This Week in Yellowstone, I take a look at the first week of open roads, briefly discuss visitor responsibly before sharing some under the radar experiences that are perfect for this coming week. Whether you want to see wildlife, wander the boardwalks around geysers and hot springs, or just drive from scenic point to scenic point, this week will be a wonderful time in the park.
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BIGGEST NEWS OF THE WEEK
Wildlife Encounters Dazzle and Delight Visitors as Park Roads Reopen
Let’s face it. This is the biggest story of the week. After a delayed start due to a heavy snowstorm, the park roads from West Yellowstone to Old Faithful, Norris to Canyon and Mammoth to Madison Junction all reopened with much fanfare. Over the opening weekend, a pack of wolves wandered next to the road, presumably bewildered by the return of the cars. Bison caused backups as they meandered down the roadways. Grizzly bears turned over rocks and trees to find food after their lazy slumber over the winter. For those in cars watching it all, it was a truly magical moment.
The snow delay had a potential to dampen the moods off those who waited in line or scheduled their trips to the park around the road opening dates, but the power of the park was too much. Smiles were on nearly every face I encountered and Yellowstone continued to captivate hearts and minds. That is the thing about the park and nature in general. It has the ability to take a frustrating experience and wipe it clean with ease. As you watch a grizzly lazily eat and then take a nap in the sun, the traffic jam and struggles for parking seem irrelevant. Here we all are, basking in the gloriousness of the wild and feeling our souls get replenished.
Many will say that Yellowstone is now back, but it never left. It has been, is still and will hopefully always be here for you, your family and your friends.
A Note on Visitor Responsibility
I will probably hammer this home a bunch of times, but we all have a duty to follow the rules and regulations of Yellowstone National Park. I went to the park this last week and saw the usual things. People were smiling and giddy from seeing a grizzly at the appropriate wildlife watching distance. People were amazed at a bison standing next to the road. People stood and sat in awe as both Beehive and Old Faithful erupted at the same time on a cloudy Monday afternoon. The happiness and excitement was contagious. The wonders of Yellowstone were back for all to enjoy!
The return of more people also meant the return of more visible bad behaviors. I saw people walking boardwalks with their dogs that were obviously not service dogs. I had cars passing me going 60 or faster around blind corners. I witnessed a group of visitors walking directly next to a sign saying do not enter to get closer to Roaring Mountain. For the latter, I got their attention and told them to return to the area behind the sign. They obliged. Their shame was evident on their faces, and they avoided eye contact with me. I even took a video, but I am choosing not to share it.
There will always be amazing moments in Yellowstone. There will also be some that are less than ideal. The bad behaviors will get all the attention while the 99% of visitors following the rules and regulations will be ignored. Headlines will scream about poor behavior and “tourons” ruining the park. It is important for all of us to try to correct poor behaviors through conversation and not shaming. People make mistakes and people get caught up in the moment. It is going to be a long summer if we only focus on the positives, which is why I pledge to do my best to highlight people with awesome behavior in the park. I will talk about some less than ideal moments I have witnessed, but overall I will attempt to be a positive force. This year, let us celebrate the good, while working to educate and be patient with the bad. It is the only way we can continue to improve as a society and as Yellowstone enthusiasts.
Good news, everybody! The most recent road of snow helped! Not a ton, but enough to help the mountains look more like they should this time of the year. A snowstorm at the end of this week and early weekend will also help the region’s snowpack, which is hovering in the 80% of normal range. Some areas are doing much better, others only slightly increased, but all the mountains got a little relief. It isn’t enough to relieve drought and low river levels this summer, but it could delay it by a few days or weeks. Every inch matters.
WEATHER FOR THE COMING WEEK
Snow. Rain. Clouds. Sun.
All of that is going to be coming to Yellowstone this week! Snow will be around at the end of this week through the weekend, before the forecast appears to show the return of warming temperatures and that yellow ball of heat. It will not be toasty, unless you are a local, so bring some layers and expect the wild weather to pop pop from time to time.
This is the weather.com forecast for the four closest areas that are currently drivable in the park- West Yellowstone, Gardiner, Mammoth Hot Springs and Cooke City. While these locations don’t specifically cover the entire Yellowstone region, the 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, even snow in the summer.
ROADS AND CAMPGROUNDS
Last week, a snowstorm delayed the opening of many park roads for a day or two. This coming week, the weather should be a little better. However, over the weekend, there is an outside chance that the road between Norris and Canyon could be intermittently closed as a snow storm rolls in. After the weekend, the forecast appears to be pretty calm, which should mean that all roads open will be pretty good to drive.
I am happy to report that the roads are in pretty decent shape and should be for quite awhile. Well, snow wise. The potholes and breaks in the road are all over, so pay attention to the signage and observe the lowered speed limits when applicable.
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?
Mammoth is still the only campground open in the park and has started to see an increase in activity. You should still be able to get a site without a reservation, but the weeks of this happening are running out.
Now that the park is mostly open, the chances of seeing wildlife somewhat increase. The most consistent wildlife watching is still going on along the northern range, between the North Entrance and Pebble Creek Campground. Wolves and bears, bison and even a few fox sightings have occurred around here.
The interior of the park has been popping too. Last week, a pack of wolves wandered along the road near Swan Lake Flats, while a grizzly hung out between Roaring Mountain and the appropriately named Grizzly Lake area just north of Norris. Coyotes are all over, as are elk and bison. There is even a bull elk at Mammoth who is already sporting the start of an impressive set of antlers. They are still small and velvety and pretty awesome to see, especially since many others are still losing their antlers from last year. Things should get more consistent in the coming weeks but right now is all about luck and timing, so drive the roads and keep your eyes looking for animals of all sizes around the roadways.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
Fountain Paint Pots
Since the snow is melting, the water table at Fountain Paint Pots is higher than it typically is during the summer months. This means that the mud pots and the red spouter will be incredibly active. The additional moisture in the area means that the mud pots have more active areas of bubbling and boiling mud, while the red spouter will be a tumultuous affair, splattering the red waters all over. The bonus of visiting this area now is also the plentiful amount of parking you will more than likely find. For the most empty boardwalks, try arriving at between sunrise and 10am or anytime after 4pm. This rule applies for all the heavily frequented areas of the park throughout the late-spring, summer and early-fall months.
TIP OF THE WEEK
Walk the Firehole Canyon Road
While most of the main park roads are open, the side roads and scenic drives around Yellowstone are still closed to vehicle traffic. While that may mean you don’t get to see your favorite spot from your car window, you still have an opportune city to experience these wonderful places on foot. One of the best walks to do right now is along the Firehole Canyon Road. I strongly suggest starting it on the southern end of the road, parking at the Cascades of the Firehouse and walking on the road until you feel like turning around. If you can, walk to the Firehouse Falls viewpoint before turning around. Be aware that there will still be some patches of snow on the road, which is why it should stay closed to vehicles for a bit longer. As you walk, keep an eye out for osprey and eagles fishing the waters, as well as bison and elk meandering about. You may also catch a glimpse of a bear, so carry your bear spray and know how to use it.
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