Similar to the Old Faithful Lodge and the Roosevelt Lodge, the Lake Lodge’s background is that of camping.
In the Park’s early history, the lodge was the site of one of William Wallace Wylie’s “permanent camps.”
Prior to his camping endeavor, Wylie was a schoolteacher in Bozeman, Montana. He may have remained one until he visited the Park in 1880, conducting several tours of Yellowstone. He found it so interesting (and reputedly had such a talent for it) he decided to go whole hog into the business. The first Wylie camps opened in 1883.
The “Wylie Way” was a very popular way to visit the Park, especially for visitors who couldn’t afford the large hotel route. Or didn’t want to stay in the hotels, when they could be in the elements. Which is not to say that they “roughed it.” Indeed, Wylie camps were distinguished as much by their hotel level accommodations as their unique premise. Over time, the idea developed into a cohesive thesis of concessions operations. Just consider this old Wylie pamphlet, circa 1908:
The Wylie Idea—originating a quarter of a century ago in the genius of the Company’s founder—is unique. His was a dream of a great Nature-lovers’ system for touring “Wonderland;” something that would give travelers the outing experience of a lifetime, providing withal, comfortable touring, comfortable lodging, and wholesome meals; something, in short, that would ultimately earn a national reputation for being a meritorious public-service institution.
The Wylie Permanent Camping Company (along with its competitors) operated several campsites throughout Yellowstone National Park, with the Lake camp offering some of the most picturesque views. Interestingly, while they were called “permanent camps,” it would be more appropriate to say that Wylie operated “permanent campgrounds,” as the Wylie pamphlet relates:
The eight summer camps are erected each spring by a crew of workmen and remain in position as permanent stations throughout the tourist season. Each tent at camp is framed, double-topped, floored and heated. The sleeping tents afford privacy; and are furnished with large double beds equipped with high grade springs and mattresses; the dining tents are spacious, airy halls, where wholesome meals are served in abundance and cleanliness.
While the Wylie Way was rather popular in the Park’s early history, it wasn’t sustainable. Especially when stage and rail travel gave way to the automobile. In 1916, all the camp companies were consolidated into the Yellowstone Park Camping Company, which gradually transitioned toward hotel/cabins in lieu of “permanent camps.”
In 1920, Bozeman architect Fred Willson designed the present-day Lake Lodge. The eastern half was built that year while the rest of the building was completed in 1926. And in 1929, the Park decided to rebuild the tent cabins into regular cabins. And today, with the exception of the main lodge building, much of the cabins have been removed and replaced—but the “Lake Lodge Way” of life has hardly changed.
A large part of Lake Lodge’s appeal resides in creature comforts: hot meals in the dining room, long rests in the lobby or outside on the porch. Visitors can also walk to Yellowstone Lake from the Lodge. Sure, it may lack the consolidated charm of nearby Lake Hotel, but Lake Lodge exemplifies the other side of the Yellowstone experience.