Proposed hike for Yellowstone entry fees draws mixed reviews

CODY, WYO. — The experiences and memories gained from a trip to Yellowstone National Park my be priceless, but they don’t come without a cost. And that cost will go up next year under a proposal being presented this week by park leaders.

Yellowstone officials are meeting with residents in gateway communities this month as part of the public comment period on a proposal to restructure and raise the park’s entrance fees, as well as to establish a new permit fee for overnight backcountry camping.

Currently, visitors in a single, non-commercial vehicle entering either Grand Teton National Park or Yellowstone pay $25 for a 7-day pass valid at both parks. Under the newly proposed fee structure, Yellowstone visitors would pay $30 for a 3-day pass, or they could opt for a 7-day pass good at both parks for $50.

Under a separate but parallel proposal, Grand Teton National Park officials are planning a new entry fee of $30 for a 7-day pass good only for that park, or a 7-day pass good at both parks for $50.

Proposed fee increases for Yellowstone National Park and dual-park pass fees for Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park.

Proposed fee increases for Yellowstone National Park and dual-park pass fees for Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park.

The proposed fee hike got mixed reviews at a public meeting Tuesday evening in Cody, where about a dozen people asked questions and expressed their concerns.

One attendee noted that the current entrance fee averages out to just over $3.50 per day, and offers access to two parks. The proposed new fee averages out to $10 per day, and is good only for Yellowstone. That comes to a per-day fee hike of 180 percent, while eliminating access to Grand Teton.

“It is a significant increase,” said Acting Superintendent Steve Iobst, who added that Yellowstone has the option to phase in any approved fee increases.

For visitors looking to spend a week traveling between Yellowstone and Grand Teton, the cost will go from $25 to $50, said Scott Balyo, executive director of the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce.

“I think people would be comfortable with a modest increase, but that seems excessive to me,” Balyo said at Tuesday’s meeting.

The fee hike will mean less money for visitors to spend in gateway towns, and separate fees for the two parks is likely to result in confusion, possibly leading to longer lines at entrance gates, Balyo said.

Iobst said the National Park Service would work with gateway towns on getting the word out about the new fee structure, and that limited traffic at the North Entrance early next year would provide some measure of how the new fees would affect wait times at entry gates opening in the spring.

The proposed fee hike seems steep when broken down by the day, but isn’t out of line compared to what a family of four on vacation might spend for meals or attractions, said Bill Tabacinski, a frequent park visitor from Cody who attended Tuesday’s meeting.

Dinner for four at a mid-range restaurant could easily cost $35, for instance, while two adult tickets and two youth tickets to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody cost a total of $56.

“When you look at it that way, Yellowstone is a deal. It’s a steal,” said Tabacinski, who visits Yellowstone about six times per year. But Tabacinski said he pays only $10 for a senior citizen pass good on all federal public lands, a rate which won’t change under the proposal.

A $50 annual pass good for both parks would no longer be available under the new rate structure. Local residents or frequent visitors would instead most likely opt for an $80 annual pass good at all federal public lands. Fees for entrance on foot, by motorcycle or snowmobile will also increase.

Overnight campers in the backcountry currently pay no fee for a permit, although they can pay $25 to reserve a specific campsite. Under the new proposal, the advance reservation fee would remain $25. But backpackers over 9 years old would pay $3 each for a permit, up to a maximum of $15 per group. Stock groups would be charged $5 per person per night with no maximum fee limit.

Not all national parks charge for admission, but federal law allows parks to retain 80 percent of their entrance fees, while returning 20 percent to Washington, D.C. for use across the national park system. Both Yellowstone and Grand Teton are among a group of about 10 of the largest and busiest national parks that will be allowed to charge up to $30 per vehicle under a new directive issued in recent months by Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis.

The increased fees are expected to bring in an additional $3 million in annual revenue for Yellowstone. Entrance fees were last raised in 2006, going from $20 to $25 per private vehicle. The park has raised campground fees and fishing license fees in recent years as well, as annual federal funding for national parks has decreased each year since 2010.

Based on budget figures for fiscal year 2014 provided by the National Park Service, entrance fees from Yellowstone visitors totaled about $6.7 million, or just under 10 percent of the park’s $69.6 million annual budget.

Congressional appropriations accounted for 75 percent of Yellowstone’s revenue in 2014, with the remaining 15 percent coming from concessions and commercial operations fees, charitable donations and other sources.

Iobst said most Yellowstone visitors spend 3 days or less in the park, while Grand Teton visitors typically spend longer there, which is why the two parks have proposed separate entrance fees covering different durations.

Public comments on the proposed fee increase will be accepted through Dec. 5, and can be mailed to: Management Assistant Office, Attn: Entrance Fee Proposal, P.O. Box 168, Yellowstone National Park, WY, 82190.

If you go…

The National Park Service will host a public meeting next week in Bozeman, Mont. to discussed proposed increases in Yellowstone National Park entrance fees. The meeting will be held at the Hilton Garden Inn from 6:30 – 8 p.m.

6 thoughts on “Proposed hike for Yellowstone entry fees draws mixed reviews

  1. Entrance fees are only $6.7 million per year? According to the NPS, Yellowstone gets about 3 million visits per year. The entrance fee is $25 , so 3 million times $25 equals $75 million per year. I know, not every visit pays $25, but even if only one half of the visits pay $25 that is still $38.5 million. So how come only $6.7 million? Is someone stealing entrance fees? Something is very wrong here. $6.7 million in entrance fess means each visit is only paying $2.23!

    • Bill,

      You’re right in that not every visitor pays $25 to enter the park. A car with four people pays $25, rather than $25 per person. Tour buses typically pay $300 for several dozen visitors. Also, the 3 million annual recreational visits includes many repeat visitors. Locals who live near the park may use an annual pass and visit a dozen times. Also, entrance gates are not staffed late at night, so some visitors enter without paying at all.

      • So are they all counted as visitors or what? Do they count buy the carload or by the persons in the car or bus? Doesn’t $6.7 million in entrance fees seem ridiculously low even considering all the discounts and free loaders? How do you know?

        • The Park Service uses a “multiplier number” in counting vehicles. They get a count of vehicles coming into Yellowstone, then multiply that 2.58. Social science surveys have shown that, on average, there are 2.58 people in each private vehicle entering the park. (It’s not an exact science, obviously.) If you’re coming in with an employee sticker or if you’re driving a delivery truck like FedEx or UPS, you’re not counted among total “recreational visits.”

          Here’s more info on how the Park Service counts visitors in Yellowstone:

  2. I work in a fee charging National Park and I get a free park pass. When I drive in they just wave me through the gate when they see the pass on the windshield, so is that visit counted?

  3. It looks like the park service administrators are trying to separate the 2 parks completely in terms of fees. Not sure that this is a prudent idea, or anything other than a money grab. A great many of the visits into Yellowstone are people day tripping from the Jackson Hole area. This seems to be an unnecessary additional gouge.

    The other oddity is different durations for the listed fees. 30$ for 3 days in Yellowstone versus 25$ for 7 days in Grand Tetons. What happens if you are people in an RV who are staying in Yellowstone for a week at one of the large campgrounds such as Madison? If you go out to a border town, and try to come back in each day will they try to hit you for 3 separate fees during the course of your stay?

    What this seems to be doing is pushing people to buy the Interagency Annual Pass which is a great value, but may not allow as much money to stay in the locally in the two parks. Omitting the annual pass for both parks is basically a slap in the face to locals who may not visit any other federal areas during the course of the year.

    Sometimes the bureaucrats try to use too many comparables to argue their case. They say access to these parks is cheap compared to other activities in the private sector such as visiting tourist destinations, purchasing meals or lodging. What they don’t realize, since most of them live on the federal dime, is that these gateway communities are already quite expensive. Try to purchase lodging and meals in the Jackson or West Yellowstone area during the summer. You can easily expect to pay over 200$ per night at a modest motel, and 60$+ to feed dinner to a family of 4 if you are eating anywhere other than a drive in. Staying at hotels in the park and eating in their restaurants are quite expensive as well. Basically the bureaucrat response is to get on that gravy train with the additional fees.

    It is very expensive to visit Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks if you are going to be in the area for a week, even if the parks themselves are a decent deal. Do we really want to confuse visitors with these odd fee increases and perhaps limit their access to the parks? The bureaucrats are trying to make this another Disneyland, and disdain the view that one of the reasons that people visit national parks is because of their relatively good value, and the desire to see America’s wonders.