Most roads open for Memorial Day weekend — but be prepared to battle the snow

[Friday May 23, 2008]  Traditionally Memorial Day is the big opening of the summer season in Yellowstone National Park, and this year should be no different. Park officials say all roads (including the (including the Beartooth Pass) are except for the Dunraven Pass — storms dumped even more snow  and Park officials decided not to rush plowing. The two roads will be re-evaluated daily.

Be warned that just because the major roads are open all of the Park is accessible. It’s not. Two or more feet of snow is preventing access to many secondary roads, many hiking trails and some campgrounds. If you’re interested in hiking stick to the Tower and Mammoth areas, where the trails are clear. You may want to avoid the Canyon area, where some overlooks and trails are closed due to lingering snowpack, including the South Rim of Uncle Tom’s Trail and the South Rim Trail.  Road construction will force the closure of the North Rim Drive Tuesday, May 27, beginning just east of the Canyon Campground and ending at the North Rim Drive exit.  This closure will affect all access along the North Rim Trail, which includes Inspiration Point, Grandview Point, Lookout Point, Red Rock Trail and overlook and the Brink of the Lower Falls Trail.

Also, bear activity is causing some trails and areas to be closed; the smart hiker will check with Rangers to see what the current situation is (you can call 307/344-2160 for information).

If you’re planning to camp in the Park, the only campgrounds open are Madison, Mammoth, Fishing Bridge RV Park and Tower Fall, while the Slough Creek and Bridge Bay campgrounds remain closed.  In addition, there’s a chance part of the Norris Campground will be open on May 23. Other anticipated campground openings are Canyon on June 6, Indian Creek and Pebble Creek on June 13, and Grant Village on June 21.  The Lewis Lake Campground, which was scheduled to open on June 15, is still under six feet of snow. Camping at Mammoth, Tower Fall, Slough Creek and Norris is on a first-come, first-served basis.; the others require reservations through Xanterra (866/GEYSERLAND).

Good news: Artist Point at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is scheduled to re-open to the public on Friday, May 23, after the completion of a major restoration project.  The overlook has been closed to visitors since July 2007 to improve accessibility, restore the parking area, trails, walkways and viewing platforms, and to enhance the historic and natural beauty of the area.

And this weekend marks another special day in the Yellowstone National Park calendar: it’s the opening of fishing season. The local Yellowstone Insider crew will be hitting the Park this weekend to check things out, but in the meantime we did some asking around of dedicated local anglers and were told in general waters were running pretty high in the Madison, Firehole and Gibbon rivers, with muddy conditions in most of the Madison and Gibbon rivers. You can expect some big crowds on the Firehole at Biscuit Basin, but the smart anglers may head for Nez Perce Creek between the Grand Loop Bridge and the Firehole, where the water is clear and not too high. (The Nez Perce is closed above the bridge due to bear alerts). In general, any fishable area should be fairly crowded this weekend, though the poor weather (rain on Saturday and Sunday, rain and snow on Monday) will chase away the weak. As usual, remember fishing in Yellowstone National Park is catch and release; be sure to pick up a license at ranger stations, visitor centers, and Yellowstone Park General Stores.

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