The National Park Service is scheduled to officially close most roads and entrances to Yellowstone National Park on Nov. 1. But a nasty winter weather pattern that began moving through northern Wyoming on Wednesday may accelerate that timeline.
The National Park Servicer and Yellowstone officials issued a “heads Up”advisory Wednesday afternoon that travel to and in the park was not advised because of the first intense winter storm of the season. What started as freezing rain in the morning quickly turned into inches of snowby afternoon.
“We already have a couple of inches at Mammoth Hot Springs,”Yellowstone spokesperson Linda Veress told Cowboy State Daily. “And it's been steadily snowing all day long.”
The first intense winter weather pattern of the 2023-2024 winter season descended on northwest Wyoming on Wednesday morning, bringing snow and freezing temperatures to the region. The storm was predicted to bring snow accumulation and drop overnight temperatures into the single digits.
The National Weather Service Office in Riverton issued a winter storm warning for Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, in addition to the Gro Ventre and Absaroka Mountains, effective until 6 p.m. Thursday. Park roads started temporarily closing around 9 a.m. Wednesday, followed by the South and East Entrances at 11:30.
Weather-related closures in Yellowstone are infrequent, but not uncommon, especially in late September and early October. Any roads that temporarily close are often reopened in a few hours and visitors can still navigate through the park using alternate routes.
Issuing a “heads up” travel advisory is a different matter. As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, the only open roads were the route between the North and Northeast entrances and roads from the West Entrance to Norris Junction and Old Faithful.
Even the road between the North Entrance and Mammoth was temporarily closed, but only for 20 minutes. Veress used that and the other temporary closures on Wednesday to remind everyone of the inherent risks of traveling through Yellowstone in adverse weather.
“The conditions are hazardous and will be throughout the storm warning,” she said. “The storm warning ends at 6 p.m. Thursday. But, as we all know, that can change. We’re not recommended anyone travel to or in the park until the storm has passed.”
With snow accumulating on the park roads, one might assume the NPS would take it as a sign that winter has arrived and close the park’s roads and entrances a few days early. However, Veress said Yellowstone’s roads could and may be cleared over the next several days as conditions allow.
“Our crews will keep working on the roads. They will plow, and we’ll reopen some of the roads temporarily closed today as conditions allow,” Veress said.
There are priorities when it comes to plowing park roads, and the top priority in winter weather is always the northern route between the North and Northeast entrances to ensure travel between Gardiner and Cooke City/Silvergate, Montana. Beyond that, it's hard to say which roads will opened and when.
“It’s hard to predict the future,” Veress said, “We’ll reevaluate what roads we can reopen when the time comes. Visitors should check the weather and road conditions before traveling to the park.”
The Schedule (As Intended)
If all goes according to plan, the West, South and East entrances, along with nearly all roads in Yellowstone National Park, will be closed to regular vehicle traffic Nov. 1. That means the last day to visit Yellowstone would be Tuesday, Oct. 31.
Closing Yellowstone’s roads allows the parks’ road crews and staff to prepare for oversnow travel and tourism during the upcoming winter season, scheduled to officially begin Dec. 15.
Up-to-date information on Yellowstone National Park’s roads is available on the park’s live road status map on the park’s NPS website and by calling 307-344-2117 for recorded information.
Yellowstone road alerts can be texted directly to all phones through the park’s Road Alert list. To join, text 82190 to 888-777.
Andrew Rossi can be reached at email@example.com.