Tour Historic Fort Yellowstone
Yellowstone's first superintendents struggled with poaching, vandalism, squatting and other problems. In 1886, US Army soldiers marched into Mammoth Hot Springs at the request of the Secretary of the Interior and took charge of Yellowstone. Soldiers oversaw Fort Yellowstone's construction—sturdy red-roofed buildings still in use today as the Albright Visitor Center, offices, and employee housing.
Many trails into Yellowstone's wilderness begin in the Mammoth Hot Springs area. Plan a short day or extended hike with our day hiking guide, which feature hikes selected by park rangers.
Always carry rain gear, extra food and water, and other emergency equipment when venturing into the backcountry. Be sure to obtain current trail condition and bear activity information at the Albright Visitor Center.
Bunsen Peak may be climbed via a trail that starts at the Golden Gate. Another trail, the old Bunsen Peak road, skirts around the flank of the peak from the Youth Conservation Corps camp to the Golden Gate. This old road may be used by hikers, mountain-bikers, and skiers in winter.
Travel the Old Gardiner Road
Follow the paths of soldiers and early visitors on this dirt road to Gardiner, Montana. Cars may only travel one-way to Gardiner, while bicycle traffic may travel both ways. The roads is also open for hiking, but travel safely and know what to do if you encounter wildlife.
From the Old Gardiner Road, you can see the Yellowstone River. Yellowstone is named for Mi tse a-da-zi, the Minnetaree Indians' name for the Yellowstone River, inspired by bluffs many miles downstream from the park.
Research Yellowstone's History
The Heritage and Research Center in Gardiner, Montana is a state-of-the-art facility that is home to Yellowstone's museum collection, archives, research library, and archeology lab. Visit the small rotating exhibit in the lobby or plan ahead and take a behind-the-scenes guided tour. Tours are generally available twice a week from June to September; reservations are strongly recommended.
Stay Here (or Close By)
There is one hotel, the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins, in this region, as well as two campgrounds, the year-round Mammoth Campground and the seasonal Indian Creek Campground. Additional lodging options can be found in the nearby town of Gardiner, Montana at the north entrance to the park.
Soak in the Boiling River
Cold water from the Gardner River mixes with the Boiling River hot spring here. Please note: you may soak in the river, not in the hot spring itself.
Boiling River is one of the few legal thermal soaking areas in Yellowstone. Soaking in hot springs and other thermal features is prohibited and features are very fragile. The Boiling River is closed in spring, early summer, and other times of hazardous high water. Check the current conditions page for Boiling River status.
Find Evidence of Glaciers
The Mammoth area exhibits much evidence of glacial activity from the Pinedale Glaciation. The summit of Terrace Mountain is covered with glacial till, thereby dating the travertine formation there to earlier than the end of the Pinedale Glaciation. Several thermal kames, including Capitol Hill and Dude Hill, are major features of the developed areas of Mammoth Hot Springs. Ice-marginal stream beds are in evidence in the small, narrow valleys where Floating Island Lake and Phantom Lake are found. In Gardner Canyon, one can see the old, sorted gravel bed of the Gardner River covered by unsorted glacial till.
Make a Historic Entrance at Roosevelt Arch
The first major entrance for Yellowstone was at the north boundary. Before 1903, trains would bring visitors to Cinnabar, Montana, which was a few miles northwest of Gardiner, Montana, and people would climb onto horse-drawn coaches there to enter the park.
In 1903, the railway finally came to Gardiner, and people entered through an enormous stone archway. Robert Reamer, a famous architect in Yellowstone, designed the immense stone arch for coaches to travel through on their way into the park. At the time of the arch's construction, President Theodore Roosevelt was visiting the park. He consequently placed the cornerstone for the arch, which then took his name. The top of the Roosevelt Arch is inscribed with "For the benefit and enjoyment of the people," which also appears in the National Park Service Organic Act of 1916.
Journey to the 45th Parallel
A sign north of where the road crosses the Gardner River marks the 45th parallel of latitude. The 45th parallel is an imaginary line that circles the globe halfway between the equator and the North Pole. This same line passes through Minneapolis-St. Paul, Ottawa, Bordeaux, Venice, Belgrade, and the northern tip of the Japanese islands. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of the Montana/Wyoming state line does not follow the 45th parallel through the park.
Watch for Wildlife
Elk, bison, pronghorn, and mule deer frequent the grasslands around the north entrance of the park, depending on the season.
The North Entrance Road up to Mammoth Hot Springs runs along the Gardner River. The road winds up the Gardner River canyon, past crumbling walls of sandstone and ancient mudflows. The vegetation is much thicker in the canyon than on the open prairie down below, the common trees being Rocky Mountain juniper, cottonwood, and Douglas-fir. Low-growing willows also crowd the river's edge in the flatter, flood-prone sections of the canyon. Watch for wildlife, which varies by the season. Eagles, osprey, dippers, and kingfishers can be spotted along the river, while bighorn sheep climb along the steeper parts of the canyon.
Elk are common in Mammoth Hot Springs, while bison can often been seen along the road out to Tower–Roosevelt.
Observe Cascading Water
Three waterfalls are easy to visit in this region. Heading east from Mammoth Hot Springs, you can stop by Undine Falls, a 60-foot (18.3-m) waterfall, or take a short 1/2-mile (0.8-km) hike to the long, 79-foot (24-m) cascade of Wraith Falls.
Driving south of Mammoth Hot Springs through the Golden Gate will lead you right past Rustic Falls, a splendid little falls especially in the spring.
Go on a Driving Tour
There are three side drives in this region. All of them are open only during the summer season, with Blacktail Plateau Drive opening the latest due to being in a bear management area. The first, the Old Gardiner Road, is an old, unpaved, one-way road going from Mammoth Hot Springs to Gardiner, Montana.
Upper Terrace Drive is a short, one-mile (1.6-km) loop drive with a few parking areas along the way. The drive leads you to views of the Main Terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs, views of Fort Yellowstone and the Gardner River, and right up to hydrothermal features like Orange Spring Mound.
Blacktail Plateau Drive is an unpaved, six-mile (9.7-km) one-way road that meanders through alpine forests and meadows. It provides a more rustic way to travel to Tower–Roosevelt, and gives opportunities to see wildlife and take in the beautiful alpine scenery.
Mammoth Hot Springs Area Frequently Asked Questions
No, the overall activity and volume of water discharge remain relatively constant; most of the water flows underground.
Limestone, a naturally white rock, underlies this area. Hot water dissolves the mineral calcium carbonate from the limestone, which is deposited at the surface to form travertine. Colors in the hot springs come from thermophiles.
In the surrounding mountains, rain and snow soak through the ground. The water is heated below the surface. As it rises, it dissolves the limestone rock that lies beneath the Mammoth area. Sometimes the water is concentrated in a few springs while at other times it may spread across many outlets. In every case, water follows the path of least resistance, which could be above ground or underground. Scientists estimate that, at any given time, about 10% of the water in the Mammoth Hot Springs system is on the surface; the other 90% is underground.
Mammoth Hot Springs lies to the north of the caldera. Scientists continue to study where the heat for the hot springs comes from. One possibility is the volcano’s magma chamber, similar to the heat source for other thermal areas closer to the 640,000-year-old caldera. There may also be basaltic magma bodies, related to the Yellowstone volcano, deep underground between Norris and Mammoth, which could be a contributing heat source.
No, the travertine features are very fragile. You may soak only in bodies of water fed by runoff from hydrothermal features, such as Boiling River Swim Area north of Mammoth Hot Springs. It is open in daylight hours and closed during times of high water.
At 8,564 feet (2610 m), Bunsen Peak south of Mammoth Hot Springs is an intrusion of igneous material (magma) formed approximately 50 million years ago. Bunsen Peak and the “Bunsen burner” were named for physicist Robert Wilhelm Bunsen. He was involved in pioneering geyser research in Iceland. His theory on geyser activity was published in the 1800s, and is still considered accurate.
Many of the older buildings grouped together in Mammoth belong to Fort Yellowstone, built by the US Army from 1891 to 1913, when it managed the park. A self-guided trail goes through this National Historic Landmark District.
On the road between the North Entrance and Mammoth, a sign marks the 45th parallel of latitude, which is halfway between the Equator and the North Pole. The majority of the Montana–Wyoming state line does not follow the parallel through the park.
The canyon is the face of Mount Everts, 7,841 feet (2390 m) high. It consists of layered sandstones and shales—sedimentary deposits from a shallow inland sea 70–140 million years ago. Its steep cliffs—eroded by glaciers, floods, and landslides—provide habitat for bighorn sheep. It was named for explorer Truman Everts, a member of the 1870 Washburn Expedition who became lost. He was found east of the mountain, near Blacktail Plateau.
Elk live here all year, and are wild and unpredictable. Each year visitors are chased, trapped, and sometimes injured by elk. Look for Uinta ground squirrels in front of the visitor center and among the hotel cabins during summer. You might see bighorn sheep in the canyon north of Mammoth. South of Bunsen Peak is Swan Lake Flat, where visitors often see elk, bison, and sometimes grizzlies and wolves. It is also an excellent place for watching cranes, ducks, and other birds.
Mammoth Hot Springs Hikes
The trails around Mammoth Hot Springs have a full range of difficultly and environments to explore.
Accessibility around Mammoth Hot Springs
Learn about the accessibility options in the Mammoth Hot Springs area.
Northern Skiing and Snowshoeing
Discover the skiing and snowshoeing opportunities around Mammoth Hot Springs.
Last updated: August 27, 2019