5 Myths About Yellowstone


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No, it’s not closed in winter and bison are not as docile you think

Posted by: Yellowstone National Park on April 4, 2018

Not only is the park open through most of the winter, this “secret season” is a fabulous time to visit.

As the country’s first national park, Yellowstone has an almost mythical status in the American psyche. But myth and misconception often go hand in hand. We set the record straight on some common misconceptions about Yellowstone.


Myth #1: The park’s bison are gentle creatures and pose no threat to humans.

Google “Yellowstone bison attack” and you’ll find plenty of accounts of clueless visitors being gored, tossed or chased by these 1,400-pound creatures (bulls can even reach 2,000 pounds!). Bison are unpredictable and can sprint three times faster than humans. National Park Service rangers advise onlookers to stay at least 25 yards away from bison, and 100 yards from bears and wolves. Though they may appear docile, all Yellowstone’s animal inhabitants are truly wild.

Myth #2: Yellowstone is closed in winter.

Not only is the park open for two and a half months of the winter, this “secret season” is a fabulous time to visit. Yes, it’s snowy. Yes, it’s cold. And yes, many of the park’s roads are closed to private vehicles. But that’s part of the attraction. Two lodges, Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, are open for business from mid-December to early March. Winter activities, from cross-country skiing to ice skating, abound. Photography and wildlife watching are supreme. And a variety of tours in specially designed snowcoaches will keep you toasty and engaged.

Myth #3: If you haven’t booked a room up to a year in advance, you’re out of luck.

Staying inside the park not only heightens the Yellowstone experience, but given its vastness — 3,500 square miles! — it makes logistical sense. It’s true that the park’s most iconic lodgings, like Old Faithful Inn and Old Faithful Lodge, fill up fast. But with more than 2,000 rooms in nine lodges within the park, chances are you’ll find a place to lay your head, even without a lot of advance notice. May and June, and mid-August to mid-October aren’t as busy as peak summer, July to mid-August. Summer reservations (May through October) open May 1 for the following year. Reservations for the upcoming winter season open March 15. And remember, cancellations do happen. So it’s worth checking the booking website for updates.

Old Faithful Inn

Old Faithful Inn

Myth #4: Old Faithful Inn is haunted.

Every grand historic hotel worth its salt has a ghost story. And this gabled lodgepole pine beauty has several. The most enduring is that of a headless bride wandering in the area of the Crow’s Nest, where orchestras once played, her head tucked under her arm. A 1980s-era inn assistant manager admitted in a newspaper article that he had made up the story. “People always come in here and are always expecting a ghost story,” he told the Deseret News in 1991. “I made up that story about the woman without a head. I’ve heard people tell it back to me who I’ve never met, so it’s made the rounds.”

Myth #5: The idea for creating the first national park was dreamed up by early explorers sitting around a campfire.

Yellowstone’s so-called “creation myth” has it that the Washburn party, a group of early explorers, sat one night in 1870 at the confluence of two rivers under the cliffs of the Madison plateau. Marveling at the ethereal beauty of their surroundings, they declared the area should be designated a national park. Historians who have pored over the explorers’ diaries and other documents find no evidence of that. Still, members of the group were later instrumental in saving the region from being transferred to private ownership. In 1872, Yellowstone became the nation’s first national park.

How to Explore

With nine unique lodging options, including the renowned historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel, Yellowstone National Park Lodges allows you to have the ultimate park experience. Staying in the park is the best way for visitors to experience all it has to offer, including the exciting wildlife watching. Once the day-visitors leave, Yellowstone remains for the in-park overnight guests alone. Yellowstone National Park Lodges offer tours and activities that help create memorable experiences. For more information on lodging, tours, and vacation packages, visit yellowstonenationalparklodges.com or call 307-344-7311.

For a multi-day visit of Yellowstone, consider the six-day guided walking tour from Country Walkers, “Montana & Wyoming: Yellowstone,” or the six-day walking tour from VBT, “Yellowstone & Grand Teton: Walking America’s First National Park.”

For more than 38 years, Country Walkers has provided active and immersive travel experiences on five continents. They offer two distinct ways to explore: scheduled, small-group Guided Walking Adventures and independent Self-Guided Walking Adventures. On tour, guests enjoy superb local cuisine, first-class guides, fine accommodations, and authentic cultural and natural encounters. Visit countrywalkers.com or call 800-234-6900 for more information.

VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations is the value leader in active biking vacations and has been rated among the “World’s Best Tour Operators” by the readers of Travel + Leisure for six years. VBT offers more than 55 deluxe, small-group bicycling, walking, and barge & sail vacations in 29 different countries and 10 U.S. states. Unlike other companies, VBT also includes round-trip international airfare from more than 30 U.S. cities and select Canadian cities for all overseas vacations. Visit VBT.com or call 800-245-3868 for more information.

For more travel experiences to Beautiful Places on Earth™ available from the Xanterra Travel Collection and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.

Written by: Jayne Clark

Washington, DC-based freelance travel writer Jayne Clark has been a travel reporter at USA TODAY and several other daily newspapers.

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