Where to Stay

Over the past few years, Charles and I have started taking advantage of having a ‘central’ location, and then taking our time exploring what is around that location each day.  We generally find our places to stay using the Vacation Rental By Owner services that you can find online (vrbo.com).

For this trip to West Yellowstone, we found a wonderful place called the Arrowhead Lodge as our central location.  The lodge itself is a smallish building of 5 apartment units, and while I can’t speak for the other units, ours was very comfortable and well appointed.  It had everything we really needed, wasn’t too big, wasn’t too small – so for these bears, it was just right!   (One bed room, one living room/kitchen common area, and a bathroom).  It was comfortable, well lit, and was just a nice place to come home to, cook dinner each night, and then hang out and relax before we headed to bed.

For larger family groups – there are other options and sizes – depending on what you need.  You’ll want to make sure that you look at where the place is, and what it offers.  The VRBO site is very helpful in detailing what is what and what is included.  For Arrowhead Lodge, the owners were very helpful and touched base with us a few times throughout our stay to make sure we were doing okay.

Remember, a VRBO stay isn’t a hotel. You won’t get a chocolate on your pillow and you’ll have to make your bed every morning, but it’s a home away from home, and is a good way to have a low stress trip.  (Well, for us it is)

There are some hotels in West Yellowstone, and more than a few interesting ‘motels’ as well (They looked clean and well taken care of – but they had some funny names!).

Within the Park itself, there were lodges that are managed by Xanterra. (The property management company that is contracted by the National Park Service).  The locations are Old Faithful Lodge (Near Old Faithful naturally), Yellowstone Lake Lodge, Mammoth, and Roosevelt.  Each offers something different in their style and amenities – and are very popular with people.  They tend to book up quickly when they open reservations for the season.  From what I’ve seen, this year’s reservations booked up when the window opened for them last year – so you really need to be on the ball to get them.  (And very lucky!).   On my first trip to Yellowstone, we stayed in one of the cabins near the Old Faithful Lodge.  It was comfortable, and warm. But wasn’t anything spectacular.  Granted, I was dealing with kidney stones on that trip – and don’t remember a whole lot about it – but for me, it was a comfy bed and a clean shower, and that was pretty much it.  Charles and his family had stayed in the Old Faithful lodge previously, in the older section – and it was a bit of an unusual situation – the bathrooms and showers were not in the room – they were a common room – down the hall.  Definitely adds some extra flavor to your vacation!

One thing I can’t really speak to, are the accommodations for camping.  We are not campers.  I haven’t camped in forever, and really don’t think I ever will.  (I Iike my creature comforts too much) However, there are a number of campgrounds within the park – both for campers (large and small) and tent campers.  So, if that’s your thing, there are options for you as well.  I know when we were there, we saw that some of the campgrounds were already full.  I’m not sure if they’re a first come/first served kind of situation – or you can make reservations for them – but they were a very busy place.

So, my recommendation is to make sure you have a list of what you want in your place to stay.  If you want to be in the Park, start looking early and book well in advance. If you’re more flexible and want a low stress kind of vacation – take a look at VRBO and check out those rentals.  It’s a flexible place – and you’re able to make your vacation what you want it to be with a little research and an open mind.

Getting There – Half the fun….

Getting to Montana is not difficult – but you need to determine where you’re headed.  And where you’re headed, is dependent on where you’re staying.  (More on that tomorrow).  Charles and I decided that for this trip, we were going to stay in West Yellowstone.  It’s close to the west gate to the park, and fairly central to get to everything you’d (well, we’d) like to see.

We flew from Raleigh to Bozeman, and then rented a car and drove down to West Yellowstone.  You can also fly into Jackson Hole and drive from there, up through Grand Teton National Park and through Yellowstone to one of the lodges or into West Yellowstone.  There are other airports in the area, so you’d need to determine which would be best for you.  Additionally, you’ll want to check the season in which you’re travelling.  Because both Jackson Hole and Bozeman are ski areas – the flights in and out of the areas change between summer and winter.  (That also governs the price of fares – so  make sure you keep it in mind!)

We flew from Raleigh to Atlanta and then from Atlanta to Bozeman.  The total flight time was about 6 hours, and there was a layover in Atlanta.  It was a fairly easy flight and while we left RDU really early – we got to Bozeman early enough to get groceries and make the drive to West Yellowstone with enough light to enjoy the drive.

One thing you’ll need, regardless of where you land, is a car.   Things in Montana and Wyoming are FAR apart.  And outside of the major cities, there is no public transportation to rely on.  You’ll need a car to get around.  Depending on what you plan on doing – an SUV or 4-Wheel Drive will be the best bet – it will give you plenty of road clearance – especially for some of the lesser roads that are just loose gravel.  The Bozeman airport had the full complement of car rental companies, with on airport pickup and drop off.  It was easy peasy – especially since we had our bags with us.   Your rental agreement will be specific to the company you rent from, but it’s not recommended to take your rentals off road – although some of the roads FEEL like you’re off road! (Holy potholes!)

West Yellowstone is a small town – so there’s not a lot around for groceries.  We planned accordingly, and stopped in Bozeman at an Albertson’s, and put our cold stuff in a cooler for the drive south.  Charles did a fair bit of research on what was ‘on the way’ and compiled a page of  notes that we had printed out and handy – as well as programmed into our GPS.    If you’d like to see them – let me know.  We didn’t need anything else during the week – but there were two smaller markets in town if you’d need to fill in gaps.  (Our apartment had a good selection of spices and oil in it – but not every house can guarantee that – so if you have specific needs – you’ll want to plan accordingly)

Drive from Bozeman to WYellowstone
Picture of the drive from Bozeman to W Yellowstone

It’s a gorgeous drive – so many pretty mountains in the Gallatin River Valley.  We also saw some boaters and a boat club doing swift water rescue practice.  (It was cold and VERY high water)

There are Pros and Cons of every area and direction you arrive from – so while I can’t tell you that our way was ‘best’ it was pretty dang awesome, and I’m sure we’ll do it this way again!

Next up – Where to stay!

20 Minutes to. . . . . Buffalo?

Charles and I are home from our latest adventures to  Yellowstone National Park and Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.   We had a wonderful time, and as I sit here and watch Charles filter through his nearly 1000 photos, I am ready to go back!  (Doesn’t help that it’s 85 and crazy humid here in Raleigh today!)

We had a great time – lots of laughing and being silly together.  Driving through the amazing landscape and seeing more animals than we have on any of our trips combined before.  It was a good week.

Over the next few days, I’ll be writing about the whole trip – including getting there and stuff in the area.  I don’t normally do trip reports like that – but I’ve had a few friends ask me where we stayed and what we did and saw – and I thought it would be helpful for them to have a place to refer when they want our notes.

I will start with saying that this time of year was the BEST time of year to go if you’re looking for lots of wildlife.  The buffalo herds were all over the place with their calves (red dogs!), elk and antelope were active with their babies, and we saw lots of bears who were also out and about.  (That was my absolute favorite!)   By the end of the week, it actually became a joke between us – how long would it be before we saw a buffalo in the morning (Time to buffalo) and if it wasn’t a buffalo – what was the first animal we saw on that day’s adventures.  It was usually 20 minutes to Buffalo – every day 🙂

Another benefit to going this past week – which was still technically off season – is that the crowds were fairly low (compared to peak season summertime) and the weather was nice.  We packed early spring clothes – light sweaters, jeans, and jackets.  Since we were mostly car touring, it was what we needed – but if you’d be more of a hiker or outdoor explorer, you’d need warm layers.  Mornings were in the mid to high 30s, and the days warmed up to 60’s.  Spring is the rainy season in the area – so there were scattered showers and thunderstorms, and only one day of ‘heavy rain’ – but for the most part, there was no rain while we were out and about.

I’ll be writing more and sharing more of our photos throughout the week – so stay tuned!