Island Park, Idaho has the “LONGEST MAIN STREET” in the world; around 35 miles. Island Park sits in two volcano caldera’s; the first is the Island Park Caldera (also known as the 1st phase caldera of Yellowstone) and it is one of the largest and includes part of Yellowstone National Park and then the second is the Henry’s Fork Caldera (also known as the 2nd phase caldera of Yellowstone) at 18 miles wide and 23 miles long. The Henry’s Fork Caldera is nestled inside the Island Park Caldera and incorporates most of the Island Park area.
How did Island Park get its name? Throughout the early days the stagecoaches and travelers going through this country used the frequent large clearings or openings in the heavy stands of timber as rest stops or as places to stop and ‘Park’ for different purposes. These clearings became known as PARKS and each had its own name or distinction. Near the present site of the Island Park Boy Scout Camp (on what was recently called the RR-Island Park Siding) is the clearing early known as Island Park – derived from the condition that it was almost completely an island bordered by the Buffalo River, Split Creek, Little Warm River, Tom Creek, and Chick Creek. The name ‘Island Park’ was retained by the railroad when that immediate area was used as a siding for loading railroad ties and cattle. The Tie Company, which was headquartered at the Island Park siding, was designated to operate a US post office with the title of “Island Park”. (Dean H Green, History of Island Park)
Island Park has a rich history of Indian tribes traveling through as well as battling the military on Island Park soil. One of the greatest battles was Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Indians and General Howard of the US Army Cavalry. This confrontation happened in 1877. The first known white man to set foot on Island Park soil is Andrew Henry, who was the leader of a Missouri Fur Company, in 1810. He was leading an expedition of trappers. Although some say that John Colter explored the Island Park area in 1807, but there isn’t any written documentation to verify this.
Some of the first settlers of Island Park were tough people to deal with the long harsh winters and short summer season. The first settler is Gilman Sawtell in 1868 at Henry’s Lake. Sawtell was a known trapper and Indian fighter. Mount Sawtelle was also named after him, but it is misspelled because General Howard misspelled Gilman’s last name. The second settler was Richard “Dick” Rock in 1872 at Henry’s Lake. Dick hunted, scouted, and guided in the Island Park region prior to establishing a residence there. Dick was known for capturing wild animals and training them. He had a moose named “Nellie Bly” that would pull his cart, a buffalo named “Lindsay” that he would ride, and three bears named “Mona, Fitzsimmons, and Corbett”. Dick was killed by “Lindsay” the buffalo while he was feeding her one day in 1902. George Rea is the third settler of Island Park in 1878 to the Shotgun Valley. George was an Indian fighter, gold miner, rancher/farmer, Indian Scout and Guide, Trout Rancher, and Hunting Guide and Outfitter. George started up one of the first private fish farms and hatcheries in the State of Idaho.
Some of the original ranches are still in existence and can be visited during your stay in island Park. The Railroad Ranch is now called Harriman State Park. The Harriman family gifted the ranch to the State of Idaho in 1977 with strict requirements of how it should be managed. Visitors can still enjoy the multiple lakes and the Henry’s Fork River for great fishing, multiple hiking, biking, and cross country ski trails. The original houses are still there and you can view them with permission. The Uden Ranch is now Elk Creek Ranch. You can stay in the cabins and have a home-style meal and enjoy the private lake. Reservations are required for dinner meals. The lodge at Elk Creek Ranch is one of the oldest built in the early 1900’s. The Enget Ranch is still ran by the Enget family. You can stop by Meadow Creek Lodge and have a great home cooked meal. The only place that you can get a leg of lamb in town.
Travel through Island Park in the late 1800’s was rough and heavily rutted. Stage coach or horseback riding was the main way to access Yellowstone National Park through Island Park. In 1908 the stage coach lines ended and the railroad line was used through Island Park and West Yellowstone, Montana. As motorized vehicles appeared, road improvements were needed and installation of bridges and paved road tops were implemented. The paved roads were put where the stagecoach roads were established, and the stagecoach roads traveled the main Indian trails as proof of the most accessible routes.
Island Park was incorporated in May 1947 to meet a state law requiring businesses that serve or sell alcoholic beverages to be within incorporated towns. The city’s government at the time drew up the city’s boundaries to include all the businesses from the Last Chance area north to the Montana border that desired licenses to serve and sell alcoholic beverages. The city limits will vary from 500 feet to 5000 feet on either side of Hwy 20.