JACKSON HOLE, WYO — Here we go, it’s showtime. Opening night. This is not a drill.
Yellowstone National Park announced that the south entrance should be ready for opening this Friday, May 10 at 8am. The opening is contingent on weather but the forecast looks good.
That will mean all five entrances into the park will be up and running, and all roads within or associated with the park will be open with a few exceptions. Tower Fall to Canyon Village (Dunraven Pass) remains closed, scheduled for a May 24 opening. Beartooth Highway is also going to need a little more time. That, too, should open on May 24.
For realtime, up-to-the-minute updates on road conditions in Yellowstone, click here or call (307) 344-2117. To receive Yellowstone road alerts on your mobile phone, text “82190” to 888-777 (an automatic text reply will confirm receipt and provide instructions).
Rules of the road: Don’t be that gaper
Yellowstone authorities have their own set of official rules and regulations. They’ll hand them to you at the entrance station. You’ll glance at them and hand them to your kiddos in the backseat as you pull away from the booth. You’ll find the brochure crumpled between seat cushions about a month after your memorable trip.
Here’s a lowdown you might could use:
Keep your distance
First, and we can’t stress this enough, the animals you may encounter are wild. Great effort has been made to keep them wild. They may appear totally chill to you, and sure, they see so many two-legged visitors every year that maybe they are a bit conditioned to us humans. But there is still a reason the word ‘wild’ is contained in the word ‘wildlife.’
The animals you will encounter in the park are far from zoo specimens. Every bird and beast in Yellowstone National Park acts and reacts according to primitive instincts and no one—not you, not a ranger, not even Jack Hanna—can predict their behavior. That is precisely why so many people are gored by bison or rammed by elk every year. They seem so tolerant of crowds…until they’re not and you get the business end of a bison.
Do you really want to gamble that a 2,000-pound horned bison or a 400-pound bear with razor sharp claws longer than your iPhone is going to remain pleasantly posing while you turn your back for a selfie?
On the note of wildlife. It should go without saying that visitors should never try to touch wildlife or feed wildlife. Yet people do. Tourists have learned the hard way close encounters with animals in Yellowstone can sometimes turn bad. For the human, and often the animal.
It’s spring now in Yellowstone. Early season visitors will be treated to newborns everywhere. From chicks to calves, pups to cubs—new life abounds in the park this time of year.
Word to the wise: Maternal instincts are fierce throughout the animal kingdom. Get too close to a newborn with your camera and, well, let’s just say momma doesn’t know you are shooting with a Cannon and not a canon.
Also, if you should encounter what looks like an abandoned deer fawn or elk calf. Chances are it has not been left behind. Mothers are close-by. Instinctively, newborns know to remain quiet and still. They are very likely not cold, hungry, or forgotten. If you are truly concerned, ask a park ranger look into it.
Pack your patience
You will underestimate the time it takes to travel around the park and do all you want to do. Guaranteed. That’s okay, it’s a big place with lots to see. There are only so many roads, so you will encounter traffic. In addition to the volume of visitors on the roads, construction will further slow you down. Due to the limited season road crews can actually repair the roads, they will be out there when you are…all summer long.
Well over 4 million people will visit Yellowstone this year. In July and August it will seem like they are all there at once, piloting hulking hotels-on-wheels, circling a 14-vehicle parking area for an open spot.
Try to visit early and late in the season, early and late in the day. You will see more wildlife that way and save your sanity.
Plan ahead. Lodging facilities in Yellowstone are few. Old Faithful Inn books a year out. Campgrounds and other lodges fill early, reservations are tougher than Spago if you wait too long.
It’s difficult in the heat of the moment but try to remember you are driving on highways in Yellowstone. It is not okay to just stop in middle of the road to take pictures. You will probably encounter so-called ‘bear jams’ on your drive. You’ll know when there is something to see by the amount of vehicles pulled to the side of the road. Do likewise—find a safe place to pull over and enjoy the sight.
Cell service is limited. You are traveling through 2.2 million acres with, like, five total cell towers. You will be out of service about 50% of the time in the park.
Animals are out particularly at night. Most wildlife beats the heat of the day by bedding down and remaining less active. By night, when temperatures cool, they will come out to feed. If you are driving the park roads at night, slow down and watch for animals.
Here’s your sign
Read every sign. It might have some cool information you’ll want to know. It might also include a useful tip on how not to die. Around 93 deaths have been recorded in Yellowstone. There’s even a book.
And it’s not just the beasts of the forest that might get ya. There’s all that scalding water, bubbling cauldrons of scorching mud, and 200-foot plunges down a rocky gorge.
The reason a sign says ‘stay on the boardwalk,’ for instance is because someone didn’t and found out why park rangers put the signs up to begin with. Many of the thermal features in Yellowstone are examples of extremely hot temperatures smoldering just below the earth’s surface. The land is often unstable and may not support the weight of a careless visitor who gets off the walkway.
Other signs might say ‘Do Not Litter.’ This should be a given but Yellowstone NP is as pristine as officials can keep it. Don’t leave anything behind and please do not take anything from the park unless it came from the gift shop.
You’re gonna love it, though
It’s not all doom and gloom in Yellowstone. Really, you are gonna love it. You’ll never forget this place. It’s like the planet used to be—natural and unspoiled. Mostly we want to make sure you enjoy your visit and come again.
Download the Yellowstone app to help you prepare for that unforgettable vacation to the nation’s oldest national park.
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