By Ruffin Prevost
Yellowstone National Park has more than 300 miles of paved (and often crowded) roads, but a lesser-known dirt road between Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyo. and Gardiner, Mont. offers visitors a chance to follow a historic stagecoach route out of the park.
The Old Gardiner Road is a 5-mile stretch of dirt road that roughly parallels the paved road from Mammoth to Gardiner, but travels through the hills to the west of the main road, rather than along the Gardner River as it flows out of Yellowstone.
Open May through October, the Old Gardiner road doesn’t require a four-wheel drive, and it offers a different perspective on the communities of Mammoth and Gardiner, affording hilltop views of both that you won’t get from the main road.
The Old Gardiner Road is one-way only for autos, heading north out of Mammoth, although bicycling and foot traffic are allowed in both directions. Park managers typically close the non-essential road to autos during and just after wet weather, and trailers and RVs are never allowed on the Old Gardiner Road.
Originally established as an 1880s stagecoach route, the road winds through open sagebrush hillsides, affording more sweeping and dramatic views of the northernmost sections of Yellowstone Park.
During the spring and fall, motorists on the Old Gardiner Road may see elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, bison and pronghorn antelope along the meandering route, with views of the Gallatin Range.
One of the oldest roads in Yellowstone, the Old Gardiner Road was used to ferry visitors into Mammoth from the end of the Northern Pacific Railroad, which stretched to Cinnabar, Mont. in 1883 and was extended into Gardiner in 1902. Special six-horse coaches were used for the steep haul into the park, which rises more than 1,000 feet from Gardiner to Mammoth.
Presidential ride along Old Gardiner Road
Chester A. Arthur was the first U.S. president to visit Yellowstone, traveling along the Old Gardiner Road during his 1883 trip and camping during the last night of his stay at a spot about a half-mile north of Mammoth.
Though you might be tempted to drive a bit on the wild side because you won’t meet oncoming vehicles along the one-way route, keep in mind that mountain bikers, hikers or wildlife could be around any curve. So slow down, and plan on taking at least 15 or 20 minutes to make the 5-mile trip.
The Old Gardiner Road starts directly behind the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and ends at the North Gate entrance station. Besides a panoramic view of Gardiner as you are about to exit the park, it also yields a great view of Mammoth as you climb the first hill along the route.
So the next time you’re leaving through the North Gate and have a little extra time, get off the pavement and enjoy a different trip along the Old Gardiner Road, a historic route that most Yellowstone visitors never get to experience.
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].