DAY FIVE: YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
Advance planning really enhances a trip to Yellowstone. To figure out which parts of the park you most want to see―and by extension, where you should stay―visit the Yellowstone National Park website. You can cruise through the park in a hurried day, but to enjoy all its highlights―Old Faithful geyser, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Mammoth Hot Springs―and take in the good ranger-led programs (check the park newspaper for these), you'll need at least two or three days.
What to do
Yellowstone Association Institute. This nonprofit runs hundreds of field seminars and other programs in the park throughout the year. The three-day Yellowstone for Families program ― based at Grant Village or Mammoth Hot Springs ― is designed for kids. From $594, $365 ages 8-12, lodging, activities, and some meals included. 307/344-5566 or yellowstoneassociation.org.
Where to stay
All in-park lodging is handled by park concessionaire Xanterra Parks & Resorts (307/344-7311 or travelyellowstone.com). The lodging options are as follows:
Canyon Lodge & Cabins. Big and busy but convenient to the heart of the park; lodge rooms have more amenities than the cabins. 83 rooms $146 and 469 cabins $61.
Grant Village. Pleasant motel units alongside Yellowstone Lake. 300 rooms from $116.
Lake Lodge Cabins. Modern "western" units and 1920s-vintage "pioneer" cabins. 100 western cabins $123 and 86 pioneer cabins $61.
Lake Yellowstone Hotel & Cabins. For sheer beauty, the classically elegant, butter yellow hotel rivals Old Faithful, and the lake views are stupendous. 194 rooms from $129 and 102 cabins from $103.
Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel & Cabins. On the northern edge of the park, small, cute cabins and a sprawling, old-fashioned hotel. 95 hotel rooms $102 with bath, $76 without, and 117 cabins from $68.
Old Faithful Inn. The brown-shingled 102-year-old hotel is a testimony to the power of architecture. And it's next to the most famous of the park geysers. Stay here if you can; if you can't, be sure to visit. 329 rooms from $109 with bath, from $85 without. Nearby are 96 Old Faithful Lodge Cabins from $62.
Old Faithful Snow Lodge & Cabins. Newest of the park's hotels, and nearly as handsome in summer as it is covered in snow. 100 lodge rooms $171 and 34 cabins $85.
Roosevelt Lodge Cabins. Wonderfully rough-hewn lodge and cabins (some with shared baths) date from 1919, and lie near great wildlife watching in Lamar Valley. Also the site of Old West cookouts and horseback and stagecoach rides. 80 cabins $96 with bath, $59 without.
Camping. Indian Creek, Lewis Lake, Mammoth, Norris, Pebble Creek, Slough Creek, and Tower Fall campgrounds ($12-$14) are operated by the National Park Service on a first-come, first-served basis. Bridge Bay, Canyon Village, Fishing Bridge RV Park, Grant Village, and Madison Junction ($17-$34) are operated by Xanterra Parks & Resorts; call 307/344-7311 for reservations.
If you can't or don't want to stay in Yellowstone proper, you can find motels near the park boundary in West Yellowstone, Gardiner, and Cooke City, Montana.