As we prepared for our fourth visit to Yellowstone National Park, we anxiously awaited returning to our “happy place.” We were looking forward to staying at Fishing Bridge RV Park for the first time, since we now own a camper. Hiking, thermal features and abundant wildlife called us, just as it has previously. We knew it would be a great visit to Yellowstone!
But we also were looking for something new. After three trips, we’ve seen pretty much all of the thermal features. We’ve driven the park roads many times. We’ve hunted for wildlife in Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley. And, while we were excited to do those things again, we knew that finding a new experience would make the trip special.
As we planned, we wondered what that special something would be. It didn’t take long for us to figure out that the Roosevelt Cookout was that special something.
The dining room at Roosevelt Lodge quickly became one of our favorite places to eat a few years ago. The ambiance, the food and, of course, its namesake (President Teddy Roosevelt) all contribute to why we fell in love with this restaurant.
As we reviewed all of our Yellowstone National Park dining options, we were reminded that the Roosevelt Lodge dining room does not accept reservations. We also discovered the Roosevelt Old West Dinner Cookout.
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Roosevelt Cookout Reservations
The options for the Roosevelt Cookout are to do a one-hour or two-hour horseback ride, or a horse-drawn wagon ride (30-45 minutes) to the dinner site. Of course, we wanted the horseback ride… More new adventures! Based on pricing, the two-hour ride seemed like the way to go.
We had already made our campground reservations, so now we just needed to add on the horseback ride/cookout. I completed the online reservation form in mid-April and requested our first full day, June 28, for the cookout. I also included that we would be there for several nights so that if the 28th wasn’t available, we would like a different day.
Within a day, we had our reservation for July 1, the last night of our stay. I include this detail to say, make your reservations early!
Two-Hour Horseback Ride to Cookout
We arrived at the Roosevelt Corral around 3:15. Upon check-in, the assistants told us that we could not take anything extra with us. A phone was ok, as long as it was off and in a secure location (i.e. not in your back pocket). We could not take a “real” camera. I could not take a bag with sunscreen. Time to minimize! Note: if you do the wagon ride you can take a small bag.
Thankfully, I had my long-sleeve sun shirt with me, so I didn’t come back looking like a lobster! And we just had to suck it up and be ok with photos on the iPhone. Not a bad thing, necessarily, but we weren’t super happy.
Once everyone arrived, the wranglers gave the safety briefing and we turned in our forms that signed our lives away. The kids got helmets and, thankfully, adults were not required to wear helmets! It was time to ride!
The corral staff assigned each person a horse. I, Bonnie, rode Baxter. Grant was on Salt River. As soon as we were on the horses, we were even more excited! While we have both ridden horses before, it had been a while. This was actually the first horseback ride we had done together. And we were in one of our favorite places in the world!
When we finally took off, our first direction was up! Up the mountain, that is. The horses did great and we were thankful to not be climbing the mountain ourselves!
Once on top of the mountain, we entered wide-open sagebrush. We continued in a direction that was generally away from the lodge/road and along a canyon that neither of us knew was there. We caught a brief glimpse of Lost Creek Falls, plunging over the canyon walls. From there we continued on to Lost Lake.
This is actually a hiking trail and we did see a few hikers along the way. I actually suggested to Grant at one point that we should do this hike, not realizing it was the horse trail. Thankfully, Grant noticed, in the “special attention” section in our Yellowstone Day Hikes book, that “groups on horseback use this trail regularly.”
Even then, we weren’t 100% sure this would be the trail that we’d take for the horseback ride, but we decided not to hike it, just in case. Thankfully, we made the right decision!
After passing Lost Lake, the trail continued past the Petrified Tree and then around to the cookout location, Yancey’s Hole.
We arrived at the cookout after about two hours. By this time, our rear-ends and legs were ready to walk again!
As we entered the cookout area, the guides told us that the two-hour horseback ride is always the last to arrive and the first to leave. We were a little sad, but the upside is that we got to be first in line for the buffet! Ultimately, we had plenty of time to eat, get seconds, rest and enjoy the scenery.
Dinner consisted of steaks, coleslaw, potato salad, corn, Roosevelt beans, cornbread, watermelon and apple cobbler. Drink options were Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, water or milk. Sadly, no beer or wine. I guess they don’t want folks falling off the horses on the way back to the corral!
The steak may not have been the best one I’ve ever had, but it was tasty, as was everything else! The cornbread is amazing (it’s the same as the Roosevelt Dining Room) and the Roosevelt beans (a bunch of different beans with a yummy “sauce”) were delicious. We definitely went back for seconds of those! Tip: You can get the recipe for the Roosevelt beans at the cookout!
The cookout is held in Pleasant Valley at Yancey’s Hole, which is near Roosevelt Junction, but well off the road. John Yancey built one of the first lodging facilities in the park at this location in the late 1800s.
The hotel served not only park visitors, but miners passing through to Cooke City (what is now the northeast entrance to the park). None of the original buildings remain.
This valley is gorgeous, with breathtaking views. It is not hard to understand why it was the site of a lodge at one point. And it was great to experience a “hidden” part of the park.
Wildlife Along the Trail
We hoped that we might see a little wildlife during the horseback ride and we got our wish!
The first critter we saw was an otter at Lost Lake. He was just swimming around, having a grand ole time, like otters usually do!
Not long after that, as we approached Petrified Tree, several folks told us there was a black bear up ahead. Seeing a bear is always a treat, but especially on horseback!
Thankfully, the bear was well off the trail so that neither it nor the horses were spooked. The bear was scrounging around, looking for food, I’m sure. I don’t think it even noticed the 15-20 horses traipsing by!
At dinner, we saw two more bears! This bear sighting was even more awesome as it was a sow (mama bear) and a cub. The cub was just the cutest thing ever! Then again, I seem to think all baby animals are cute. Thankfully, the bears were well away from where we were eating, but still fairly easy to see. Again, I don’t think they even realized there were a couple hundred folks eating dinner nearby.
We also saw a few bison down in Pleasant Valley. But bison are everywhere, so that wasn’t super exciting.
The last bit of wildlife excitement was a coyote with a few pups on our horseback ride back to the corral. Again, baby animals…just the cutest things ever! Grant is now eager to hike out to this location on our next visit to try to get pictures of coyote pups.
You can read more about our tips for finding and photographing wildlife around the park here.
This was a great experience for us. We really enjoyed exploring some new parts of Yellowstone National Park. Add in an amazing horseback ride and a yummy dinner… Perfection!
You can do the horseback ride without the cookout if you want a shorter experience. Yellowstone also offers horseback rides near Canyon. We really liked the experience of the cookout, though.
The food may not have been quite as good as in a dining room, but that is almost always the case when you’re feeding a couple hundred folks at one time. Overall, though, we enjoyed the meal and would definitely recommend the experience.
The wranglers were great! They made sure everyone was safe and having fun. We got stories and information about the park along the way, which provided another layer of detail.
We very much enjoyed our afternoon and evening on the horseback ride to the cookout! If you are looking for a new or unique experience at Yellowstone, we highly recommend the Horseback Ride to Old West Cookout!