There were plenty of calls to open Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks for the summer 2020 season earlier, but various factors resulted in a limited launch yesterday. Here’s how to navigate those limits.
It will require some planning to tackle a May Yellowstone National Park trip, with limited or no services and limited access. There was some decent traffic at the East Entrance, but nothing like a regular nice day in May (though we do expect more traffic during Memorial Day weekend), so there will be plenty of parts of the Park where you’ll be the only human being.
For starters: the most popular entrances to Yellowstone National Park will not be open. Montana has a mandatory 14-day quarantines for out-of-state visitors and other stay-at-home restrictions in place, meaning the North, Northeast and West entrances will remain closed for the foreseeable future. We’re not going to get into the politics of what remains closed and what opens when it comes to Montana, but we will note that there’s the fear that the limited health care infrastructure in the region could rapidly be overrun by a COVID-19 breakout. (Health-care personnel are at a premium in the region as well: the lack of staff is forcing Yellowstone to open with only one clinic open, instead of the planned two.) And there’s the fear that too soon an opening across the region could lead to a second wave of COVID-19 infections and close down both parks in the height of the summer season. The number of cases in Gallatin County, which runs north-south from Bozeman to West Yellowstone, has leveled off in May, however.
Once you’re in the park, only the southern half of the Grand Loop Road will be open, providing access to Lake, Canyon, Norris, Old Faithful, West Thumb and Grant Village. This Phase 1 opening will be limited to restrooms, self-service gas stations, trails and boardwalks. No Xanterra or Delaware North facilities will be open, nor will any NPS visitor centers. So plan ahead and bring water and snacks. To see when various services in the park will open, check out our 2020-2021 Yellowstone National Park Opening and Closing Dates page.
Similarly, Grand Teton National Park is open on a limited basis: The main roads (Teton Park Road, Moose-Wilson Road and North Park Road), are open, but there is limited restroom access and no services (visitor centers, stores, restaurants) open as of today and likely not for the end of the month. You will have plenty of spots like West Thumb, popular Grand Teton biking trails or many hiking trails to yourself. Heck, you may have large swaths of the Norris Geyser Basin or other popular basins to yourself.
As noted, we don’t expect many folks to be in either Grand Teton or Yellowstone this week. We expect traffic to pick up this weekend, as well as plenty of folks turned away at the Montana gates because they assumed the park would be totally accessible for Memorial Day. We are months and months away from normalcy, but each phased opening of a Yellowstone service will bring us closer.
An earlier version of this article indicated Idaho still had a 14-day quarantine period. It does not as of Saturday.
Photos by Jacob W. Frank, courtesy National Park Service.
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