Q. We recently decided to go to Yellowstone for our summer vacation, and we were much too late to book a room at Old Faithful Lodge. In fact, no rooms at the park were available, and we are not campers. Should we consider a different national park?
A. A number of wonderful national parks are less crowded than Yellowstone — such as Voyageurs in Minnesota — but Yellowstone is singularly spectacular. Don't give up on your dream just yet.
Al Nash, spokesman for Yellowstone National Park, said that there are about 2,000 rooms in the park. Last year, a record 3.6 million people visited, the vast majority between mid-June to mid-August. Clearly, not everyone has the opportunity to sleep inside park boundaries. But there are options.
"Any number of gateway communities offer a variety of lodging options, spanning geography and price range," Nash said.
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West Yellowstone, Mont., puts up many park visitors; its chamber of commerce site has links to hotels, cabins and condos (www.destinationyellowstone.com). Other options include two Wyoming spots: Jackson, which is also relatively close to Grand Teton National Park, and Cody, about an hour east of the park. Bozeman, Mont., is farther away — about an hour and a half drive from the north entrance to Yellowstone — but has plenty of hotel rooms and a major airport.
If you have your heart set on staying in the park — and you're adventurous — consider arriving at any of the park's nine lodges and hotels in the morning to inquire about openings that nigh t. Tom Mesereau, spokesman for Xanterra Park & Resorts, the company that manages all Yellowstone lodging, said: "Inevitably, there are early departures or no-shows, and the front desk of any of the properties can look to see if there is an opening anywhere in the park." But don't bank your vacation on it, he warns. During the summer, competition for rooms is fierce.
Nash said that anyone traveling in May, early June, September and October has a better chance of finding a room in Yellowstone. For summer visitors, a word of advice from Nash: "You need to be thinking about making your trip plans while you are enjoying your Christmas holiday."