows what itinerary to send the confirmation to. When it is not sure, it keeps them in a file for you to load. It shows you weather and maps for your locations. You can plan your trip on your home computer and all of your info will be there in the app. You can also link it to your cell phone calendar. I love having all of my confirmation numbers and times in one place. Best of all they are both free! 

Muir Woods National Monument

The last time Craig and I were in San Francisco we did a tour of Sonoma. On the way we stopped at Muir Woods National Monument. Muir Woods NM is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It is about 11 miles north of San Francisco and a great half day trip if you are visiting the city. Muir Woods celebrated its 100th Anniversary on January 9, 2008! William and Elizabeth Kent donated the land to the government. They wanted it named after naturalist and writer John Muir. The park gets very crowded especially on the weekends. There is a park and ride from San Francisco if you do not want to worry about trying to find parking. 

The Redwood trees are so amazing to see in person. Coastal Redwoods can grow over 300 feet and they are the tallest trees on Earth. Redwoods have been around for about 240 million years! They are only found on the Pacific Coast.

“The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.”- John Steinbeck

It was very peaceful walking around and enjoying the trees. Get there early to beat the crowds! There is a lovely gift shop on site with US made gifts and art. We will have to go back soon because we did not have our National  Parks Passport at the time. We need to get a stamp!

Yosemite is 125!

yosemite

On October 1st, 2015 Yosemite National Park turns 125. In 1890 Yosemite became the country’s third National Park. Over 1,500 square miles were put aside for people to love and enjoy. Some areas like Hetch Hetchy were changed by development, but it is amazing what people fought to preserve.

Craig and I had been talking about visiting Yosemite for a long time, but other trips kept happening. We have been to California many times and I felt bad being so close to Yosemite, but not having enough time to visit. After seeing Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in 2014, we realized what we had been missing and putting off for so long. I am sorry we waited so long to see our parks. I do not regret any of the wonderful vacations we have had, but now that Craig has more vacation time we are able to spend more time at the parks. I work from home so I can adjust my schedule. This year we are so excited to visit several of California’s National Parks. There are events, shows and displays going on for Yosemite’s 125th. There is also a new passport stamp!

I started my planning at the library and on TripAdvisor. I love that I can look up books on our online library database and have them shipped to our local library. I really like the Moon Handbooks and Lonely Planet guide books. If we like the books, we buy them and pass them on to help others planning a trip.

TripAdvisor has forums for most popular vacation areas and the people on there are a great help! They answer questions about driving directions, lodging, activities, restaurants, hikes, etc. I have always lucked out with hotels that are top rated on TripAdvisor too. Even though I started looking at hotels about 9 months in advance, most of the rooms in the Yosemite Valley were booked. The reservations for park lodges often open up over a year in advance. For Yellowstone they open May 1st for the whole summer. You can check on the official websites and call for the exact dates to book. They will charge a nights deposit to hold a room. If you have your heart set on in park lodging, but everything is sold out, keep checking the web site and calling. Rooms do open up when people’s plans change. Wawona, Camp Curry and Housekeeping Camp have more options as well. I have all of our rooms held for our Grand Circle Tour in October except one night at the Bright Angel Lodge at the Grand Canyon. I keep checking for a room every few days. More on that trip in a future post!

Since the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls was booked and the Ahwahnee only had rooms here and there, we decided to book at the Evergreen Lodge near the Big Oak Flat entrance. Evergreen Lodge is a little far from the Valley, but it had very good reviews and we will be spending time all over Yosemite. We did decide to splurge and spend one night at the Ahwahnee so we could see a lot of the Valley and have their amazing Sunday Brunch!

Evergreen Lodge Cabin

Evergreen Lodge

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After reading several guide books and TripAdvisor forums, we decided on five nights in Yosemite, one night in Kings Canyon, one night in Sequoia and two nights in Joshua Tree. Sequoia and Kings Canyon are also celebrating anniversaries of 125 and 75 years! We are flying into San Francisco to spend three nights at the beginning of our trip, stopping at Disneyland for their 60th anniversary and ending the trip with three nights in San Diego to visit friends! One day in Yosemite will be spent at Hetch Hetchy and the Evergreen Lodge, one at Glacier Point, one on Tioga Pass Road/Tuolumne Meadows, two in the Valley and one morning in Wawona/Mariposa Grove.

If you have any questions about our planning just ask in the comments!

 

Find Your Park

The National Park Service turns 100 on August 25th, 2016! They made a great new website called Find Your Park to help everyone join in the celebration. On the website you can watch videos, view people’s favorite pictures, take a quiz to find out what park you should visit, support your parks, learn about new experiences at the parks and 100 year tours and celebrations. I love the videos they have on the site.

So start planning and get out there and Find Your Park! I will be doing some posts on how to plan a park vacation soon.