Ahhh springtime in the Rockies, that wonderful season when plows open more and more roads in Yellowstone National Park, bears come out of hibernation in Grand Teton National Park, and blizzards aren't out of the question.
It can be downright miserable in both Yellowstone and Grand Teton this time of year. Of course, it can also be delightful, with few visitors, roads open for cyclists, vegetation greening up, and wildlife on the move and often visible. And you even could hit a day with temperatures in the 60s or higher.
In Yellowstone, the going gets a bit easier this weekend as plans call for the roads from the North and West entrances to Norris, Madison, Canyon and Old Faithful to open at 8 a.m. this Friday to cars and RVs.
That said, travel between Madison and Norris through Gibbon Canyon will be impacted this year by a major road construction project. Visitors can expect up to 30-minute delays from the time the road opens to travel on through the summer. This section of road will also be closed to travel between 10:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. every night from May 26 through August 16. There will be no construction delays or night time closures during the Memorial Day and Independence Day holiday weekends.
Park officials say removal of an existing bridge and construction of a new span will require the road between Norris and Madison to be completely closed to all travel beginning August 17 until it reopens to snowmobile and snowcoach travel in December. During this period, visitors should allow extra travel time in case they need to reroute through West Thumb and Canyon. Maps and additional construction details will be available at all visitor centers and online at the park's website.
The road linking Canyon, Fishing Bridge and the East Entrance is scheduled to open on Friday, May 1. Travel from the South Entrance to Grant, West Thumb and Fishing Bridge is set to begin Friday, May 8, with travel from West Thumb over Craig Pass to Old Faithful expected to begin shortly thereafter, once repairs are completed on the Isa Lake Bridge.
Travel from Cooke City over Colter Pass to the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway and the Long Lake gate typically also opens by mid-May. The balance of the Beartooth Highway to Red Lodge, Montana, and the road between Tower Fall and Canyon over Dunraven Pass opens the Friday before the Memorial Day Holiday weekend, weather permitting.
Very limited visitor services will be open for several weeks. Due to the deep snow present in the park’s interior, walking on trails including those along the Canyon Rim, or on boardwalks through thermal areas, will be difficult or impossible for some time.
The park also has several seasonal Bear Management Area closures designed to reduce encounters with bears in areas that have a high density of elk and bison carcasses. Several areas including Midway Geyser Basin and Fountain Paint Pots will remain closed through the Friday of Memorial Day weekend.
Park crews have to clear 198 miles of main road, 124 miles of secondary roads, and 125 acres of parking lots inside the park, as well as 31 miles of the Beartooth Highway outside the park’s Northeast Entrance, each spring.
Yellowstone's weather is very unpredictable. Visitors should be prepared for a wide range of winter and spring weather conditions, and should be alert for plows clearing snow from the roads, and temporary road closures. Updated Yellowstone National Park road information is available 24 hours a day by calling 307-344-2117.
Meanwhile, just to the south in Grand Teton, park officials report that their bears are waking up and moving about. As a result, you'd be wise to keep an eye out for bears anywhere within Grand Teton National Park and the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway.
Just this week, a grizzly bear was observed near the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center and the park’s headquarters building at Moose. Because this and other bears are again on the move and actively searching for springtime food sources, appropriate precautions for traveling in bear country must be taken.
Officials say you should not approach a bear under any circumstances. This is particularly important for situations involving bears near a carcass or other food source, and female bears with cubs.
When traveling in bear country, take precautionary measures such as carrying bear pepper spray and keeping it easily accessible for ready use. Please take the time to learn how to properly handle bear pepper spray and remember that having it with you is not a substitute for being alert. While enjoying recreational activities on the Teton Park Road, the Moose-Wilson Road, and in other backcountry areas within the park, visitors should always exercise good judgment by following recommended safety precautions: Be alert to surroundings, make noise, travel in a group, and keep food and garbage properly stored.
When bears leave their winter dens, they search for any food source that will help restore fat reserves lost during hibernation. Winter-weakened animals and winter-killed wildlife carcasses provide immediate sources of protein and are vigorously defended by hungry bears. As snow banks recede, bears also dig up and eat burrowing rodents and spring wildflowers. Historically, adult male bears emerge from hibernation by late March. Female bears, accompanied by their cubs, emerge later in the spring and are especially protective of their young. Any bear will defend a food source against perceived threats.
Grand Teton visitors are asked to report any bear sightings or signs of their activity to the nearest visitor center or ranger station as soon as possible. This timely information will assist park staff in keeping visitors informed about recent bear activity, and in keeping bears away from unnatural food sources.