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Yellowstone will begin first phase of reopening on May 18

Yell Opening COVID-19 Map 2020
National Park Service
This map shows what roads will be open beginning May 18, 2020.
Yellowstone National Park
Natalie Nix

MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS, Wyo. (KIFI/KIDK) - Yellowstone National Park will reopen on a limited basis on May 18.

The park has been closed to visitors since March 24, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yellowstone has outlined a three-phased plan that initially opens the South and East entrances of Wyoming and limits visitor travel to the lower loop of the park. The lower loop allows visitors to access Lake, Canyon, Norris, Old Faithful, West Thumb, and Grant Village.

Wyoming has lifted out-of-state travel restrictions and has requested the state’s entrances open the week of May 18. Montana and Idaho continue to have out-of-state restrictions in place and the park is working closely with these states and counties to open the remaining three entrances as soon as possible.

"These are very difficult decisions for governors and local leaders who understand the need to get these economies rolling, but want to make sure that they do it in a way that does not reverse with the progress that they've made," said Superintendent of Yellowstone, Cam Sholly.

The park has developed a range of mitigation actions that include: providing protective barriers where needed, encouraging the use of masks or facial coverings in high-density areas, metering visitor access in certain locations, increasing cleaning frequency of facilities, adding signage on boardwalks and other public spaces, and messaging to visitors through a variety of methods.

"We are ready and we have implemented, and are ready to implement a range of mitigation, both in our facilities and outside and high congestion areas, but, you know, I would prefer that it's not just a light switch, and the parks open, and we get inundated overwhelmed and not be able to handle it," Sholly said.

What will be open beginning May 18?

  • Phase 1 will begin on Monday, May 18 at 12:00 p.m. with the opening of the South and East entrances in the state of Wyoming. 
  • Visitors will be able to access the lower loop of the Grand Loop Road (see attached map) coming in and out of the South and East entrances only. 
  • Visitors will be able to access restrooms, self-service gas stations, trails and boardwalks, and other Phase 1 facilities that are prepared to open. 

What will remain closed until later phases of the plan?

  • The Montana entrances (North, West, and Northeast) will remain closed. The park is consulting with the Governor of Montana to establish reopening dates for the Montana entrances.   
  • Commercial tour buses will not be allowed in the early phases of opening. 
  • Overnight accommodations will be unavailable until later in the season. 
  • Campgrounds, backcountry permits, visitor cabins, additional stores, expanded tours, takeout food service, boating, fishing, and visitor centers will remain closed. These Phase 2 services and/or facilities will open when safe and appropriate mitigation measures are in place. This will happen at different times. 
  • Hotels, full-service dining, commercial tour buses, and ranger programs will remain closed. These Phase 3 services and/or facilities will reopen when health conditions allow. 

This limited opening approach will accomplish three objectives in the short term: 1) allow the park to continue buffering with states that are maintaining restrictions; 2) help the park and internal business partners improve and refine mitigation actions with lighter levels of visitation; and 3) allow for an assessment of how returning visitors affect COVID-19 curves within surrounding Wyoming counties.

The park’s reopening priorities center on protecting employees and the public from transmission risks through a variety of mitigation actions consistent with local, state, and federal guidance. The park will actively monitor changing conditions (in the park and in surrounding counties); and will maintain flexibility to expand, adjust, or contract operations as conditions warrant.

"I've thought long and hard along those lines about, you know, whether we could have opened all five entrances simultaneously next week, and I don't think we could have," Sholly said.

Visitors should come prepared and follow all CDC and local health guidance by practicing good hygiene and social distancing. Face coverings are recommended where social distancing is not possible. People who are sick should stay home and not visit the park. The CDC has provided specific guidance on visiting parks and recreational facilities.

“I’m asking the public to partner with us to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said Sholly. “Visitors can protect their family and friends by skipping areas that are too crowded and always maintaining social distance from other people, including rangers. The National Park Service can’t do this alone and will continue to work with all stakeholders to best protect the public and our employees.”

Previously-scheduled road construction projects will continue this summer. Normal annual bear management area closures will be in effect. Many areas of the park are still experiencing winter conditions. The park will provide details and updates for operations as they change.

Governor Mark Gordon has welcomed a plan to reopen Yellowstone to the public in phases beginning May 18.

“This is really good news,” Governor Gordon said of the announcement. “But it is important for the public to follow local-area health guidance, use common sense, practice good hygiene principles, maintain social distancing and avoid crowding. Only you can prevent the spread of COVID.”

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