Preserving Cultural Resources

A historic photo of a large group of visitors walking away from the Old Faithful Inn

Yellowstone’s cultural resources tell the stories of people, shown here around 1910 near the Old Faithful Inn, and their connections to the park. The protection of these resources affects how the park is managed today.



Yellowstone National Park’s mission includes preserving and interpreting evidence of past human activity through archeology and historic preservation; features that are integral to how a group of people identifies itself (ethnographic resources); and places associated with a significant event, activity, person or group of people that provide a sense of place and identity (cultural landscapes). All of these materials and places tell the story of people in Yellowstone. Collectively, they are referred to as cultural resources.


Quick Facts


  • More than 1,800 known prehistoric and historic Native American archeological sites and historic European American archeological sites


  • More than 300 ethnographic resources (animals, plants, sites, etc.)


  • 25 sites, landmarks, and districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places; many more eligible for listing
  • More than 900 historic buildings
  • 1 National Historic Trail


  • Housed in the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center
  • Museum collection of more than 300,000 museum items, including 30 historic vehicles
  • Archives containing millions of historic documents
  • Research library holds more than 20,000 books and periodicals available to the public; plus manuscripts and rare books available to historians and other researchers

Cultural Resource Laws

The Antiquities Act (1906)

Provides for the protection of historic, prehistoric, and scientific features and artifacts from federal lands.

The Historic Sites Act (1935)

Sets a national policy to “preserve for future public use historic sites, buildings, and objects.”

The National Historic Preservation Act (1966)

Requires that federal agencies take into account effects of their undertakings on historic properties. Authorizes the creation of the National Register of Historic Places and gives extra protection to National Historic Landmarks and properties in the National Register. National parks established for their historic value automatically are registered; others, such as Yellowstone, must nominate landmarks and properties to the register.

The Archeological and Historic Preservation Act (1974)

Provides for the preservation of significant scientific, historic, and archeological material and data that might be lost or destroyed by federally sponsored projects. For example, federal highway projects in Yellowstone include archeological surveys.

The Archeological Resources Protection Act (1979)

Provides for the preservation and custody of excavated materials, records, and data.

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (1990)

Assigns ownership or control of Native American human remains, funerary objects, and sacred objects of cultural patrimony to culturally affiliated Native American groups.

American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA)

Protects and preserves American Indian access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonial and traditional rites.

Executive Order 13007

Guarantees access to and ceremonial use of Indian sacred sites by Indian religious practitioners to ensure that these sites are not adversely affected.


More Information

  • Archeology: Archeological resources are often the primary source of information about humans in Yellowstone.
  • Ethnography: Ethnographic resources are features that are integral to how a group of people identifies itself.
  • Cultural Landscapes: A cultural landscape is an indicator of cultural patterns, values, and heritage through the way the land is organized and divided, patterns of settlement, land use, circulation, and the types of structures that are built and their placement in the landscape.
  • Historic Structures, Districts, and Cultural Landscapes: Historic structures and the historical character of the park are carefully considered in park planning.
  • Places: Many places in Yellowstone have been preserved because of the information they convey about past human activities in the region or because of their significance in architectural or park history.
  • Park History: Learn about Yellowstone's story from the earliest humans to today's modern management.
  • Heritage and Research Center: Houses the park's museum , archives, and research library collections.

Did You Know?