A Brief History of Yellowstone National Park


Yellowstone National Park History: The Perfect Story of the Perfect Land

Stretching out over more than 2.2 million acres in the gorgeous American West, Yellowstone National Park is without question one of the most significant natural landmarks in the country. Although some 90% of the park is located in Wyoming, small parts of it expand into Montana and Idaho as well, with every square foot home to an incredible abundance of diverse wildlife and unique geographical features.

It’s with good reason that Yellowstone receives some 4 million visitors a year. In addition to the well-known geyser ‘Old Faithful,’ Yellowstone is also home to more rivers, canyons, lakes, and mountain ranges than could be properly explored in a lifetime. Last but certainly not least, the Yellowstone Caldera is the largest supervolcano on the continent, thus giving Yellowstone Park one of the most remarkable gatherings of geothermal features in the world.

No trip to the Western part of the United States is complete without a few days in Yellowstone National Park. Not only does the Park contain some of the most pristinely beautiful terrains in the entire country, it’s one of the richest existing depositories of American history as well, with landmark events stretching back thousands of years and continuing to this day. We hope that this post will be a visitor’s prime source of Yellowstone National Park information. It’s designed for anyone who plans to visit Yellowstone and wants to enrich their experience with an overview of Yellowstone National Park history.

Here are the Yellowstone history topics we’ll be covering in this post:

  • A Prehistory of the Yellowstone Area, with an overview of the Clovis Peoples that inhabited it 11,000 years ago
  • A History of the area’s 19th Century Explorations
  • The Establishment and Growth of Yellowstone as the country’s first National Park
  • A summary of the devastating effects of the park’s “Summer of Fire” in 1988
  • An overview of the park’s current recreational activities

Yellowstone Prehistory

iconic yellowstone

The first inhabitants of the Yellowstone region were peoples of the Clovis Culture, a Paleo-Indian group that lived in the area 11,000 years ago and represents the ancestry of the indigenous cultures of North America. These Clovis peoples used the rich supply of obsidian in the Yellowstone region to fashion tools and weapons, as well as to establish trade with tribes to the east.

By the time white explorers entered the region in the 19th century, Native American tribes such as the Crow, Nez Perce, and Shoshone had also made parts of the area their home. Although members of the Lewis and Clark expedition did not enter the Yellowstone region, members of their party did return later and inaugurate the sweeping explorations that marked the 19th century and led to the establishment of Yellowstone as a National Park.

19th Century Explorations of Yellowstone

Yellowstone Prehistory

French Canadian fur trappers came to the region that would later become Yellowstone in the late 18th and early 19th century, but the first thorough American incursions into the area did not begin until well after the Lewis and Clark expedition first heard rumors about it. A mountain man named Jim Bridger made brief forays into the lands in 1824, returning home with what many believed were ‘tall tales’ of boiling springs, glass mountains, and other amazing features.

The first thorough exploration occurred when the Folsom Party entered the area in 1869. The members of the Folsom Party kept detailed journals of what they witnessed in the area. The contents of these journals proved provocative enough to convince the surveyor-general of Montana Henry Washburn to organize a party that included an army detachment and the attorney who eventually proposed that Yellowstone should become a protected national region.

Establishment and Growth of Yellowstone as a National Park

Yellowstone Prehistory

In 1871, pioneering geologist Ferdinand Hayden made a formal exploration of the region and helped set the wheels in motion that eventually made Yellowstone into a protected national area. Among others, Hayden felt that the region had limitless value and should be preserved into perpetuity for all Americans to appreciate. These early explorers recognized the unique beauty and geothermal features of Yellowstone and knew it would be a priceless bequeathal to future generations.

Yellowstone National Park was formally established in 1872, through an act signed by President Ulysses S. Grant. Access to the park was limited, however, until the railroads arrived in 1883. The U.S. Army managed the Park from 1886 until 1918, lending the notion of a national park both the authority and gravitas it needed to gain a true foothold in the country’s consciousness.

Thanks to the efforts of Union Pacific Railroad president E.H. Harriman, the western entrance to Yellowstone became a popular attraction and led to the thriving commercial city of West Yellowstone, Montana. Over the years since, West Yellowstone has become one of the most convenient places for visitors to stay while visiting the park.

The first automobiles were allowed into Yellowstone in 1915, thus making access easier and more economically feasible for a larger number of visitors. A National Park Service was created in 1916 and Yellowstone National Park has been an American institution ever since. The natural beauty of Yellowstone inspired the vision and efforts necessary to begin the practice of establishing and preserving our magnificent national parks.

Current Recreational Activities

Yellowstone Prehistory

Today, Yellowstone National Park is as vibrant and beautiful as ever. It offers a wealth of diverse natural beauties, as well as an enormous array of recreational activities for the entire family. These activities include educational programs, bicycling, camping, hiking, boating, and fishing. There are also appropriate activities for children of all ages, as well as guided tours and horseback riding. In other words, Yellowstone has more than a little something for everyone.

The town of West Yellowstone, MT offers the perfect point of entry into the magnificent charms of the park. It’s also a wonderful town in its own right, with shopping and other activities that will supplement your family’s park explorations wonderfully. We offer some of the most convenient and charming accommodations in the entire city. For more information and to make reservations, please visit us here and start planning one of the best vacations of your life.

Contact us today!