Yellowstone National Park: No Cellphone Towers in Campgrounds or Recommended Wilderness, Limits on Wi-Fi

Yellowstone officials: No Wi-Fi at the Old Faithful Inn. Kurt Repanshek photo.

Yellowstone National Park officials, in an effort to limit electronic intrusions in the park, are banning cellphone towers in campgrounds and recommended wilderness and limiting wireless access in some hotels.

Additionally, they say they will work to relocate the existing cell tower at Old Faithful and to reduce the visual impacts of cell equipment on Mount Washburn.

The restrictions, which some might find too stringent and others not stringent enough, come amid the explosion of electronic communications, whether by cellphone or the Internet.

"Wireless communications in Yellowstone will be allowed in very limited areas to provide for visitor safety and to enhance park operations," park officials said Monday in releasing the plan. "The plan restricts towers, antennas, and wireless services to a few limited locations in the park in order to protect park resources and limit the impact on park visitors."

Yellowstone last fall released an environmental assessment on the proposal to erect more cell towers in the park. You can find that document, which later had changes integrated to reflect public comments, at this site.

Plans addressing wireless communications have been completed or are under way at other National Park Service sites, including Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada and Arizona, and Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC.

Yellowstone's plan prohibits cell towers in recommended wilderness, in campgrounds, or along park road corridors. No cell phone service will be allowed in the vast majority of Yellowstone. Cell service is currently limited to the immediate vicinity of Canyon, Grant Village, Mammoth Hot Springs, and Old Faithful. The park would accept proposals to establish cell service for the Fishing Bridge/Lake Village area.

In Yellowstone, "Park concessioners would be allowed to offer Wi-Fi service in some buildings. In response to comments, Wi-Fi will be prohibited in the Old Faithful Inn and the Lake Hotel in order to preserve the historic lodging experience. Concession operators will be permitted to offer Wi-Fi service in other park lodging and general stores."

The plan also calls for Yellowstone to actively promote the courteous and respectful use of cell phones and Wi-Fi devices and to establish and sign "cell phone free zones" in the park.


I don't know about this. It seems to me they're saying cell phones and wi-fi are the dividing line between "a historic lodging experience" or not, which seems pretty arbitrary. I think the "historic experience" train left a long time ago at Yellowstone. The main areas of Yellowstone are not wilderness or in my mind, especially historic so restricting wi-fi won't really do anything other than deny a service that many guest apparently want.

I have a multiply handicapped son and as such have mixed feelings on the cell service zones in NP's. I have needed my cell service many times inside parks to communicate with my wife to make sure we have some piece of equipment or to bring this or that. We place out phones on quiet mode and try not to be to disruptive to others. Then again I am not sure why, most have the ringers turned up as loud as they will go, take calls regardless where they might be and when talking make sure everyone around them can hear. I think I will get some good walkie talkies for us, as they will accomplish the same thing from a communications need and put a base unit in the van.

Wow. Yellowstone isn't historic? Not wilderness? I don't think Asa has really experienced Yellowstone.

Yellowstone was the first National Park in the WORLD. It has more history than you can imagine. The first park Rangers, the first attempt at wilderness preservation. The reintroduction of wolves... the list is almost endless.

Sure, the main parts aren't pure wilderness anymore. And for good reason. They are fantastic. Unlike any other place on Earth. We have to make those places available to the public. And impaired people deserve to experience it, also, like Jimhikers kid.

We made a lot of mitakes in the beginning. Did you know Old Faithful used to have a large cone on it? The first visitors took away so many souvenier chunks- it's gone now. As a general rule- people are dumb. They have to be kept at bay. Thats why we have rules and trails to stay on.

If you want to experience Yellowstone as true wilderness, you have to hike the back country. A simple stroll to Fairy Falls is a great beginning. Or try Lone Star Geyser. You can't expect the wilderness to come to you. A bison will- but I don't suggest getting very close to them!

As for cell phones... once upon a time we didn't have cell phones. And we all survived. I, for one, enjoy being out of range. That's the reason I go to our National Parks and Monuments. To get away from the busy world, and enjoy the beauty of our country. Preserved for everybody to enjoy now and into the future. I don't want to see those ugly towers in the park. It's bad enough to see them everywhere else. Let's not destroy the view any more than it already has been.

When it is necessary to protect the enviroment for the wildlife then that is fine. But to say they are protecting a historic experience is a little ridiculous. That might make more sense in Colonial Williamsburg, than in Yellowstone. I don't really think of Yellowstone as a historical experience.

I applaud this ban......... There are those that are responsible and considerate, however they are in a very minor group of people. Park attendees have survived without the technology and will continue to do so with the greater peace and quiet being the winner. R & R

NO cell phones at all, ever! Visitors are in a National Park, not downtown or in a hotel in the "big city". Why in the world do they think they should have these devices if they destroy one square inch of ground or extend into the sky one foot? TAKE DOWN all existing cell towers! NOW!

I visit Yellowstone and Teton almost every year. Cell coverage has never been good and since I have a need to communicate with home almost daily I found a couple of solutions (satellite phone and satellite internet). I do think the rustic; back to nature experience can still happen even with cell coverage. The towers can be made to look just like a burned up lodgepole pine or anything other feature. It is done in other areas all the time. The issue with people talking on the phone, ringing phones, and other distractions probably won't go away if the phone does. People can be rude without cell phones, try the hand held video games with sound that can be played (play station anyone).

I am a solo physician and am limited in my travels because of not being able to successfully communicate with my office and my patients. I feel I am missing out on seeing a lot of America because of this. I can understand not having cell service or internet access in the wilderness campgrounds or along hiking trails but knowing one can drive a short ways to a larger facility is comforting. It allows me to check in several times a day. On the other hand, I do not appreciate indescriminate cell usage anywhere by rude people.

Most of us have to put up with inconsiderate people in our daily lives. We take vacations to get away from the daily hustle and bustle. I travel all the way across our nation each year to enjoy the "wide open spaces" of the west. I want to enjoy the "silence of nature", not listen to other peoples' phone conversation !

People are walking around the boardwalks at Old Faithful yapping on their cellphones now and some people want their kids to be able to sit around and play their video games on their pcs. If that is your definition of a vacation, please just check in a hotel in the middle of civilization and "play" by the pool, leave the nature-type " National Parks for those of us who truly enjoy nature ! Natural settiings are few and far between these days, I'm for keeping them as natural as possible and letting the big, private recreation developments entertain those who choose that route.

It's quite apparent that were loosing are stellar night sky to high volumes of illumination from major metropolitan cities (example:Las Vegas) and other populace areas, which is now obliterating are wilderness experience to visualize the night heavenly bodies with awesome clarity. Also, which is sad enough, is the jangling sound of cellphones going off in all hours of the day in are national parks. All for what...simply conversation and garble that certainly can be left at home. Remember when silence was golden!?

Yellowstone already has cell coverage in some areas already, and so some of this isn't anything new, just as it has electric wires, phone lines (hmm ... maybe make Yellowstone completely wireless and get rid of the phone lines? ...), lots of automobiles, gas stations, sewage treatment ... when you visit Yellowstone, you realize it looks little like it's portrayed in the nature series you see on television (even in backcountry, you might see military jets fly over you, and on and on).

And, Yellowstone, never was pure wilderness exactly; it had a permanent and transient human population who were hunting, burning fires, burning trees down (often on purpose); the idea of a pure wilderness is fictional, anyhow.

It seems a little silly to me to restrict Wi-Fi in the "historic" buildings that perhaps require it the most, if you are going to build a new tower anyhow.

But, as to the larger philosophical questions of what should or shouldn't be built in Yellowstone, that seems to be too small a question. We are already asserting ourselves as lords over the land; should we see our relationship with relatively wild places as protectors and overlords, as users and recreationalists, as resources, etc.? These questions are the oldies but goodies of conservation, but they remain relevant. Tinkering with our answers to this small questions about cell phones and Wi-Fi won't get us anywhere unless we are willing to understand why the boundaries are drawn, who draws them, and whether they should be drawn this way. If the goal is a wild Yellowstone - that is, a somewhat artificial Yellowstone of a different sort - that will suggest different answers than one that recognizes that humans have had a relationship with this land for a very long time, much longer than 1872. But, what sort of relationship?

I think some of the frustration people on both sides feel is that the National Park Service, though it asks for public comments (because it is required to by law), generally makes its own decisions; they are abstracted from the public they are supposed to serve. We are left to be cynical no matter where we are on the questions of use in Yellowstone (look at snowmobiles or bison). This has suggested to me for a long time that Yellowstone is trapped in a much larger human system of politics, and I doubt we will have adequate discussions about particular issues in Yellowstone without discussing the way our nation works and operates (for better, and often for worse).

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Jim raises some intriguing points that revolve around our whole concept of what is wilderness, and what is a wilderness experience. Of course, those answers no doubt would vary greatly depending on whom you posed the questions to.

What are the components of 'pure wilderness'? Does a transient population such as the Sheepeaters make it less of a wilderness?

Unfortunately, we are limited by how we can address the answers to these questions by the politics and economics that drive our society.

I agree with most of your points. I think cell phone use on some of yellowstones roads woad be dangerous, but not by a passenger. I also think taking a vacation free from my kids using their phones for texting etc.. sounds good. But, I think having cell phones comes with the times. Historic Park, come on; should we ban cars and go back to horses, should we only allow pit toilet houses should we ban green energy, should we ban a microwave. Cell phones provide some safety and security as well as keeping informed via the internet. Long and short, I think cell phone towers should be required to fit into the area by looking like a tree( i have seen requirements like this in some localities) but could be added only to a few new areas at a time including campgrounds and all lodging.
Dave Crowl

It's amazing to me that we accept electricity as a necessary element for parks, and accept electric lines across the horizons of our parks. We accept modern amenities like paved roads, and overpasses as necessary to enjoy the parks. We accept wired telephones in the lodges and public areas. We accept that park rangers communicate wirelessly with hand-held radios (and cell phones). We accept the park radio stations that broadcast interpretive messages. We accept as appropriate the use of very high technology digital cameras and high-def recording devices. So why the fuss over the use of cell phones?

Having traveled in the past year to parks, including Yosemite and Yellowstone, I can tell you there is terrific cell coverage in Yosemite Village, and near Old Faithful. I'd suggest someone do a study in those areas and ask, is there an overt abuse of cell phones in those areas? So much so that it detracts from the 'natural' experience of the area (two of the busiest areas in the NPS including hotels, parking lots, restaurants, buses, souvenir shops)?

Cell phones are becoming more of a necessity to many people as time goes by. It doesn't make sense to restrict their use, simply because they are new technology, or because their use by some may be considered inappropriate ... I could tell you plenty of stories of bad drivers in parks, but I doubt we'll get rid of the automobile any time soon.

Cell phone ban means that only people of means can carry a satellite phone to use in case of emergency. I don't quite see the rationale there. Yes, people can be inconsiderate and loud, but in the backcountry, there are so few people, that giving some cell phone coverage would not ruin the experience. I see them as a great tool to call in help in case of emergency.

Jeremy, I think the thing with cellphones is their intrusiveness, which can border on obnoxious.

Zeb, with the rugged landscapes of many backcountry areas (Yosemite, Sequoia, Rocky Mountain, Glacier, etc), can you imagine how many towers you'd need to provide cell coverage in all the terrain? I'd doubt there's an economic rationale to pay for installing 'em all.

There are other options for calling for help, ie Spot and the other personal locator beacons on the market.

Interesting discussion on cell service and points made on both sides. Limiting cell coverage to the developed areas of the park works for me, but expanding coverage to the back country and the "wilderness" areas, come on!
I take scouts backpacking several times a year and tell them to leave the cell phone at home as the adults on the trip will have them. We leave them in the car at the trail head as I carry a SPOT now for emergencies. Then we get into the Sierra's someplace and one of the kids is playing a game on his cell phone while we are pitching camp, doing dinner, or some other activity. I want to scream! Of course I don't, I just take the phone, remove the battery and give the phone back; never saying a word. The thought of the backcountry "wired" for cell service angers me a great deal.

What it looks like the NPS is trying to do is find middle ground in this issue. Something between the outright removal of all wireless (cell wifi) in the parks and total coverage of the entire area. I would guess that something in the middle is what will be adopted and hopefully will be acceptable to most park users. The park has changed many times. When I first came we fed the bears and anything else we wanted. We walked on areas that are now prohibited. My grandfather threw linen into the features and watched them come back up.

The NPS adopted changes in these areas and the visitors adapted and the park benefited. I think it will be so with the cell and wifi that has become so much part of our culture.

As Kurt points out, they wouldn't be able to wire the entire park for wireless even if they wanted to; the geography makes that not likely to happen.

In the various "villages," it seems kind of silly to me in areas that are already urbanized to restrict usage in some of the buildings. You're saying they can have vending machines, electricity, running water, restaurants, gift stores, etc. in the Old Faithful Inn (and telephones, too), but not Wi-Fi? That's not a middle ground; that's just a bizarro sense of aesthetics.

As for cell phone service, I was in Big Sky a couple years ago and was near the top of Lone Mountain, and I had five bars on my cell phone; it seemed disgusting to me that I could have such great service near the top of an 11,000 foot mountain. I think what it was for me is that in one sense we are more connected than ever; in a larger sense, we are less connected. We have no connection to the place we are, to the land itself. We connect with each other on national parks on a freaking web-zine, but so often when we are out in the parks, we can only think about the pictures we will take to share, the videos, or the stories we will write (I'm guilty as charged!). We lose the moment with the place.

So, I get very much our desire to scale back the technology; we just have to be honest about what we are doing and why we are doing it. If we are going to make things more difficult (I remember the good old days living in Yellowstone dorms without television - then, satellite tv came ... ugh) from a technology standpoint, don't do it half-assed and in ways that don't make sense. But, that's part of the contradiction of Yellowstone. The Old Faithful Inn, for instance, is truly a marvel of architecture and human construction, especially in the front foyer, and yet it was built so that people could stay very close to the thermal features, especially Old Faithful itself. It was a technological comfort, not a "historic" shrine. You want people to really connect with Old Faithful? Close down the Inn! In ages past, there used to be a campground - that was shut down - turn the Inn instead into a "historic" museum. But, if you are going to use it, have all these very modern amenities, make everything comfortable, and have cell phone service anyhow, then let people have Wi-Fi so they can also write about it. It's a faux denial, a faux middle ground.

Don't take this post as pro Wi-Fi; I supported residents in Gardiner who successfully fought a cell phone tower that would have been an aesthetic blight on the town. I'm pro-consistency and pro-having a serious and meaningful dialogue on what Yellowstone should be and working to implement the consequences, no matter how drastic they are, to make that happen. If anything, people should take my point as being that strange things happen when you decide to play God in Yellowstone, and this is one example of it. People do their laundry in the thermals at the Black Sand Basin one day, and they blog about what it used to be like (but not in the Inn) the next. But, we love this place; doesn't it deserve better than our farcical policy whims and processes?

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Look, it is not about Emergency service or being rude to the 15k visitors a DAY in Yellowstone. Out of the thousands of acres of land in this park 95% of the visitors never go 15ft from the boardwalk. Most of the "wilderness" people are worried about doesn’t have cell phone coverage anyways, and even if it did the visitors are so few and far apart that a Chatty Cathy on a phone is no big deal. All this ban is doing is making things worse for people in the busy areas of the park. Now instead of talking to mom and dad or surfing the web on your phone you have to find something else to do for the hours a day that you are waiting for a geyser to go off. Believe me with 15k people in ~2 miles of boardwalk you are not worried about a "pristine environment" or a peaceful walk in the woods.

There are a lot of comments that imply the cell phone is a recreational device; however, I see them as communications devices. They allow you to reach someone, and be reached, whenever necessary. For example, if my car breaks down somewhere in the park I would like to be able to call for help. If I have a heart attack I'd like my wife to be able to call 911 right then. If my daughter has to go to the hospital at home I'd like to know about it then, not when I get back to civilization.

When we first stated having cell phones there was a problem with people talking in movie theaters but I don't remember that problem in quite a while.

I would like to see cell phones work everywhere possible, but, maybe, have signs requesting they be used for emergencies only. It might take some time, like it did in the movie theaters, but eventually most people would get the message. If people had to talk on their cell phone they could do it in their hotel room or the more commercial areas.

This is not a ban. They simply are not going to go out of their way to make cell phone service available. Such as it should be. How is it that millions of people have safely visited Yellowstone over the past 130 years without cell phone service? The last thing Yellowstone needs is cell towers all over the place and people yaking on phones. My nephew visited from California a couple of years ago, and all I remember was him on his phone constantly talking to work. Supposed to be on vacation! People like that should be happy that there are still a few places where they have an excuse: "Hey, I didn't have any service!!"
As it is (and will apparently continue to be) cell service IS available in a lot of areas: I get service in Mammoth, from Mammath to Blacktail, Tower Junction to Slough Creek, Pepple Creek to Cook City; Mammoth about half way to Norris, about halfway to Canyon to Canyon; parts of Hayden Valley, quite a bit around the Lake, all around Old Faithful, Grant Villiage to the Tetons (with some dropouts and dead areas, and the entire West Entrance road. I have called my wife while hiking in Pelican Valley, Hayden Valley, Snow Pass, The Yellowstone River Trail, Avalanche Peak, Trout Lake and a few other back country spots. All of this using a six year old TracPhone. The Park Service has absolutely made the right decision here.

You know what the great thing is? There is no cell phone service or internet connection at Norris Juntion. Nor is there power at the campfire circle. The rangers actually have to engage the visitors without power points or slide shows. It's great. Last summer, one of the seasonal naturalists there was a concert violinist. He brougt his instrument to his talk, one concentrating on the history of the park. Every once in awhile, he would say something like "the military was here. They always had a fiddler." Then he played a fiddle tune. Or, "the park employees put on evening programs. These are the songs they would have played." The people were captivated. I have seen scores of evening programs. This was one of the most unique I have seen.

Rick Smith

There is definitely a lot of misunderstanding of what this plan actually calls for and what the existing reality is as far as cell phone service (and it can depend on your carrier, too). The only really annoying thing to me about this remains the restriction of wi-fi to "historic" buildings that are already serviced by cell phone towers.

What I am interested in, though, is for people to talk more about the many contradictions about the Yellowstone experience. You drive 3,000 miles to Yellowstone (or 100 in my case), and then suddenly you think you can act as though you are in the middle of nowhere when in fact it takes a lot of technology and support to allow your visit to take place. We are creating something of an illusion, aren't we? So, I don't understand or am at least amused by the ways people get upset on both sides of their vision of the illusion. I mean, "Have the cell towers, but hide them into the landscape." How 21st century Frank Lloyd Wright! Great, I'm for it, but there's an absurdity just lurking in all this, in all these discussions, in all our visits, and there always has been since just before Yellowstone was founded (and I say just before because those "discovery" voyages into the park were really - for most of the participants (I wouldn't have called Truman Everts' experience lost and starving for 40 days exactly the typical tourist experience) - were grand tourist trips, cloaking the reality of a pristine wilderness that's not quite what we imagine.

We bring ourselves into Yellowstone; I think that's all for the best ... but what would be even better is if we acknowledged that and crafted policy acknowledging it (it's not what you see on the nature shows; it's not Disneyland, either -- it's all that and more). Personally, I'd like to see less of almost everything, but if we are going to have more of some things (like communications tools), I don't want to see unnecessary and pointless restrictions in implementing them toward a non-existent, fanciful ideal (like protecting the historical character of the Old Faithful Inn ... give me a break; that's been long and continually compromised and misses the whole point of the place).

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

I understand limiting the number of cell phone towers to preserve the natural look of the park but it seems like there is a safety issue with restricting people's access to communications. Perhaps the best way to go, if your hiking through the park is to rent a satellite phone. [There are many online sources.] They're not as expensive as they use to be and you could just keep it handy for emergency purposes.

I am also one of those people who is on call 24/7/365. Not life-threatening on-call, but professionally required to be contactable. It doesn't happen that often in off hours, but when it does, it's my responsibility to be available. So while I would not try to get coverage for either on a true wilderness experience, I would have to choose recreational activities based on these being available or reasonably accessible. A hotel with AC, hot water, and modern equipment doesn't get any less historical because there are telecommunication waves floating about that some of us may consume from time to time.

In fact, wifi service is much easier to hide away than all of those other services.

Yes, there will be obliviots who spend their entire experience chatting with their friends about how bored they are, but so are the idiots who experience their entire visit behind a video camera lens. Perhaps all cameras should be banned, too?

No Wi-Fi at Old Faithful Inn? I think they're going a little too far here, telling people what they can and cannot do in the privacy of their own hotel room, which they've paid a lot of money for. If you don't like Wi-Fi at Old Faithful... then don't use it!

If we really want to preserve the historic character of staying at the Inn in that way, why don't we rip out the central heating?

You're absolutely right...this is the 21st century. Old Faithful Inn is not wilderness and why should I not be allowed to internet in the privacy of my own room? Did they have a problem with phones 100 years ago...I'd bet not.

This is backwards. So what am I to do if I get lost in the "wilderness". I guess that $200 cell phone won't get me rescued. They call that historic, I guess? I call it stupid and dangerous.