By Janet Wight
Last fall my husband and I spent a few days in Yellowstone National Park, our third visit there but first one in 20 years.
Yellowstone is huge, encompassing nearly 3,500 square miles. We had previously explored many of its features,
But during last fall’s trip we primarily concentrated on Mammoth Hot Springs.
This charming village is in the northwest corner of the park, just south of Gardiner, Montana. We had been there briefly once before but it was difficult to remember many of the details.
Nonetheless, upon arrival I was completely and totally smitten! Between the bountiful elk, the trim art moderne buildings, historic Fort Yellowstone and the renowned travertine hot springs, there are plenty of delights to see.
Observing the Mammoth elk herd is a special treat. It is impossible to miss the dozens of elk, mostly female, that live in the village. Protected for multiple generations and unafraid of humans, these gentle giants are entirely comfortable lounging, roaming and grazing anywhere and everywhere. This frequently leads to major traffic jams along with ample opportunities for photography.
I marveled at the utmost confidence exuded by a particular bull as he strutted past me in the parking lot. This was his ancestral home yet he tolerated all of the curious visitors, as long as we kept a respectful distance. Humans and elk peacefully coexist in Mammoth, and it is a wondrous experience to observe this harmonious relationship up close.
Architecture is another category in which Mammoth does not disappoint. The pale yellow art moderne hotel and spacious dining room are impressive. They are a visual reminder of the elegance and refinement of an earlier era.
Renovated between 1936 and 1938, and more recently in 2019, the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel is in the heart of the village and just steps away from the dynamic, simmering hot springs. The large lobby, with its signature hand-crafted wooden map, provides the opportunity to comfortably and meaningfully connect with fellow travelers.
Located across the street from the hotel, the Mammoth dining room beckons guests with its ample size, gigantic windows and high ceiling. Gracious yet casual dining is combined with excellent wildlife viewing and people watching, ensuring a satisfying and relaxing experience for hungry visitors.
Fort Yellowstone National Historic Landmark District is yet another intriguing aspect of Mammoth Hot Springs. For 30 years, prior to the inception of the National Park Service in 1916, newly minted Yellowstone National Park was protected by the United States Army Cavalry. Over 300 soldiers were stationed throughout the park. Thirty-five original structures remain from this time period. Mammoth’s Albright Visitor Center is located in one of these sandstone buildings, formerly serving as the bachelor officers’ quarters.
A self-guided tour brochure is available, or simply take a stroll among the carefully maintained properties. A surprisingly massive post office is another gem that is worth a quick visit.
Undoubtedly, the dazzling hot spring terraces are the main attraction in Mammoth. They come in all shapes and sizes, but the most impressive specimens resemble wide staircases covered with boiling water and steam. These features are variegated in color and deceptively hot, appearing to be covered in ice rather than scalding water.
Framed photographs throughout the hotel show early enthusiasts walking and even bicycling on the hot spring terraces, but today they may be safely viewed from paved trails and boardwalks. Although there are many stairs to climb for visitors with stamina, level trails suitable for those with mobility restrictions are also available.
Additionally, there is a popular scenic drive through the upper terraces. The effects of the elevation (6,700 feet) might slow your pace, but these unusual and memorable formations are a must-see and they are thoroughly worth the time and effort. It is possible to see most of Mammoth’s thermal activity within just a few hours.
In summary, Mammoth Hot Springs offers so much more than simply its collection of mesmerizing hydrothermal features. It also has an abundant supply of endearing elk, stately period architecture and significant park history.
America’s first national park is chock full of magnificence, from Old Faithful to Grand Prismatic Spring to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. But the village of Mammoth Hot Springs just might be its crown jewel.
Janet Wight is a resident of Como Park where she lives with her husband and daughters.