.All Trips / Central USA / North America / Wyoming

Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone National Park

02b Old Faithful Inn 07-2015 (87)

I’d first seen the Old Faithful Inn as a youngster about 40 years ago.  It’s hard to miss it if you come to the park to watch the Old Faithful Geyser erupt — it’s been described as the world’s largest log cabin.  I remember wandering into the cavernous 5 story (76 ft high) lobby and being fascinating by its unusual log construction.   This lobby alone is worth seeing when you’re done watching Old Faithful Geyser erupt (which happens about every 90 minutes).

When my wife and I were planning where to go for our 30th wedding anniversary, we both agreed to visiting Yellowstone NP and staying at the Old Faithful Inn.  That’s not as easy at it might sound.  Unless you’re lucky to snag a cancelation, you’ll need to make your reservation about a year in advance as it’s always completely full (I made our reservation 13 months in advance).

The Old Faithful Inn is one of the most popular National Park lodges because of its unusual design, its views of the Old Faithful Geyser, and its proximity to the greatest density of geysers and hot springs in the world.  The inn has more than 300 rooms built as long attached wings which are nice enough but well below the standards you’d expect at a hotel of comparable price outside the park.  Our room was spacious but poorly laid out and poorly furnished, with a small hard bed and no where comfortable to sit.  There’s no television, internet or cell phone service because of its location, but hard-wired phones are available (for a fee).  But the hotel is an extremely convenient place to stay to enjoy the geothermal features of the Calderra of Yellowstone, so I was willing to overlook these flaws.

Lobby, Old Faithful Inn, with Grand Fireplace

Lobby, Old Faithful Inn, with Grand Fireplace

The grandest part of the Old Faithful Inn is its magnificent lobby, known as the “Old House”.  This was completed in 1904 and remains one of the (if not the) largest log constructions in the world.  At the time it opened, it offered electric lights and steam heat, great luxuries for the early 20th century.

The lobby has interesting decorative features including a large stone fireplace (500 ton, 85 ft tall), unusually shaped timber columns and supports, balcony porches overlooking the Old Faithful Geyser Basin, log furniture, and a massive antique clock.  The hotel was built mostly of local lodgepole pine and rhyolite stone.  As with all log cabins, logs are custom cut and fit into place with almost no nailing; now, if a log is rotten, a careful search for as similarly sized and shaped replacement log needs to be undertaken.

Stairs climb from the second balcony to a platform in the framing known as the “Crow’s Nest” which once was used by musicians to entertain guests, then on to the crown of the gable 92 feet (28 m) above the lobby floor.   The entire structure is capped by a roof walk that once held searchlights to illuminate Old Faithful Geyser at night.   The Crow’s Nest and roof are now closed to the public because they are not built for modern visitation flows.

The dining room extends south of the lobby, and has had several additions over the years.  It has its own impressive stone fireplace.  The food is pretty good and prices are reasonable, especially as the Inn serves a captive crowd.  Most of the hotel staff are students from around the globe who combine their summer of labor with the adventure of exploring one of the world’s greatest natural destinations.  So service very much depends on the motivation of your individual waiter.  Mostly our wait staff was very good.  One clumsy waiter spilled a glass of ice tea over me — not much fun — but seemed about the best he could manage.  Dinner reservations are mandatory and can be made 60 days in advance; breakfast and lunch are first come first serve (and with short waiting times).  If you don’t have a dinner reservation you might have to wait for hours for a table, or go to one of the delis or snack bars nearby.  

Bison, Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone National Park

Bison, Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone National Park

Old Faithful Inn was closed during World War II (as were the other hotels in the park) and reopened to large crowds in 1946.  On August 17, 1959 the Inn was shaken by the powerful Hebgen Lake earthquake which collapsed the dining room fireplace chimney and damaged the huge lobby fireplace.  The building was partially shaken loose from its foundations, and access to some of the upper levels (eg. Crows’ Nest) had to be restricted due to safety concerns.  Fortunately there were no fatalities or serious injuries at the Inn as a result of the earthquake.

In 1988, the Old Faithful Inn was seriously threatened by the North Fork Fire which burned a large percentage of the park, but the building was saved by the actions of firefighters, volunteers, and a sprinkler system which  had been installed the previous year.

Old Faithful Inn is a member of Historic Hotels of America and was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1987.   It is also one of the few log hotels still standing in the United States.  It was the first of the great park lodges of the American west.

You’re very likely to see wildlife while staying here.  A bison herd wanders through the area on its grazing route.  During our stay one lone male enjoyed munching the clover of the open lands close to our parked car.  Don’t be fooled by bison; they may look slow and simple-minded but they’ve a quick temper, are extremely fast, and have killed many stupid tourists over the years.  Be mindful and give wild animals a respectful distance.

If your expectations of luxury and service aren’t too high and you like historic hotels, this is an excellent place to stay while exploring Yellowstone National Park.  While at the Old Faithful Inn you’re not only beside one of the most reliable and famous geysers in the world, you’ll likely have a chance to see many other geysers erupt in the surrounding basin.   We l-o-v-e Yellowstone National Park and enjoyed our stay at the Old Faithful Inn.

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