In the days before the automobile the only way to see the sights of Yellowstone was by horseback or stagecoach. Most of those original roads closely followed today's Grand Loop. Several however did not, and are still hikable today.

This 12 mile stretch of "road" leaves the highway about 3 miles inside the west entrance and travels southeast up onto the Madison Plateau, crossing it and ending at the banks of the Firehole River across from the Fountain Flats Drive entrance. It is shown on many Yellowstone hiking maps. This trail is very tough to follow in spots. It will take a good tracker to follow its entire length. The other problem is terrible deadfall across certain portions of this crude road. Some of the highlights of this trip include superb views from the road's highpoint; artifacts that can be found along the way (we found the remains of cans and bottles that were at least 100 years old); and a lovely meadow at the halfway point called Marshall's Park where the stagecoaches used to stop for lunch on the all day trip from West Yellowstone to the Marshall Hotel. This trail is severely burned for much of its length. If you don't like fire burn this one isn't for you.

This 6 mile stretch of wagon road starts near a service road 2 miles north of the Fountain Flats Drive (NOT MESA ROAD) and travels northeast until merging with Mesa Road about 1 mile south of Gibbon Falls. Most old maps will show this trail as part of the Howard Eaton Trail, but I can assure you this is wagon road all the way. I would not recommend this trail for anyone. It is very forested; hard to follow; and travels through one of the more dangerous areas of Yellowstone.
The old road goes right through the middle of a carcass dumping site, and although the trail is not "signed," (keeping people out) no one should hike here. The park service has done a poor job of warning hikers of this extremely hazardous area. There are no signs at all. This may be because they don't like to publicize the fact that they do indeed still feed the bears. Please stay out of this area!

A very mysterious section of wagon road can be found near Lone Star Geyser. We found it while searching for a 100' foot waterfall in the area. The road is about 1 mile west/northwest of Lone Star geyser running from NW to SE. Judging by the size of the trees growing through its middle it must have been used before 1900. Recently I have come across information in the park archives that leads me to believe that this may have been a portion of the very first road ever constructed between Old Faithful and West Thumb. The original route it seems did not follow today's course but rather swung way out near Lone Star before turning east towards Craig Pass.


©Paul Rubinstein 1990

The Mary Mountain Patrol Cabin sits at roughly the halfway point on the original wagon road though the heart of the Central Plateau.

Just a mention that most of the current Mary Mountain trail was originally a wagon road. This was the main tourist route from the 1870's until 1891 when the road between Old Faithful and West Thumb was opened. The old Mary Mountain road started at Fountain Flats and went to Mary Lake in essentially the same place as today's trail, the original road then breaks from the Mary Mountain Trail near Highland Hot Springs and becomes the old Trout Creek Service road. Thus connecting both side of the lower loop.


It should probably be noted that although P. W. Norris's original wagon roads in Yellowstone for the most part followed the same routes that the Grand Loop Road does today, in many places there have been changes. Sometimes the difference is only a few feet, while in other sections of the park there have been major re-routes. Many of today's power line corridors are actually along stretches of the first of the park's road system.


The hill on the Norris-Canyon road located just east of the present Gibbon River crossing is actually a newer section of highway. The original road, veered to the west and south and ascended the hill at a less severe angle. It is located below the point where the present road turns northwest and the telephone lines continue west (it traced line of the telephone poles). Today the old highway can still be walked. Good stretches of paved road, guardrails, and even trash still can be found along the original Blanding Hill.
The name was given in or about 1885 by Ed Lamartine (in charge of road construction in the park) for his road foreman James C. Blanding, a man about whom little is known. Blanding, Lamartine, and Oscar Swanson built the first road from Canyon to Norris in 1885-86. Road construction in the early 1950s moved the road farther to the north. The name Blanding Hill moved with it and is now heavily entrenched in local usage.


©Paul Rubinstein 1998

A very interesting original stretch of highway can still be traced up a hill in the northwest corner of Yellowstone Park. It is just west of the current U. S. Highway 191 running from West Yellowstone to Bozeman, Montana. The old road parallels Grayling Creek, where that creek is flowing on the west side of U.S. 191. About a half mile up this old road is a sharp, 180 degree turn.
The first white child born in the new town of West Yellowstone (1907) says he remembers the name "Horseshoe Bend" in use as early as 1911. At that time this was still the original dirt stagecoach road. Here the road bends its way around the mouth of a tributary of Grayling Creek. When the current road was built over a hill to the east instead of around the "horseshoe", the name was moved in local usage to the hill which is today known as Horseshoe Hill.


Haven't you ever wondered what's up all those service roads that you see as you drive around Yellowstone? Well so have I. The park must have at least 50 of them. I am compiling a list of all known service roads and their uses. I will post it here, hopefully some time later this summer.
Copyright ©2001-2008 Paul Rubinstein
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