Timeline of Human History in Yellowstone

Black and white drawing of a carved point
Hell Gap point, made 9,600–10,000 years ago

NPS illustration

Paleoindian Period

At least 11,000 years ago

A Clovis point from this period was made from obsidian obtained at Obsidian Cliff.

10,000 years ago

Sites all over the park yield paleoindian artifacts, particularly concentrated around Yellowstone Lake. Clovis peoples hunted large game and gathered resources across North America.

9,350 years ago

A site on the shore of the Yellowstone Lake has been radiocarbon dated to 9,350 years ago. People seem to have occupied this site for short seasonal periods.

9,000 years ago

9,000 years ago until 1,000 common era (CE), people leave traces of camps on the shores of Yellowstone Lake. Note: CE = Common Era (replaces AD)


Archaic Period

8,000 years ago

Vegetation similar to what we find today begins to appear. This period is characterized by use of large side-notched projectile points and atlatl technology.

3,000 years ago

Bison jumps and corrals begin to be used in the Rocky Mountain region. Oral histories of the Salish place their ancestors in the Yellowstone area.

1,500 years ago

Bow and arrow begins to replace atlatl (throwing spear). Sheep traps begin to be used in the mountains.


500–1700s CE


Oral histories of the Kiowa place their ancestors in the Yellowstone area from this time through the 1700s.


Little Ice Age begins.


North American tribes in the southwest begin acquiring horses in the mid- to late 1600s. Ancestors of the Crow may have come into the Yellowstone ecosystem during this time.


Lakota Sioux begin exploring the Yellowstone area.


Late 1700s–1840s CE

Late 1700s

Fur traders travel the rivers into the Yellowstone region. Tribes in the Yellowstone area begin using horses.


The Lewis and Clark Expedition passes within 50 miles of Yellowstone.


John Colter first known European-American to visit present-day Yellowstone.


Trapper Osborne Russell encounters Tukudika ("Sheep Eaters") in Lamar Valley.


1850s–1871 CE


Little Ice Age ends, climate begins to warm.


First organized expedition attempts but fails to explore the Yellowstone Plateau.


Gold strike northwest of Yellowstone.


Folsom–Cook–Peterson Expedition.


Washburn–Langford–Doane Expedition; Old Faithful Geyser named.


First Hayden expedition.


1872–1900 CE


March 1, Yellowstone National Park Protection Act establishes the first national park; first "hotel" in park opens at Mammoth.


First budget for park; Nez Perce (Nee-me-poo) flee US Army through Yellowstone.


Northern Pacific Railroad arrives near Gardiner, MT.


First hotel at Old Faithful opens, known as the Shack Hotel.


The US Army arrives to manage Yellowstone, creating the temporary Camp Sheridan at Mammoth.


First Lake Hotel built.


First National Park Protection Act (Lacey Act) makes it illegal to kill wildlife in the park.


1901–1917 CE


President Theodore Roosevelt dedicates arch at the North Entrance by laying its cornerstone at Gardiner.


Old Faithful Inn opens.


The Antiquities Act provides for the protection of historic, prehistoric, and scientific features on, and artifacts from, federal lands.


Union Pacific train service begins at West Yellowstone.


Private automobiles are officially admitted to the park.


The National Park Service Organic Act establishes the National Park Service.


Private and commercial horsedrawn conveyances banned on park roads.


1918–1939 CE


National Park Service (NPS) takes over management of Yellowstone and the Army leaves.


Horace Albright becomes first NPS superintendent.


President Hoover signs first law changing park’s boundary.


President Hoover expands the park again (by executive order).


Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and other government-funded work crews complete work in Yellowstone.


The National Park Service Director’s Order prohibits killing predators.


The Historic Sites Act sets a national policy to “preserve for future public use historic sites, buildings, and objects.”


1940–1959 CE


Much of the park closes for WWII.


Yellowstone receives one million visitors.


First motorized oversnow vehicles allowed in park.


Mission 66 begins in Yellowstone to revitalize lodging, dining, education, and infrastructure.


West of Yellowstone, a 7.5 M earthquake strikes, killing campers in the Custer-Gallatin NF and affecting thermal features and infrastructure in the park.


1960–1975 CE


Leopold Report leads to the last of the bear-feeding dumps closing over the following several years; Robert Reamer-designed Canyon Hotel burns to the ground.


Park sees 2,000,000 visitors for first time.


The thermophile Thermus aquaticus is discovered in a Yellowstone hot spring.


New bear management plan begins, which includes closing open-pit dumps in park.


Overnight winter lodging opens in park and continues yearly.


Grizzly bear listed as threatened species in the lower 48 states.


1976–2000 CE


Public Law 100-443 protects hydrothermal features in national parks from geothermal development on adjacent federal lands; wildfire burns approximately 36% of the park.


Clean Air Act Amendments require air-quality monitoring at sites including Yellowstone, a Class I airshed.


Park sees 3,000,000 visitors for the first time.


Congress enacts a law allowing a percentage of park entrance fees to be kept in the parks.


Wolves are restored to the park.


New World Mine, near park’s northern boundary, halted.


The National Parks Omnibus Management Act is passed.


Interagency Bison Management Plan is adopted by federal, state, and tribal partners.


2001 CE–Present


National Academy of Sciences confirms effectiveness of Ecological Process Management (aka natural regulation).


Yellowstone's grizzly bears removed from federal threatened species list.


Scientific review panel recommends an increase in lake trout removal operations on Yellowstone Lake.


Grizzly bears returned to threatened species list. Bioprospecting final EIS completed; science agenda established for Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.


Grey wolves removed from the endangered species list in MT, ID, OR, and WA. Remain listed in WY until 2017.


Park sees 4,000,000 visitors for the first time.


National Park Service Centennial.

Brown and gray columns of rock make up a cliff that towers up to a deep blue sky.
The Earliest Humans in Yellowstone

Human occupation of this area seems to follow environmental changes of the last 15,000 years.

Dead branches leaned up against a tree in a conical shape form a wickiup.
Historic Tribes

Many tribes have a traditional connection to this region and its resources.

Rifle and powder horn with a map etched on side resting on fur.
European Americans Arrive

In the late 1700s, fur traders traveled the Yellowstone River in search of Native Americans with whom to trade.

Man sits on a box in front of a canvas tent while another man stands next to him.
Expeditions Explore Yellowstone

Formal expeditions mapped and explored the area, leading to the nation's understanding of the region.

Historic Moran water color of hot springs with group standing in distance
Birth of a National Park

Learn about Yellowstone's early days as a national park.

"For the benefit and enjoyment of the people" etched in concrete and surrounded in stone
Modern Management

Managing the national park has evolved over time and dealt with some complex issues.

Visitors standing on a boardwalk and taking pictures of the orange thermophiles of Grand Prismatic.
Today's National Park Service

The National Park Service manages over 80 million acres in all 50 states, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam, and American Samoa.

Stones piled in a formation in the forest
Park History

Learn about Yellowstone's story from the earliest humans to today.

Last updated: August 15, 2023

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Contact Info

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PO Box 168
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0168



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