We spent a couple of years trying to plan a trip to Yellowstone. One of our primary goals was to spend some time at The Old Faithful Lodge. It turned out that getting reservations there is a very difficult thing to do. It is almost impossible to book directly with the lodge, because as soon as the booking season becomes available, it is virtually sold out. The Park Service suggested we book through a broker where you pay a non-refundable fee. We then found out that some travel friends of ours had booked a trip through Yellowstone with Caravan Tours the year before and really enjoyed it. After speaking with them, we decided to give this a try, our first land tour.
The tour we booked started in Rapid City, South Dakota, and visited Mt. Rushmore National Monument, Crazy Horse Memorial, Devils Tower National Monument, Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument, Yellowstone National Park, the
Grand Tetons and Jackson Hole and ended in Salt Lake City, Utah. After leaving the tour in Salt Lake we rented a car and spent a week on our own visiting Moab, the National Parks of Arches, Canyonlands, Capital Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion. That gave us a good perspective to compare the two experiences.
First, an overview of the tour. Caravan provided accommodations each night, a modern and comfortable motor coach that accommodated 48, a driver and tour guide, admission to all parks and attractions, breakfast each morning and occasionally other meals. Suitcases were tagged and placed inside our hotel room each evening and picked up outside our room in the morning.
The tour started with a meet and greet with our guide Greg on Wednesday at the hotel in Rapid City. The next day we boarded the bus and headed for Crazy Horse Memorial and after that stopped at Mt. Rushmore. Neither of these sites were on our bucket list but,
afterwards, we are glad we visited. Back in Rapid City that evening the town was hosting the first street concert of the season (Thursday evenings) which was a nice surprise.
The next morning we headed west with stops at the Devils Tower and the Little Big Horn Battlefield. The Devils Tower is a natural wonder and truly an impressive formation (think Close Encounters of the Third Kind). The Little Big Horn site offered a historical perspective on the 1876 battle. The Custer National Cemetery was on the same property. Next stop was lunch at the historic Sheridan Inn and a talk on Buffalo Bill. We spent the night in Billings, Montana.
Between stops, one of the interesting aspects of the tour was our guide playing historical or informative DVDs relating to the places we were visiting. Greg also shared his knowledge and thoughts in a running commentary throughout the trip.
Day four of our journey was dedicated to the main
event, Yellowstone National Park. If you have not visited Yellowstone, no matter what you have heard cannot do it justice. Our first stop was Mammoth Hot Springs where we encountered some elk and walked trails around the hot springs where mineral deposits form terraces down a hillside. After a few brief stops, including iconic Yellowstone Gorge, called the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone with Yellowstone Falls we arrived at the Old Faithful Lodge for a two night stay. Shortly after checking in we got to watch our first Old Faithful eruption.
If you intend to visit Yellowstone, the first thing you need to recognize is that the park is larger than the state of Delaware with just nine hotels and a few campgrounds inside the park and reservations difficult to come by. Most Park visitors stay at motels in Jackson Hole or West Yellowstone so a lot of time is used up getting in and around the park. As summer advances so do the lines of cars so getting up early becomes a necessity. Also, if you get into the park late, the parking lots for a number of featured areas can be gridlocked.
The Old Faithful Lodge is a historic site sitting in the middle of the largest concentration of geothermal features in the world. We were told that half of the world’s active geothermal features are located within one mile of the Lodge. The Lodge is an impressive building with a grand lobby standing five stories high. The guest rooms, however, are primitive by modern standards: no air-conditioning, television or wifi, with spotty cell service and a real 1950s look. Ours had one double bed with a small bathroom featuring a pedestal sink (not much room for toiletries). The real draw is simply the location.
The afternoon we arrived, just outside our window, was a bull bison and, looking down the hill past the general store, there was a steaming field of vents with various geysers going off frequently. Every evening in the main lobby there was live music and, weather permitting, a fire in the massive fireplace. Food is available in the main dining room (menu & buffet), the lobby bar which served light fare like bison burgers and chili, and a deli. Near the main lodge there is a country store with counter service until 5 o’clock and a large cafeteria a short walk away. Between the lodge’s front door and the cafeteria is the Old Faithful geyser, currently putting on a show about every ninety minutes.
After checking out of The Old Faithful lodge we stopped at Lake Yellowstone on our way to the Tetons National Park followed by a night in Jackson Hole Wyoming. The next day we headed off to Salt Lake City with a stop at the Oregon Trail Center.
We both felt as if we had gotten our moneys worth with this tour. We saw sights we may have never visited by ourselves, met some great people, traveled in comfort and spent time at all of our wished for destinations. We would highly recommend Caravan Tours and their Yellowstone trip.