This Week in Yellowstone is a weekly post to help everyone get ready for their trip to America’s first National Park. It is a labor of love and one that I hope helps make the next trip you take to Yellowstone even better. I’ll be trying to post this each and every week, as close to the weekend as I can. It should be released on Wednesday or Thursday, depending on my workload with real writing gigs. Tweaks and changes will be occurring over the next few weeks, but the content should generally be the same. You can expect to see news events that occurred in the park, the weather for the coming weekend and week, a highlight of the week and so much more.
As I said, this is a labor of love. If you want to support me, please share this link with others, pick up a guidebook, or send me a tip via Venmo or PayPal. I’ll get those linked up in the future, but if you are interested, just shoot me an email. Anything and everything is appreciated.
I hope you enjoy this week’s post, the first of hopefully many!
Montana’s Wolf Hunt Begins
It has been a bit of a sad week for Yellowstone enthusiasts. The most recent news from the park is about the park’s world famous wolf packs. Wolf hunting season opened in Montana and during the first weekend, three wolves were killed just outside the park. The legal hunt has angered wildlife watchers and the Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park.
“Yellowstone plays a vital role in Montana’s wildlife conservation efforts and its economy. These wolves are part of our balanced ecosystem here and represent one of the special parts of the park that draw visitors from around the globe. We will continue to work with the state of Montana to make the case for reinstating quotas that would protect the core wolf population in Yellowstone as well as Montana’s direct economic interests derived from the hundreds of millions spent by park visitors each year.” ~ Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholly
You can read the full park press release on the wolf hunt here.
Search for a Body Continues in Shoshone Lake
On the weekend of the 18th and 19th of September, Yellowstone was hit by an end of summer storm that brought snowfall, strong winds and freezing temperatures to the region. During this storm, or the days leading up to it, something went wrong. On the 19th, Mark O’Neill, 67, and his half-brother, Kim Crumbo, 74, were reported overdue from a four-night backcountry canoe to Shoshone Lake in Yellowstone National Park. A few days later, the body of O’Neill was found. On the 24th of September, the National Park Service said it would begin using sonar equipment to look for signs of Crumbo in the water. Recovery efforts are ongoing, but this should be changing any day, if conditions allow.
Fall Colors Emerge
While not known for a dazzling display of autumn awesomeness, the deciduous flora around Yellowstone and the surrounding region put on a great display. Along the riverbanks, the cottonwoods are a brilliant yellow, while the golden leaves of the aspen shimmer in the wind. My favorite areas this time of the year are along the road to Cooke City, through Lamar Valley, the Blacktail Plateau Drive, and the drive down to Lewis Falls. The hikes out to Fairy Falls or the suspension bridge on the Hellroaring Trail are pretty scenic right now!
Fire Burning Near Big Sky
There is a fire currently burning near Big Sky, outside of the park and north of West Yellowstone. The fire is small at the moment of publication, but could flare up any moment. The most up-to-date information on this fire can be found here on the INCIWEB site. The best detailed coverage of the fire is found at Explore Big Sky, the area’s best news source. Hopefully, the fire can be under control soon and not be a major story.
Wait Times Are Finally Dropping at West Yellowstone
For those who aren’t aware, for the past few years, I have been tracking and documenting the visitation numbers of visitors coming to Yellowstone. There is no denying that in 2021 Yellowstone saw its busiest summer.
What many don’t know is that nearly half (on my last look, 47%) of all visitors to Yellowstone this summer came in through the West Yellowstone Entrance. Because of this, West Yellowstone experienced unimaginable traffic backups to get both in and out of the park nearly every day. Average wait times at this entrance at 10am were often well over 30 minutes, often much longer. Thankfully to the town of West, the backups through the city streets each morning have started to subside, with wait times now less than 20 minutes on most days.
If you are heading to the park this week, know that West Yellowstone is not the only entrance open. Currently, all five entrance stations are open.
Bear hanging out with wolves in Lamar
In lighter news, wildlife watchers in Lamar Valley witnessed a fun moment between the park’s most well-known predators. A tour with Yellowstone Wolf Tracker watched as a grizzly bear that had bedded down with the Junction Butte wolf pack thing out as the wolfs got excited to go off to a new location. After a few moments of witnessing these awesome animals coexist peacefully, the wolves led and the bear wandered away.
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This coming week in Yellowstone is going to be pretty incredible. While the region desperately needs some rain or snow, neither appear to be in the forecast. The potential bad news for the ecosystem is our gain. Expect sunny and mostly clear, warm-is days and very chilly nights. I’d definitely bring warm layers, a warm hat and gloves for the morning and evening hours.
This is the weather.com forecast for the three closest towns to the park, Gardiner, West Yellowstone 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 area. As always, weather can and does change fast in the park, so always be prepared for anything.
This week, the wildlife of Yellowstone continues to transition toward winter. Migratory birds are gathering up and you may see a few hundred sandhill cranes in the air or in sections of prairie. The osprey are also still in the area, but will soon be leaving.
The main thing going on in the park right now is the winding down of the elk rut. You’ll still see impressive bull elk battling for mates, and hear bugling in the air, but the action appears to be not as intense as it was a few weeks ago. It is still impressive and awesome. Your best chances to see the elk will be around Madison Junction and Mammoth, but they may be anywhere.
The wolves appear to be active in Lamar Valley and recently, the bighorn sheep have been hanging out on the cliffs between Mammoth and Gardiner. Bison are all around, as are the elk. For an added bonus, the grizzly watching action in the Tom Miner Basin, just outside of the park to the north, has been pretty great. Be aware that this small, often narrow dirt road is located outside of the park and people live there. You’ll more than likely be looking at a bear wandering on someone’s private property. Be respectful, friendly and courteous so we can keep public access to this incredible region. It only takes one bad encounter to ruin it for everyone.
Only four Yellowstone National Park campgrounds are currently open, with Lewis Lake showing the most consistent openings each day. The other are still filling up each day, but I expect that to end this week or next. You can check the status of campgrounds in the park online here.
All park roads are open, except the section of road from Canyon to Roosevelt Junction. This is closed for construction and is scheduled to reopen next year. Expect some delays around the Old Faithful Area, as construction crews are working to make the overpass much more safe.
Outside of the park, there will be night closures (7 pm–7 am) on the Beartooth Highway on Monday through Thursday nights. There are no night closures on Friday, Saturday or Sunday nights.
A heads up that many roads will close to regular vehicles in the coming weeks.
On October 12, the route from Cooke City to Chief Joseph Scenic Byway and the Beartooth Highway, US 212 to Red Lodge, Montana, will be closing. If you haven’t been across these scenic roads, this is your last chance before 2022.
A little more than month in the future, on November 8, all roads in Yellowstone, except the road between the North Entrance and the Northeast Entrance, close at 8 am. This date marks the end of the summer season and the transition to winter. As this date gets closer, I’ll talk about it more.
I will rarely tell someone to leave the park, but since it is still in the greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, it is allowable. If you are heading to the park this coming weekend, take a day and drive down to the Tetons. The aspen are incredible right now. If you only have a short time, the Arizona Island Picnic area along Jackson Lake are fantastic. If you have the time for a longer trip into the Tetons, there are few spaces that aren’t going to be absurdly gorgeous. Favorites stops of mine and many others right now are Jenny Lake, Schwabacher Landing, Oxbow Bend and Signal Mountain. Be aware that there is some road construction at the Jackson Lake Dam that cause road closures and delays.
If that doesn’t work with your plans, I highly suggest driving out the Northeast Entrance and at least driving to Beartooth Lake. If you plan on going to Lamar Valley, this will only add an hour or two. The fall colors are amazing, the scenery is world class and I can almost guarantee you that you will love it enough to want to either keep driving to the top of the pass, or at least make serious plans to return. I can’t speak highly enough about the Beartooth Highway. Check Out Crazy Creek Falls for an added bonus.
This coming week will be some of the best hiking weather of the entire year. With no snow impacting the trails, you will have pretty much the entire park to choose from. If you are not much of a hiker, you still plenty of options. The boardwalks around the Geyser Basins are can’t miss. Pack a bag with food, water and bear spray and hit up the Lone Star Geyser, which can be found south of Old Faithful. The trail is 4.8 miles round trip, partially paved and follows an old service road beside the Firehole River to the geyser. The geyser erupts every three hours or so, but it is worth the wait. When it erupts, it shoots water 45 feet high.
If you are an experienced hiker, you may want to do what I usually do at this time of the year. This is when I go and grab a peak, while I still can. Be it the steep and well-trodden routes up Bunsen Peak or Avalanche Peak, or long days along the Skyrim Trail to Bighorn Peak or up to Electric Peak, now is the time to get high in Yellowstone.
If you are headed toward Roosevelt Junction from Mammoth, keep an eye out for the Blacktail Plateau Drive. This 6-mile long side road is a wonderful detour and one of my favorite places to drive in the fall. What makes the seasonally open road so great is that it passes by aspen grove, has pretty consistent bear activity and gives off sweeping views of Yellowstone’s northern range. I may be lucky, but I see a bear when driving this road about 40% of the time.
The Blacktail Plateau Drive is frequented and definitely not a secret, so don’t expect absolute solitude on the pretty path. While cars will be ahead or behind you, take your time and use the numerous pullout on the dirt road. Just a heads up that RVs, buses, and trailers are not permitted on this road.
Curious about something not mentioned in the post?
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