Grand Loop Road, Fishing Bridge-Canyon

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  • Length: 15.37 miles from Fishing Bridge Junction to Canyon Junction.
  • Road Surface: Paved
  • Road Type: Primary

Mileage Chart
North South Feature Description
0.0 15.4 Fishing Bridge Junction
0.3 15.1 Service Road (W)
0.6 14.8 Service Road (W)
2.9 12.5 LeHardy Rapids Turnout (E)
3.1 12.3 North LeHardy Rapids Turnout (E)
4.1 11.3 LeHardy Picnic Area (W) (28)
4.8 10.6 Cascade Picnic Area (W) (29)
5.0 10.4 Nez Perce Ford Picnic Area (E) (30)
5.8 9.6 Mud Volcano Parking Lot (W)
5.9 9.5 Sulphur Cauldron Turnout (E)
6.3 9.1 Hayden Valley Turnout (E)
6.9 8.5 Unnamed Turnout (E)
7.4 8.0 Elk Antler Creek
7.8 7.6 Trout Creek
9.0 6.4 Unnamed Turnout (E)
9.6 5.8 Grizzly Overlook (E)
10.5 4.9 Alum Creek
10.7 4.7 River Feast Turnout (E)
11.8 3.6 Unnamed Turnout (E)
12.3 3.1 Otter Creek Picnic Area (E)(31)
12.6 2.8 Old Otter Creek Bear Feeding Area Service Road (W)
13.1 2.3 South Rim Drive (E)
13.2 2.2 Old Campground Service Road (W)
13.8 1.6 Brink of Upper Falls Road (E) - Elec Substation Service Road (W)
14.2 1.2 North Rim Drive (E)
14.6 0.8 Canyon Corrals (W)
15.3 0.1 Canyon Employee Entrance Road (E)
15.4 0.0 Canyon Junction


Fishing Bridge to Tower Junction

[1] The first superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, Nathanial P. Langford, planned the present circuit system (the Grand Loop Road) soon after taking his position in 1872. His idea for a route through this section of the park called for the wagon-road to follow the Yellowstone River northward from its outlet to the Yellowstone Falls, past Mount Washburn and on to Tower Falls. Then Capt. William Jones' 1873 survey for a wagon-road route from Camp Brown in northwestern Wyoming to Fort Ellis, Montana, recommended that the route follow the Upper Yellowstone River, via Yellowstone Lake, to Tower Junction and on to Gardiner, Montana through Mammoth Hot Springs. [2] The Park received no appropriation until 1878, and by that time, the second superintendent, Philetus Norris had to use the first appropriation for the construction of the road south from Mammoth Hot Springs. However, Superintendent Norris, who spent part of 1878 exploring this section of the Park, described the difficulties of finding a suitable route:

From the falls of Tower Creek I explored its canon and the canon and valley of Antelope Creek above it, the timbered plateau between them, and also that between the latter and the Grand Canyon. I found the latter very elevated, but open, smooth, and grassy, with a fine lake upon its summit, mainly an excellent route, with magnificent scenery along the yawning, sulphur scented and stained canon, for some 6 or 8 miles, and past the ruins of an ancient once loopholed, earth-roofed block-house some 16 by 20 feet in diameter and of unknown origin, to a dense forest at the foot of a bald rocky spur of Mount Washburn. . . . a careful exploration of the first one from its towering front in nearly a foot of newly fallen snow, through a belt of dense pine, fir, and cedars to near the main mountain, resulted in there finding a pass excellent for a bridle-path, and practicable for a wagon-road, at a much lower altitude than the old route. . . . I there, in the gathering twilight, thankfully enjoyed the greeting shout and blazing camp-fire of my men, just safely arrived with the welcome intelligence that they had found a route in all respects preferable to that over the mountain to Cascade Creek. . . . As before stated, portions of any possible route upon either side of the Grand Canyon between the forks and the falls of the Yellowstone will be elevated and expensive especially for a wagon road. That upon the eastern side of the canon is utterly impracticable that within it, unknown but doubtless mainly so, while the two remaining that I explored is the shortest, least elevated, and the easiest of construction, in fact, in all respects so preferable that I have no question of its adoption for all purposes other than a lofty, bridle-path lookout, for which purpose a portion of the old route, a branch from the new one over Mount Washburn or both will be ever desirable. Not only was the route thus found less rugged and difficult than feared, but also the Grand Canyon was shorter and especially its lower portion less deep and yawning than has been considered. Still it is especially from its yellow and crimson geysers to the falls, beautiful and grand beyond conception, a leading wonder of the park, and of the world, every way worthy of a route along or as near as possible to its misty and sulphur-tinted walls. [3]

The next year, 1879, Norris and his crew improved an existing trail from the outlet at Yellowstone Lake to the east canyon of the Gardner River, via the Mud Volcano, Sulphur Mountain, Great Falls and Canyon of the Yellowstone, Mount Washburn, Tower Falls, and the Forks of the Yellowstone. The abundance of snow prevented Norris from completing a trail along the rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which he continued to feel was the "true one" for a wagon-road or bridle-trail to the eastern spurs of Mount Washburn, instead of over it.

In 1880, several bridges were completed in the Park, including ones over Tower Creek, Cascade Creek, and other creeks near the Great Falls of the Yellowstone. The following year, two bridges were built on Alum Creek, two bridges over Sage Creek and two bridges over Hot Spring Creek. These bridge projects were part of Norris' overall project of completing the Mammoth Hot Springs to the West Entrance route via Tower Falls, Yellowstone Lake, the geyser basins, and the forks of the Firehole River. Norris knew that the road between Tower Falls and the mouth of Alum Creek would be costly to build. Together with the abysmal Tower Creek Canyon, the ascent of Mount Washburn via Rowland's Pass, the extensive need of rock work, culverts, and timber cutting, grading, and bridging along the route, Norris calculated that an appropriation of at least an additional $10,000 to supplement the regular appropriation might cover the cost of the road. The use of this amount would not allow for any other construction projects elsewhere in the park.

Finding the construction of the section along the bank of the Yellowstone River as costly as Norris predicted, his successor, P. H. Conger, completed a three mile section of road along the bank of the Yellowstone River near the falls and canyon. This provided the tourists with safer and more comfortable access to the wonders. [4]

Compared to the road work between Mammoth Hot Springs and Madison Junction, very little work was done on this section after the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers assumed the responsibility for road construction and improvement in 1883. By 1885, $25,000 had been spent on the construction of a road from the Yellowstone Falls via the east trail over Mount Washburn to Yancey's on the Mammoth Hot Springs Road. In 1887, the road from the Yellowstone Falls to Yellowstone Lake was described as "not ordinarily in condition for travel before about the middle of July, the altitude being such as to prevent the early melting of the snow."

During 1888, the engineers recommended that the 14 miles of rough road from Yellowstone Lake along the Yellowstone River to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone be improved and completed and a new 20 mile road from the Grand Canyon to Yancey's be built. In the 1889 report to the secretary of war, Major Allen noted the bridges in the park. Among those listed were a 115 feet trestle, with a 14-feet-wide roadway and 30 feet above the low water at the middle point near Yellowstone Falls and a 40 feet, one span, King and Queen post-truss bridge with a trestle approach of 30 feet over Cascade Creek. The height above the low water was 20 feet.

The road from the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone to West Thumb via Yellowstone Lake was one of Lt. Hiram Chittenden's first projects after he assumed the responsibility of the road improvement and construction in the Park in 1891. By 1892, the 52-mile road from the Grand Canyon to the Upper Geyser Basin via Yellowstone Lake, which opened during the fall of 1891, was in good condition. In 1893, work continued on the road that passed near the Upper Falls and a road near the Grand Canyon at Inspiration Point was opened. The next year the crews completed an arch bridge near the Upper Falls and the following year, 1895, a new road was built from the brink of the Grand Canyon to Inspiration Point, via a point over the Lower Falls, and a new road from just south of Alum Creek around Sulphur Mountain, joining the old road near Antelope Creek.

In 1896, Capt. George Anderson, the Park superintendent, engaged the chief engineer of the Northern Pacific Railway, to develop plans for an iron bridge across the Yellowstone River above the Upper Falls. Determined that the visitors should be able to view the Grand Canyon from the eastern bank, Anderson decided that if the cost were not excessive, he would have an attractive iron bridge built. [5]

Hiram Chittenden returned to Yellowstone in 1899 to resume the responsibility for the road construction projects. In his 1899 report, Chittenden described the road along Yellowstone River:

This length of 15 miles is one of the best-graded roads in the park, carefully laid out by instrumental survey and equal in this respect to any road in the world; but the material of which it is made is for the most part utterly worthless. The road becomes practically impassable in wet weather and well nigh intolerable from dust in dry weather. It must be surfaced with rock or gravel. The work is urgently needed and should be done during the next season. . . . This road [new road on right of Grand Canyon] is to connect with the bridge and give access to the right bank of Grand Canyon for about 3 miles below bridge. The present road is one of the hardest to maintain in the park. It has steep grades, is very narrow and is held up by loose retaining walls which are constantly caving in. The material is also very bad and cuts all to pieces in wet weather. It is proposed to bridge Cascade Creek farther upstream and carry the road to the hotel at a higher level. This work will greatly relieve the task of maintenance in this vicinity. [6]

During the summer of 1903, two crews constructed approximately 5 miles of well-graded road, a portion of the road was near the Canyon Hotel and the other, near Tower Falls. The work near Tower Falls, which extended into the winter, was of "a very heavy character" as part of the road lies under an overhanging cliff. Chittenden described this segment as a "road of great scenic beauty." [7]

The construction season began late due to remaining snow and soaked ground, leaving few places for desirable camps. However, by the end of the 1904 season, a passable wagon-road on the canyon side was opened to within a mile beyond Dunraven Pass and 2-1/2 miles from the summit of Mount Washburn, but Chittenden urgently requested that more money be programmed for the final completion of the road. He stated in his report for 1904 that "This will be by far the finest road for scenery in the park", but "as it rests on the precipitous sides of the mountain it is important to expend considerably more money to increase its width and erect guard walls at dangerous places." Captain Chittenden feared that the stage companies would not use the single width road until it was completed. Chittenden found this particular project to be very difficult mainly due to the lack of desirable camping places, the high altitude, and the great proportion of work through rock.

One of Chittenden's major achievements, the Yellowstone River Bridge, later known as the Chittenden Bridge, was a steel and concrete bridge completed in 1903 with great difficulty. Chittenden felt that it's prominent location in the park merited the bridge be of an artistic design. For many years the idea of a bridge in this location had been contemplated, but lack of funds prevented its construction. Chittenden spent considerable time on the site selection. Not wanting to introduce an artificial structure at the most desirable and obvious site, the brink of the Upper Falls where the gap narrows to 50 feet, Chittenden chose a 120-feet span between two jutting rocks, about 1/2 mile above the Upper Falls at the rapids. Despite the volcanic rhyolite rock being of inferior quality for construction, Chittenden reported ". . . the fact that it has resisted for an indefinite geological period the action of the river, it must have considerable stability."

Including dangerous rapids below, Chittenden had many obstacles to overcome. One of the most serious was the construction of the framework and related framing. All of the rough material was cut locally, but the finer lumber came from the Pacific Northwest. Using a small dynamo, which was borrowed from the hotel company, connected to the rock-crusher engine and a temporary plant to provide artificial light, the crews were able to complete the concrete work by working around the clock. Due to the position the bridge had in the public's eye and its unique construction difficulties, the owners of the Melan arch patent relinquished all royalty payments. Some of the material for this bridge as well as material for the others built that year came from the American Bridge Company. [8] After considerable controversy, the bridge was removed in 1962.

Before transferring to Mount Rainier National Park at the end of 1905, Major Chittenden summarized the state of the road system in the Park, and made sound recommendations for future work. For this section of the Grand Loop, Major Chittenden recommended:

Lake Junction to Canyon Junction—Concrete culverts should replace the bridge over Sulphur Creek and the one over a stream to the south of Otter Creek. Eighteen-inch pipe culverts should replace two short bridges on the sidehill grade above the second milepost from the Grand Canyon. The Alum and Otter creek bridges should be rebuilt with shorter spans. Canyon Junction to Tower Junction—earthen embankments and pipe culverts should replace most of the temporary bridges on this route. In some cases, wooden cribs should support the lower side of the embankments. Chittenden believed that these timber cribs when filled with rocks would last for twenty or thirty years. The Major suggested a possible change to the road location from about 1-1/4 miles south of Dunraven Pass to the top of the ridge, where the climb from the hotel at Canyon ends. The original intent was to build on a near level line, however, the surveyor who was told to run a constant grade between the two points, became leery after seeing that a swampy area lay in his path. Without permission he ran the line above the swamp resulting in a rise and fall of 70 feet on the line. Chittenden did not feel that the difference was that great but wrote, '. . . nevertheless, the location is not what was intended and not what it ought to be'. [9]

Other recommendations for this section called for:

The little hill about 5-1/2 miles below the Lake Hotel and another hill a little farther down, where a branch of the Yellowstone flows around an island very close to the road and forms a fine trout pool should each be cut down about 10 feet. The considerable hill in road below the sixth milepost should be cut down to the level for the bench on which the road lies on either side of the hill. A strong timber crib should be built in the water's edge to support the road. . . . The side road from the steel-concrete bridge to Artist Point should be given extra width at the lower end, in order that coaches after unloading at the Point may return far enough to be out of each other's way while waiting for the passengers. All of the down timber in the narrow and picturesque valley near the Point gathered up and burned.

In 1907, a survey for a new lower level road to connect Canyon and Tower Falls was undertaken since the existing road was not passable until the middle of July. The crews replaced railings on the bridge at Canyon Junction, replaced the bridge over Sulphur Creek with a iron culvert 3 feet in diameter and covered with fill 100 feet long and 14 feet deep, replaced the another bridge, 20 feet long, 2-1/2 miles south of Canyon with a culvert and necessary fill, and installed three culverts on the Canyon to Inspiration Point road.

In 1912, the 60 feet Alum Creek bridge, with a sunken center pier was in very bad condition. A pile trestle bridge was suggested as its replacement. A pile trestle bridge consisting of pile bents and wooden stringers was recommended as a replacement for the 32 feet Otter Creek Bridge which was also in very poor condition. In 1913, a rock filled log crib was constructed at the canyon near the Upper Falls to replaced a retaining wall which had collapsed during the spring of 1912.

Prior to the road improvements and construction program being turned over the newly created National Park Service, Capt. John Schultz summarized the condition of the Park's road in 1917. The Tower Falls to Lake Junction segment were described:

Lake to Canyon road should be routed via Sulphur Mountain from Trout Creek. Sulphur Mountain is very interesting and should be shown to the passengers. This road is not more than a mile or so longer than the present road. There is an old road going this way which is in very good condition and could be traveled if one or two culverts are replaced. This takes one farther into Hayden Valley, where elk are very often seen. Bridge across Alum Creek a foot below the road bed and about four inches above the water level. Road along the Yellowstone at the rapids and upper falls very narrow and dangerous. Heavy guard rail should be placed along there. Approach to the concrete bridge from the opposite side of Yellowstone River in very bad condition. Going from Canyon toward Dunraven Pass along the hillside half a mile before reaching the entrance of Dunraven Pass, the road should be graded to slope toward the bank and logs should be imbedded along the outer edge of the entire road from this point for about a mile. Road over top of Mt. Washburn should be cleared of rocks small and large. It is very difficult for a large car to go up there at the present time and extremely hard on tires, as the road is practically covered for miles at a time with sharp stones which have blown onto it. The last three miles before reaching Tower Falls the road is very rough and narrow and worn. Two or three severe chuck holes. [138]

The next major project for this road was a widening project over Dunraven Pass and at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the construction of stone parapets between the Upper Falls and the Canyon Bridge in 1921. [10]

Fishing Bridge to Canyon Junction

In 1931-32, a Location Survey Report was prepared for the Lake Junction and to Canyon Junction Road. The report found the Lake Junction to be "favorably situated with regard to traffic in either direction on the Grand Loop, but unfavorably located with respect to the development at Lake Lodge and Lake Hotel, . . . Tourists entering the Park via the East Entrance, may pass north of Lake Junction without being aware of the accommodations at these places". The report described the road from Lake Junction northwards to Canyon Junction:

average twenty feet in width and is partially surfaced and all treated with an oil dust palliative. The alignment and grade is fair throughout a large part of the distance, except for occasional dangerously sharp curves and steep grades which appear without warning other than road signs. The most dangerous part of the road is the so-called Trout Creek Hill descending Elk Antler Creek, a small creek seemingly in the Trout Creek valley. This hill combines a sudden excessive drop in grade, when driving northward on the road, with two sharp reverse curves on a steep slope just above the Yellowstone River. [11]

The report described the recently constructed low type load road up Otter Creek to the newly built Bear Feeding Grounds, however the report supported the reconstruction of the road to a higher standard. It also stated that the branch road over the Chittenden Bridge to Canyon Lodge on the east bank of the Yellowstone River was being improved at the time. The engineers found the beautiful, narrow Chittenden Bridge to be adequate for the present, however signs of disintegration were noted.

The Inspiration Point Road from Canyon Hotel Junction had been improved to a higher standard and was deemed adequate for a number of years. Some of the improvements had included widening.

Another Location Survey Report for possible relocation of portions of the Canyon Junction to Lake Junction section was completed in 1937. The report recognized that the construction of an 800 feet bridge over Cascade Creek would boost the expense of the project. In order to conform with the improved portions of the Grand Loop Road adjacent to this section, the report called for the section to be graded to a 28-feet shoulder to shoulder width with an ultimate surfaced width of 20 feet. Due to the poor subgrade materials along the entire route, subgrade reinforcement for a depth of 6 inches compacted would be necessary. The engineers suggested that this material could come from a quarry on Dunraven Pass. [12]

By 1939, no progress had been made on this section. The Bureau of Mines was consulted in regard to possible gas hazards on proposed bridge foundation sites in the Park. The Cascade Creek Bridge was one of the questionable proposed new bridge sites. The Bureau, who investigated the effect of sulphur compounds on various materials, concluded that ". . . it would not be sound engineering to set concrete piers or steel structures in or on the rhyolite formation investigated by them in the acid or sulphate areas of Yellowstone Park. Evidences points to the ultimate failure of concrete foundations in such locations due to one or all of several causes — subsidence, slides, and chemical action."

All major work in the Park was suspended at the outbreak of World War II, and with the increased construction costs and several other unanticipated factors, the accepted designs did not consider some essentials. Drainage structures in necessary areas were eliminated, the rolled earth gutter section across the embankment at Cascade Creek was not adequate to prevent erosion, and many of the surfaced areas were not satisfactory. During the early 1950s, 2,000 linear feet of guardrail was replaced with guide posts and 5,000 linear feet of guardrail was treated with linseed oil. [155] More of the surfacing for the Grand Loop and the Canyon parking areas was done in 1952, with additional surfacing work being done in 1962. Also in 1962, 3,058 linear feet of guardrail was installed and work on done at Otter Creek. In 1985, 110 linear feet of new roadside concrete gravity wall with stone face veneer and masonry parapets, 35 feet of 6 inch asphalt curb, and 260 feet of 2 inch asphalt walk was put in at the Sulphur Caldron.


  1. The "History" verbiage was taken directly from The History of the Construction of the Road System in Yellowstone National Park, 1872-1966." Culpin, Mary Shivers. Yellowstone National Park, 1994.
  2. William A. Jones, Report Upon the Reconnaissance of Northwestern Wyoming Including Yellowstone National Park Made In the Summer of 1873 (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1875), 58.
  3. P. W. Norris, Report Upon the Yellowstone National Park for the Year 1878, to the Secretary of the Interior, 983-984.
  4. Conger, Annual Report of the Superintendent of the Yellowstone National Park to the Secretary of the Interior for the Year 1882, 6.
  5. Anderson, Report of the Officer in Charge of Construction and Maintenance of Roads, Etc., in the Yellowstone National Park to the Secretary of War, 1896 (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1896), 5.
  6. Hiram Chittenden, "Roads In Yellowstone National Park."
  7. Hiram Chittenden, Annual Reports Upon the Construction, Repairs, and Maintenance of Roads and Bridges in the Yellowstone National Park and Construction of Military Roads from Fort Washakie to Mouth of Buffalo Fork of Snake River, Wyoming, and Erection of Monument to Sgt. Charles Floyd in the Charge of Hiram A. Chittenden, Captain, Corps of Engineers for 1903, 2891
  8. "Technical Report Upon the Improvement of Yellowstone National Park, 1904," 58. This document does not list an author, however, it is presumed to have been written by Captain Hiram Chittenden.
  9. Chittenden, Annual Report Upon the Construction, Repairs, and Maintenance of Roads and Bridges in the Yellowstone National Park in the Charge of Hiram A. Chittenden, Captain, Corps of Engineers, Appendixes GGG and KKK of the Annual Report of the Chief of Engineers for 1905, 2818.
  10. Stephen Mather, Report of the Director of the National Park Service to the Secretary of the Interior for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1921 and the Travel Season 1921, 167.
  11. A.O. Stinson, "Location Survey Report 1931-32 on Bridge Bay - Inspiration Point Survey including Section F and parts of Sections E and G of Route I, the Grand Loop System, and a part of Section D of Route 5, the East Entrance Highway, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, January 20, 1934." File Box: Roads. Grand Loop 1931-1942, 1971. Yellowstone National Park Archives. Yellowstone National Park.
  12. Robert Bond, "Preliminary Location Survey Report on Relocation of Portions of Sections 1-F, 1-G Grand Loop Highway, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming 1937, February 26, 1938." File Box: Roads. Grand Loop 1931-1942. 1971. Yellowstone National Park Archives. Yellowstone National Park.
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