The History of West Yellowstone

Stagecoach at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel in Yellowstone

Union Pacific Railroad Brochure on Yellowstone National Park (1921)The trip E.H. Harriman, president of the Union Pacific Railroad, and Frank J. Haynes, president of Monida & Yellowstone Stage Line, made to Yellowstone National Park in 1905, led to the existence of the town of West Yellowstone.

Today, West Yellowstone is a site for fun in many forms. Whether you like horseback riding or camping, relaxing in a hot spring or learning about history. All of these opportunities stemmed from Harriman and Haynes’ visit.

After his 1905 trek through Yellowstone, Harriman decided to construct a railroad branch from St. Anthony, Idaho to the west entrance of the national park. By late November 1907 the tracks were laid, and once the winter snows cleared in June 1908, the first train, filled with tourists, roared to the site.

Not much awaited them. That year, only three businesses existed. Within five years though, more than 50 additional buildings sprung up.

The land was owned and leased by Madison National Forest until December 1919, when President Woodrow Wilson took the land out from under federal ownership, making it possible for the town of West Yellowstone to form.

Each summer, the train—deemed the “Yellowstone Special”—made trips once a day from Salt Lake City to West Yellowstone. Business relied on tourism, so when the train stopped running in mid-September, many of the businesses closed up for the season. Some families left; others stocked up on food and firewood, ready to wait out the winter. For those who stayed, the only means of transportation out of West Yellowstone was by dog sled or skis.

By 1936 enough roads had been built to West Yellowstone that they needed to be plowed each year, thereby enabling year-round travel in and out of the town. In 1965, commercial use of the new airport began for the summer months.

Today, West Yellowstone continues to be a thriving town of its own accord, in addition to being a gateway into Yellowstone National Park.