Perched on the shores of Yellowstone Lake, the dining room of the Lake Yellowstone Hotel (yellowstonenationalparklodges.com) offers a spectacular view. The large windows make it easy to to gaze out across the 132-square-mile lake while you enjoy your meal. Bring the kids dining even if the white table cloths and formal setting give you pause: The friendly waitstaff provide crayons for little ones to sketch wildlife. Grownups dig into the bison tenderloin, served with mushrooms and under a sage and rosemary demi-glace with garlic mashed potatoes. Dinner reservations are required, walk-in for breakfast or lunch.
The best way to experience Yellowstone is to camp. Choose from twelve campgrounds with over 2,000 sites (they fill fast at height of the season in July and August, so find breathing room on either side). Five campgrounds take reservations; the rest are first-come, first-serve. Or, for more solitude—and maybe even an encounter with a wolf—hike the park’s 1,000-plus miles of trails, and camp in a backcountry site (be sure to be bear aware) with a permit accessed from the Backcountry Office. Stage at the homey Buffalo Bill Village Resort (blairhotels.com) in Cody or the magnificent Lake Yellowstone Hotel (yellowstonenationalparklodges.com) in the park before and after your camping trip.
The Just Ahead app and guide (justahead.com) to Yellowstone (among other parks) is like having a personal tour guide in the car. The geo-savvy app dishes out location-specific information as you drive to and through the park. It uses your smartphone’s GPS to trigger audio narratives tied to a given location. You get info on natural history, park resources, upcoming views, optional routes and more. What it won’t tell you though, is the exact location where you’ll get stuck when herds of bison cross the park road. No matter what, don’t try to rescue any baby bison, like a Canadian man and his son did last year. Once traffic clears, move on to our favorite stops, like The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, 24 miles long and 1,200 feet deep; Steamboat Geyser, where a short boardwalk wanders amongst the hot pools and steam vents; Firehole Canyon Drive, a two-mile scenic loop near Madison and, of course, Old Faithful with its geyser spouting nearly 200 feet into the air.