Barring a freak spring snowstorm, some roads into Yellowstone National Park will open to wheeled vehicles on Friday morning.
The gates at West Yellowstone and Mammoth Hot Springs are set to open at 8 a.m. Friday, providing motorists with access to the Old Faithful area as well as the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Each spring, Yellowstone plow crews clear snow and ice from 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 to prepare for the summer season.
Additional road segments in the park will open during May as road clearing operations progress.
* Yellowstone's East Entrance is scheduled to open to travel on Friday, May 2.
* The park's South Entrance is set to open to the public on Friday, May 9.
* The road from the park's North Entrance at Gardiner, Mont., through Mammoth Hot Springs to the Northeast Entrance, Silver Gate and Cooke City, Mont., is open all year.
* The road east of Cooke City to WY-296 typically opens by mid-May.
* Crews from the National Park Service and the Montana Department of Transportation strive to open US-212 over the Beartooth Pass to Red Lodge, Mont., in time for the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
As an added incentive for spring visitors, park entrance fees will be waived this weekend to kickoff National Park Week. A seven-day pass to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks is normally $25 for a private, non-commercial vehicle.
Visitors should be aware that spring in Yellowstone is very unpredictable and often brings cold temperatures, high winds, and falling snow. Even cleared sections of roads can be narrow and covered with a layer of snow, ice and debris. Visitors should 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.
Due to the snow present in the park's interior, walking on trails or on boardwalks through thermal areas may also be difficult or impossible for some time. Bears have emerged from hibernation in the greater Yellowstone area and are on the hunt for food. If you plan to hike, ski or snowshoe in the park you are advised to stay in groups of three of more, make noise on the trail and carry bear spray.
Yellowstone regulations require visitors to stay 100 yards from black and grizzly bears at all times. The best defense is to stay a safe distance from bears and use binoculars, a telescope or telephoto lens to get a closer look.
Very limited visitor services will be available during the next several weeks. For updated information, go to http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/index.htm or consult the park newspaper you receive at the entrance station.
Also, know that construction is underway north of the entrance to the Norris Campground on the road to Mammoth Hot Springs. A 5.4-mile section of the road is being rebuilt, as is the bridge over the Gardner River. Visitors should expect daytime delays of up to 30 minutes, with nightly closures between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. beginning June 1. This section of road will be closed to all traffic from 11 p.m. September 14, to 7 a.m. on September 30.
Work will also begin this year to replace the Isa Lake Bridge, which is on the road between Old Faithful and West Thumb Junction. This section of road will close to through travel for the season at 6 a.m. on September 2.
Details on both of these projects and updated Yellowstone National Park road information are available 24 hours a day by calling 307-344-2117, or on the Web at http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/roadclosures.htm.