Often described as the “American Serengeti,” Yellowstone is rich in both wildlife and history. The history of Yellowstone and its early inhabitants can be dated back to 11,500 years ago, when Shoshone and other native settlers began hunting in the region. Over time, more people arrived and began inhabiting the area and building pit houses, tepees, and lean-tos.
Euro-American trappers began exploring the region and sharing tales of its geothermal wonders, which were typically dispelled until scientists began research expeditions and discovered how true the tales were. Shortly after the 1871 expedition of geologist Ferdinand V. Hayden, Congress decided that Yellowstone’s unique attributes deserved a unique type of protections; hence, the establishment of Yellowstone as the world’s first National Park and signed into law by Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872.
Essentially, an entirely new concept was born, creating a new way for citizens to preserve lands for future generations, and Yellowstone serves as a model and inspiration for hundreds of similar preserves around the globe.
The Transformation of Yellowstone
No mention of the history of Yellowstone is complete without mentioning the significant contributions of the US Army, the railroads, and the Civilian Conservation Corps contributions to the park’s evolution. The job of protecting the park fell to the US Army from 1886 to 1918, and the historic Fort Yellowstone was established for just that purpose.
Stagecoach traveling in this terrain was tough on early visitors, and The Northern Pacific Railroad established a train station that connected to the north entrance in the early 1880s, simplifying park access. In fact, so many visitors came to Yellowstone by rail that a Union Pacific Railroad Connecting to West Yellowstone was built. Much of the historic structures, trails, and campground construction was handled by the CCC from 1933-1942 and are enjoyed by visitors today, who typically arrive by car.
Today, some 59 species including wolves, grizzly and black bears, elk, moose, and bighorn sheep freely roam the expanse of the park, which sits over the Yellowstone Caldera, the biggest supervolcano on the continent. The park hosts seven native ungulate species, including the world’s largest elk herd and the only remaining free-ranging bison herd in the nation. Yellowstone is the only place in the lower 48 states where every species of native large mammal survives today.
Yellowstone boasts more active thermal features than anywhere in the world, including the world renowned Old Faithful Geyser and many others. Steam vents, hot springs, boiling mud pots, mountains, canyons, and 290 waterfalls grace the park, allowing Yellowstone to offer some of the most compelling scenery and landscapes in the world. Yellowstone is also known for Geyser Basin and the spectacular 1200-foot deep Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which is highlighted by the forceful Lower Falls. Activities will vary depending on the time of year one visits, but hiking, biking, boating, fishing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling are popular guest activities.
Planning a Visit – Accommodations at Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park visitors will need to decide far in advance whether they want to consider hotels in Yellowstone within the park or outside of the park, and both options have their benefits and drawbacks.
Inside the park, lodging is somewhat limited to nine seasonal lodges and scattered backcountry camping sites. Only two in-park lodges are open during the winter – Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins, and it’s advised to make reservations for hotels in Yellowstone months or even a year in advance, particularly during the busy summer season. Fall and winter visitors will see fewer people, more wildlife, but will have limited access to some attractions and activities.
Advantages of lodging within the park’s boundaries are obvious. Visitors can begin and end each day within one of the nation’s most peaceful and serene settings surrounded by natural beauty and incredible wildlife. Most Yellowstone National Park lodging is proximal to notable features and points of interest such as Old Faithful, the Geyser Basin, and Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon. Cellular service is somewhat limited within the park, as are dining and shopping options.
Considering Yellowstone National Park Lodging Outside the Boundaries
Beyond the potential for extensive driving, there really aren’t many cons of staying outside the park. Lodging availability is far more attainable and affordable, and whether staying near the north, east, west, or south gate of Yellowstone suits one’s needs, there is likely to be ample shopping, dining, and entertainment options nearby – all minimal features within the park’s boundaries. Fortunately, ample lodging can be enjoyed just blocks from the park’s main entrances.
Visitor favorites include West Yellowstone’s Hibernation Station where guests enjoy comfortable quarters and charming surprises around every corner while those seeking lodging near the east gate flock to the private retreats at Pahaska Cabins. The closest accommodations to the east gate, these cabins are ideal for couples retreats and families of all sizes. Those planning to take advantage of Yellowstone’s proximity to the majestic Grand Teton National Park will want to lodge closer to the southern gates, and the Headwaters Lodge and Cabins at Flagg Ranch is a superior option.