Pathfinder Dam represents the earliest attempts by the United States government to develop the nation's great river basins for irrigation, water storage, power production and recreation. The Federal Reclamation Act of 1902 authorized the Reclamation Service, now the Bureau of Reclamation, to begin construction on two massive dams in Wyoming: Pathfinder on the North Platte River and Buffalo Bill Dam on the Shoshone River west of Cody.
Pathfinder Dam was built between 1905 and 1909 and cost over two million dollars. It is located in a narrow canyon cut by the North Platte River through Precambrian basement rocks. It is a masonry arch structure built entirely of huge blocks quarried from the same Precambrian formations. The task of cutting, transporting and fitting the massive blocks severely tested the engineering skills of the day. Pathfinder Dam stands as a civil engineering landmark.
Pathfinder Dam stands 214 feet high and measures 432 feet across its crest. The Reservoir behind it holds over a million acre-feet (an acre of water a foot deep), creating a water sports area in the high, dry central Wyoming desert. Other dams named Seminoe, Kortes, Alcova, Grey Reef, Glendo and Guernsey would follow to further control and utilize waters from the North Platter waters.
Pathfinder Dam was named to honor General John C.
Fremont, the "Pathfinder of the West." Returning from an 1842 mapping expedition to the Rocky Mountains, Fremont attempted to float through the raging white water canyons of the North Platte near this point. He didn't succeed and was lucky to escape with his life. Most of his priceless records were lost. Pathfinder Dam was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.