Explore West Yellowstone’s Past on the Historic Walking Tour

Dining Lodge

Dining Lodge. Photo courtesy of WYED and Yellowstone Historic Center.

Driving through Yellowstone National Park is a breathtaking experience, but you might return to West Yellowstone with the urge to take a walk. Stroll along the West Yellowstone Historic Walking Tour to stretch your legs, breathe in the crisp mountain air, and learn the eclectic history of the unique town.

The first Union Pacific Railroad train full of tourists bound for Yellowstone National Park arrived at the park’s west boundary in June 1908, spurring the development of what would eventually become West Yellowstone. Reminders of the height of the train travel era still line Yellowstone Avenue, including historic hotels, the former Union Pacific Railroad station, and early forest service cabins. The West Yellowstone Historic Walking Tour gives visitors the opportunity to take a short, scenic stroll along the town’s historic corridor. Explorers can lengthen the tour by pausing along the route to view the 21 plaques describing the historic places and events that shaped the heart and soul of the town.

To access the walking tour, visitors can simply follow the Painted Bear Paw Trail along the sidewalks and take a moment to pause at each of the 21 plaques that mark points of interest in West Yellowstone’s history. Maps are available at the visitor center and at a number of locations along the tour. A digital guide for mobile devices is accessible through the West Yellowstone Economic Development Council’s website at http://wyed.org/walking-tour/. In addition to the 21 points of interest, the map and guide feature fire icons that highlight the locations of historic fires that impacted West Yellowstone as well as buffalo icons that mark the locations of the remaining Buffalo Roam statues throughout the town.

Points of Interest

The walking tour begins at the Union Pacific Pylon at the east end of Yellowstone Avenue. From there, the Painted Bear Paw Trail meanders along Yellowstone Avenue between Canyon Street and Electric Street. A handful of historic locations on Canyon Street and Madison Avenue are also included in the tour. A few highlights from the tour include:

Yellowstone Special

Yellowstone Special. Courtesy of Yellowstone Historic Center.

  • Forest Service cabins: The Forest Service cabins at the east end of Yellowstone Avenue were originally built four blocks west of their current location in 1924 as the former West Yellowstone Ranger District Headquarters. The historic buildings were relocated to their current location within the Oregon Short Line Terminus District in 2010. The buildings feature remarkable corner joinery craftsmanship for the architecture enthusiast.
  • Oregon Short Line Terminus District: Plaques one through nine make up the Oregon Short Line Terminus District. The district features historic architecture from the height of the train travel era, including the town’s oldest building, the beautiful Union Pacific Depot. The depot opened in 1909 to welcome travelers arriving on the Oregon Short Line’s Yellowstone Special. Today, the depot is home to the Yellowstone Historic Center.
  • Madison Hotel: Glamorous celebrities including Clark Cable, Gloria Swanson, and President Herbert Hoover all stayed at the Madison Hotel during their trips to the region. The hotel, built in 1924, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Smith & Chandler: Since 1924, the Smith & Chandler general mercantile has welcomed visitors to West Yellowstone. Situated across the street from the Union Pacific Depot, Smith & Chandler was often the first stop in town for weary travelers. The original building burned down in 1972, but the store was rebuilt in 1973 and continues to offer souvenirs and gifts to Yellowstone visitors.
  • Buffalo Roam statues: In the summer of 2006, the West Yellowstone Economic Development Council commissioned 26 buffalo cow and 10 buffalo calf statues made of fiberglass and painted by area artists with depictions of the history of West Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park, or the Native Americans of the region. Most of the statues were sold at a fundraising auction in 2009, but a number of the statues still brighten the town streets.

On your next West Yellowstone adventure, take a break from touring Yellowstone National Park and journey along the West Yellowstone Historic Walking Tour to learn the story of the little mountain town that has hosted generations of visitors to the nation’s first national park.