Let’s face it: accommodations are tight this summer. This year it seems even worse when it comes to room availability. Most of the Park’s lodges are booked solid between now and the end of the year. This isn’t necessarily new — the last two years saw rooms hard to come by in July and August — but it feels a little differently this year.
We have some theories as to why this is the case. The first is the economy: a trip to Yellowstone is a driving vacation for a large chunk of the United States, and with gas at reasonable prices ($3.65 or so a gallon in much of the West and Central states), it’s not outlandishly expensive to bring the family to Yellowstone. Second is the demand brought on by government promotion of America’s National Parks: things like free-admission days and the Ken Burns PBS series have certainly raised awareness of National Parks and why they’re a great visit.
We checked room availability for the first weekend of August. Not totally bleak: a double room and a single cabin in Canyon, a double in Grant Village and a standard room at Mammoth, but nothing at Lake Hotel, Lake Lodge, Old Faithful Inn, Old Faithful Lodge, Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Roosevelt. It’s doable, but rooms move quickly and it may not be possible to put together an itinerary based solely on staying in the Park.
But there are some ways to make a trip smoother: you won’t need to pass on a Yellowstone vacation. Here are some strategies:
- * Be flexible. If you have a chance to snare a room in the Park, we’d recommend staying there. But rooms open up all the time in Yellowstone, particularly as you get closer to your travel date. Check travelyellowstone.com daily and be prepared to move quickly if you find a room available online.
- * Stay in a gateway community. We checked room availability in Cody (plenty of rooms available), Bozeman (plenty of rooms under $150), Cooke City (amazingly, availability at the Super 8), Gardiner (inventory available, though expensive), Jackson (plenty of rooms, mostly expensive; it’s a town where the Super 8 charges $200 a night) and West Yellowstone (surprising amount of inventory, all of it expensive). There are enough attractions in most of the gateway communities to warrant a stay there: the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman and the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody are world-class attractions. Plus, when looking for a room, go directly to hotel websites and skip a consolidator like Expedia or Travelocity: we snared a nice room at the surprisingly hip Jackson Motel 6 by going to the motel6.com web site even though Travelocity said it was sold out.
- * Camp. Normally Yellowstone’s campgrounds are reserved weeks in advance, but because of the late spring and wet summer there’s plenty of availability. We found openings for the first weekend of August at Bridge Bay (RV and tent), Fishing Bridge RV Park (with and without electricity), Grant (RV and tent) and Madison (tent and RV). You can reserve spaces at all of these via Xanterra; the remaining campgrounds in the Park are overseen by the National Park Service and run on a first-come, first-served basis.
- * Stay at Grand Teton National Park. Rooms are usually available at Jackson Lake Lodge and Jenny Lake Lodge.
- * Wing it. Between the four kinds of accommodations listed here, you can certainly find a place to stay in the greater Yellowstone area on any given night. The Internet is your friend, and there is enough Internet access in the area to allow for some checking on accommodations every morning. True, you may end up a little off the beaten path, but that hotel bed will feel so much softer and better after an adventurous day.
Not having a set itinerary is either the scariest thing on the planet or the most exhilarating thing ever, so the decision is yours about the desirability of this path. But don’t let sellouts in the Park dissuade you from an impromptu visit to Yellowstone National Park — there’s room for all.