As a national park with land in three states (Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho), Yellowstone is subject to more variability in regulations from its surrounding communities than some other national parks. As the areas around the park reopen at different rates, visitors can expect some changes. But that’s no reason to put off trip planning! Even if you plan now to travel later, there’s plenty of solaces to find in dreaming of Yellowstone.
As the park begins its phased reopening plan, here’s what to expect.
The Yellowstone reopening plan includes three phases, and the timeline is fluid, since current health conditions will help determine when the park progresses beyond Phase 1.
Phase 1 allows for initial services in May 2020; those things like road access, limited stores, public restrooms, gas stations, trails and boardwalks, medical clinics, approved tours, and entrance stations. Plan to seek out quieter spots to get away from crowded areas, and observe social distancing practices. Inside park buildings, you can expect to see increased cleaning measures and enforced social distancing or reduced capacity to keep staff and visitors safe.
Phase 2 does not have a set start date, but the park expects to move into it sometime in June, as health conditions allow. It calls for some expanded services, like the opening of campgrounds, issuing of backcountry permits, visitor cabins, additional stores, extended tours, food takeout, boating and fishing, and limited visitor centers.
Phase 3 calls for full services, but there is no estimated date for that one, so visitors will need to wait and see. For access to the comprehensive reopening plan, visit the NPS website here.
But what does this all really mean for park visitors? The more you can expect the unexpected, the better you’ll set yourself up for success. With a go-with-the-flow attitude, you can get more out of your trip, even with limited offerings available. Visitors should expect to pay with plastic whenever possible, since the park is encouraging credit cards to help reduce transmission from handling cash. And although visitation numbers have been down from normal years, it seems like that should pick up soon.
Tours are allowed to operate in a capacity consistent with current health regulations. In Phase 1, that means group sizes of 10 or fewer, in situations that will enable for proper social distancing. As the park moves on to later phases, that may expand. Check with tour providers directly to see what this means for their operations.
Since the big tour buses won’t be operational until Phase 3, you can expect to do the DIY route for now. That means you have all the flexibility you could want if you drive your own vehicle or rent a car, choose your dining and accommodations, and take your time seeing the sites you’re most interested in, and skipping the ones you could live without.
At least during Phases 1 and 2, you’ll find the most lodging options outside the park, since hotels inside park boundaries will not be opening until Phase 3. So although camping and cabins begin to open up in Phase 2, visitors seeking the comfort and amenities of a hotel stay will need to book outside the park.
Gardiner, Livingston, and Bozeman are the most accessible towns on the Montana side to give quick access to the Gardiner entrance while still being able to find all the amenities you’re looking for. Click here to learn more about the hotels and campgrounds that Highline Adventures offers in these unique gateway communities.