Yellowstone: The World's First National Park

Yellowstone: The World's First National Park
Lucretia Garfield: Economics, Discovery and Daily Life

Skill: Elementary School
Time Required: One to two class periods


On March 1, 1872, when James A. Garfield was in his fourth term in Congress, the world’s first National Park, Yellowstone National Park, came into existence, largely through the efforts of people—mostly gold prospectors, curious private citizens, and government surveyors—who realized the priceless nature of the area and dedicated themselves to seeing that the land was preserved from development and kept intact for the enjoyment of all the nation.


Students who participate in this lesson will learn something about major features of Yellowstone National Park by engaged in a Treasure Hunt designed by the Park staff.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet; access to at least ten computers at one time; print materials about Yellowstone National Park.


Introduce the lesson by asking students if anyone has been to visit Yellowstone, and if so, if they might describe what they saw for the rest of the class.  If no one has been there,  show students pictures of the part, either from books or from the Internet.
Divide the class into groups of three students each.  Each of the three students has a different role: 

  • The Navigator for the Treasure Hunt—the person who takes the rest of the group through the Hunt on the computer
  • The Archivist for the Treasure Hunt—the person who notes interesting facts about the Park as the Hunt proceeds
  • The Prospector for the Treasure Hunt—the person who seeks and finds the answer to each of five questions posed on the Hunt.

Following the directions listed on the Yellowstone National Park Scavenger Hunt website below, each group should engage in the Treasure Hunt, finding the answers to five questions (and seeing if they are correct!)
The five questions are as follows: 

  • In 1898 a trail was built into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone so that visitors could be led on hikes to the base of the Lower Falls. Who built the trail and led the hikes?
  • In 1886, fourteen years after Yellowstone National Park was established, there was a U.S. Army base built at the north end of the park. What was the army's primary function in Yellowstone?
  • When a geyser has a large cone of stone that has built up over time at the base of the geyser it is a pretty safe bet that the geyser is a very old one. Which geyser in the Old Faithful area has the largest cone and is therefore probably the oldest geyser in that area?
  • One of the boardwalks through Mammoth Hot Springs was repeatedly buried by mineral deposits coming from the run-off waters of one of the springs. How was this problem solved?
  • In 1989 one of Yellowstones geysers exploded. I don't mean erupted, I mean exploded! When it exploded pieces of rock were thrown 216 feet (66 m) from the geyser. What is the name of that geyser?

When all groups have completed the Treasure Hunt, bring the class together again, and ask the Archivist from each group to mention two or three interesting facts about the Park that he or she has noted.  Then, ask five Prospectors to provide the answers to the five questions, if he or she can.  Look for similarities and differences in the answers.  When all questions have been answered correctly, congratulate the students and offer them some reward for their diligence.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson might be extended by asking each group to be responsible for researching a part of the history of Yellowstone National Park and preparing a report for the class. (See the second website, below, for historical content).

Sources & Resources:

            Yellowstone National Park Scavenger Hunt 

            History of Yellowstone National Park 
This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.