It was the unique geology of the Yellowstone region that enticed our ancestors to protect this special place. But today, as the world’s first national park, the history of humans in Yellowstone is as fascinating as the park’s natural wonders are rare. Much of the early history is tied to road building and transportation.
One of the first roads in the park is a five mile section that today is called the Old Gardiner Road. Located just behind the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, this one-way dirt road traverses open sagebrush hills before ending outside Gardiner, Montana.
Originally, the Old Gardiner Road was used by stagecoaches carrying guests to and from the new park. In 1883 the Northern Pacific Railroad reached Cinnabar, Montana which stood several miles north of present day Gardiner. The rail was extended to Gardiner in 1902.
After exiting the trains, passengers would meet their yellow Tally-ho coaches, which were pulled by 6 horses, for the ride to Mammoth Hot Springs. Tally-ho coaches were used because of an elevation gain of over 1000 feet between the two spots. Passengers would tour the park in smaller stages pulled by 4 horses.
One of the most famous people to use this section of Yellowstone was President Chester A. Arthur. He was the first U. S. President to visit Yellowstone. While the exact spot is not known, it is believed that in 1883, on his last night in the park, he camped ½ mile north of Mammoth Hot Springs.
Today, the Old Gardiner Road is a good place for bicyclist to escape the traffic. Bicycles are allowed to travel both ways on this road. The terrain is better for mountain bikes than for road bikes. Off road travel on bikes as well as cars is prohibited. If you are traveling by car, watch for oncoming bicycles.
While the Old Gardiner Road may not be much older than the road through the Gardner River Canyon that we use today, it is steeped in history. If you listen close enough, you can almost hear the Tally-ho drivers yell giddy-up as they encourage their horses up the dusty slopes.