How to visit Yellowstone after the flood

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On June 12, Yellowstone National Park and nearby communities in southwest Montana experienced historic flooding that destroyed vital infrastructure and forced all visitors to evacuate. This week, the National Park Service announced $50 million in emergency funding that will allow 80 percent of the park to reopen earlier than expected. Here’s what to expect if you’re visiting this summer, must-do’s.

Road closures in Yellowstone National Park effective June 22. (Photo: NPS)

When does the park reopen?

Yellowstone’s southern loop will reopen to the public on Wednesday, June 22, with popular attractions such as Old Faithful and Upper Geyser Basin open to visitors. On June 20, the NPS announced its plans to reopen the Nordschleife “in two weeks or less”, suggesting it is targeting the weekend of July 4th or shortly thereafter. This makes 80 percent 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 as far as 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 the Lamar Valley.

The removable plate system is very simple. (Photo: NPS)

Who is admitted?

To manage traffic, the park is introducing a system of rotating license plates. Vehicles with number plates where the last number is odd (1, 3, 5, 7, and 9) or those with personalized number plates without numbers are allowed through on odd days of the month. Vehicles with number plates with the last number in an even number and groups of motorcycles are admitted on even days. Visitors with proof of an overnight reservation at the park (from a lodge or campground) will be permitted entry each day. How long this system will remain in place is currently unclear.

What should you expect?

NPS says it has limited services and facilities, and access to them is subject to change. While the rotating license plate system was meant to help direct traffic, Yellowstone is known for its frequent “bear jams,” when drivers clog roads to spot wildlife. Also, parking lots at major attractions like Grand Prismatic Spring and Old Faithful tend to be very busy, as are boardwalks and hiking trails in the area.

Reservations for lodging, guides, meals, and other services are a good idea any time you visit Yellowstone. This summer, they should be considered essential if you want to access any of these services, and even then there may be unexpected closures or delays.

The same applies to areas outside the park. Flooding has damaged many popular campsites. This will focus congestion both on those that remain open and on nearby public lands. Make a plan for where to stay before you visit.

What should you bring along?

Given the unpredictability here, I’d recommend entering the park with a full tank, plenty of snacks, drinks, and meals to cover the time you plan to spend there. Also have one fixed schedule for your day, along with a backup in another area of ​​the park should your desired destination suddenly be closed.

The free National Park Service app (iOS and Android) will help you plan your visit. The app makes it incredibly easy to save all data for each park for offline use. Make sure you do this before your visit as cell phone signal is very limited within Yellowstone. It’s also a good idea to save the entire region to Google Maps for offline access, so you can navigate the often remote areas outside the park where cell phone signal is also limited.

And any time you visit Yellowstone, be sure to bring shoes you can walk comfortably in, layers of clothing for unpredictable and often extreme weather, and a good pair of binoculars or a spotting scope so you can spot wildlife from 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 variety of activities: day hikes, road tours, fishing and more. Tour guides working in Yellowstone are private companies licensed by the Park Service.

With small, often independent businesses based in tiny gateway communities like Gardiner, tour guide services and their employees being among the hardest hit financially by the floods, hiring a tour guide is also one of the best ways to help local communities during this challenging time support.

A list of all licensed Yellowstone guides can be found here.

Guides are intimately familiar with the park and have access to its staff and management. They are currently pivoting destinations and itineraries to accommodate the closures.

Seriously, bring good quality binoculars. (Photo: NPS)

Will it be dangerous?

Yellowstone is not a zoo or a mall. The animals are wild and park visitors have been killed by falls, thermal features and the weather. Dangers also arise on Yellowstone’s roads, where drivers are often distracted. Observe all relevant signs and other information.

Paths and roads damaged by the flood will be closed to visitors.

Where else should I go?

The areas of Montana north of Gardiner and Cooke City are hardest hit by flooding. Communities like Livingston and Red Lodge, as well as many other smaller towns, depend financially on summer tourism. Visiting restaurants, hotels, bars, and shops in these areas is a great way to help and have a fun time at the same time.

Livingston, just 20 minutes east of Bozeman, is full of quality independent restaurants and great shopping. Call one of the city’s fly shops and ask for local fishing guides.

Emigrant, about 20 minutes south of Livingston, is home to The Old Saloon, Follow Yer’ Nose BBQ and the friendliest fly fishing shop I’ve ever been to. Cross the river east and you’ll find luxury accommodation and stunning views at Sage Lodge. Another five minutes will take you to Chico Hot Springs.

Note that farther south, Gardiner is only accessible to 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 of the public space in the area so it can focus its services and budgets on the 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 southwest Montana; Contact a local tour guide.

The benefit of the incredibly wet spring we’ve had up here is that it looks like rivers and streams will be healthy all summer long, wildfire risk has been reduced and everywhere you look it’s bright green and with the glowing Colors covered by wildflowers. You should come.

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