top of page

Yellowstone Hotels Introduction

Copyright 2020 by Robert V. Goss. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by an information storage and retrieval system without permission in writing from the author. 

The earliest hotels in the park were rather crude facilities with only the most basic amenities and services. James McCartney built the first hotel (loosely speaking) at Mammoth, located at the mouth of Clematis Creek. It consisted of two log cabins in 1871, and by 1873 another cabin, stables, and outbuildings were constructed. Visitors used their own bedding and generally slept on the floor.  Most of the people visiting at this time were hunters, poachers, miners, curiosity-seekers, or invalids coming to reap the supposed health benefits of the hot springs around Mammoth.  Travel to this part of the country was difficult at best, and dangerous at worst, as evidenced by the Nez Perce forays through the Park in 1877. That summer Indians killed Richard Dietrich, one of a party of Helena tourists, while he was standing in the doorway of McCartney`s cabin.

Other visitors included "official" exploration parties carried out by various governmental and military agencies for exploration purposes and surveys for potential roads.  The railroads also conducted surveys in the park in hopes of laying track to various features, and to the mines in Cooke City.  Fortunately these plans never materialized, despite tremendous pressures brought upon the government by the miners, railroad and local citizens hoping to make a profit.

The second hotel to be built was by George Marshall near the mouth of Nez Perce Creek in 1880.  A crude road had been built from Virginia City through the west entrance to the Lower Geyser Basin in 1873, and a road was cut south from Mammoth by Supt. Norris in 1878. With these primitive accesses, Marshall was able to serve the early tourists to the Upper and Lower Geyser basins.  He sold out to G.G. Henderson and Henry Klamer in 1885 and the hotel was renamed the 'Firehole Hotel.` A pair of utilitarian cottages were built next to the hotel to increase capacity. The Yellowstone Park Association assumed control in 1886 and operated it until 1891 when the Fountain Hotel opened up nearby and the old hotel was no longer needed.

The year 1883 was a momentous one. The Northern Pacific Railroad had recently completed its transcontinental railway and needed to create a demand for its services. With Yellowstone only 50 miles from their tracks at Livingston, Montana, and the hope for big profits in the tourist trade, the Northern Pacific extended their tracks to Cinnabar, three miles north of Gardiner. The "Park Branch Line" would for this first time, enable wealthy tourists to 'ride the rails` and visit Wonderland. This type of tourist was accustomed to the fancy resorts in the east and Europe and expected the best in accommodations. The existing park hotels were totally inadequate to provide the needs of this newer and more demanding class of tourist.

In order to attract these new, affluent visitors, the Yellowstone Park Improvement Co. (YPIC) was formed to provide for a new system of hotels.  Carroll T. Hobart, a division superintendent for NPRR, Henry Douglas, and investor Rufus Hatch were the creators of this new company.  Their first order of business was construction of a hotel at Mammoth, eight miles from the railroad terminus.  Actual construction of the National Hotel started in the fall of 1882, with a partial opening of 141 rooms on August 1, 1883.  Visitors were brought from the new railhead at Cinnabar to Mammoth in Wakefield & Hoffman stagecoaches.  Completion of the building did not occur until 1886, due in part to a 5-month carpenter`s strike in 1884.  Beginning in 1883, YPIC also established tent hotels at CanyonOld Faithful and Norris to serve the tourist until grander facilities could be built.  Financial problems caused YPIC to go bankrupt in 1885, and the Yellowstone Park Association (YPA) was established the following year. Charles Gibson, Nelson Thrall, and John Bullitt formed this new company with financial backing from the Northern Pacific RR. They bought out the National Hotel, and assumed control over the Firehole Hotel and other YPIC properties.  Join with me and continue to explore the history of the old hotels and lodges in Yellowstone National Park in these richly illustrated web pages . . . . .

Collage of hotel photos from 1914
bottom of page