This week in Yellowstone, I take a look at the closest place to use the restroom once you enter the park, share with you the locations where wildlife is best seen right now, and even take a look at where to hike to avoid most of the mud and snow. This coming week will be warmer and drier than last, but that doesn’t mean it still won’t snow. Bring your sense of adventure, be prepared to see amazing things and don’t forget to stay appropriate distance from all wildlife when you visit Yellowstone this and every week!
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BIGGEST NEWS OF THE WEEK
All Major Roads In Yellowstone Are Now Open, Except for Dunraven Pass
Good News! All main roads in the park, except for the section between Canyon and Tower, are open to drive! These additional road openings will allow visitors to complete loop drives in the park instead of having to double back once they reach a closed road. That means you can hit the geyser basins and Old Faithful, drive along the lake, pass through Hayden Valley before stopping at Canyon and then heading back over to Norris Geyser Basin. This loop is a perfect way to see lots of amazing sites, as well as having wildlife encounters.
You’ll still need to drive out the way you came in when visiting Lamar Valley and the Tower area for a few more weeks, though. Dunraven Pass is schedule to open on the 27th of May.
The National Park website lists that on May 13th, the following sections of road should be opening: South Entrance to West Thumb, Lake Village to West Thumb, West Thumb to Old Faithful (Craig Pass), Tower Junction to Tower Fall. The roads will be opening shortly and may even be open by the time you get to the park, but be aware that bad weather may temporarily close them down for a bit. The weather forced numerous roads to close over this past week, but the upcoming week should be fine.
NEWS ROUND UP
Expect Long Delays Entering from West Yellowstone: Every morning this week, wait times at West Yellowstone have been at least over 30+ minutes for an hour or two. If you are entering the park from this side, either get their before 8 or after 11. Otherwise you will be sitting in traffic. If you find yourself encountering a long line, make the most of it and support the businesses in West Yellowstone. Remember to skip the McDonalds and support a local business.
Small Earthquake Rattles Yellowstone: On Wednesday, May 11th, a 4.2 earthquake shook the eastern part of the park.
Winter Storms Close Roads in the Park: Sure, it is May, but that doesn’t stop heavy snow and bad weather from slamming the Rockies.
Madison Campground is Now Open: I mentioned it last week, but wanted to once again let everyone know that this campground is open for the season.
Take a Look at the New Employee Housing: After decades of much needed improvements, updates to employee housing are finally taking place!
HIKING NEWS AND UPDATES
The snow and rain around the park has made things a bit soppy for hiking, but good options are still out there. Your best bet for decent trail conditions will be between Mammoth and Pebble Creek on the north part of the park. Trails near the geyser basins are also ok, as long as they stay low in elevation. Anywhere else in the park and you will more than likely be traipsing through quite a bit of snow. Very few people have been hiking these trails so you’ll be breaking trail the entire route. Feel free to challenge yourself if you must, but those hoping for lots of open and easily hikable trails will be frustrated for another week or so.
My hike recommendation at the moment is the Rescue Creek Trail near the North Entrance. The first mile of the hike is in great shape and will have you hiking near elk, bison, pronghorn and more. The views of the Yellowstone River along the first mile are also quite spectacular and I strongly encourage you to hike up to any of the bluffs above the water to take in the breathtaking sights. A good secondary option is to hike don the Slough Creek Road to the closed campground. There is a ton of wildlife being spotted around here and the area is always a pleasant spot to hike, even if you just end up walking the closed road.
If you would rather find another hike on your own, the park has a somewhat updated report of trails in the park that can be useful. Be aware that information during this time of the year is sporadically updated and not always accurate. Therefore, it is best to error on the side of caution.
The snowpack is healthy. I don’t know if you can tell my the way I am writing, but this makes me quite happy. While the new snow has delayed many of our outdoor adventures, the nearly 100% of average snowpack for the park is great news. By this time last year, the snowpack had rapidly melted and many trails were snow free. That led to super low river levels all summer, as well as a super high fire danger. Hopefully, the snowpack melts at a normal rate and we can have healthy rivers and wet woods.
WEATHER FOR THE COMING WEEK
Have you wished you could have snow one day, super warm days the next, then rain and warmth the rest of the week? If so, you will love visiting the park this week. Also, you make weird wishes. Saturday will be rainy and snowy. Sunday will be great. Monday could be rainy or snowy, and then Tuesday and Wednesday look pretty darn good. By next weekend, it may rain or snow again. Welcome to May in Yellowstone.
This is the weather.com forecast for West Yellowstone, Gardiner, Norris, 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
Once the roads open this week, they should be in pretty good shape. There isn’t a ton of precipitation rolling through and the weather looks to be decently stable, so I am not predicting any major closure events like we had last week. There may be a few on Saturday or Monday, but until the end of the week, I wouldn’t worry.
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?
Yellowstone now has two open campgrounds with more scheduled to open in the coming weeks. Starting today, Madison Campground is open for stays, as is Mammoth. Mammoth has 85 campsites in it, while Madison has a whopping 278 sites. I didn’t check on Madison this week, but passing by Mammoth on Wednesday, I noted that it was decently full. I don’t think it will fill up this weekend or coming week, but it and the other camping areas will start to fill up very soon. If you are planning on coming in a few weeks and don’t have a campground reservation, make it now or expect not to find anything.
Wildlife is everywhere in the park right now. Well, nearly everywhere. No matter where you drive, you’ll more than likely see bison and elk, and maybe even a bear or two. The grizzly that has been near Norris has continued to roam near the road, while another grizzly has been on the southern end of Hayden the last few days. While anywhere and everywhere may reward you with great wildlife sightings, for the best experience, head to Lamar in the morning or evening hours.
Near Slough Creek, wolves have been consistently spotted, and there is even a chance you’ll get to glance through a spotting scope and see a wolf den, complete with pups. Grizzly and black bears have been seen daily out here, as well as occasional moose sightings near Pebble Creek and beyond. While the other areas will be good for wildlife watching, the stretch between Mammoth and Barronette Peak is fantastic right now. I cannot emphasize visiting this area enough right now.
For birding nerds, right now is also an amazing time for Harlequin Ducks. They are hanging out at LeHardy Rapids, just south of Hayden Valley. The gorgeous ducks ride the rippling waves and tumbling cascades fishing, then will sit on rocks to dry and pose for impressive pictures. There are two ways to teach the rapids, an upper and a lower trail. I prefer the lower trail, as it is the lesser visited one and requires a short walk along the river through a stand of towering trees. The upper parking area and trail has a pit toilet though, so choose wisely! Also in birding news, the pelicans have returned and the sandhill cranes are all over. There are also numerous osprey in nests throughout the park, as well as a handful of eagles, both bald and golden, hovering high in the sky or posting up on branches near the waters of the park.
Want to know the park like a local wildlife expert? I wrote a guidebook with the best tips and best locations for wildlife sightings on your Yellowstone trip. Pick up your digital ebook or paperback copy now! Ebooks are just $5.
EXPERIENCE OF THE WEEK
Take in the Views from the Lake Butte Overlook
Did you know that as of publication, much of Yellowstone Lake is frozen? As warmer weather increases, the lake will begin to melt out and becoming the shimmering jewel we all know and love. Right now though, the lake is a sheet of ice, giving a unique view of the region. While you can look at and enjoy the ice along the lake shore, one of the best spots to truly take in the grandeur of the entire area is from the Lake Butte Overlook.
Located nine miles east of Fishing Bridge, Lake Butte Overlook is a classic stop where one can see all the ay to the Tetons on a clear day. The overlook is reached by taking a turn on Lake Butte Scenic Drive, a narrow, paved road leading to an overlook with a pit toilet at the top. A small parking area is found and can fill up on warmer days. The view is 100% worth the detour if you are near Fishing Bridge. You’ll also pass numerous beach access points along the lake where you can picnic or wander. This area is also frequented by bison and deer, as well as a place where grizzly sightings should increase. I personally never get out this way too much, but when I do, I always stop at this overlook.
TIP OF THE WEEK
The Closest Bathrooms to Use When Entering the Park
Do not, I repeat, do not wait to use the restroom until you reach a major destination in the park. Not only will the trip possibly take much longer than anticipated, but you’ll then also have to deal with parking and locating the restroom in whatever building you are near. This can be especially challenging if you have kids in tow. Because of this, I highly encourage you to stop at these bathroom near the open entrances to the park.
North Entrance: Stop at the pullout below the Mammoth Campground. This is a great bathroom with running water.
Northeast Entrance: Pebble Creek is where to go. There are a few other pit toilets before Pebble Creek from Silver Gate, but they aren’t always open. Pebble Creek has a pit toilet and is also located in a very pretty and scenic spot.
East Entrance: Right as you enter the east entrance, there are two pit toilets. Use these if you can, otherwise wait until you cross over the pass and reach the pit toilets at Steamboat Point Picnic Ground along the lake.
South Entrance: Right after you enter from the south, there are pit toilets on the eastern side of the road. However, if the Snake River Picnic area is open, I would head down there and use those pit toilets. They are slightly less visited and give you a great look at the Snake River once you are done.
West Entrance: You’ll find pit toilets right before the entrance gate at West, but I would skip those unless it is an emergency. There is also a public restroom in West Yellowstone that I would use instead of this one. Once you pass the entrance gate, you won’t find a pit toilet for eight miles despite this being the most visited gate in the summer. This pit toilet is located right before the Madison River Bridge. If you miss this one, you won’t encounter another one for seven more miles, just south of Madison Junction.
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