More wheeled access will be possible in Yellowstone National Park this Friday -- barring a major snowstorm -- as the routes from Mammoth Hot Springs and West Yellowstone, Montana, to Old Faithful are scheduled to open.
Park officials earlier this year had pushed back the spring opening by a week or two as a result of budget cuts imposed by the failure of Congress and the White House to repair the country's fiscal condition.
But favorable weather conditions, below average snow levels, and assistance from the Wyoming Department of Transportation have allowed the park to prepare some road segments for automobile travel earlier than anticipated. This will permit Yellowstone to open the roads from West Yellowstone and Mammoth Hot Springs to Old Faithful to visitors at 8 a.m. on Friday.
A consequence of this opening is that cyclists, who earlier this month were told by Yellowstone officials that they could pedal park roads without encountering private vehicles until April 26, will have to cope with traffic beginning this Friday.
"Because of (the budget) sequestration, we announced a while back that we had delayed opening the west side of the park (West Yellowstone and entrance from Mammoth Hot Springs) to Old Faithful one week from April 19 to April 26. In the interim, we went forth with allowing bicycle only season on those roads after we cleared them of snow," park spokesman Dan Hottle said via email Tuesday. "The other day, we realized the weather had been good on the west side and that the roads were in great shape for normal vehicle travel, so we decided to go back to our original opening date of April 19."
For all visitors, whether arriving by vehicle or bike, restroom facilities will be available at Madison Junction and Old Faithful starting April 19, with pay-at-the pump fuel available 24 hours a day at both the Upper and Lower service stations.
The Old Faithful Visitor Education Center, the Geyser Grill and the Bear Den Gift Shop will open for the season on Friday, April 26. The Old Faithful Snow Lodge, Cabins and Restaurant, the Old Faithful Upper Store and the Lower Service Station convenience store all open for the season on Friday, May 3.
Visitors should be aware that spring in Yellowstone is very unpredictable and often brings cold temperatures, high winds, and heavy snow. Even cleared sections of roads can be narrow and covered with a layer of snow, ice and debris. Therefore, visitors are urged to use extreme caution when driving, as road clearing operations can be ongoing at any time throughout the park. In the case of extreme weather conditions, temporary road closures are also possible with little or no advance warning.
Park entrance fees will be waived April 22-26 as part of National Park Week. The week-long annual celebration is designed to encourage people to visit one of America’s 401 National Park System sites. A seven-day pass to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks is normally $25 for a private, non-commercial vehicle.
The road from the park’s North Entrance at Gardiner, Montana, through Mammoth Hot Springs, and on to the Northeast Entrance and the communities of Cooke City and Silver Gate, Montana, is open all year.
Thanks to fundraising efforts by the communities of Cody and Jackson, Wyoming, crews and equipment from the Wyoming Department of Transportation have joined National Park Service efforts to clear park roads for visitor travel. You can follow the progress of spring road clearing in Yellowstone on the web.
Weather permitting, the road from Norris Junction through Canyon and Fishing Bridge to the park’s East Entrance should open to travel on Friday, May 3, as originally scheduled. Travel through the South Entrance to Grant Village, West Thumb Junction and on to Fishing Bridge is set to open as originally scheduled on Friday, May 10, given favorable weather conditions. The road from West Thumb Junction to Old Faithful will open sometime after May 10.
Information on current conditions in the park is available online. Updated Yellowstone National Park road information is available 24 hours a day by calling 307-344-2117.