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Yellowstone partially reopens after historic flooding

Visitors can explore the park’s southern loop, home to Old Faithful and Yellowstone Lake

A bison walks past people watching the eruption of Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park on Wednesday. (George Frey/Getty Images)
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Yellowstone National Park reopened its southern loop Wednesday, after a temporary closure last week because of unprecedented flooding and hazardous conditions. The southern area is home to many of the park’s most-visited sites, including Old Faithful.

Yellowstone closed all five entrances on June 13 to protect visitors and staff, assess the damage and begin flood-recovery efforts. Roads and bridges in the 2.2 million-acre park were destroyed by rockslides, mudslides, surging river water and felled trees. Surrounding communities were isolated and left without power.

It won’t be business as usual during Yellowstone’s initial reopening; for example, officials are testing out an interim entry system to control crowds and protect park infrastructure.

Everything to know about the Yellowstone closure

While the situation evolves, it’s critical for visitors to stay informed ahead of their trip and be patient, as “we are still managing significant recovery while moving into this operational phase,” park superintendent Cam Sholly said in a statement.

Here’s what visitors need to know about the park’s reopening.

How do I get in?

Visitors can enter the park from the East (Cody, Wyo.), West (West Yellowstone, Mont.) and South (Grand Teton/Jackson, Wyo.) gates.

During the reopening, the park is temporarily managing visitors numbers with a system based on license plates.

With the Alternating License Plate System (ALPS), plates with an odd-numbered last digit are allowed in the park on odd days of the month (e.g., June 23), and ones with an even-numbered last digit (zero included) can enter on even days of the month.

Yellowstone flooding in maps, photos and videos

For plates that end in a letter, default to the last number on the plate. For example, YELL4EVR would be an even number allowed in on even days. Plates with no numbers (such as YLWSTNE) can visit on odd days of the month.

Motorcycle groups — counted as two or more bikes — with various license plate configurations can visit only on even dates.

With Yellowstone closed, gateway towns face a fight for survival

There are exceptions to the rule — such as for bicyclists or visitors who have proof of overnight reservations in the park — so visit the National Park Service website for more details before your trip. Those who show up on the wrong day for their license plate can expect to be turned away by park staff.

The National Park Service and Recreation.gov are building a new reservation system as a backup.

“As we go through the reopening process, we will monitor the system’s effectiveness and work together to make adjustments that may be necessary,” Sholly said in a news release.

Where can I go?

Yellowstone’s 96-mile south loop is open for visitors. It’s where you will find most of the park’s thermal features and geysers, including Old Faithful, and popular points of interest such as Yellowstone Lake, the West Thumb Geyser Basin, and Fishing Bridge, among others. For more information on what’s available, check out the park’s Plan Your Visit website.

Backcountry areas are available for day use only, and they are accessible from park roads open to the public. Officials say overnight backcountry camping will open July 1.

What’s still closed?

The park’s north loop is expected to remain closed for months.

In the south loop, closed parts include: Canyon Lodge and Cabins, the Canyon, Madison, Norris and Lewis Lake campgrounds, and the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center and Trailside Museum.

The park’s website has more details on what is open and closed.

What else do I need to know?

As the park reopens, many officials — including Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) — encourage visitors to keep plans to visit the region to support the local economy.

According to a report from the National Park Service, tourism brought in $642 million in 2019 and supports 7,000 jobs in the area. Flood-related cancellations and refunds are costing travel and hospitality businesses near Yellowstone immense losses in revenue.

A local’s guide to exploring Montana, beyond Glacier and Yellowstone

Beyond Yellowstone’s south loop, “there are still amazing areas of this region to explore,” says Emily Lutz, a travel adviser in the Travel Leaders network. She would send travelers to nearby Grand Teton National Park for hiking, wildlife viewing and rafting.

Megan E. McKay, who blogs about traveling with her toddler, lives near Montana’s other famous attraction, Glacier National Park, and recommends it as an alternative to Yellowstone. About 400 miles northwest of Yellowstone, Glacier offers similar wildlife and often has fewer visitors.

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