Monday, April 16, 2018

Canyon Village - Yellowstone National Park


Canyon Village is centrally located in Yellowstone National Park which makes it a perfect stop no matter what route you take through the park. You'll want to spend time at the nearby canyon and view the spectacular waterfalls, but you will also want to schedule some time in the village.  The Visitor Center is one of the best in the park with displays about the Yellowstone Super Volcano. There are several shopping and dining options available. Canyon Village's central location also makes it a great place to spend the night.  There are over 500 rooms available, or you can book a site at the campground.

Location: Canyon Village is located on the eastern side of Yellowstone National Park between the Upper and Lower Loops of the Grand Loop Road.

Cost: The Visitor Center is free.  See official websites for activity, dining, and lodging prices.

Operating Seasons and Hours: Most things start opening in Mid May and are open through mid-October.

Official Websites: Activities, CampingDining OptionsGeneral Store,  Lodging Options

Date of Visit: May 24, 2017 to August 20, 2017

In the summer of 2017 I received a job with Xanterra Parks and Resorts in Yellowstone National Park. I moved there with my husband and our four young children. We lived in a 25 foot RV and spent all our free time exploring the park.

During our summer in Yellowstone my family lived in the Canyon Village employee campground. We hiked on trails in the Canyon Area at least once a week. We got to know the area very well, and I'm excited share the places we discovered with you.

The Canyon Area can be divided into four main sections. There's the village part with the hotels, campground, dining facilities, visitor center, gift shops and gas station. There is the North Rim of the Canyon, the South Rim of the Canyon. And finally there is the Upper Falls Area. Today we are going to talk about the Village.

First, you know how I'm always saying that you should avoid the busiest parts of the park between 10:00 am and 5:00 pm.  Well Canyon Village is a great place to spend your time while you wait for the crowds to disperse. Unlike a lot of other places in the park, Canyon Village has a large parking lot so you can usually find a place to park here any time of day.

The main parking lot is a large rectangle with buildings around it on three sides.  The Visitor Center is to the west, the General Store is to the south, the Dining Lodge is to the east, and the campground is to the North.  The Canyon Village Lodges and Cabins are down the road east of the Dining Lodge.
Let's talk about each of these in turn.

Visitor Center
The Canyon Village Visitor Center is one of the best Visitor Center's in the park. I'm sorry that I don't have a better picture of this building. I walked by here nearly every day and I never really thought about taking a picture. 
The exhibits are all about the Yellowstone Super Volcano. They also talk about other Hot Spots throughout the world.  This big stone ball with red dots on it to shows where hot spots are located throughout the world.
 One of my favorite things in the visitor center is the giant map of Yellowstone.  It's so fun to find all the different places you've visited on this map.
 And there are really good displays.  We like this one of a bison with her calf.
The Visitor Center also has a movie theater that hows 2-3 20  minute movies.  This is a great place to sit down and relax.  

Also, I have to mention that the restrooms at the Canyon Village Visitor Center are some of the best you will find on this side of the park.  They have running water and plenty of toilets.  Most importantly, they are always clean.  That's a big deal. 

General Store 
The General Store is located to the south of the parking lot. Here you can buy souvenirs as well as groceries and supplies. Careful though, everything is about double the cost that you would pay outside the park. The General Store also has a dining area and an ice cream shop.

I never got a picture of the General Store, but I do have about a million pictures like this.  My kids wanted their picture taken with this board every time we passed the General Store.
Canyon Lodge
Canyon Lodge is on the eastern side of the giant parking lot.  This large building is a dinning hall with about three different options for how to eat.  The M66 Grill is a restaurant that serves breakfast and dinner.  You will need reservations to the M66 Grill.  The Canyon Lodge Eatery has two cafeteria style lines where you can get lunch and dinner without a reservation. There is also a bar area and an Ice Creamery.
The interior of the building underwent a massive remodel that was completed at the beginning of the 2017 Summer Season. The decor is a nod to the building's 1960's history. Canyon Village was expanded in the 1960's as part of the Mission 66 Program.  That's when the United States decided to put extra money into fixing up the national parks in time for the 100 year anniversary of the park's program. Canyon Lodge and many of the cabins were built during this time.
The only food my family ever ate at the Lodge was the ice cream from the Creamery.  I have to say that the ice cream is delicious, but the price is steep. 2017 prices were $3.60 for a single scoop or $4.50 for two scoops. We bought ice cream a few times and I was always a little annoyed to pay so much money for such SLOW service. I couldn't believe how slow the servers scooped the ice cream.  If you want a cool treat while you are in the park, the most cost-effective option is to buy the huckleberry ice-cream sandwiches available at the General Store.  They are about $1.00 each.

Canyon Campground
Canyon Campground is north of the parking lot area across the road.  This camp ground is one of the places where the idea of living/working in Yellowstone was first planted in my mind.  I took my kids on a quick road trip to the park in July of 2015. I'd driven all the way from Alabama to Utah for a wedding and I figured we should add a trip to Yellowstone to the plan. I reasoned "we don't know when we'll be on this side of the country again and we should see Yellowstone while we have the chance."

When I checked into the campground I looked at the agents behind the counter and thought, "I wonder where these ladies live?  They can't commute this far into the park every day."  I'd noticed other employees at the Old Faithful Area earlier that day and had the same thought. I began to think that it would be fun to work in Yellowstone "one day." Little did I know that in less than 2 years I'd be living in Canyon Village with my family.

On that 2015 trip we stayed one night in the Canyon Village Campground. The campground is nice, and each area is fairly large.
Each site has a fire pit and a picnic table.  Restrooms are scattered throughout the campground and have running water.  
There is a laundry and shower area located adjacent to the campground office. Usually you get two free showers included in the price of your campsite.  Make sure you take a minute to pit a pin in the map to show where you are visiting from.  We made sure to put our pin in for Fort Rucker, Alabama.

Other Lodging Options
If camping isn't your style you can also stay in a hotel room or a cabin. Hotels are referred to as "lodges" here. Several more lodge buildings were added to the area over the past few years. Canyon Village now has the most overnight accommodations of any area within the park.  Even with the most accommodations you'll want to have advance reservations. Some areas fill up months in advance.  The lodges and cabins are all very nice, but be aware that there is no TV and you have to pay to use Wi-Fi. 

Activities

There are a couple of activities that you can add on to make your Yellowstone visit extra special. Most of these fall well outside of a 51 Cent Adventure budget.  But thanks to my employee status I was able to participate in some of the activities.  I'm going to talk about them so you can know if they are something you'd be willing to do.

Bus Tours
You can take a wildlife tour in one of the seven Historic Yellow Buses. You can book a morning or evening tour. The bus drivers are very knowledgeable and will give you great info about the park as well as take you to parts of the park you may not see otherwise.  The guide will stop and set up special viewing scopes to help you get a great view of wildlife.
On the tour I went on we stopped to view wolves from a distance. We also saw owls, a red tail hawk, osprey, a grizzly bear (from a great distance), some coyotes, a fox, and of course lots of bison.

I learned a lot about the park on that tour. If you have a budget where you can shell out almost $100 per adult ticket then definitely book yourself a ride on one of the Yellow Buses.   

If you're budget doesn't allow that kind of spending, but you still want to see wildlife, then I suggest you get up early and drive into the Lamar Valley.  Wildlife is most active in the early morning and the Lamar Valley is full of animals so you are bound to see something there even without an expert tour guide.

Larger tour buses also depart from Canyon Village for the all day "Circle of Fire Tour."  At $86 for an all day ticket this a better deal than the Wildlife tours, but it is still a pricey activity. However, the bus driver handles all the traffic for you so that right there may sweeten the deal for you.

Horse Back Ride
Another activity available in Canyon Village is the horse back ride.  These come in 1 to 2 hour options and take you over a meadow and through a small forest west of Canyon Village.
The Canyon Village Corrals are located about half a mile south of Canyon Village on the west side of the road.  Experienced wranglers have the horses all ready for you so all you have to do is get on and ride with your group.
I had a bad horse riding experience when I was 15 so I've never wanted to ride a horse again.  But when an opportunity came for me to participate in a practice run before the corrals officially opened I decided to face my fears.

I ended up with Travis who was probably the biggest horse there.  Despite his size Travis was very gentle. But he was also quite a handful. He's part draft horse so he liked going along at a plodding pace. I had to constantly give him little kicks to get him to speed up so we could close the gap between us and the horse in front of us. Travis also liked to try to eat grass all along the way. So I got really good at pulling his head back up and kicking him to keep him going. At one point he decided he didn't want his spot in line anymore so he turned around and walked back along the trail for about 10 feet. The wranglers quickly instructed me on how to get him turned around and back in line. One of the wranglers told me that Travis would make me into a cowgirl by the end of the ride.

Even though I had probably the most problematic horse I really enjoyed the ride. There were 3 or 4 wranglers riding alongside the line of horses. They gave great suggestions about how to handle the horses - especially Travis. I never felt like the situation was out of control. This was definitely a much better experience for me than the last time I'd been on a horse
Rides cost $50 for the one hour option and $73 for the two hour option.  I haven't ever priced it out, but I'm sure this is more expensive than what you would pay for a horse back ride outside of Yellowstone.  But when you think about it, where else can you ride a horse, through bear country, on top of an active volcano?

If you are interested in other horse centered adventures head up to the Roosevelt area.  They have more horse back rides as well as stagecoach rides available.  They even have an option where you take a wagon out to a spot where the staff provides you with dinner and cowboy entertainment.

Recommendation: No matter who you are, Canyon Village has something for you.  Don't skip this area during your Yellowstone Visit. This picture sums up my option of Canyon Village.  It's a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.


Directions: Canyon Village is located to the east of the intersection where the north and south loops of the Grand Loop Road intersect.  The Norris/Canyon Road leads right into Canyon Village as does the North Rim Drive.

Places Nearby: Don't forget to visit the sights near Canyon Village.  Follow these links to read my other posts and learn more about the Canyon Area.

North Rim of the Canyon
South Rim of the Canyon
Upper Falls
Upper Falls vs Lower Falls

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