Mammoth Hot Springs to Tower-Roosevelt Junction and through the Lamar Valley to the Northeast Entrance

A trip to Yellowstone National Park would not be complete without visiting the Roosevelt Arch located on the Park’s north boundary at Gardiner, Montana. At the time of the arch’s construction, President Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone to this historic, first major entrance to the Park. Starting in 1903, visitors to the park would arrive by train in Gardiner and enter the Park through the Roosevelt Arch. “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people” is inscribed across the top of the arch. The Yellowstone Association, the National Park Service’s education partner in Yellowstone Park, has a year-round store located adjacent to the Arch. This store is a very good source of information, books, maps and guides to the Park. For serious history buffs, plan to visit The Heritage & Research Center located about ¼ mile east of the Roosevelt Arch. This modern facility is home to Yellowstone National Park’s museum collection, archives, research library and more. Hours and access are limited so call first at: 307-344-2662. It is 52 miles from the North Entrance of Yellowstone Park to the Northeast Entrance following Park roads to Mammoth Hot Springs, to Tower-Roosevelt Junction and on to the Northeast Entrance. This section of Park roads is open to vehicular traffic year-round, road conditions permitting. Cook City, located just 5 miles from the Park’s Northeast Entrance, depends on this route through the Park for winter access to the City.

Roosevelt Arch to Mammoth Hot Springs. The North Entrance gatehouse is within sight of Roosevelt Arch. As you enter the Park you might see buffalo, pronghorn antelope or elk grazing in fields along the roadway. Just inside the Park as you cross the first bridge, scan the cliffs to your left, above the rushing Gardner River (a/k/a Gardiner River), for bighorn sheep. If you’re lucky you might see them performing their amazing rock climbing feats. If you don’t see an elk along the drive to Mammoth Hot Springs, they are probably hanging out in town. A herd seems to live in Mammoth Hot Springs most of the year. For the truly adventuresome visitor, consider a dip in the Gardner River where the Boiling (hot) River flows into the icy Gardner River. In the early 1960s YNP summer employees started placing rocks and small boulders in the cold, swift Gardner River immediately downstream from the off flow of nearby hydrothermal features.  This activity created a makeshift jetty that offers a little protection from the swift current. Soak in nature’s hot tub where the Boiling River mixes it up with the Gardner River. This is one of only two legal swimming holes in YNP and it is off limits for a time each spring when the River is raging and the water is high. The Park Service has parking lots on both sides of the Park Entrance Road (Hwy 89) near the 45th parallel sign. Drive south into YNP from the North Entrance for a little over 2 miles. Turn into the parking lot immediately after the 2nd bridge across the Gardner River. Wear your bathing attire under your clothes for the approximately ½ mile walk along the River, going upstream, to the Boiling River. Be prepared with some old tennis shoes to wear in the River.

Mammoth Hot Springs and historic Fort Yellowstone is the headquarters for the Park. The Army built Fort Yellowstone when it was sent to protect the Nation’s first national park in 1886. The first permanent buildings were constructed in the 1890s and today are preserved as the Fort Yellowstone Historic District. Make your first stop the Albright Visitor Center. It houses a ranger staffed information desk with maps and guides; and, houses a museum with exhibits focused on the history of humans in Yellowstone. Exhibit themes include Native Americans in the area, Mountain Men, exploration before Yellowstone became a national park; and, native wildlife. Take some time exploring the historic district and then visit the travertine terraces on the hillside above the town. There are numerous boardwalks and trails from which to view the many terraces, hot springs and other hydrothermal wonders in the Mammoth area. Start at the 45 foot tall Liberty Cap on the west side of town. Explore the Lower Terraces, including the much photographed Minerva Terrace, staying on the designated walkways. That’s not all there is to see. Take the road up the hill toward Old Faithful via Norris and Madison for about 1½ miles to the Upper Terrace Drive. Shortly after starting on this one-way loop you should find parking. Walk to the overlook for a grand view of the terraces with the town below. Sunset is a good time to visit the overlook. From the overlook it is a short walk to view New Blue Spring, just down from the overlook. Continuing around the loop will take you to several springs and terraces.  Mammoth Hot Springs, located just 5 miles from the North Entrance, has overnight accommodations at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, two restaurants (including one cafeteria style), a general store, a gift shop, a post office, a gas station, the only year-round campground in the Park and a Visitor Center. In summer, sightseeing bus tours and, in the winter, snow coaches depart from the hotel.

The Grand loop Road from Mammoth Hot Springs to Tower-Roosevelt Junction starts just south across the road from Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. Watch on the left as you drive past the Fort Yellowstone Historic District. The last structure is a beautiful native sandstone Chapel that was constructed during the Army years at Fort Yellowstone. You’re likely to see elk grazing or resting between buildings of this 100+ year old fort. The Grand Loop Road drops into the valley with great views of Bunsen Peak to the south. It then crosses the Gardner River on a high bridge and proceeds through mostly pine forest as it climbs out of the Valley toward the Blacktail Deer Plateau. It’s common to spot deer, elk, coyote and buffalo along this route. The buffalo and coyote may very well take to the Road for easier passage. Approximately 4 miles from Mammoth Hot Springs, on the left, is a pull off to view Undine Falls on Lava Creek.  Just past the Undine Falls pull off, on the right, is parking and the trailhead for Wraith Falls. It is especially ghostly in appearance during the late spring and early summer run-off. Further along on the right (south), is the turn off onto Blacktail Plateau Drive. It is well marked and is gated to vehicular traffic in the winter. It is a pleasant animal viewing excursion from the Grand Loop Road in summer; and, a perfect trail for cross country skiers and hikers on snow shoes in winter. Get a true sense of the great expanse and natural beauty of Yellowstone. Blacktail Plateau Drive parallels the Grand Loop Road for almost 5 miles before rejoining it just west of the Petrified Tree turn off. Turn right and proceed east on the Grand Loop Road to Roosevelt Lodge. The historic 1920s Roosevelt Lodge is a rustic log structure with two stone fireplaces and a long front porch to relax on. It is a great lunch stop (open early June – early September). There is a general store and cabins, some with private baths and others with access to shared bath houses. Horseback riding, stagecoach outings and western cookouts are available in summer. Camping is available a couple of miles south at Tower Fall Campground. The Lost Falls and Lost Lake trails begin behind Roosevelt Lodge.

The Road east from Tower-Roosevelt Junction to the Northeast Entrance begins across the Grand Loop Road from the entrance to Roosevelt Lodge. It drops to a bridge across the Yellowstone River and then climbs for several miles, passes through the Lamar Canyon, until the Lamar valley opens before you. The spectacular Absaroka Mountain Range is constantly in view as you drive through this wide valley. For part of the drive through the Lamar Valley the Lamar River is within sight and then the road follows along the Soda Butte Creek drainage all the way to Cook City. Buffalo are almost always within spotting distance from the road in the Lamar Valley. In the winter, Red Foxes can be seen hunting in the snow at the east end of the Valley near Pebble Creek. While buffalo, elk, antelope, foxes, bear and coyotes are commonly viewed, spotting the elusive Lamar Valley Wolves is the real prize for the patient spotter. Year round, driving through the Lamar Valley, you are likely to see groups of wolf spotters at pull offs with their sophisticated scopes and cameras on tripods. More often than not, the wolf activity is some distance across the valley. If you stop and ask, a number of the friendly spotters will tell you what they have spotted and might let you look through their telescope. Observing a wolf pack on the hunt or dining on an elk or buffalo carcass in the Lamar Valley is an experience one will not soon forget. After passing Pebble Creek the Road passes through aptly named Ice Box Canyon. From Ice Box Canyon to the Northeast Entrance the road passes through beautiful pine forest with occasional open meadows. The dramatic Thunderer Mountain is to the east and Mount Hornaday and Barronette Peak are viewed to the left (northwest). Mountain Goats are often spotted high on the cliffs in this area. Outside the Northeast Entrance the Road passes through the very small community of Silvergate, Montana and on to Cooke City, Montana, which is five miles from the Northeast Entrance. The fortunate summer traveler will then drive over the spectacular Beartooth Highway to Red Lodge, Montana.