Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Yellowstone Trail

The Yellowstone Trail was a transcontinental road that ran from Plymouth Rock to Puget Sound in the era before numbered roads and maps. As travelers exchanged horses for automobiles, they began to demand roads instead of disconnected muddy wagon roads full of potholes. The Yellowstone Trail Association was a grassroots effort that grew from this need. It was the first transcontinental route through the northern part of the United States. Begun in 1912, the trail was completed by 1919. The association did not build roads, but rather encouraged local groups to organize, choose the best roads to improve—usually near railroad routes—and fund their improvements. Montana caught the spirit of the effort and understood its potential for tourism. The Yellowstone Trail Association had chapters in many Montana cities along the trail. They organized Trail Days when businesses closed so employees could volunteer their time. There would be picnics, and volunteers would drag the dirt roads to smooth them out. Brochures and promotional literature were part of the effort to entice tourists to travel the trail. Yellow circles marked the route so that travelers could find their way.
These markers still exist in some Montana cities. The yellow circles painted on prominent buildings can be found in Billings, Livingston, Deer Lodge, and Bozeman. The Bozeman sign on the Story Block downtown at the corner of Black and Main is typical. During the 1920s, highways began to be numbered, named highways and trails became obsolete, and road maps eliminated the need for trail signs. As the Yellowstone Trail celebrates its centennial in 2012, the bright yellow markers are rare reminders of the days when a system of connected roads was a new idea.


  1. Very nice article, Ellen!
    If folks are interested in learning more, they can visit the Yellowstone Trail Association website at
    Mark Mowbray, Exec. Dir. YTA

  2. Ellen, we would be interested to know exactly where those Yellowstone Trail signs are on the buildings you cite. We have been researching the Trail for some years and have found no signs in those cities. We appreciate your fresh set of eyes. One potential sign was pointed out in Bozeman by Dr. Ashley of the university there, but he and we later agreed that it was not a YT sign. Can you give us more specifics? We would like to include your finds in our publications. We appreciate your interest in the Trail and your blog entry.
    Alice Ridge, Corresponding Sec'y, Yellowstone Trail Assn.
    Dr. John Ridge, President

    1. There is a photo of the Deer Lodge sign in Meeks' On the Road to Yellowstone -- but it does not give the location. I don't know if the sign is still there. The building is abandoned. I am still checking on the Livingston and Billings ones. So far no info.