It remains to be seen what opens in Yellowstone National Park this summer. But if the park were to open today, here’s a look at what your 2020 Yellowstone vacation might look like.
Yes, Old Faithful Geyser and the Fountain Paint Pots will always be there (or, at least, until the next time there’s a major change in the Yellowstone plumbing system), but the services many of us take for granted will certainly be scaled back. The notion of a 2020 Yellowstone vacation that involves a relaxing stay at a renovated room at Mammoth Hot Springs, a traditional meal at the Canyon lunch counter and a lovely dinner at the Old Faithful Inn dining room is not on the agenda at this point. Yes, things can change and, given that we are living in very improvised times, things are likely to change in coming weeks when it comes to a 2020 Yellowstone vacation. Instead, expect a lot of social distancing and limited offerings across the board.
If you go. Tourism officials expect a drop-off in visitation this summer. In Montana, tourism is a $3.7-billion industry, and a billion dollars of economic activity in the region can be attributed to Yellowstone National Park. If potential visitors aren’t convinced that travel is a safe activity—and, as of now, surveys say 85 percent of potential visitors have concerns about the safety of travel—then they won’t come to Yellowstone. And neither will international visitors (or international workers, which leads to a whole separate set of issues).
In fact, expect that social distancing to reign in 2020 and perhaps into 2021. That practice will likely begin right at the front gates, where interaction between visitors and front-gate staff will be limited. If social distancing guidelines are followed, expect limited access to the visitor centers and geyser viewing areas. The Old Faithful area, in particular, will be monitored to prevent crowds. There are no plans to limit daily visitation, however, nor are there plans to require daily reservations.
Your choices for in-park lodging will be limited. As of now the plan is for no lodges to offer regular rooms: instead, lodging will be limited to facilities with cabins and cottages with attached restrooms. At Old Faithful Lodge, for instance, the cabins currently available have their own bathrooms; the cabins without bathrooms (requiring a trip to a restroom/shower facility) are not being offered. That’s why Roosevelt Lodge is on the list of unavailable facilities.
Your choices for in-park food will be limited. No sit-down dining rooms will be open, which means an emphasis on grab-and-go stations. It’s not entirely clear whether fast-food facilities will be open for cooking to order or if they’ll be converted to grab-and-go stations. There are plenty of spots in Yellowstone to settle in for a nice picnic meal while respecting social-distancing guidelines.
The same restrictions, by the way, also extends to Grand Teton National Park, where concessionaire Grand Teton Lodging will not open Jackson Lake Lodge or Jenny Lake Lodge due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
As a bonus: expect to have much of the park to yourself. Experts are looking at a slow return for the tourism industry, with domestic road trips likely to come back first and international travel coming back last—maybe not fully until 2022 or 2023. That’s good news for those who despair of long lines of traffic clogging the highway between West Yellowstone and Old Faithful. But for those who rely on revenues from the short Yellowstone season, even a 10-15 percent drop in summer revenues will make a disproportionate impact to the bottom line.
Photo courtesy National Park Service.
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