Lost Yellowstone: The Wylie Way

In the early days of the Park, the “Wylie Way” was a popular way to visit, especially for tourists who could not afford the larger hotels. Today, we might think of these tourist camps as “glamping.” All, or at least most, of the comforts of a hotel, while still experiencing the outdoors.

William Wallace Wylie was a schoolteacher in Bozeman, Montana. He may have remained one until he gave a tour of the Park in 1880. This led to a new career, first as a tour guide, and then as the proprietor of the Wylie camps beginning in 1883.

Coach at a Wiley Camp, 1910

Wylie camps were distinguished as much by their hotel level accommodations as their unique premise. A 1908 Wylie pamphlet explained the philosophy:

The Wylie Idea—originating a quarter of a century ago in the genius of the Company’s founder—is unique. His was a dream of a great Nature-lovers’ system for touring “Wonderland;” something that would give travelers the outing experience of a lifetime, providing withal, comfortable touring, comfortable lodging, and wholesome meals; something, in short, that would ultimately earn a national reputation for being a meritorious public-service institution.

Wiley Camp, 1914

The Wylie Permanent Camping Company (along with its competitors) operated several campsites throughout Yellowstone National Park. While they were called “permanent camps,” it would be more appropriate to say that Wylie operated “permanent campgrounds,” as the Wylie pamphlet relates:

The eight summer camps are erected each spring by a crew of workmen and remain in position as permanent stations throughout the tourist season. Each tent at camp is framed, double-topped, floored and heated. The sleeping tents afford privacy; and are furnished with large double beds equipped with high grade springs and mattresses; the dining tents are spacious, airy halls, where wholesome meals are served in abundance and cleanliness.

Workers at a Wylie Camp, 1910

While the Wylie Way was popular in the Park’s early history, it wasn’t sustainable once stage travel gave way to the automobile. In 1916, all the camp companies were consolidated into the Yellowstone Park Camping Company, which gradually transitioned toward hotel/cabins in lieu of “permanent camps.”

One example of this transition is Lake Lodge and Cabins. Started as an early Wylie Camp, in 1920, Bozeman architect Fred Willson designed the present-day Lake Lodge. The eastern half was built that year while the rest of the building was completed in 1926. And in 1929, the Park decided to rebuild the tent cabins into regular cabins. And today, with the exception of the main lodge building, much of the cabins have been removed and replaced—but the “Lake Lodge Way” of life has hardly changed.

About Courtney Ward-Reichard

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