This Week in Yellowstone is for bear and wolf lovers. I should clarify. If you love seeing wolves and bears, this week will be one you enjoy immensely. Wolf pups are out and playing, while bears are around nearly every corner in the northern part of the park. The weather will continue to improve after weekend snow and hiking trails are clearing up. This week, I also share a lesser known geyser basin that is truly a hidden gem, as well as look into the record number of park visitors who came to Yellowstone in April. As always, this week will be an amazing and wonderful time to see, smell and wander Yellowstone.
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BIGGEST NEWS OF THE WEEK
April Park Visitation Numbers Set Record
In April of 2022, Yellowstone saw a 17% increase in visitation compared to April of 2021. 79,328 visitors entered Yellowstone in April of this year, doubling the amount of visitors from March of 2022, which was 35,616. The April numbers, if the remain unchanged, would be a record for the month by roughly 12,000 guests.
Interestingly, the North and West Entrances nearly tied for entry over April. West Yellowstone had 39,246 people enter through the gates for the month, while the North Gate had 40,081. Starting in May, West Yellowstone will see the majority of entrances. While these numbers and the increased visitation will seem shocking to many, it is important to note that park visitation will jump to nearly half a million in May and will be around one million visitors each month for June, July and August. September typically will see around 800,000 visitors.
Many may look at these numbers with fear and dread and maybe even anger and frustration, the reality of visitation in April was an empty park. I entered the park every week, often on the weekends and easily found parking spots near the boardwalks and popular destinations all around the park. Even so far in May I have found the “crowds” to be very manageable at all times of the day and days of the week.
Park visitation will continue to grow, as our population continues to grow. While many will bemoan having crowds at the popular places, there are a few very important things to remember. Nearly all park visitors follow the rules and are respectful, and those who aren’t are very rare. Over four million people visited the park in 2021, and 99% were incredibly grateful and appreciative of each and every moment they had in the park. Don’t be part of the 1%. Also, know that each and every person in the park deserves to be there and experience it how they want, as long as they are following the posted rules. The parks are created by the people and for the people to enjoy. The last thing I want to mention is that while well-known areas will be crowded, most visitors to the park stay on the same route and visit at the same times. Consider heading to the popular spots around dinner time for a much more quiet and calm experience.
NEWS ROUND UP
Yellowstone’s Mount Doane to be Renamed: A mountain named after a US Calvary Officer who led numerous attacks against indigenous peoples to be renamed. This is one of dozens, if not hundreds of places around that should be changed. Some will say a name doesn’t matter as proof we don’t need to change it, but if a name doesn’t matter, then we should change it.
Bears Are Everywhere: If you have always wanted to see black bears and grizzly bears, this is the time to head to the park. Bear viewing is absolutely bonkers right now. On Sunday I saw 12 bears and on Thursday I saw 10. The best spot to see them will be driving from Mammoth to Pebble Creek and up to Tower Falls. On the stretch from Roosevelt to Tower, I saw five bears on both Sunday and Thursday of last week.
Be Aware of Online Clickbait: In the last few weeks, the rise of articles about animal vs human incidents in the park have increased. However, nearly all of them are at least two years old and do not represent the current state of the park. Even then, the incidents are rare. Please try to avoid clicking on and sharing these links, as they do not serve a positive purpose for any park visitors.
Avalanches Closed Sylvan Pass Last Week: A mix of new, wet snow and warm temperatures created quite the mess last week, with midday road closures of the pass necessary to protect visitors from avalanche danger. This appears to have been limited to last week.
HIKING NEWS AND UPDATES
First, ALWAYS CARRY BEAR SPRAY AND KNOW HOW TO USE IT!
The trails are starting to clear and dry out, especially in the Northern Range. The snow is still a bit of a hassle in the interior of the park, so if you are headset on doing some hiking, find a trail between Gardiner and Cooke City. These trails will be mostly snow free and have limited mud on them. On Thursday, I hiked the Slough Creek Trail to the second meadow and found it to be absolutely perfect. I highly recommend this trail if you are looking for some bison sightings and maybe even a bear encounter. While hiking this trail recently, I saw a sow and two of last year’s Cubs of the Year (COY) , so be bear aware and have your bear spray handy.
Also checked out the Garnet Hill Loop near Roosevelt. Having hiked this on Sunday, I found it to be in great condition. A few muddy spots here and there, but generally, this was a great hike. If you tie in a side trip to the Hellroaring Suspension Bridge over the Yellowstone River, you’ll have a solid 9 mile day on your hands. Be aware that the trail is also being heavily used by bison, elk and bears, so make a ton of noise and be ready to walk far off trail to give wildlife room to pass.
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.
I feel silly worrying about the snowpack over the winter, but it was warranted at the time. We are now above average for this time of year, which is fantastic news. However, the runoff is starting now, so the snow level is creeping up the mountains each day. The rivers are flowing a nice muddy brown color and the waterfalls are raging. Hopefully, we gradually warm and the snow pack doesn’t vanish too fast. Only time will tell!
Here is the current snowpack map:
WEATHER FOR THE COMING WEEK
After a weekend of wintery weather, the coming week will be getting better and better each day. Aside from a few showers on Tuesday, you should encounter partly sunny skies and decent warmth.
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
After last week’s onslaught of avalanche closures over Sylvan Pass, I anticipate this week’s roads to be mostly uneventful. The weekend won’t be great and there may be a few closures through Tuesday, but they shouldn’t be too long lasting, if they do occur. I’d mainly be on the lookout for rocks and wildlife on the road, as those two things are quite common to see. Next week, we will see the opening of Dunraven Pass. At noon on May 27th, the pass connecting Canyon to Tower will reopen for the first time in a couple of years. On the same date, the Beartooth Highway will open, if the weather is good.
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 three open campgrounds with more scheduled to open in the coming weeks. This week, Bridge Bay opened for camping, joining Madison and Mammoth as the only open campgrounds inside the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park. Bridge Bay has 432 sites, Mammoth has 85 campsites in it, while Madison has 278 sites.
BE AWARE THAT CAMPGROUNDS ARE FILLING UP!!! On Thursday the 19th of May, Mammoth had filled by 1pm. If you arrive without a reservation, the chances of finding a campsite in the park are very unlikely. Most campsites are reserved far in advance, so it is recommended that you make reservations as early as you can. All dates are subject to change.
Do not be tricked to go to Hayden Valley if you are headset on seeing wildlife. While you may see a lone bear roaming or a handful of bison in and around Hayden, the best wildlife watching will be between Mammoth Hot Springs to Cooke City. The road up to Tower Falls from Roosevelt is also a hot spot for bear sightings, as I noted above. On top of the bear sightings around seemingly every corner, two wolf dens can be found around Slough Creek. For their safety, I will not disclose the exact locations, but you probably will not be able to miss see the line of photographers and wildlife watchers looking through spotting scopes.
I cannot stress heading toward Lamar enough. The wildlife viewing is the best in years and should continue through the week. I have consistently seen bears, wolves, bighorn sheep, elk, coyotes and pronghorn from pullouts all around the area. Around Hayden I have spotted a few bears roaming, so it isn’t like you should totally avoid the area. It is just that at the moment, the wildlife on the north side of at park is absolutely incredible.
Elsewhere, you’ll have a chance for bear encounters, as well as seeing the usual wildlife of the park. The harlequin ducks are still riding the rapids of LeHardy, while eagles and osprey are found on the trees or in the skies above the quick running waterways.
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
Wander the Artist Paint Pots Trail
Not to be confused with Fountain Paint Pots near Old Faithful, Artist Paint Pots is a largely hidden gem in Yellowstone’s thermal areas. Just south of Norris, a small road emerges, signed with the words “Artist Paint Pots.” The paved road leads to a small parking area and a trailhead. Here, you will find an underrated and often overlooked geyser basin full of all the wonder and beauty one craves when walking around a thermal area. The trail around the basin is much more rugged than you’ll find at the other geyser basin. Despite the ruggedness, the trail is short and not too hilly. It is just 0.6 miles in total and gains 80 feet in elevation. While you can miss the hill, you won’t want to. Where the trail tops out are incredible mud pots that are currently bubbly and great. The drier it gets, the less the mud pots will be bubbling. The view from the top is also phenomenal and gives a great view of an area that cost who visit the park never even see. If you head here this week, you may have a chance to stand near the mud pots, which will splatter up to the boardwalk on which you are standing. Quite the unique experience!
TIP OF THE WEEK
Do Not Stop In The Road and Always Use Pullouts
I bring this up for numerous reasons, but mainly it is to be courteous to your fellow park visitors. Seeing wildlife or a stunning vista from the road can be an exciting event and one that you’ll want to fully embrace. After all, where else but Yellowstone can you potentially drive by a herd of bison, elk or even a grizzly with cubs right next to the road? As tempting as it may be to stop your car on the road for a quick picture, know that doing so is against park rules and regulations. It is also a way to snarl up traffic unnecessarily.
So what should you do? Keep driving util you reach the next pullout. I know that missing out on a quick picture may be disappointing, but stopping in the road is unsafe. Now, obviously if there are no cars around you may be able to quickly stop and snap a picture, but the moment you see another car coming in either direction, drive away.
Along these same lines, if you are wanting to drive slower than the speed limit, use the pullouts and let cars pass you. Be courteous and polite and know that not everyone is interested in having the same Yellowstone experience as you. The more we can follow these rules, the better experience we all can have. Plus, who wants to have a car right on your bumper while you are trying to enjoy the day?
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