With the Memorial Day weekend marking the unofficial start of the 2019 Yellowstone summer season, many of you will be heading to America’s first National Park for the first time this year. Here’s what to expect.
Weather permitting, all roads in Yellowstone National Park will be open as of 8 a.m. today, when the Dunraven Pass (Tower Fall to Canyon Junction) opens. Doing any sort of planning in Yellowstone always carries a caveat of weather permitting, but in this case, we mean it: the short-term forecast in Yellowstone Friday through Monday calls for snow Thursday night, snow and rain on Friday, rain on Saturday morning, and rain on Sunday and Monday. In the higher altitudes, such as in the Dunraven Pass (set to open at 8 a.m. Friday), that means snow and freezing rain is likely. So don’t be surprised if the Dunraven Pass is closed for stretches of time and make your driving plans accordingly. And if you do manage to make it onto the Pass, be careful: there are plenty of sharp hairpin turns where you may not see that stretch of ice in front of you.
Set to open Saturday at 8 a.m.: the Beartooth Highway, linking Red Lodge and Hwy. 296, but more importantly serving as a link between Billings and the Northeast Entrance via Cooke City. A May 24 opening was scrapped after some heavy snow, so you may need some flexibility in your planning. Check for status updates here.
Speaking of roads: yes, there’s the usual level of road construction during the 2019 Yellowstone summer season, but it will be minimized during the Memorial Day weekend. The biggest project for the summer: a reconstruction of the Fishing Bridge to Indian Pond section of road from the East Entrance. During normal times this would be 30-minute delays, but these should be minimized this weekend. Another section of road impacted by construction: A section between Norris and Mammoth between Roaring Mountain and Apollinaris Spring. Again, this should not be an issue Memorial Day weekend, but do plan for a delay at other times.
There’s one other construction project worth noting: the Canyon Overlooks and Trails Restoration Project, which continues into 2019. The multiyear project has already improved access at Artist Point, Inspiration Point, Lookout Point, Grand View and Uncle Tom’s Point, and this year sees the closure of the Brink of Upper Falls, the North Rim Train between Brink of the Lower Falls and Chittenden Bridge, and the South Rim Trail between Chittenden Bridge and the new Discovery Point Overlook. This construction is set to wrap up by August 30.
Also closed for the beginning of the 2019 Yellowstone summer season: guest rooms at the Mammoth Hotel, which closed in September 2018 through the 2018-2019 winter season and now into 2019. Right now the lodging is set to open Aug. 1. The cabins, dining rooms, Map Room/lobby and gift shop are all open, however.
Finally, no discussion of the 2019 Yellowstone summer season would be complete without a discussion of changes in the thermal fields. Yellowstone presents an ever-changing landscape, as the forces that power the geysers and paint pots and thermal pools constantly shift. Last year the big thermal story was the reawakening of Steamboat Geyser after years of dormancy, and this year so far Steamboat Geyser has continued to erupt. It’s not exactly predictable, running between five and 12 days between events, but there have been times where longer intervals were marked by minor events between. If you want to see it, be prepared to hang out and potentially wait for a long time.
Coming to life this year: Ledge Geyser in the Norris Geyser Basin. After lying dormant for the last three years, Ledge Geyser is now active. It’s noteworthy in that Ledge Geyser is the second-largest geyser at Norris, capable of outbursts some 125 feet into the air, but perhaps more noteworthy: it’s incredibly loud. Ledge Geyser cycles through periods of activity and dormancy, so check it out if you have a chance.
Before you go: check out our list of 2019 Yellowstone summer season opening dates. Not everything opens on Memorial Day weekend, with some services (such as Bridge Bay boat tours and rentals, Grant Village and Lake Lodge lodging and Roosevelt Cabins) not opening until the end of May or early June. The fishing opener is Saturday, May 25.
Photo of Dunraven Pass courtesy National Park Service.