Some of my fondest memories revolve around family time spent amid the natural wonders of Yellowstone National Park. There’s so much to see and do. Yet fully appreciating that abundance requires some effort. Yellowstone’s size alone makes it a challenge. At 3,500 square miles, the park is larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. More than 350 miles of paved highways radiate from the center of the park to its five entrances — three in Montana and two in Wyoming. The west and east gates are 100 miles apart. So while you could conceivably tour it in a day or two, you’d miss much of what makes it unique.
Despite all the elbow room, Yellowstone’s popularity guarantees times when the better-known attractions will be simply overrun. On any given day in July, for example, upward of 30,000 people enter the park, most of them, it seems, intent on seeing Old Faithful erupt. The resulting congestion certainly degrades the experience.
Then there’s the vexed question of where to stay. The park’s first hotel was a one-story, sod-covered log building, about 25 by 35 feet, “very primitive,” according to Ferdinand Hayden, who had led a geological survey into Yellowstone in 1871. “In lieu of a bedstead,” he wrote, the accommodations consisted of “12 square feet of floor room.” The options certainly have improved in the intervening years, but there are still no five-star accommodations. The famed Old Faithful Inn, for example, is a masterpiece of rustic architecture, but that charm does not extend to its 327 merely functional bedrooms, and hospitality remains an elusive concept. What you get at Old Faithful Inn or other lodging within the park is proximity to Yellowstone’s natural attractions.