On June 12, Yellowstone National Park and nearby communities in southwestern Montana experienced historic flooding, wiping out key infrastructure and forcing all visitors to evacuate. This week, the National Park Service announced $50 million in emergency funding that will 80 percent of the park to reopen earlier than planned. Here’s what to expect if you’re visiting this summer, and what you should definitely do.
When will the park reopen?
Yellowstone South Loop reopens to the public on Wednesday, June 22, with popular sites like Old Faithful and Upper Geyser Basin open to visitors. On June 20, the NPS announced its project to reopen the northern loop “in two weeks or less,” suggesting he’s aiming for the Fourth of July weekend, or soon after. This will make 80% of the park accessible, including popular destinations like Mammoth Hot Springs (where the park’s headquarters are located), Tower Junction, Norris and Dunraven Pass. Roads should be open to Slough Creek, a popular hiking and wildlife viewing area.
The park’s northern entrances – Gardiner and Cooke City – will remain closed to the public for the foreseeable future, and visitors will not be able to drive into Lamar Valley.
Who will be allowed to enter?
To manage traffic, the park is setting up an alternate license plate system. Vehicles with number plates whose last number is odd (1, 3, 5, 7 and 9) or those with personalized plates without numbers will be allowed to enter on odd days of the month. Vehicles with license plates where the last number is even and groups of motorcycles will be allowed to enter on even days. Visitors with proof of an overnight reservation inside the park (from a lodge or campground) will be permitted access any day. It is currently unclear how long this system will remain in place.
What should you expect?
NPS says to anticipate limited services and facilities, and to access them change at any time. While the alternate license plate system should help manage traffic, Yellowstone is known for its frequent “bear traffic jams,” when drivers clog roads to view wildlife. Parking areas at major attractions like Grand Prismatic Spring and Old Faithful also tend to get busy, as do the boardwalks and hiking trails around these areas.
Reservations for accommodations, guides, meals and other services are a good idea whenever you visit Yellowstone. This summer, they should be considered essential if you hope to access any of these services, and even then you may experience unexpected closures or delays.
The same goes for areas outside the park. Flooding damaged many popular campgrounds. This will concentrate congestion both on those that remain open and on nearby public lands. Make a plan for places to stay before your visit.
What should you bring?
Given the unpredictability here, I recommend entering the park with a full tank of gas, plenty of snacks, drinks, and meals to cover the time you plan to be there. Also, have a a firm plan for your day, plus a backup in another area of the park should your desired destination suddenly be closed.
The free National Park Service app (iOS and android), can help you plan your visit. The app makes it incredibly easy to back up any park’s data for offline use. Be sure to do this before your visit, as cell phone signal inside Yellowstone is very limited. It’s also a good idea to save the whole area for offline access on Google Maps, so you can navigate the often remote areas outside the park where cell phone signal is also limited.
And whenever you visit Yellowstone, you should bring shoes you can walk in comfortably, layers of clothing for the unpredictable and often extreme weather conditions, and a good pair of binoculars or spotting scopes so you can spot wildlife. at a safe distance. Bear spray should be considered mandatory.
Should you book a guide?
If it is financially accessible to you, the answer is yes. Guided tours are available for a multitude of activities: day hikes, road tours, fishing and more. The guide services that work in Yellowstone are private companies that hold licenses from the Park Service.
As small, often independent businesses based in tiny gateway communities like Gardiner, guide services and their employees are among the most financially impacted by the floods, so booking a guide is also one of the best ways to support local communities. during this difficult time.
Guides know the park intimately and have access to its staff and management. They are currently rotating destinations and routes to accommodate the closures.
Will it be dangerous?
Yellowstone is not a zoo or a mall. Animals are wild and park visitors have been killed by falls, thermal features and weather conditions. Danger also comes on the roads of Yellowstone, where drivers are often distracted. Heed all road signs and other relevant advice.
Flood-damaged trails and roads will be closed to visitors.
Where should I go?
Areas of Montana north of Gardiner and Cooke City are worst affected by flooding. Communities like Livingston and Red Lodge, as well as many other smaller places, are financially dependent on summer tourism. Visiting restaurants, hotels, bars, and shops in these areas is a great way to help out while having fun.
Livingston, just 20 minutes east of Bozeman, is full of high quality independent restaurants and great shopping. Call one of the fly shops in town and ask about local fishing guides.
Emigrant, about 20 minutes south of Livingston, is home to the old saloon, Follow Yer’ Nose BBQand friendliest fly fishing shop i’ve ever been to. Cross the river to the east and you’ll find luxury accommodation and stunning views at Sage Lodge. Five more minutes will bring you to Chico Hot Springs.
Note that Gardiner, further south, remains accessible only to local residents. Many bridges and roads in Paradise Valley were damaged or washed away, as were many campgrounds in the area. The Forest Service has closed most public land in the region, so that it can focus services and budgets on flooding. The Yellowstone River, in Park and Stillwater Counties, is currently closed to all recreational activities. There are many other fishing and rafting opportunities elsewhere in southwestern Montana; consult a local guide service.
The benefit of the incredibly wet spring we’ve had here is that it looks like the rivers and streams will be healthy all summer, the risk of forest fires has been reduced and everywhere you look is bright green and covered in the vibrant colors of wildflowers. You should come.