JACKSON, Wyo. — Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks will begin to slowly open their gates at noon Monday, May 18.

Yellowstone has announced a three-phased plan that initially opens only south and east entrances in Wyoming. Entrances in Montana will remain closed as Montana and Idaho still have out-of-state travel restrictions in place.

The decision followed a letter from Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon “expressing readiness and desire to see Yellowstone reopen,” Sholly said. Yellowstone is working Idaho and Montana on reopening Montana’s gates when travel restrictions ease.

In phase one, Yellowstone will open Wyoming entrances May 18 and travel will be limited to the lower loop of the park: Lake, Canyon, Norris, Old Faithful, West Thumb, and Grant Village.

A map of areas that will begin to reopen in Yellowstone. Courtesy NPS

Roughly 70% of visitors to Yellowstone enter through Montana, said Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly. Officials hope that opening the south and east entrances first will allow park staff to adjust to new health protocol and closely monitor visitation.

“None of us have reopened a park in this COVID world,” Sholly said on a conference call Wednesday morning. “I’d prefer [reopening] is not just a light switch, where parks open and we get inundated and overwhelmed.”

Grand Teton’s approach will look similar to Yellowstone’s. GTNP gates will open at noon Monday to recreational access and initial services including public restrooms, day-use hiking trails, biking, riverbank and lakeshore fishing, and some approved tours. Teton Park Road, Moose-Wilson Road, and North Park Road will also open.

Other services will begin to open in Phase 2, which will be determined by “conditions on the ground,” said Acting Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail.

In both parks, Phase 2 openings will include some campgrounds, backcountry campsites and trails, and limited overnight accommodations (cabins). Restaurants will be able to offer takeout service, and boating and fishing will be allowed.

Phase three will look more like the national parks that visitors are used to — full-service hotels, dining, visitor centers, tour busses. Jackson and Jenny Lake Lodges already announced they will not open or will open in very limited capacities, which will affect concession services in Grand Teton National Park.

Sholly said Yellowstone will “not even have a conversation” about Phase 3 reopening until later in June, when Phases 1 and 2 have proven safe.

Both Noojibail and Sholly emphasized the importance of public responsibility in allowing parks to reopen.

“We will do everything we can to mitigate [risk], but we need the public to parter with us to protect each other,” Sholly said. “There’s a huge responsibility on visitors.”

“The acceptance of responsibility is going to be critical to success,” Noojibail echoed.

This is a developing story and will be updated. 

Shannon is a Wyoming-raised writer and reporter. She just completed a master's in journalism from Boston University. Jackson shaped her into an outdoorswoman, but a love for language and the human condition compels her to write. She believes there's no story too small to tell nor adventure too small to take.