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Ever since I learned that the historic Old Faithful Inn was a place, I knew I needed to stay there one day. My dream was realized this summer when we made our first visit to Yellowstone National Park. We also happened to stay on my birthday. How amazing is that?
National park lodges sell out quickly, so we booked our two nights at Old Faithful Inn about 11 months in advance. If you’re planning a trip to the most popular parks, I certainly recommend planning your trip a year out so you won’t have to settle for anything less than what you want to do. Plus, you’ll have all year to look forward to your awesome trip!
Disclaimer: One thing I should point out right now–Old Faithful Inn is NOT a luxury resort with all the bells and whistles. In fact, if you stay in the Old House like we did, you may not even have a private bathroom in your room. (We didn’t.) There is no Wifi, you may get a deceiving trace of cell service, but it’s not great. The room itself is not glamorous in any way. The rooms, hallways, and bathrooms in the Old House are not air-conditioned. The decor is rather rustic. Don’t expect a TV or a radio; they’re not in your room.
But, if you put aside what you think a hotel room should be and embrace the reality that you’re staying in a piece of national park history, well…you’ll feel right at home. After all, the original Old House portion of the lodge, completed in 1904, was a welcome addition to travelers who toured the park via stagecoach.
Old Faithful Lodge: The Lobby and Public Spaces
When we first entered the lobby, we were blown away by the grand scale of it. We’ve been in some amazing Disney lobbies, but I think this one wins the prize for most awe-inspiring, especially when you consider its age. The Old House, which includes the lobby and first guest rooms on the property, was designed by Robert Reamer and constructed from materials found inside the park: lodgepole pines and stone. Later, Reamer oversaw expansions of more guest rooms. The inn has undergone several additions and renovations over the years making it the grand inn it is today. Even if you aren’t staying here, the Old Faithful Inn is worth exploring. Side note: check out the geyser on the fireplace screen.
We’d been out exploring Yellowstone National Park, and at about 3:00 p.m., we thought we’d check to see if our room was ready. We drove up under the awning where people park for check-in. As we stepped out of the car, we were pretty excited. We’d never been in the area before. Soon, we walked through the iconic red doors. Below is a picture I took of them later in the evening.
We gawked around for a bit, taking it all in.
Then we got into the check-in line at the front desk. I think we waited for one other party before it was our turn.
Our room was ready, and the woman at the desk handed me two actual keys to our room. If you have more than a couple of suitcases, I would recommend using bell services. At the time of our visit, an elevator was out of service, and we would’ve had to carry everything up the stairs or use an elevator in another part of the inn. When you’re hauling around a cooler and all the other stuff for a long road trip, it’s best to get some assistance!
After we got the room situated, it was almost time for an Old Faithful eruption. If you’re wondering about the anticipated eruption times, you’ll find that information in several places around the lobby. The front desk had a wipe-off board for several geysers in the area. And the lobby has two of these geyser clocks.
Second Floor and Mezzanine
If you visit during the late afternoon or evening, the mezzanine is a wonderful place to catch Old Faithful. At 4:00 p.m., the bar opened. If you’d like to sip a huckleberry margarita while you’re waiting, this is the time to arrive.
We didn’t make time for cocktails, but we did head outside to try to score some seats to see our first Old Faithful eruption.
As you can see, Old Faithful is really close! There are bench seats near the railing; the rest of the mezzanine has tables and chairs, though people line up those chairs in anticipation of Old Faithful, too.
We saw our first Old Faithful eruption from the mezzanine! It was pretty exciting!
After the eruption, we explored more areas until it was time to get in line for dinner. More on that later. We also explored after dinner. Some pictures that follow were taken during the afternoon, and some in the evening. Here is a writing desk on the second level.
Here is a closer look at the detail on the shade. Beautiful!
Here is some of the common area on the third level, where our room was located.
Here is a view from the balcony of the lobby looking out towards the walkway that connects the Old House to the newer guest rooms. There is seating on the walkway that faces Old Faithful. I loved that the windows were open all over the property. Remember, there’s no air conditioning! Even in July.
It’s the details that make Old Faithful Inn amazing. As the sun goes down, the mezzanine becomes a pretty popular place. You can see people enjoying the evening through the windows.
One of the coolest features of Old Faithful Inn is the Crow’s Nest. You can see it at the very top.
Originally, a small orchestra played at the top. How grand would that be? But in 1959, an earthquake made some features of the inn unstable, and the Crow’s Nest was closed to the public. Still, twice a day, employees of the inn make the trek to raise or lower the flags. Sometimes, a guest of the inn can accompany them. If you want to give it a try, I’d say it doesn’t hurt to ask. And ask early! See if you can get a reservation. I didn’t know that this was possible. You could be sure that this girl would’ve asked if I had known!
At least you can see the stairway that leads up to the Crow’s Nest. This stairway was on our room floor level.
Our exploration included the outside of the inn. As you walk to Old Faithful, you’ll see that there is some seating on the grounds outside the inn.
We also parked in a lot behind the inn at times. When people are there to see Old Faithful, the parking lot in front of the inn can get pretty full. It’s worth noting that the Old Faithful Inn shares the premises with a visitor center, The Old Faithful Lodge, and the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. The complex is bigger than I expected, and the other lodges also have dining options.
Here is the view of the lodge from the back.
Old Faithful Inn: Our Room in the Old House
As I stated before, we stayed in the Old House in a room without a private bathroom. How was that? Well, honestly, I was a little anxious about it when I first booked it. But then I drew on all of my experiences of camping in campgrounds with shower houses, and it didn’t feel much different. It turned out to not be bad at all!
First, I loved the details in the hallway to the room. Check out the lights along the carpet.
And the radiator in the hallway. We had one in our room, too, but since it was July, they were not in use.
The main staircases, of course, are near the lobby and lead you to the balconies that overlook the lobby. We also had a small hallway near our room.
We were at the very end of a hallway. In fact, our room was right next to the women’s bathroom and a few more steps away from the men’s. Yes, that’s our room: 240. It had a small enclave that other rooms didn’t have.
I know it’s weird, but I took pictures of the bathrooms. As you can see, they were lovely.
We felt like we were in another era.
The showers were around the corner.
Our room was pretty fun, too. Remember, this isn’t luxury lodging!
I thought the beds were pretty comfortable.
The rooms were a little warm in the afternoon in July, but they cooled off nicely in the evening. During the day (besides check-in), we weren’t in the room.
It was nice to have a sink in our room.
Gotta love the bear soap!
They provided robes to wear from the shower, but we just dressed in the bathroom.
I thought the room was cozy, and it was a great experience. You may notice the ice bucket. There are ice machines, but you have to walk over to one of the newer wings to find them. Again, it wasn’t a big deal to us.
One thing we did for fun was purchase a book of ghost stories from the gift shop in the lobby. When we settled in for the evening, we didn’t have TV or phones, so I read ghost stories about Yellowstone, including the Old Faithful Inn, aloud to Jeff and Kristin. Below is the book if you’re interested.
Old Faithful Inn: Dining
Since we’d checked in on my birthday, we planned on eating in the dining room for my birthday dinner. The dining room had just reopened a few days before our arrival. They didn’t offer their customary prime rib on the buffet during our stay, but I was still pretty excited to eat in this historic room in the inn.
If you don’t want to eat in the dining room, you could grab something in the Old Faithful Inn Bear Paw deli. They had wraps and sandwiches.
It was a pretty popular place for breakfast, but we didn’t try it. We were so busy that we never found the time to eat here.
You can also find dining in the Old Faithful area at the Old Faithful Lodge and the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. We didn’t even make it over to those lodges; we were too busy exploring Yellowstone!
The Dining Room at Old Faithful Inn is iconic.
If you’re just exploring the inn, you can get a glimpse inside from the second-floor balcony.
The green etched-glass panes are fun; many of them depict some non-politically correct scenes. We were lucky enough to be seated near them.
Apparently, after Prohibition ended, a lounge called The Bear Pit was added to the inn. Reamer, the original architect of the inn, commissioned these glass panels. When the lounge was moved to its present location in the 1960s, the panels were stored and forgotten.
When the lounge was renovated in the 1980s, the panels were discovered and added back into the wall that separates the dining room from the lounge.
The lounge wasn’t open during our stay, but we took a peek inside.
In earlier days at the lodge, food was served family-style at long tables while a string quartet played. Later in the evening, the quartet would move to the Crow’s Nest, and maybe some dancing would commence in the lobby. I even read that a bell would sound at dinner time to let all the guests know it was time to come to dinner.
Those days may be over, (although some evenings, music from a string quartet can still be heard in the lobby), it’s easy to let your imagination run wild and picture those times. Here’s how things worked while we were there.
In the recent past (read: before Covid), you could make a dinner reservation, and you probably should have. Dining at Old Faithful Inn was a popular experience for guests of the inn and guests to Yellowstone, in general. Now, reservations are not accepted.
During our stay, the dining room had only been open for a few days. The dinner buffet opened at 5:00 p.m., but people lined up around 4:00 p.m. Those in line first had the first seating, after that, you could leave your name and you’d be issued a buzzer and an approximate wait time.
The menu is posted outside the restaurant near the check-in station.
We were probably three parties away from the first seating. We got our buzzer, and the hostess told us it would be about 45 minutes. Also note, they were not filling the dining room to capacity to help with distancing.
I asked if the buzzer would work if we went back to our room on the third floor. She wasn’t sure, but she told us that it certainly should work from the second-floor balcony. She suggested we could go to our room for about 30 minutes, then we could come out and sit on the balcony to wait for the buzz.
So, we went back to the room and relaxed a bit. You can imagine our surprise when the buzzer went off while we were still in the room! It hadn’t even been 30 minutes! We frantically put on our shoes and headed back downstairs. Here’s the lesson: don’t wander too far if you’re waiting for the buzzer.
Moments later, we were seated at our table near the green glass panels. Our server got our drink order, and when the buffet line shortened, we hopped in line. The end of the line usually runs past the fireplace.
You can see Kristin to the left of the fireplace. Here is a closer view of the painting over the mantle.
I didn’t take a picture of the food on the buffet or our plates, especially since buffet food on plates can look a little crazy. My picky-eater companions were not too impressed, though Kristin did try the huckleberry chicken and ended up loving the white macaroni and cheese. There just isn’t much that is plain. Jeff had some chicken and mashed potatoes. I tried a little of everything except the sausage.
Overall, I thought it was pretty yummy! I really enjoyed the mashed potatoes, and it was fun to taste my first bowl of bison chili. Still, I’m thankful my travel companions humored me on my birthday and ate here, even though the food wouldn’t have been their choice for dinner.
During Covid, meals are a little challenging in general in the park. Add the record-breaking attendance in the park in July, and things could get crazy. We always had snacks and drinks with us, so that helped. There were some grab-and-go things at places near the lodges throughout the park, but my companions aren’t really into sandwiches or wraps, so we didn’t really do that. West Yellowstone has some options, but that town was nuts while we were there. In the evening, there was a line of cars just to exit the park in that direction.
We did have dinner in Gardiner one night, but there isn’t fast food or chains. In fact, restaurants being open at all were hit and miss. A lot of people picnicked throughout the park, and that seems like a good plan.
Old Faithful Inn After Dark
After dinner, we continued exploring the area. When the sun goes down, it gets chilly quickly!
The evening is a great time to check out the mezzanine and have a drink.
It’s also a great time to watch Old Faithful. There are far fewer people around, and one of my goals was to see Old Faithful at different times a day. It’s a short walk from the inn if you want to get a closer view. It’s also worth checking out the other geysers; Old Faithful isn’t the only one around!
In the evening, I strolled up to Old Faithful about 10 minutes before the next predicted eruption. I easily found a spot on a bench at that time of day. Pro-tip: bring a sweater!
It was actually darker than this picture shows. I walked back to the lobby feeling pretty grateful about my day, and honestly, my life. I am beyond blessed.
The lobby is much quieter in the evening. I continued snapping pictures as I walked back to the room.
Morning at Old Faithful
On our check-out morning, I realized we’d never seen Old Faithful up close in the daylight. And well, my companions hadn’t seen Old Faithful up close at all. So, we packed everything up and got it to the car, with the help of bell services again. We had a few minutes before the eruption window, so we drove over towards the visitor center parking lot. Our plan was to see the eruption and then begin our drive towards Glacier National Park.
We weren’t prepared for the huge crowd who also wanted to see the eruption! We may or may not have parked “creatively” near the visitor center. We were only going to be there for about ten minutes before we were on our way.
Below are some of the people waiting for the eruption. What may not be clear is that this boardwalk viewing area surrounds Old Faithful. All three area lodges are near these boardwalks. They were full!
Finally, we saw our last eruption. We hopped back into the car for our next adventures. Today’s itinerary? Montana’s state capital, a Walmart for supplies, and Browning, Montana–our night’s lodging on the east side of Glacier National Park.
Old Faithful Inn: The Wrap-Up
I am so grateful to be able to say that I’ve checked off another dream on my list–Old Faithful Inn. I hope we return to Yellowstone one day. While I am so glad to stay here, I think I would approach Yellowstone a little differently next time.
Of course, if you haven’t stayed and you want to, keep Old Faithful Inn on your list. It was an amazing experience I’ll never forget. Next time, though, I think I would split the stay up more among different areas of the park. You could still keep a night or two at Old Faithful Inn, but I would stay in some other areas, too.
If I planned another trip, I would love to stay at Mammoth Hot Springs or the Gardiner area. I may also do a night near Yellowstone Lake or maybe Canyon Village. We spent some time during our Yellowstone portion of the trip just driving to different areas. It’s doable, but there will also be some overlap, especially if a road is closed for construction during your visit like it was for us.
West Yellowstone has a lot of conveniences, but I would avoid that area in the summer peak unless you don’t mind the possibility of leaving the park bumper to bumper in the evenings. When we left the park that last morning to drive to Glacier, there was also a long line to enter the park from West Yellowstone. The line went through town! We didn’t have any type of wait like that during our entire stay at Grand Teton/Yellowstone.
If you’re dreaming of an experience like Old Faithful Inn, I hope you’re able to make it come true soon! Happy travels!
Sources concerning the history: