I was recently asked about which Presidents had visited Yellowstone National Park. Since I did not have the answer, I set out on a search to find out. This is what I was able to discover about our Presidents and their connections to Yellowstone. The best source I found was Yellowstone Historian Lee Whittlesey.
In 1872 President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill which designated Yellowstone as America’s First National Park. He never visited the park but often said that creating a National Park was the “best idea America ever had.” Therefore, he will forever be associated in our minds with Yellowstone. Without his signature on that bill one can only wonder what Yellowstone would be like today had it not been protected by the government.
In 1883, eleven years after the designation of Yellowstone as a National Park and just 7 years after the Battle of the Little Bighorn (which is nearby) President Chester A. Arthur rode horseback through Yellowstone and cut the tape to open a rail line that would transport eastern tourists to the park headquarters at Mammoth Hot Springs. He had with him a large entourage and enjoyed a 2 month vacation in the Yellowstone area. It is reported that he often wore knee length leather leggings over his suit. A daily delivery by a messenger on horseback enabled him to keep up with his Presidential duties during his vacation. The messenger
would arrive every day with messages for the President and would leave with any messages the President wished to send.
President Theodore Roosevelt was a big fan of the park and made several Presidential visits here and returned for vacations after he left office. It was during his final visit in 1903 that he laid the cornerstone for the famous Roosevelt Arch just outside Gardiner, Montana.
In 1923, shortly before his death, President Warren Harding paid a visit to Yellowstone. During his visit he fed the bears, a practice which is outlawed today but at that time was a big source of entertainment for park visitors.
In 1927 Calvin Coolidge arrived with this fishing gear intent on angling for trout. He asked the Yellowstone Superintendent Horace Albright, to be his guide. It is reported that Superintendent Albright tried several times to get the President to discuss politics with him but the President declined. Because of this he was referred to as “Cool Cal””.
The President that probably has the closest and most personal ties to Yellowstone was Gerald Ford. In 1936 as a 23 year old, President Gerald Ford spent time in Yellowstone as a Park Ranger. Part of his duties was to welcome VIP’s. Another, and probably more interesting duty, was protecting the rangers who were assigned to feed the bears from a garbage-filled feeding truck. He would return to Yellowstone in 1976 and deliver a speech that was timed so that it would coincide with Old Faithful erupting in the background.
It was in 1937 that Franklin Delano Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor took a motor tour of the park. After inspecting the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps he delivered one of his fireside chats.
In 1978 President Jimmy Carter and his family visited Yellowstone. He enlisted local fly fishing guide Bud Lilly to be his angling guide. The Carter family visited a remote island in Yellowstone Lake. He has made several return visits to Yellowstone and during one of them he enjoyed pizza with the park employees at the pub at Lake Lodge where he signed the wall. If you visit there you can still see his signature on the wall.
In 1989 President George Herbert Walker Bush visited Yellowstone to view the devastation that the Fires of ’88 had left in the park. The fires burned for months and scorched some 1.2 million acres of the park.
In 1995 and 1996 President Bill Clinton and his family spent part of the summer in Jackson Hole and paid a visit to Yellowstone. They toured the Upper Geyser Basin and took a helicopter to the site of a proposed mine on the edge of the park. That mine was considered to be a threat to the environment and, after his first hand experience, President Clinton’s administration halted the mine project.
In 2009 President Obama and his family paid a visit to the park where they watched Old Faithful erupt.
So, as you can see, many of our Presidents have visited our First National Park and we can hope that they will continue to do so.
Author: Susie Knapp