Yellowstone National Park flooding
High water levels in Gardner River alongside the North Entrance Road. Source: National Park Service of the United States.

Travel Alert June 2022: Yellowstone National Park Has Opened To The Public Again — But…

...approximately 20 percent of the park remains closed until further notice.

If you are planning to visit the legendary Yellowstone National Park this summer during its 150th anniversary celebration this summer, know that the south loop — along with the south entrance, east entrance, and west entrance to the park — is once again open after the entire park had temporarily closed for the first time in its history due to catastrophic flooding, which severely damaged roads and other infrastructure…

Travel Alert June 2022: Yellowstone National Park Has Opened To The Public Again — But…

Yellowstone National Park flooding
Source: Jacob W. Frank of the National Park Service of the United States.

…but even though approximately 80 percent of Yellowstone National Park is now open, the north loop — as well as the north entrance and the northeastern entrance — of the park remain closed for the foreseeable future until evaluations of infrastructure in the park are conducted now that the flood waters from the Yellowstone River have receded.

Moreover, you will not be able to visit by simply entering the park anytime you like. To ensure that the south loop does not become overwhelmed with visitors — and to balance both resource protection of the park and the economic interests of surrounding communities — an interim visitor access plan called the Alternating License Plate System has been implemented until further notice. The National Park Service will actively monitor the license plate system for impacts to resources, visitor experience, staffing, operations, infrastructure, and gateway communities and may adjust the Alternating License Plate System — or implement a reservation or timed entry system — at any time. A new reservation system is currently being built that will eventually be ready for implementation if needed.

Public vehicle entry into Yellowstone National Park will be allowed based on two factors: whether the last numerical digit on a license plate is odd or even; and whether the calendar day is odd or even.

  • License plates with an odd-numbered last digit can enter on odd days of the month.
  • License plates with an even-numbered last digit — including zero — can enter on even days of the month.
  • Personalized plates with a mix of letters and numbers that end with a letter — for example, YELL4EVR — will still use the last numerical digit on the plate to determine entrance days.
  • Personalized plates without numbers — for example, YLWSTNE — will be allowed to enter on odd days of the month.
  • Motorcycle groups traveling together — two or more — where all license plates in the group do not correspond to the date may enter on even dates only.

Entrance station staff will turn away vehicles attempting to enter the park when the odd or even numerical digits do not correspond to the odd or even calendar date for entrance.

Exceptions to the rules stated above include:

  • 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 — but not dining reservations.
    • Must show printed or digital reservation confirmation. Visitors are highly recommended to print or download their reservation confirmation in advance, as cellular service or data service is either unavailable or limited at entrance gates. All vehicles associated with the reservation will need to have proof of their reservation in their possession. Camping without a reservation is not allowed in the park, including in parked cars or recreational vehicles. Park Rangers enforce no-camping rules on all roadways.
  • Bicyclists or visitors on foot are exempted from the Alternating License Plate System.
  • Current commercial use operators with active commercial use permits will be permitted to enter regardless of license plate number.
    • Excepted commercial operators include: active Commercial Use Authorization holders, motorcoach companies, commercial stock groups, and other commercial operators entering the park paying the Commercial Tour Fee.
    • Visitors wanting to enter the park on days not correlating with their license plate can book a guided tour with one of Yellowstone’s many authorized tour operators. View a list of guided tour options in Yellowstone.
  • Essential services like mail, UPS, FedEX, Grizzly Armored Car, employees, and contractors may enter regardless of license plate number.
  • Credentialed media and reporters should send an e-mail message; and the Public Affairs Office will coordinate with them.

Unprecedented flooding, rock slides, and mudslides caused greater than 10,000 people — which included visitors who were staying in overnight accommodations such as lodging and campgrounds who were surprised by the unexpected inclement conditions — to be evacuated from the landmark park, which first closed on Monday, June 13, 2022. Multiple sections of roads have either been flooded or were washed away altogether; and electrical power was out at multiple locations within the park.

Many sections of the road between the North Entrance near Gardiner in Montana, Mammoth Hot Springs, Lamar Valley, and Cooke City in Montana near the Northeast Entrance are completely gone and will require substantial time and effort to reconstruct. Although every effort will be done to repair these roads as soon as possible, sections of the main road in northern Yellowstone will likely not reopen this season due to the time which will be required for repair work to be completed.

Other known damage at this time to some park roads includes:

  • Significant rockslide at Gardner Canyon
  • Tower Junction to Northeast Entrance: segment of road washed out near Soda Butte Picnic Area, mudslides, downed trees
  • Tower-Roosevelt to Canyon Junction (Dunraven Pass): mudslide on road
  • Canyon Junction to Fishing Bridge: Segment of road just south of Canyon Junction potentially compromised and closed for evaluation

This official video shows only some of the extensive damage — as well as additional photographs and videos.

In addition to roads, bridges and wastewater treatment facilities — as well as the quality of potable water — will be evaluated to ensure safe conditions for both visitors and employees.

Greater than one million visitors were expected to visit Yellowstone National Park during its 150th anniversary celebration this summer.

Greg Gianforte — who is the current governor of the state of Montana — officially declared a statewide disaster on Tuesday, June 14, 2022 due to the crisis, stating that the rapid melting of snow combined with heavy rains have led to flooding that is “leaving Montanans without power and water services.”

The National Weather Service in Billings reported that the Yellowstone River reached a level of 10.9 feet in Livingston in Montana, which exceeded a record of 10.7 feet that was set in 1997 — while 1.39 inches of rainfall within a period of 24 hours was officially measured at the Yellowstone National Park station of the National Weather Service.

Final Boarding Call

Yellowstone National Park flooding
Source: National Park Service of the United States.

The good news is that no no known injuries nor deaths to have occurred in the park as a result of the unprecedented flooding water levels.

I visited Yellowstone National Park some years ago and was amazed by the sheer beauty of it. I also enjoyed seeing the Old Faithful geyser.

High water levels in Gardner River alongside the North Entrance Road. Source: National Park Service of the United States.

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