Boats of Lake Yellowstone

We all know about Lake Yellowstone and the marina at Bridge Bay. We know that people during the summer make good use of time on Lake Yellowstone. Today there are everything from canoes to motorboats to houseboats that can be seen on the lake.


So -how did this all begin? The Annie was the first documented boat to sail the waters of Lake Yellowstone and that was in 1871. It was a small canvas craft measuring 12 feet long by 3 1/2 feet wide. It was christened “The Annie” after Miss Anna L. Dawes, the daughter of the Honorable H. L. Dawes. “The Annie” was constructed by members of the F. V. Hayden expedition.


According to research on Geyer Bob’s website, in June of 1874 Frank Williams and E. S. Topping furnished a whipsaw, canvas and rigging and headed to Lake Yellowstone. There they “sawed lumber to build a row boat and a yacht which they rigged in sloop form.” On the 20th of July they launched the yacht and advertised that they first lady to show up could name the yacht. Two parties from Bozeman showed up at the same time and there was a lady in each party. And so it was that Mrs. W. H. Tracy and Mrs. Arch Graham (both of who were named Sarah) agreed on the name “Sallie” for the yacht. They then proceeded to take a cruise on “The Sallie.”

Mr. Topping and Mr. Williams were issued a permit to operate boats on the lake. In 1875 Mr. Topping built a cabin and boat dock at Topping Point (which is west of the Lake Outlet) and he built a boat called “The Topping”. He continued the operation for two years but after the season in 1876 the boat was reportedly dismantled and abandoned.


It was in 1880 that Thomas Elwood “Billie” Hofer and his brother built a sailboat that was 20′ long, 6′ wide and 2 1/2′ deep. They christened the ship “The Explorer” and later that year they circumvented the lake and determined that there would be “little danger attending trips around the fingers, thumb and palm of the lake.”

On Sept 5, 1885, USGS surveyors M. D. Scott, Amos Scott, E. C. Quackenbush and J. H. Renshaw were sailing “The Explorer” on the lake when a sudden storm came up (not an unusual occurrence in this area). The men were about 100 yards from the shore when the boat was suddenly struck by lightning. All the men were knocked unconscious and when they came to they discovered M. D. Scott had suffered a direct hit from the lightening strike. He was struck through the head and a hole was burned in the bottom of the ship. Needless to say, Mr. Scott did not survive this direct lightning strike. The survivors made it back to shore and buried Mr. Scott on a bench close to the lake. Mr. Scott’s father and two brothers made the trip (reportedly from Illinois) to recover his remains and take them home for final internment.


In 1885 Ed Lamartine (who was responsible for much of the road building at the park during that time and he built “The Pinafore”. The intended use for the boat was to explore the coastline of Lake Yellowstone to discover where coves and inlets for the shelter of larger boats might be found. A Lt. Kingman and Mr. Lamartine took the boat to Swan Lake on August 15, 1885 to test it out. The boat was reportedly capable of carrying about 16 people and they reported that the boat performed excellently on Swan Lane. I found no mention of the boat ever being used on Lake Yellowstone.


In 1891 Mr. E. C. Waters brought in a 40-ton steamship “The Zillah” which was actually assembled on site by Amos Shaw of the Shaw & Powell Camping Company. The Zillah was to be used to provide ferry service from West Thumb to the Lake Hotel. Mr. Waters would pay the stagecoach drivers fifty cents for each passenger the driver could convince to take the ferry. He charged the passengers $3.00 for the ferry ride.

The Zillah made the first run on June 22, 1891 with a crew of government road workers. Amos Shaw captained the boat for the 1891-92 season. Mr. Waters bought the boat company from Yellowstone Park Association in 1897 and got a 10 year lease from the Interior Department to operate the ferry. The Zillah operated on Lake Yellowstone for about 20 years. Time took its toll on the ship and around 1910 it was replaced by “The Jean D”. The “Jean D was a gasoline launch and it went into service in 1909-1910 by Tom Hofer. It was twin-screw, 120hp and had an enclosed hardtop rear deck with storm windows. It had a capacity of 150 passengers. It left Lake Hotel every morning at 8:30 a.m. and arrived at West Thumb at 10:30 a.m. The return trip to Lake Hotel departed West Thumb at 1:00 p.m. and docked at Lake Hotel at 3:00 p.m. The Zillah sat at the Lake boathouse until at least 1922 and probably later.

What eventually happened to “The Zillah”? No one is certain. Some stories go that it was scuttled somewhere off the coast from the Lake Hotel. However, in 1996 the Submerged Resources Survey which was conducted on the Lake found no remnants of the Zillah on the bottom of the Lake. Others speculate that the ship had been cut up and sold for scrap in 1929. And so.…here is yet another mystery connected with Yellowstone National Park.

These are just a few of the boats that have sailed the waters of Lake Yellowstone. Today you can also take a cruise on Lake Yellowstone. Go to Bridge Bay Marina and there you will find the Lake Queen. You can take a one-hour guided tour of Lake Yellowstone aboard this modern day ship. Listed below are the Scenicruise dates and rates for 2021. You must have a reservation. Go to There you will find the form to make your reservation on line if you wish or you may call 307-344-7311 to book your cruise.