The Lake Hotel dates back to 1889, when the Yellowstone Park Association, which then ran concessions in the Park, began construction of an 80-room establishment on the shores of Lake Yellowstone. The site already had a history as a gathering spot for American Indians, trappers and explorers in the region: the location on Lake Yellowstone made it accessible. It took two years to complete the modest facility, and though it was located just off the figure-eight road traversing the Park, it was also accessible via waterway in those early years. Steamships E.C. Waters and Zillah, as well as the motorship Jean B., transported passengers from West Thumb. For travelers spending days on dusty trains and stagecoaches in order to reach Yellowstone National Park, the respite on the clear waters of Lake Yellowstone must have been heaven-sent, to say the least.
Demand caused Yellowstone Park Association officials to expand the Lake Hotel in 1903 when Robert C. Reamer, the architect behind the design of Old Faithful Inn and the inventor of “parkitecture,” oversaw expansion of the facility to 210 rooms. The additions were designed for a single purpose: upgrading the hotel to a luxury facility. Indeed, compared with the small and Spartan rooms found in Old Faithful Inn and the decidedly rustic environs of other hotels, Lake Hotel was relatively deluxe. Indeed, much of what Reamer was purely decorative: 15 false dormers and lots of Ionic columns were added, and the hotel was renamed the Lake Colonial Hotel in recognition of the design motif.
Reamer came back to oversee more additions in 1923, including 113 more rooms and the lobby fireplace, and 1928, when the porte cochere (coach door in French; it’s the carriage entrance/portico facing Lake Yellowstone), sunroom and lounge/restaurant were added.
There were booms and busts in the Park those days, and the Lake Hotel was closed during both World Wars. But the closing after World War II was almost fatal, and the building fell into disrepair. In 1979 TWA Services, then controlling
concessions in the Park, set out to renovate the grand old structure. The results of the remodeling, unveiled during the building’s centennial in 1991, was a slight downsizing of the available rooms to 158, but the charm of the turn-of-the-century facility was retained.
Today the porte cochere and lounge appear much the same as they did when constructed per Reamer’s designs. Earthquakes have rendered the lobby fireplace unusable, but it still remains an object of beauty. While Old Faithful Inn is dark and reflects the forest, the Lake Hotel is light and airy, with an understated sense of elegance. The Sun Room is one of the most delightful indoor spots in the Park: it is an ideal place to setting with a cup of coffee in the morning or a locally produced microbrew in the late afternoon. (If you’re lucky, a pianist will serenade you as you gaze on the historic photos) Wicker chairs and old-fashioned writing desks are available.
The Lake Hotel Dining Room is the spot in the Park for haute cuisine, which may or may not be a good thing depending on your view of vacationing in Yellowstone: the prices are the most expensive in the Park, and it may seem to be a tad incongruous dining on Alaskan salmon near the shore of Lake Yellowstone. (For those seeking a more modest alternative, there’s a deli on the main floor specializing in soups and sandwiches.) Nearby is the Lake Lodge cafeteria. The other real dining gem in the area, however, is the Lake General Store, an old-style cafeteria and ice-cream fountain where you can find burgers, chili, paninis, salads and (usually) huckleberry ice cream.
There is an assortment of rooms available in the Lake Hotel area. The Lake Lodge Cabins are inexpensive freestanding buildings in clusters of four or six: a Western Cabin (with two double beds, shower and bathroom) goes for $138/night, while a Pioneer Cabin (with a single double bed, shower and bathroom) goes for $66. These buildings date from the 1960s and feature decor from that era; as a bonus pets are allowed in them. The 2008 season runs June 10 through September 21.
Staying in the Lake Hotel itself will run you a little more. A Frontier Cabin (with a single double bed, shower and bathroom) goes for $134 per night and are popular during the high season. They date back to the 1920s and were built as the alternative to the budget-conscious — and they still fill that role, though a 2003/2004 remodeling cleaned them up. A High Range room, located in the Lake Hotel annex and lacking views of Lake Yellowstone, feature two double beds and go for $150/night.
There are three levels of luxury accommodations at the Lake Hotel: The Presidential Suite (which includes a large parlor/sitting room, two bedrooms with queen beds and two full bathrooms) costs $593/night, a Premium Frontside Room with views of Lake Yellowstone (available with a queen bed or two doubles) goes for $227, while a Premium Backside Room without views of Lake Yellowstone (available with a queen bed or two doubles) goes for $216. Now, admittedly, what passes for swank may be relatively modest by other standards: in the luxury rooms you’ll find stenciled walls and thick spreads.
All prices are for the 2009 season.
GPS coordinates: 44°32.987 N 110° 24.21 W
2009 season: May 15 – October 4