The Yellowstone Trail
Across Washington State
Before there were numbered US highways, the Yellowstone Trail route was the first coast to coast
automobile route that went entirely across the northern part of the United States. The route was
named the Yellowstone Trail because it was the northern route that most people traveled to reach
Yellowstone National Park.
I photographed the above scene in November 1975, just east of Redmond, Washington. This scene
shows part of the only unaltered remnant of the Yellowstone Trail automobile route in King
County, Washington. This scene of the old Yellowstone Trail route is looking south down
present-day 196th Avenue NE from near the present-day intersection with NE 61 Place, which didn't
exist in 1975. When this red brick road was part of the Yellowstone Trail route it was named the
James Mattson Road after a landowner along the west side of the road, who originally petitioned
to have the road built. The circa 1901 road was later paved with red brick in 1913. In 1983 the
over one mile long red brick road was designated a King County landmark and in 1989 was carefully
restored to preserve the road as a Washington State centennial project. At present, the old red
brick road looks much the same now as it does in my 1975 photograph, but the surrounding
countryside has been somewhat encroached upon by urban sprawl since then.
The Yellowstone Trail route was established by the Yellowstone Trail Association, a grassroots
organization that formed in October 1912 as an advocate for good roads. A slogan of the
Yellowstone Trail Association, printed on route brochures, was “A Good Road from Plymouth
Rock to Puget Sound”. The Yellowstone Trail route was pieced together, connecting from
road to road, using the first existing good roads constructed across the northern part of the
Across Washington State, the Yellowstone Trail route originally was a circuitous route that was
designated by about 1915, when the Sunset Highway automobile route over
Snoqualmie Pass was dedicated, which
replaced the route of the old State Road No. 7 wagon road. This article only describes in detail
the Yellowstone Trail route as it first existed across Washington State after the dedication of
the Sunset Highway on July 1, 1915 by Governor Ernest Lister at Snoqualmie Pass. Later the
Yellowstone Trail route coincided with the route of the Sunset Highway from Spokane to Seattle.
Westward from Spokane, the Yellowstone Trail route originally used the old Inland Empire Highway,
which meandered hill and vale through Rosalia, Colfax, Central Ferry, Dayton, Walla Walla, Pasco,
Kennewick, Richland, Prosser, Grandview, Yakima, Selah, Wenas, and Ellensburg. Between Selah and
Ellensburg, the Inland Empire Highway and the Yellowstone Trail route went from Selah on the route
of the 1870's stage road, up through the Wenas Valley past Chief Ow-hi's Gardens, Wenas, and on up
over the west end of Umtanum Ridge through Ellensburg Pass, which at an elevation of 3128 feet is
higher than Snoqualmie Pass. From Ellensburg Pass, the Yellowstone Trail route went down through
Shushuskin Canyon and then down onto the Kittitas Valley bottom. An 1880's cutoff along this route,
the Jacob Durr Toll Road, was also used by stagecoaches, but it was a more rugged route over
Umtanum Ridge than the original 1870's stage road, so it was not used as part of the Yellowstone
From Ellensburg, the Yellowstone Trail route went west on the route of the Sunset Highway through
Cle Elum. The Sunset Highway originally came through Ellensburg from Spokane by way of Davenport,
Wilbur, Waterville, Wenatchee, Quincy, and Vantage, but by the early 1920's it was routed from
Wenatchee on up over Blewett Pass and down through Cle Elum. In 1925, after the later Sunset
Highway route over Blewett Pass was improved, the Yellowstone Trail route was designated as using
that more direct route from Spokane to Cle Elum.
The Yellowstone Trail route beside Weeks Falls on the South Fork Snoqualmie River in 1916.
From Cle Elum, the original Yellowstone Trail route continued on the route of the Sunset Highway
through Easton, Snoqualmie Pass, North Bend,
and Snoqualmie, to Fall City. At Fall City the original Yellowstone Trail route departed the
original Sunset Highway route, which originally continued on through Preston, High Point, Issaquah,
Renton, and then on around the south end of Lake Washington.
From Fall City the Yellowstone Trail route wound northwestwardly generally on the route of the
present-day Redmond-Fall City Road (SR 202) for about 12 miles and then angled off northwestwardly
on present-day NE 55th Place over to present-day 196th Avenue NE. From present-day NE 55th Place
the Yellowstone Trail route went north on present-day 196th Avenue NE for nearly 1¼ miles
to present-day NE Union Hill Road. From there the Yellowstone Trail route turned west and wound
westwardly on the routes of present-day NE Union Hill Road, NE 80th Street, Avondale Way NE, and
NE 79th Street, to Redmond Way in downtown Redmond.
In downtown Redmond the Yellowstone Trail route continued about a couple blocks on present-day
Redmond Way and then turned onto present-day Leary Way NE, going southwestwardly past the Redmond
Depot on the east side of the road and then across the railroad tracks of the Northern Pacific
Railway, Snoqualmie Branch. From the railroad crossing, the Yellowstone Trail continued on
present-day Leary Way NE and then meandered westwardly generally on the routes of present-day West
Lake Sammamish Parkway, Old Redmond Road, NE 70th Place, NE 70th Street, NE 72nd Place, and NE 68th
Street, then crossed under the tracks of the Northern Pacific Railway, Lake Washington Belt Line.
From this second railroad crossing, the Yellowstone Trail continued generally on the routes of
present-day NE 68th Street, State Street South, and then down Kirkland Avenue to an automobile ferry
landing on the downtown Kirkland waterfront. Much of this early automobile route between Redmond and
Kirkland was designated early on at various times as State Aid Road No. 4, State Aid Road No. 4-56,
and as Permanent Highway No.1 A.
The ferry Lincoln of Kirkland provided a connection across Lake Washington from Kirkland to
the ferry landing at the foot of the east end of Madison Street, in the Madison Park neighborhood of
Seattle. The ferry Lincoln was in service between Kirkland and Madison Park from 1915 until
1940, when the Lacey V. Murrow floating bridge across Lake Washington opened. Earlier
county-operated ferry boats making the run were the King County of Kent and the Washington
Today Madison Street still angles diagonally across Seattle, running from the location of the
old ferry landing on Lake Washington at Madison Park, directly to downtown Seattle and the
Seattle waterfront on Puget Sound.