The south entrance to Yellowstone National Park is now open for the season and that can be a big deal for some visitors. It saves a 200 mile detour to get to Grand Teton National Park from Yellowstone.
It also opens new opportunities for Yellowstone visitors because it means the entire south loop and most park roads are open to travel. The road south from Old Faithful to West Thumb, over 8,262 foot Craig Pass is open, completing the south loop. Previously the road to Cody, WY over Sylvan Pass opened as did the route from the Norris Geyser Basin to the Canyon area. Park officials say that weather permitting, these roads will remain open for the season.
The new territory now accessible to park visitors also provides more wildlife viewing chances during a peak season for wildlife watching.
“People have been seeing a lot of bears, all over the park, including on this corridor between Old Faithful and West Yellowstone. We’re getting into that time of year where the elk, especially down in the West Thumb area, along that corridor, are going to start to be active,” said park ranger Rich Jehle.
As you travel south from Old Faithful into the southern part of Yellowstone, be prepared for snowy conditions. At the continental divide and Craig Pass, snowbanks alongside the road are four to five feet tall, and even higher in some places. Snow on the ground is three feet deep in many places above 7,500 feet making trails inaccessible, and the soft, wet snow even makes snowshoe travel difficult, though possible.
The one road within the park that remains closed is the route from Canyon, north to Tower. It passes over 8,878 foot Dunraven Pass and near 10,223 foot Mount Washburn. That road is slated to open May 24th, weather permitting.
“If we have spring snowstorms that come through we can have road closures with little or no warning,” said Jehle.
Chief Joseph Highway from the East Entrance through Cooke City to Cody, Wyoming, is open, but the Beartooth Highway to Red Lodge, Montana is closed. The proposed opening date for that stretch of road is also May 24th, weather permitting. You can check Yellowstone road conditions here.
Deep snow can still be found south of West Thumb to the South Entrance, though the road offers some spectacular views of the Grand Tetons as you drive south, and Lewis Falls can be seen from a pullover area right alongside the road.
If you do decide to hike, don’t forget your bear spray.
“Know how to use it, hike in groups, be aware of your surroundings. If you see fresh sign of bears, whether it’s tracks or scatt, you might want to think about doing that hike on a different day,” said Jehle.
He urged special caution if a winter kill carcass is spotted. Jehle says those carcasses are a prime attractor fro grizzly bears, so hikers should avoid those areas entirely.
Jehle said services inside the park are slowly opening on a rolling basis as staff returns for the summer season. Don’t expect to find all restaurants of hotels open just yet, and the Lewis Lake Campground is still covered in several feet of snow. It is still many weeks from opening to campers.
Park staff is encouraging all visitors to take the Yellowstone pledge. That’s where you promise to treat the park with an extra measure of respect. You can find a link to the pledge here.
Reporting by John Sherer for MTN News