Restaurants and Food
Yellowstone’s dining options are surprisingly varied. The cafeterias and fast-food joints cater to families and others looking for something predictable, but you can also try something more distinctive such as the Old West cookouts at Roosevelt Lodge. Both Old Faithful Inn and Lake Yellowstone Hotel have memorable dining rooms where the setting is half the experience.
All restaurants, cafeterias, and lounges in Yellowstone are entirely nonsmoking.
You’ll find restaurants at Mammoth Hot Springs, Lake Yellowstone Hotel, Old Faithful Inn, Old Faithful Snow Lodge, Grant Village, Roosevelt Lodge, and Canyon Lodge. All of these are open for three meals a day throughout the summer, typically mid-May-September. Make dining reservations for any of the park restaurants at 307/344-7311 or 866/439-7375. Complete information, including menus, is available online (www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com).
The enormous Old Faithful Inn Dining Room (daily in summer 6:30-10 a.m., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., and 5-10 p.m.) is a wonderful option, with all-you-can-eat buffets for breakfast ($12 adults, $6 kids), lunch ($14 adults, $7 kids), and dinner ($24 adults, $11 kids); the dinner menu features bison burgers, beef tenderloin, chicken Oscar, and vegetarian chimichangas ($13-22 entrées). The Cozy Bear Pit Lounge serves single-malt scotches, tequilas, and cognacs.
Yellowstone’s fine-dining choice is the Lake Yellowstone Hotel Dining Room (307/242-3899, daily mid-May-early Oct. 6:30-10 a.m., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., and 5-10 p.m.), with breakfast buffets ($14 adults, $6 kids) and upscale lunches and dinners that emphasize seasonal and organic foods such as blackened wild Alaska salmon, bison osso buco, sautéed duck breast, and lamb. Most dinner entrées cost $20-30; reservations are required. Box lunches ($9) are available if you’re heading out for a day of exploring.
Meals in other restaurants throughout the park are also fairly priced ($15-29), but the quality can vary from so-so to quite good. Typical menus include steaks, burgers, seafood, pasta, chicken, salads, and limited vegetarian dishes. Park restaurants are open for three meals daily throughout the summer. Hours vary a bit from place to place, but are typically 6:30-10 a.m. for breakfast, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. for lunch, and 5-10 p.m. for dinner. In winter (mid-Dec.-early Mar.), only the Mammoth and the Snow Lodge restaurants are open; their hours are 6:30-10 a.m. for breakfast, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. for lunch, and 5:30-8 p.m. for dinner.
The filling breakfasts (buffet also available) and decadent sundaes at Mammoth Hot Springs Dining Room (daily 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m. in summer, till 9 p.m. in winter, $11-22 dinner) are noteworthy, while Roosevelt Lodge Dining Room (daily 7 a.m.-9 p.m., $15-23) emphasizes down-home cowboy fare such as barbecue ribs, beef brisket, rib-eye steaks, and crispy fried chicken. Reservations are not accepted.
The dinner menu at Grant Village Dining Room (daily 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m., $10-24) includes bison meatloaf, prime rib, and a surprisingly good mac’ and cheese with four artisan cheeses. It also has a substantial breakfast buffet ($12 adults, $6 kids) and lunchtime pizzas, burgers, and sandwiches ($8-11). The building’s high windows face Lake Yellowstone, although trees obscure the view. Reservations are advised for dinner, unless you want to wait quite awhile. Grant Village Lakehouse Restaurant (daily 6:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m., $15-23) has breakfast buffets and a casual dinner menu, but is closed for lunch.
Old Faithful Snow Lodge’s Obsidian Dining Room has a fun Western flair. In addition to an extensive breakfast menu, the restaurant serves specialty burgers, steaks, and seafood. Unfortunately, the quality isn’t stellar. Obsidian is open for breakfast daily 6:30-10:30 a.m., with dinner 5-10:30 p.m.; there is no lunch in the summer. In winter, it is open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner 6:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. ($16-28).
Dinner reservations are required for Old Faithful Inn Dining Room (307/545-4999), Lake Yellowstone Hotel Dining Room (307/242-3899), and Grant Village Dining Room (307/242-3499), and they should be made before your arrival. For a dinner table at Old Faithful Inn, reserve a week ahead if you want a choice of seating times.
Cafeterias and Fast Food
Yellowstone has always catered to families, and several park cafeterias provide reasonably priced meals. Hours vary a bit, but are typically 6:30-10 a.m. for breakfast, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. for lunch, and 5-10 p.m. for dinner. Your kids’ noise will almost certainly be drowned out by racket from the rest of the hoi polloi (I’m speaking from experience here). You shouldn’t, however, come here expecting a memorable meal; sometimes the food is downright awful. Lake Lodge Cafeteria is an especially notable structure, with big windows facing Lake Yellowstone.
Similarly impressive is Old Faithful Lodge Cafeteria, housed in a grand stone-and-timber building. Head to the side porch for delightful Old Faithful Geyser views from the big rocking chairs. Less distinguished is Canyon Lodge Cafeteria, with a 1960s design that hasn’t aged well. Call in the bulldozers! In Mammoth, Terrace Grill is an old family favorite for burgers, veggie burgers, sandwiches, espresso, and ice cream. You’ll find snack shops or delis selling similar fare at Old Faithful, Lake, and Canyon. All these eateries can also put together picnic lunches.
A number of Yellowstone cafeterias open surprisingly late in the season, so not all places may be open if you arrive before June. Check your copy of Yellowstone Today for details on seasonal openings and closings. The last dining places to open are Canyon Lodge Cafeteria (early June) and Lake Lodge Cafeteria (second week of June).
Many of the park’s Yellowstone General Stores have food services of the burger, fries, and milkshake variety, and can create box lunches for a to-go meal.
The Old West Wagon Cookouts at Roosevelt Lodge are a longtime family favorite and so popular that you’ll need to make reservations at least six months ahead. Cookouts take place nightly mid-June-early September, and you either hop on board the horse-drawn wagons or astride a horse for a saunter into history. They take place in Pleasant Valley, three miles from the lodge, and include cowboy music, a campfire, and a big buffet with charbroiled steak and all the trimmings: baked beans, coleslaw, potato salad, corn, corn muffins, watermelon, fruit crisp, and beverages. Top it off with a cup of cowboy coffee. The staff can make vegetarian substitutions with advance notice, and covered seating is available in case of rain.
Wagon rides with dinner last 3-4 hours round-trip and cost $55 adults, $45 ages 3-11, or free for tots. Horseback riders can choose either a one-hour trail ride and meal for $66 adults, $56 ages 8-11, or a two-hour trail ride for $80 adults or $70 kids. Make reservations at 307/344-7311 or 866/439-7375, www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com. If you’re in the area and don’t have a reservation, ask to get on the waiting list. You might get lucky and find a last-minute cancellation.
Just because you’re in a national park doesn’t mean you can’t tip back a gin and tonic. Bear Pit Lounge inside Old Faithful Inn is a fine place for a drink in the evening. Beverage service is also available on the upstairs mezzanine and the outside deck facing Old Faithful. Another good place for a drink is Firehole Lounge at nearby Old Faithful Snow Lodge.
Lake Yellowstone Hotel’s aptly named Sun Room fills a large wing of the lobby and is surrounded on three sides by picture windows. It exudes a casual elegance, making this a wonderful spot to while away the hours reading a book, writing postcards, or just listening to chamber or piano music with a drink in your hand.
Smaller bars are off the dining rooms at Mammoth Hot Springs, Roosevelt Lodge, Lake Lodge, Grant Village, and Canyon Lodge. The little corner bar at Mammoth has the only public TV inside Yellowstone; none of the in-park hotel rooms have televisions. Smoking is prohibited in all Yellowstone lounges (and in all buildings).
Groceries and Supplies
The park’s 12 Yellowstone General Stores are at Mammoth, Canyon Village, Old Faithful, Fishing Bridge, Grant Village, Lake, Tower Fall, Bridge Bay, and Roosevelt. Each outlet has its own personality, and several of these—most notably the Lower Basin store at Old Faithful and the ones at Lake and Fishing Bridge—are grand old log structures. The Mammoth general store is another historic structure, here for nearly a century.
In addition to groceries, beer, and liquor, these stores sell a variety of merchandise, clothing, souvenirs, film and photo supplies, T-shirts, and accessories. The larger ones also have popular soda fountains with burgers, shakes, and other fast food. General stores at Canyon and Old Faithful deliver the best selection, and the Mammoth store is open year-round. The others are generally open mid-May-September and keep normal business hours. Yellowstone General Stores are managed by Delaware North Park Service (www.yellowstonegeneralstores.com).
© Don Pitcher from Moon Yellowstone & Grand Teton, 5th Edition