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The Historic Yellowstone Trail
in Washington

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History of the Yellowstone Trail

The Yellowstone Trail was the first transcontinental automobile highway to cross the northern states from Plymouth, MA to Seattle, WA. The highway began with Joseph W. Parmley in Ipswich, South Dakota on May 23, 1912. Parmley wanted a good road from Aberdeen to Mobridge. 

Parmley and some local townsfolk began to get something done about the road and the concept of "Good Roads" quickly became a nationwide movement to provide a transcontinental highway from Plymouth Rock to Puget Sound. Construction on the highway began on 11 July 1912.  By October, the road had expanded to include Montana and a road to Yellowstone National Park, thus the Yellowstone Trail was born.

The route of the highway followed the established rail lines of the Milwaukee Road to Cartersville, Montana, and the Northern Pacific to Three Forks. Railroad tracks followed the best grades, and their routes already had established towns that can provide gasoline and other services for travelers on the trail.

By 1915, the route had expanded to incorporate roads from Chicago to Seattle, and by 1916 the Yellowstone Trail could finally advertise “A Good Road from Plymouth Rock to Puget Sound.” From Montana the route followed parts of the Old Mullan Road and Milwaukee Road. The Trail made it's way through Coeur d‘Alene, Idaho to Spokane, Washington. The Coeur d' Alene to Spokane segment of highway gained the moniker the “Apple Way” because of the apple trees planted along much of the distance.

From Spokane to Seattle, the Yellowstone Trail organizers considered two options. The first was to follow the “Sunset Highway” a more direct route west across the Columbia Plateau and Blewett Pass to Cle Elum, Washington. The second option was a longer route south to Walla Walla, then northwest through Yakima to Cle Elum. The organizers chose the longer route because Blewett Pass was not yet a "good road".

In 1925 Blewett Pass had now become a "good road" and this prompted the Yellowstone Trail Association to formally change the Trail to follow the Sunset Highway route, saving motorists some 150 miles.

The summer of 1916 saw the first drive for publicity along the entire Yellowstone Trail. The roughly 3,700 miles took five days, one hour, and twelve minutes at an average breakneck speed of 31 miles per hour. Joseph Parmley’s vision of a “great transcontinental highway” was complete.

Yellowstone Trail in name was already beginning to disappear prior to 1930. Following the Federal Highway Acts of 1916 and 1921, increased federal and state funding for interstate highways led to the practice of designating highways by number. By the mid 30's Gas Stations had maps that were available for free.

Today, Towns all across the original route are starting to post signs designating this historic highway through their towns. The Yellowstone Trail insignia, that began with a modest proposal in South Dakota endures. 

The Yellowstone Trail made Yellowstone National Park and the entire Northwest an accessible tourist destination for the automobile.



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