It was near midnight on August 17th, 1959 when an earthquake near the Madison River triggered a massive landslide. The slide moved at 100 mph and in less than 1 minute, over 80 million tons of rock crashed into the narrow canyon, blocking the Madison River and forming Earthquake Lake. This earth-changing event, known as the Hebgen Lake Earthquake, measured 7.5 on the Richter scale. At the time it was the second largest earthquake to occur in the lower 48 states in the 20th century. Twenty-eight people lost their lives in the event.
In 1967, the Forest Service’s Earthquake Lake Visitor Center opened its doors for the first season of operation. Today, the center provides interpretive services for more than 50,000 visitors annually. The natural attractions and the easily- seen effects of the strongest earthquake in the Rocky mountains has made this area one of the outstanding scenic and geological study areas in the west.
The Earthquake Lake Visitor Center is located 27 miles northwest of West Yellowstone, Montana on US Highway 287. It is 44 miles south of Ennis, MT and 99 miles southwest of Bozeman, MT.
The center provides a panoramic view of the mountain that fell and the lake that was formed. This facility hosts interpretive displays on earthquakes, plate tectonics, and a working seismograph. In the observatory, scheduled movies and talks, explain the story of the 1959 Hebgen Lake Earthquake. Visit our bookstore which is operated in partnership with the Yellowstone Forever. There are restrooms, outside interpretive signs and a walking path to the Memorial Boulder. Pick up a Visitor Guide to the Earthquake Lake Geologic Area and explore other points of interest and evidence of the large quake.
Season of Operation
The Earthquake Lake Visitor Center is open daily from May 26 through September 30, 2017. Hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. until September 4th. From September 4th – September 30th open 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Earthquake Lake Visitor Center at: 406 682-7620 (seasonally)
Hebgen Lake Ranger District (off-season/winter): 406-823-6961
The Visitor Center is operated in partnership with the Yellowstone Forever and by the Hebgen Lake Ranger District Office, P.O. Box 520, West Yellowstone, MT 59758