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The Oldest National Park Lodge | Lake Yellowstone Hotel Is a Romantic Getaway

Updated: Nov 12, 2021

Lately, I've really been captivated by the history of the National Parks. In some of my previous posts I've discussed how Yellowstone National Park was established and the order in which all the following ones were established. It is hard to imagine these places as once being untouched by tourists and without roads or buildings to distract from the landscape.

Of course, eventually these places were all reached by tourists and the lands became more developed to better suit the needs of those tourists. What strikes me as interesting is how the government, and now the National Park Service, have decided to negotiate the development of the National Parks. Why were some things approved and some were not? What developments were going to be beneficial to the people but not destroy the lands?

These are just the rambling questions of my mind that I'll have to address another time as I explore the National Park Service further.

First came roads. Just a simple road, as rough as it may have been way back then, was essential to getting families to visit these places. I love looking at the historic photos of families in old fashioned cars or carriages driving through the National Parks.

horse drawn carriage with tourists in 1800s in Yellowstone national park in the mountains
Here is a photo I love of tourists way back in the day when Yellowstone was brand new.

One of the ways that the parks could attract more visitors for longer stays was, of course, by providing lodging. So naturally, I began to look into the first lodges ever built in the National Parks and was amazed at what I found!

There are so many lodges that I'd love to discuss, but I'll only be talking about one today.

Welcome to Lake Yellowstone Hotel

Walking into this hotel means walking into a piece of history. Built in 1891, this was the first hotel to be built on National Parks lands.

Walking into this Colonial Revival style hotel will transport you to the simple yet classic luxuries of life in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Located on the shore of Yellowstone Lake, each window frames in a gorgeous view. That's what makes dining or relaxing in the sunroom so marvelous.

tall white columns on a yellow hotel building with a solarium sun room in Yellowstone national park hotel on the lake shore with driveway and trees
Here you can see part of the solarium (sunroom) and iconic columns.

Lake Yellowstone Hotel has an iconic color that is quite appropriate given it’s name. The bright yellow paint mimics the vibrant life within Yellowstone National Park. Taking a look outside brings opportunity to see bison, elk, moose, grizzly bears, black bears and many other species of animals. In fact, being in Yellowstone puts you in the middle of the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48 states.

united states's largest bison heard is in Yellowstone national park
Yellowstone is home to the largest and oldest public herd of bison in the US with an estimated 4,800 bison!


Between the elegant dining room and bar, the conference rooms, you’re guaranteed to feel upper class for your stay.

old school decorative wooden bar with lighting in lake Yellowstone hotel in Yellowstone national park in the solarium sun room dining hall
Every part of this hotel feels classy and elegant. Even the bar!

You can choose to stay in a President Suite, Suite, Deluxe Lakeside Room, Deluxe Hotel Room, Standard Lodge Room, or a Cabin based on your needs and budget. Each room offers a unique experience and many come with great views of the lake.

The Making of This Beautiful Place

The story begins is 1872, when Yellowstone (the very first National Park) was established. At the time, there were no rules or systems in place for such a park. The National Park Service wasn't even established until the year 1916, 44 years later. There was a lot of unknowns about how to run and protect the National park. But they did know why they did it.

Here are a few things written about the purpose of Yellowstone in the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act of 1872.

"...dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people..."

-Yellowstone Act 1872

"...preservation, from injury or spoliation, of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders within said park, and their retention in their natural condition."

- Yellowstone Act 1872

To learn more about how Yellowstone National Park was established, read this post.

Part of making this place enjoyable for the people, was creating an inviting and enticing environment. Hotels were one way to do that.

old historic photos of Yellowstone Lake hotel in 1891
This is what the hotel looked like when it was originally opened in 1891.

Construction for the Yellowstone Lake Hotel began in 1889 and was completed two years later in 1891. Upon opening, the hotel only had 80 rooms and a very simple design unlike the one we see today. Around the same time as the opening of the hotel, the Lower Loop Road was created by a road going over Craig Pass which allowed easy access to the hotel. Previously, getting to this location was much more out of the way and took a longer amount of time to reach.

first remodel of lake Yellowstone hotel in 1903 and 1904 to get the iconic look of yellow paint and white columns
There's that iconic look!

The first major face lift this hotel got was between 1903 to 1904. This is when the iconic look really came to life. For starters, the hotel got a whole lot bigger when a new wing was added which brought the number of guest rooms to 210. The front gables were extended so the 50 foot tall columns could be added, the "Widow's Walk" was added, and the whole building was painted yellow. After going through these changes, the hotel came to be known as the Colonial Hotel rather than the Lake Hotel.

portico was added to the Lake Yellowstone Hotel in Yellowstone national park in 1903
The portico, a patio with columns to support it that you can drive under, was added during this remodel.

Once again, the hotel received some updates. Between 1922 and 1923, project director Robert Reamer added the East Wing which created 113 more guest rooms, a portico to the hotel entrance, and expanded the dining room (along with a lot of other neat design work).

It's a good thing that the dining room was expanded with all the new guest rooms they've added over the years!

Not long after, dorms were built for the employees so more rooms were available to the guests.

That wasn't the end of it though. In 1926, more additions were made including the Lounge and Solarium (a fully glass sunroom) as well as remodeling the lobby. Around this time, 110 cabins were added to the area. In 1940, the North Wind was removed and more cabins were built.

another remodel and additions to lake Yellowstone hotel in Yellowstone national park in 1922

As things always do, the hotel began to show its age. In the fall of 2012, it underwent a $28 million interior renovation in which all guest rooms, public spaces, the dining room, and bar were redone. Careful care was taken to maintain the Colonial Revival style while also adding stability to the structure itself. In June of 2014, the lodge was fully restored to its former glory plus some. This renovation is often referred to as the "current renovation" since it is the most recent of them.

To ensure that the renovations weren't taking away the ability for guest to enjoy the stay, the project was done in two phases and was done mostly in the off season when the hotel was closed for winter.

While this hotel has been around for a long time, it wasn’t until 2015 that Lake Yellowstone Hotel was designated as a National Historic Landmark.

The Lodge Today

Each year, this hotel sees over 90,000 visitors! Being such a picturesque romantic getaway, Lake Yellowstone Hotel sees many return visitors and newlyweds on a regular basis.

With such a serene and romantic feel to the hotel, guests are able to slow down and relax with ease.

While it is nice to take a break to relax, there is never a shortage of activities to do here. From private boat rides and sunset cruises, to hikes and ranger activities, the opportunities for fun are endless.

This is also a beautiful place to hold weddings or other ceremonies and events! Make sure to contact the lodge to see if they can accommodate your ceremony and plan the details.

When to Visit

Due to the dramatic seasons at Yellowstone, the lodge is only open seasonally between mid May and early October. These dates are of course subject to change depending on the weather conditions from year to year, so make sure to check for updates from the park before planning your trip!

Fall is generally considered the best time to book your stay. During this time, the wildlife tends to be more active so you are more likely to get good viewings of the native animals. You'll also get cooler temperatures and visitors during this time are often after a more relaxed and laid back vacation. Not to mention the beautiful fall colors!

Does that mean you won’t enjoy visiting in summer? Absolutely not! With ranger activities, an endless supply of beautiful views, and boat trips, a summer vacation here is still well worth it.

Plan Your Trip

Staying in the National Park hotels and lodges is not always cheap. Here at Lake Yellowstone Hotel, one night can range in price from $277 for a cabin or $1,293 for the Presidential Suite.

Not exactly a budget trip, but is worth every penny!

While you are staying at the hotel, make sure to enjoy the nearby sights! There are many hiking opportunities nearby, sunset boat tours, and relaxing dining experiences to explore.

If you want to visit Yellowstone in the off season, you certainly can. In fact, Matthew and I love traveling in the off season to beat the crowds! There is still plenty to see and do, but unfortunately staying in Lake Yellowstone Hotel won't be one of them due to season closures. For lodging during the winter, you can stay at the Old Faithful Snow Inn and Cabins or the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel in Yellowstone.

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Meet the Author


Hey! I'm Kaitlynn, a lover of the outdoors and all things travel. I quit my job to travel full-time with my husband, Matthew, in our skoolie. 

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Matt & Kate

Project 63 

Bringing you travel information and inspiration as we travel to all 63 National Parks.

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