Starbucks got me to the Old Faithful Inn in 2005. I scooped up a last-minute cancellation and immediately called Brad, my husband, at work.
“We got into Yellowstone!”
“It’s Tuesday, Julie.”
“Better come home!” I told him.
Brad had a deal closing, so he worked in the passenger seat while I drove from Starbucks to Starbucks, from Texas to Wyoming, buzzed for 30 hours on grande, non-fat, no-whip, one-pump mochas. When we hit Jackson, Wyoming, I hit a wall. Brad hadn’t even dozed because my coffee-jitters driving made him nervous. So we stumbled into Spring Creek Ranch and slept.
Six hours later we drove up to the world’s largest log chalet : The Old Faithful Inn. Other accommodations in Yellowstone are fine, but this 100+-year-old structure will blow your mind. If you can’t get into The Old Faithful Inn, postpone your trip.
We returned to The Old Faithful Inn again this summer. Oh, there are so many things to love about this place. Here are the top five:
Old Faithful Inn cradles Old Faithful Geyser, separated only by a patch of grass and a sidewalk. You may luck out and get Room 1022, like we did this year, where not only will you have a view of Old Faithful (the geyser), you can use its gentle hiss as an alarm clock. On our first morning, Brad awoke to an eruption at 6:06 am while the boys and I slept until the next one at 7:35 am. This thermal feature is particularly photogenic in the early morning light. Staying at Old Faithful makes it easy to get photos when the light is at its best — before breakfast.
The Inn is in a great neighborhood, with a majority of the planet’s active geysers within hiking distance. While others look for a parking space, you can already be two miles down the trail, sitting at Riverside Geyser, waiting for it to blow.
The round trip to Biscuit Basin is a 6-mile hike past the stunning blues of Chromatic, Morning Glory and Sapphire Pools.
If you still have energy at Biscuit Basin, the trip to Mystic Falls is worth the extra 1.7 miles. There are so many significant hikes based at Old Faithful Inn, the location is priceless.
One of the best views in the park is from Observation Point, a breezy 2-mile loop from Old Faithful Inn. From Observation Point, you can see Old Faithful Geyser erupt with Old Faithful Inn as a backdrop. The point is on a hill just past the Old Faithful Lodge and Cabins. Be sure to stop at the top of the hill to wait for the geyser or you will miss your shot like I did. After Old Faithful is done spewing, continue on to Solitary Geyser. Despite its proximity to Old Faithful, this trail is blessedly uncrowded.
There are other advantages to Old Faithful Inn’s location. It is only 30 miles from the airport in West Yellowstone. The best (and cheapest) source of brochures and maps are at the Visitor Education Center next door. The Old Faithful Inn’s other neighbor, Hamilton’s Store (or Stope, as the sign reads) makes pancakes so sweet you may not use syrup.
After you’ve showered away the day’s dust, head to the lobby, grab a glass of wine and sink into a leather chair. The 16-foot square fireplace draws a crowd, but I like the 2nd- and 3rd-floor balconies that circle above the lobby. The low, soothing voice of Martha Colby’s cello fills the space with a calming melancholy.
This massive, yet cozy, lobby is one of the Old Faithful Inn’s main attractions. Folks spend the evening relaxing, reading, conversing — doing old-timey stuff. I even saw someone writing a letter. We and our normally-iphone-obsessed teens grabbed a table and played Go Fish and Gin Rummy over ice cream and chardonnay. I lost my last round of rummy to the sound of Ms. Colby on the piano, playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, which always puts me in a dreamy mood. This lobby is the perfect transition between the day’s activities and a good night’s sleep.
Old Faithful Inn is authentic National Parks architecture: a massive stone and log lodge like El Tovar (Grand Canyon), Crater Lake Lodge and Many Glacier Lodge (Glacier National Park). Built with lodge-pole pines as long as corridors, these structures center around immense, multi-story lobbies whose rock fireplaces draw weary visitors in the evening. Despite the park’s size, Yellowstone has only one grand lodge, but it is easily the nation’s most impressive.
Beams with arms like Popeye support the inn’s six-story lobby. Built in 1903-1904 without Starbucks or power equipment, Robert Reimer’s design included electric lights and steam heat. Light cascades into the interior from three stories of dormers and casement windows so high they need ladders. One can see the catwalks of an even higher balcony — The Crow’s Nest — but can’t go up. Orchestras once played from the Crow’s Nest until an 1959 earthquake made that level unstable.
Lounging in the lobby, I wonder what flipped-out worker volunteered to pave the ceiling 92 feet above me with logs. What an insane job. The Old Faithful Inn, what an insanely beautiful, mellow place to vacation.