This Week in Yellowstone, we take a look at a recent bear incident outside the park, glance at visitation numbers, wander an old stagecoach road and celebrate spring. There is snow still in the forecast, but signs of spring are emerging around every corner of the park. Be ready for cold weather and keep an eye out for bears!
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BIGGEST NEWS OF THE WEEK
February Visitation Numbers Did Not Set Records
For the first month since October of 2021, Yellowstone National Park did not set a visitation record for the month. Yellowstone saw its 6th busiest February in history, but little fanfare was made about it. After a record setting January, most places that report on these numbers didn’t write much, if anything about February. The month had a 28% increase in visitation, compared with 2021, In the second month of 2022, 47,300 visited the park, the highest total of visitors for the month since 2002. Of the total, 30,330 came in the north entrance in Gardiner, 13,841 came in through West Yellowstone, 2,711 came up through the south entrance and 417 came in through the east.
One fun side statistic is that February of 2022 saw 464 campers, 80 of which were tent campers. Through two months of 2022, there have been 889 campground stays, 159 backcountry stays, and 18,522 lodge stays.
These numbers don’t mean too much, as pretty much anyone in the park or in the communities around it will tell you it felt like a nice slow winter. Yes, more cars and people were around, but it still felt empty when driving along the road. Will March be busier or not? We will see in a few weeks, when the park releases the March visitation numbers. The one thing I can guarantee is that April will see a substantial increase in visitation, largely due to the opening of numerous park roads.
Local Outdoorsman Killed By Grizzly North of Yellowstone
On the morning of March 23, 2022 after going on a hike with a friend in the Six Mile Creek area of the Absaroka Mountains, local awesome outdoorsman Craig Clouatre was missing. The pair of friends split up and Craig was never seen alive again.
It took a two-day search with ground teams and helicopters searching before they located Clouatre’s remains. Sheriff Brad Bichler of Park County, where the incident took place, said that tracks at the scene and other physical evidence suggested a grizzly was responsible. While many will be wary of hiking in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem after this presumed attack, it is important to know that bear attacks are extremely rare.
Wildlife officials estimate there are about 727 grizzlies living in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. In 1975, there were just 136 grizzlies in the area. The increase in bears led to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to declared the area’s grizzlies were fully recovered and removed their protections under the Endangered Species Act in 2017. Lawsuits and a subsequent court order forced the agency to relist the animals. As of 2022, grizzlies throughout the lower 48 states still enjoy protections under the act.
The unfortunate death was one of those things that always can happen, but almost never does. It serves as a reminder to always carry bear spray, hike in groups when possible and to make noise to scare any wildlife. Hopefully, the community will continue to rally around Craig’s family and that his life will be celebrated, while the circumstances of his passing will bring about more bear safety education to all.
That is how I sum up there below average snowpack. Yes, we received snow last week. Yes, we will receive more snow this week, but it won’t be enough to make a difference. After raising up into the low 80% last week, we are back to the high 70% range this week. It could be worse, but definitely could be much better too.
WEATHER FOR THE COMING WEEK
If you are headed to the park expecting spring weather, know that you are getting it, Montana style. It will snow multiple days this week the further east toward Cooke City you go, with the heaviest snow coming on Saturday, Monday and Tuesday. Saturdays snow will be around an inch, while Monday and Tuesday will see around six inches of snow total. The same weather system will hit Mammoth and Gardiner, but it will be slightly warmer with less precipitation. By the 7th and 8th, it will be warming back up, just in time for next weekend.
This is the weather.com forecast for the three closest areas that are currently drivable in the park- Gardiner, Mammoth Hot Springs and Cooke City. While they don’t specifically cover the entire region, these forecasts give a great idea of what to expect all around the region. As always, weather can and does change fast in the park, so always be prepared for anything.
ROADS AND CAMPGROUNDS
Despite the rough weather on a few days this week, I wouldn’t expect the roads to be too bad. Monday evening and Tuesday Morning will be the worst of the roads, while Saturday and early Sunday won’t be perfect. There is no real ice on the road right now and nothing serious should form. Rock slides will occur, though, so be on the lookout for rocks of all sizes in the road.
For up-to-date information call (307) 344-2117 for recorded information, or sign up to receive Yellowstone road alerts on your mobile phone by texting “82190” to 888-777 (an automatic text reply will confirm receipt and provide instructions). Anticipate possible road closures due to inclement weather and dangerous driving conditions.
Planning on camping in the park this week?
I saw multiple parties camping at Mammoth over the weekend, more than likely taking advantage of the nearly 70 degree days. This week, there will be tent campers and RVs, but you won’t struggle to find a spot. Not with this week’s weather forecast. This will all change in two weeks, when the roads open.
This week’s weather will make wildlife watching hit and miss, but it still should be good. Rumors of bear sightings continue, especially near the Blacktail Ponds area just east of Undine Falls. Bison, elk and pronghorn are scattered about, while bluebirds and western meadow larks are returning in droves. Wolves have been spotted in the northern range through spotting scopes, while coyotes are starting to be spotted a little less, thanks to the melting snow. Bighorn sheep have been hanging around the cliffs between Gardiner and Mammoth, even roaming in the field along the Rescue Creek Trail right near the North Entrance. Because of the season, your best bet is to drive to Cooke City and Back, or at least the viewpoint of Barronette Peak a few miles east of Pebble Creek. You’ll see wildlife, for sure, just depends on luck and timing for what you will see.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
Hike the Old Stagecoach Road
Connecting Mammoth to Gardiner, the old stagecoach road is an underrated hiking experience in the spring. While many trails will be muddy, this seasonally open road is a gem, giving sweeping views of the northern range, Electric Peak, Sepulcher Peak and the entire Mammoth area. It is common to see wildlife on this route, usually bison, elk and pronghorn. The bring here is also quite good and as of last week, this was a great spot to see western bluebirds. What makes this five mile one way hike so great is that it leaves the business of the road and has you wandering in the controlled wilds of the park. The road will gain roughly 800 feet in elevation from Gardiner to Mammoth, but the trail never seems too brutal, at least not to me.
Along the gravel road, which will be muddy in spots, have snow in places and be clear in others, keep an eye out for animal prints of all shapes and sizes. On Monday, I was fortunate enough to see wolf, elk, deer, bear and pronghorn prints. Some of the wolf prints showed a chase with an elk, right on the road. While you probably won’t see the wolves, it is still pretty amazing to be able to see their movements in the region.
Be aware that there is a decent grizzly presence in this area, so have bear spray and know how to use it. This advice goes for all trails in and around the park, but this area in particular can be a bit more bear-friendly. Nearby this trail is the trail to the Beaver Ponds. I would skip the Beaver Ponds right now for two reasons. The first is that the trial will be muddy and slick. The second is that visibility is limited and this is a known bear area where some bear incidents have occurred in recent years.
TIP OF THE WEEK
While the week’s weather will be chilly, the daytime highs in many areas will be above freezing, helping to turn many of the streams and small rivers milky and dirty from the raised water levels. Whether you see Slough Creek, the Lamar River, the Yellowstone River or any of the melting waterfalls, take a few seconds to appreciate the moment. Last week, the Gardner River was milky in color and fun to see, especially as bluebirds darted from sage to sage nearby. When out of the car, also take some time to look down and see the new growth emerging from the melted snow and mud. It isn’t much now, but seeing those first sprouts of green emerging in the white and tan landscape is exciting. Soon, all the hills will be lush and green, flowers will be blooming and all will seem right with the world. Until then, we seek for the blades of grass and new buds on plants and wait.
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The Bear Den Near the Petrified Tree
As the warmer weather increases, make sure you pop on over to the pullout near the turn to the petrified tree. The spot offers not only a great vista to the north, but also gives a glimpse almost directly into a black bear den on the side of the nearby hill. The bears have been active during the day. Well, not active, but moving around and visible. Each day that passes may see them more active, with the cubs roaming around and playing. You will see people set up with tripods and cameras here all day, but unless you only want to see this, don’t linger too long. Just stop by each time you pass and hope you are lucky. If you want to pass the time while staying in the area, I highly suggest walking up the closed road to the Petrified Tree and maybe taking a jaunt to nearby Lost Lake. This is a great spot to see bison shedding their winter coats on rocks, dirt and sage. Just remember to keep your distance from all wildlife.