Yellowstone National Park is in for another surreal week.
Last week, high temperatures brought an unexpectedly sudden high-country snowmelt, followed by intense rains. Yellowstone’s streams and rivers roared over their banks. Roads and bridges in the northern sections of the park were washed away. Park officials closed all the entry gates and the towns of Cooke City/Silver Gate, Montana, and Gardiner, Montana, found themselves isolated islands.
This week, park officials are set to open the south end of the park to a limited number of tourists using a somewhat complex even/odd license plate number system (see details below).
Those with reservations in hand to stay at parks and campgrounds within Yellowstone NP will have access regardless of their license plate or the day, as will licensed guide vendors. Vehicles sporting vanity license plates will be treated as odd numbers.
New entry system at begins June 22
The new entry system will begin Wednesday, June 22, at the park’s west gate (West Yellowstone, Montana), east gate (Cody, Wyoming), and south gate (Grand Teton NP/Jackson, Wyoming). The north gate at Gardiner and the northeast gate at Silver Gate will remain closed.
On Sunday, Yellowstone National Park’s Superintendent, Cam Sholly, said he hopes to have very limited tourism partially restored to the northern reaches of the park in the coming weeks. The caveat is that tourists in the northern sections would have to be accompanied by licensed guides in order to access areas such as Dunraven Pass, Tower Falls, Mammoth Hot Springs, and the Norris Geyser Basin. Sholly said access to northern park features could begin as early as two weeks.
The iconic northern entrance to the park at Gardiner, Montana, still won’t be accessible for the foreseeable future, since the road between Gardiner and park headquarters at Mammoth Hot Springs was completely washed away by the floods. Highway 89 north of Gardiner in Montana’s Paradise Valley also received extensive damage and could take months or even years to repair or relocate. The Cooke City/Silver Gate park entry will also remain closed, since the Beartooth Highway leading from Red Lodge, Montana, and the park’s northeast gate also received extensive damage and will need to be repaired.
Sholly said the road between Gardiner and Mammoth Hot Springs will also need extensive work and will likely be rerouted to a “less problematic” location.
National Park Service Director Chuck Sams visited the park Sunday and announced that $50 million has been earmarked to “kick start” the park’s recovery efforts. Much of that initial funding will be used to create some sort of temporary access roads between Yellowstone and the towns of Gardiner and Cooke City, Montana. Those roads, however, won’t be for tourist use. Instead, the temporary access roads will be used for essential emergency services, food supplies and other administrative needs throughout winter months. Sholly noted that most Park Service personnel actually live in Gardiner, and currently don’t have a way to get from their homes to the park.
That initial funding will likely only be the start of extensive spending. It’s been estimated that it could take nearly $1 billion to repair or replace all the services in the park.
New Park Entrance Procedures (beginning Wednesday, June 22):
Here are the details of the entrance plan:
- Public vehicle entry will be allowed based on whether the last numerical digit on a license plate is odd or even.
- Entrance will be granted based on odd/even days on the calendar.
- Personalized plates (all letters, for example: YLWSTNE) will fall into the “odd” category for entrance purposes.
- Plates with a mix of letters and numbers but that end with a letter (for example YELL4EVR) will still use the last numerical digit on the plate to determine entrance days.
- Entrance station staff will turn away vehicles attempting to enter the park when the odd/even numerical digits do not correspond to the odd/even calendar date for entrance.
- Odd-numbered last digits on license plates can enter on odd days of the month.
- Even-numbered last digits (including zero) on license plates can enter on even days of the month.
And here are some exceptions:
- Current commercial use operators with active commercial use permits will be permitted to enter regardless of license plate number. This includes commercial tours and stock groups.
- Visitors with proof of overnight reservations in the park will be permitted to enter regardless of license plate number. This includes hotels, campgrounds, and backcountry reservations.
- Commercial motor coaches will be permitted to enter regardless of license plate number.
- Motorcycle groups may enter on even dates only.
- Essential services like mail and delivery, employees and contractors may enter regardless of license plate number.
Here’s what is open at Yellowstone starting June 22:
- Backcountry areas accessible from roads open to the public will be available/restricted for day use only.
- Old Faithful [nps.gov], West Thumb, Grant Village [nps.gov], Bridge Bay, Fishing Bridge, Lake Village [nps.gov], and Norris [nps.gov] visitor services
- West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center [nps.gov]
- Canyon Village Visitor Education Center
Overnight use from trailheads in the south will open July 1.
Visit Camp in Backcountry [nps.gov] for details.
And here’s what remains closed in the south loop at Yellowstone:
- Canyon Village Lodges and Cabins
- Canyon [nps.gov], Madison [nps.gov], Norris [nps.gov] and Lewis Lake [nps.gov] campgrounds
- Fishing Bridge Visitor Center and Trailside Museum [nps.gov]
FOR MORE PARK DAMAGE PHOTOS, CLICK HERE.