The Park is Open: Yellowstone Reopens for Summer 2022 This Morning
Written by Andrew-Rossi on June 22, 2022
Yellowstone National Park is ready to resume the summer season of its 150th anniversary – with limited access – after intense flooding and uncertainty forced the park to close for over a week.
As of 8 a.m. this morning, Yellowstone National Park is open. The East, West, and South Entrances will allow certain vehicles to enter the park’s southern loop after a week of many changes and evaluations.
During a Tuesday evening Cody conference call, Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly confirmed the park is ready to open “as scheduled” this morning. The southern loop is safe enough and staffed enough to ensure visitors can continue their adventures in the nation’s first national park.
Infrastructure along the southern loop has been inspected and deemed ready for vehicle traffic to resume and staffing levels are enough to handle the anticipated tourist traffic.
Yellowstone closed on Monday, June 13, after a “high water event” damaged several roads in the park. Floodwaters devastated the North and Northeast Entrances in Montana, completely cutting off two gateway communities – Gardiner and Cooke City – from the park.
While most of the damage occurred on the northern loop, park officials closed and evacuated the entire park to ensure public safety and assess the damage to park infrastructure. At this point, there was no reopening date announced.
Yellowstone superintendent Cam Sholly held a virtual press conference the next day. The conference was a mix of good news and bad. After initial assessments, it was determined the damage in the north was “fairly catastrophic,” but the south was largely unaffected by the floods.
The south’s status encouraged Sholly. The park’s construction teams could adequately handle the comparatively minimal damage on the southern loop. Because of this, Sholly anticipated that section of the park reopening as early as Monday, June 20.
Now, Yellowstone will open just over a week after a safe reopening seemed weeks – if not months – away. However, it won’t be a southern free-for-all.
Even with the southern loop unaffected, park officials considered how the infrastructure would handle another flood: the millions of tourists using that road during the peak of the summer season. Sholly described a scenario where the park’s total tourist volume spread out over just the southern loop as “a disaster waiting to happen.”
Thankfully, the southern loop might not have to handle all Yellowstone visitors for long. The National Park Service committed over $50 million to restore park access from the North Entrance and Gardiner as soon as possible.
Construction crews are already hard at work developing the Old Gardiner Road – a dirt wagon road from the 1800s – to restore temporary access from Gardiner to Mammoth Hot Springs. Temporary options are also being explored at the Northeast Entrance, however, Sholly says these will be significantly more difficult – and expensive.
Furthermore, the N.P.S. announced a reservation/timed entry system to be used in Yellowstone for the remainder of the Summer 2022 season, which, for park staff, goes until October. That system is currently being developed with the intent to be implemented at the park within a month.
Today, and for the next few weeks, the Alternating License Plate System will determine access to Yellowstone.
The A.L.P.S. isn’t perfect – and the park knows this. Thankfully, park officials will adjust the system as appropriate until the “permanent” system is in place.
“There were a couple of options to look at,” Sholly said in Tuesday’s Cody call. “We know you can’t put full visitation into half the park. We want to ensure our wastewater and other infrastructure stays intact and doesn’t get overwhelmed.”
The wastewater system at Mammoth Hot Springs was comprised during last week’s flooding. The damage has since been repaired for the short term, with long-term options being explored.
Access to Mammoth Hot Springs from the southern loop could be restored much sooner than anticipated. After examining the northern loop’s infrastructure, park officials believe they can reopen most if not all of the roads – or at least the route from the Dunraven Pass to Tower Junction to Mammoth – within two weeks.
From the beginning, Sholly said the goal was never to find the perfect solution for park entry. But, that may come with time.
However, Sholly acknowledged the system would be more difficult for the East Entrance, which already has the lowest amount of vehicle entries into Yellowstone. The new system will reduce an already low number of vehicles entering the park from Cody and northwest Wyoming.
There will be no return to “normal” in Summer 2022 – but the park is open.
Details on the park’s reopening and the Alternating License Plate System are available on the Yellowstone National Park website.