Photo: Lorcel/Shutterstock

Happy Birthday, Yellowstone: See How the Park Has Changed in 150 Years

Idaho Montana Wyoming News National Parks
by Alex Bresler Feb 3, 2022

On March 1, 2022, Yellowstone National Park will celebrate its 150th anniversary. President Ulysses S. Grant passed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act in 1872, establishing America’s very first national park for the “benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

A lot has changed in Yellowstone history in the century and a half since it became a park. President Herbert Hoover adjusted the park’s boundaries in 1929 and 1932, expanding it by more than 7,000 acres. Visitor numbers have skyrocketed, ballooning from roughly 1,000 people in Yellowstone’s early days to as many as four million annual visitors today. The development of park infrastructure and amenities, such as the roads built by the US Army Corps of Engineers in 1883 — and the overnight accommodations that soon followed — laid the groundwork for heavy visitation by making the park more accessible.

Today, the area’s Indigenous heritage is part of the Yellowstone history, after being all but erased by early park officials. American Indian tribes including the Shoshone, Nez Perce, Coeur d’Alene, Kiowa, Blackfeet, and Cayuse used the land as a seasonal hunting and gathering ground for roughly 11,000 years before they were driven out by the American government. At least one tribe — the Tukudika — lived there year-round.

Yet much has also remained the same thanks to Yellowstone’s federal protections. Though unpredictable in nature, iconic thermal features such as Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring continue to draw visitors from across the US and around the world. Wildlife populations have fluctuated over time but continue to represent the region’s native fauna. Even the earliest structures dating to early Yellowstone history remain largely intact and, on the face, unchanged.

In honor of Yellowstone’s big birthday, check out these epic before and after shots for a closer look at America’s first national park in its inaugural days versus now.

Rangers and Canyon Rim_Yellowstone National Park

Photo: National Park Service + cb_travel/Shutterstock

Yellowstone’s first groundskeeper, Harry Yount, was appointed on June 21, 1880. Yount was posthumously recognized as a park ranger, making him the first official national park ranger in the United States. Pictured above are a group of female park employees sitting on the rim of Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon in 1904 and a shot of the canyon today.

Fort Yellowstone_Yellowstone National Park

Photo: National Park Service +

Yellowstone’s early history is rife with threats to its protected status. To fend off developers, poachers, and souvenir collectors, the United States Army was stationed in the park for more than 30 years. Construction on Fort Yellowstone at Mammoth Hot Springs was completed in 1891. Today, the site houses the park’s Albright Visitor Center, pictured above.

Pictured above is the park’s Fishing Bridge spanning the Yellowstone River, originally built in 1902. The bridge visitors walk across today was constructed in 1937. Though it was once a popular spot for visitors to cast a line, angling has not been permitted on Fishing Bridge since 1973. In terms of Yellowstone history, it’s one of the coolest still-standing structures in the park.

Bison_Yellowstone National Park

Photo: National Park Service + YegoroV/Shutterstock

Yellowstone plays host to the largest bison population on American public land and it’s a population that’s still growing. Gray wolves are another significant species found in the park. Though the gray wolf population had nearly disappeared by the mid-1900s, the species was reintroduced in 1995, and an estimated 94 wolves call Yellowstone home today.

On April 24, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone for the Roosevelt Arch, marking Yellowstone’s northern entrance. Of the park’s five gateways, only the northern entrance is open year-round.

Yellowstone history: old faithful inn

Photo: National Park Service + f11photo /Shutterstock

A year later, in 1904, construction on the Old Faithful Inn was completed. A marvel of what’s been coined “parkitecture,” the inn was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987 and remains one of the largest log-style structures in the world. Guests are still welcome and it’s one of the oldest buildings not just in Yellowstone history, but in the entire history of the national parks.

Great Fountain_Yellowstone National park

Photo: National Park Service + Paul Bryan/Shutterstock

Pictured above are park visitors wading in the Great Fountain near Yellowstone’s Lower Geyser Basin in 1908. Note that swimming is not permitted in any of the park’s thermal features today.

Between 1883 and 1917, the Wylie Permanent Camping Company operated the park’s most coveted campgrounds. Yellowstone now has 12 developed campgrounds with over 2,000 total campsites, as well as designated backcountry campsites for permit holders.

Mammoth Terraces_Yellowstone National Park yellowstone history

Photo: National Park Service + Pung/Shutterstock

Above, park visitors enjoy views of the Mammoth Hot Springs from the complex’s terraces (date unknown). The Mammoth Terraces include roughly 50 hot springs next to Fort Yellowstone. It’s one of the park’s most popular attractions.

Old Faithful_Yellowstone National Park yellowstone history

Photo: National Park Service + f11photo/Shutterstock

Yellowstone’s most famous landmark, Old Faithful, has been erupting semi-regularly for at least as long as the park has existed, putting on roughly 20 shows per day. The geyser typically shoots water between 100 and 180 feet high, but it’s not the park’s tallest. That title belongs to Steamboat Geyser in the Norris Geyser Basin. It’s eruptions reach heights of over 300 feet, making it the tallest active geyser in the world.

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