The earliest tourists to Yellowstone National Park, the “pioneer” tourists, had to work hard to get there. Entry through Gardiner to the Mammoth area was pretty much the standard route for many years.
One of the earliest recorded group of “tourists” was a group of six men, including Calvin Clawson, who traveled to the park in 1871. His recollections of the trip are recorded in the book A Ride to the Infernal Regions- Yellowstone’s First Tourists. Their route was by way of Virginia City, MT, past Henry’s Lake in Idaho, and into the park along the Madison River. They travelled by horseback as there were no wagon roads in those days.
Eventually their route was improved to accommodate wagons and coaches. The first recorded commercial stage trip into the park was provided by Marshall & Goff line from Virginia City. They carried some freight and two passengers – Robert and Carrie Strahorn. Carrie recorded her trip in her book – Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage.
After the Union Pacific built a subsidiary line north from Idaho Falls toward and eventually into Montana, stagecoach companies provided service from these railroad terminuses to the west entrance to the park. There were several such companies – including the Gilmer & Salisbury Company, the Bassett Brothers, and the Monida and Yellowstone Stage Line.
After the railroad line was built from Idaho Falls to West Yellowstone through Ashton, Idaho, the stagecoaches met the trains at the depot in West Yellowstone. Tourists continued their journey through Yellowstone aboard stagecoaches, staying either at the grand hotels or at permanent camps provided by camping companies such as Shaw & Powell or the Wylie Permanent Camping Company.
Stages continued to ferry passengers through the park until 1917 when all park transportation was converted to motor vehicles.