While Yellowstone National Park’s natural wonders are awe-inspiring, don’t forget to explore the Old West’s rich frontier history while you are in the area.
Beginning in the 1880s, a number of hotels sprouted alongside the railroad in anticipation of serving tourists riding the rails to Yellowstone. The hotels succeeded in attracting all sorts of infamous and famous people from president Teddy Roosevelt to author Owen Wister. Queen Victoria actually gave the Irma Hotel in Cody, Wyo., the cherry wood bar that still exists today.
Today, you can catch glimpses of the Old West and learn more about early legends like Buffalo Bill Cody and Butch Cassidy at the historic hotels. Here are some of our favorite historic hotels.
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Irma Hotel in Cody, Wyoming
The historic Irma Hotel in Cody, Wyo., is a phenomenal piece of Western history. Buffalo Bill built the Irma in 1902, planning an outstanding hotel, featuring dining room, a saloon, and other accommodations that would appeal to the type of worldly visitors he foresaw. He kept two suites and an office for himself there.
When the Burlington Railroad completed a spur line to Cody, his plan was to have travelers stay and dine at the hotel while en route to Yellowstone. His vision continues today.
The Irma Hotel, designed by Alfred Wilderman Woods, is on the National Register of Historic Places. The cherry wood bar dates to the period of construction and is one of the most photographed features in Cody. The lounge’s fireplace is made of rock, minerals and fossils from the Big Horn Basin.
While traveling to or from Yellowstone National Park, plan to dine and spend at least one night at this historic hotel.
Chamberlin Inn in Cody, Wyo.
Stay at this inn in Cody for an art nouveau experience.In more than a century of continuous operation, the Chamberlin Inn in Cody, Wyo., has hosted Ernest Hemingway, Marshall Fields and Erle Halliburton.
“In the 20s and 30s, the Chamberlin Inn was the place to stay in Cody,” says current owner Ev Diehl.
Agnes Chamberlin opened a simple boarding house in 1903 and with her husband’s help began adding to it over the years. Hemingway stayed here in 1932, just after he had completed the manuscript for Death in the Afternoon. In between fishing trips on the Clark’s Fork River, he mailed the manuscript to his publisher.
While the inn has been in continuous operation since 1903, by the 1980s and 1990s it had lost much of its luster. In 2005, longtime locals Ev and Susan Diehl bought it and launched a complete renovation.
Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park
Perhaps no human contribution is more beloved, or more appreciated, than the Old Faithful Inn. Since its opening in 1904, the inn has withstood 100 years of sweltering sunshine, snowstorms, earthquakes, and the largest forest fire in centuries.
Architect Robert C. Reamer was hired by Harry W. Child, president of the Yellowstone Park Transportation Company, to design the hotel. Financial support from the Northern Pacific Railroad allowed the dream to come true.
Today, the historic hotel stands as an enduring monument to what is known as “parkitecture.” The gnarled logs woven into the lodgepole pine, stone, and lumber hostelry have awed visitors and architects alike. Even Disney demonstrated its admiration for the inn, modeling its Wilderness Lodge at Disney World after this landmark hotel.
Because of COVID-19, Old Faithful Inn did not open during summer 2020 in Yellowstone National Park. Cabins and some limited services did open for the summer. Please check Yellowstone National Park Lodges' website for up-to-date information at yellowstonenationalparklodges.com
Occidental Hotel in Buffalo, Wyoming
In the rip-roaring days of early Wyoming, as far back as 1880, travelers along the Bozeman Trail found an oasis at the Occidental Hotel in Buffalo.
More than a few famous figures stayed here, including Buffalo Bill Cody, Calamity Jane, Butch Cassidy, The Sundance Kid, and Teddy Roosevelt.
Owen Wister took inspiration from his stays at the Occidental when he penned his famous Western novel, The Virginian. In fact, the Occidental is the place where “The Virginian Got His Man.”
The hotel was renovated in 2008 and remains true to its historic roots. The rooms are decorated with antiques, and the 1908 saloon looks exactly as it did on the hotel’s opening day.
The hotel also features two restaurants and a living history museum.
Elephant Head Lodge, 12 miles from Yellowstone's East Entrance
The Elephant Head Lodge gets its name from a rock formation overlooking it. The Lodge, Restaurant, and the "Trapper" cabin were all built in 1910 by Buffalo Bill Cody's niece, Josephine Thurston, and her husband Harry W. Thurston. Harry chose the site for its water. He was one of the first Rangers in the Shoshone Forest and knew about the spring that still serves the lodge today. It was a dependable source of good water for early travelers to Yellowstone – and for trappers and Indians before them.
The Elephant Head Lodge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It's owned and operated by Wyoming natives with a fourth-generation ranch family background.
Lake Yellowstone Hotel & Cabins inside Yellowstone
The Lake Yellowstone Hotel & Cabins, built in the late 1800s along Lake Yellowstone is the oldest hotel in operation in Yellowstone National Park.
The charming hotel, which is a member of Historic Hotels of America, takes guests back to a time before cell phones and televisions. Guests congregate in the common areas and often make new friends.
In the summer, a string quartet plays during the evenings in the lobby while people play board games or share the experience of putting a puzzle together.
It's one of my favorite things about the hotel - it brings people together," said Rick Hoeninghausen, director of sales and marketing for Yellowstone National Park Lodges. "People recount the day's adventures and amazing experiences with the string quartet backing you up."
Because of COVID-19, the Lake Yellowstone Hotel did not open in Yellowstone National Park during summer 2020. Cabins in various areas of the park and some limited services were open. Please check Yellowstone National Park Lodges' website below for up-to-date information at www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com
The Pollard in Red Lodge, Montana
Located in Red Lodge, Montana’s historic downtown, The Pollard is the place to stay on your travels to or from Yellowstone National Park. As an aside, your drive on the Beartooth Highway from Yellowstone’s northeast entrance at Cooke City to Red Lodge is one of the most spectacular routes you will ever take. Built in 1893, this charming hotel hosted Buffalo Bill Cody and Calamity Jane long before it was restored in 1994. Harry Longabaugh, nicknamed "The Sundance Kid," also visited the hotel back in the day, but he was there to rob the bank located on the corner of the building.
Don’t miss local acts like The High Country Cowboys who plays on the weekends in The Pollard Pub. Even with all the lively music, you will still get a good night’s rest. Shows start between 6 and 6:30 p.m. and end at 9:30 p.m.
Sheridan Inn in Sheridan, Wyoming
Constructed in 1892, the Historic Sheridan Inn gave adventurous travelers a taste of Eastern luxury in the West. Through the years, the Inn has remained a hub of activity, offering elegant New Year’s Eve balls and the town’s first electric lights. Buffalo Bill Cody sat on the front porch of the Inn auditioning acts to join the “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” show.