MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS, WYO. — With most of Yellowstone National Park undamaged by record flooding earlier this month, officials plan to reopen some roads on Wednesday, using a 1970s-era gas rationing system to limit the number of vehicles in the park. As much as 80 percent of the park is likely to be open to vehicle access within a month.
At 8 a.m. Wednesday, June 22, Yellowstone will begin allowing visitors to access the south loop of the park, including Madison, Old Faithful, Grant Village, Lake Village, Canyon Village and Norris. Visitors will be able to enter from the East (Cody, Wyo.); West (West Yellowstone, Mont.); and South (Grand Teton National Park).
The move is welcomed by gateway towns that had just begun a summer tourist season that was seen as a chance to gain back ground lost to two years of COVID-19 travel restriction.
Park Superintendent Cam Sholly has said that he wants to avoid allowing normal traffic levels into the park when only half of its inner loop roads are open, a situation he called “a disaster waiting to happen.”
“It is impossible to reopen only one loop in the summer without implementing some type of system to manage visitation,” Sholly said.
After considering an online reservation system similar to those used by a handful of other national parks, Sholly has chose a simple method used to ease lines at the gas pumps in the 1970s: license plates. Public vehicle entry will be allowed based on whether the last numerical digit on a license plate is odd or even, the park’s public affairs office said in a statement.
Entrance will be granted based on odd/even days on the calendar. Odd-numbered last digits on license plates can enter on odd days of the month. Even-numbered last digits (including zero) on license plates can enter on even days of the month.
Personalized plates with all letters (for example YLWSTNE) will fall into the “odd” category for entrance purposes. Plates with a mix of letters and numbers but that end with a letter (for example YELL4EVR) will still use the last numerical digit on the plate to determine entrance days.
Entrance station staff will turn away vehicles attempting to enter the park when the odd/even numerical digits do not correspond to the odd/even calendar date for entrance, park managers said.
Exceptions to the system include:
- Current commercial use operators with active commercial use permits will be permitted to enter regardless of license plate number. This includes commercial tours and stock groups.
- Visitors with proof of overnight reservations in the park will be permitted to enter regardless of license plate number. This includes hotels, campgrounds, and backcountry reservations.
- Commercial motorcoaches will be permitted to enter regardless of license plate number.
- Motorcycle groups may enter on even dates only.
- Essential services like mail and delivery services, employees and contractors may enter regardless of license plate number.
“As we go through the reopening process, we will monitor the system’s effectiveness and work together to make adjustments that may be necessary,” he said. “We will also reopen new sections of the park as repairs continue to be made. It is critical for visitors to stay informed about this interim system as we evaluate its effectiveness. They should plan ahead and be patient with us as we are still managing significant recovery while moving into this operational phase.”
Park officials also announced that the park’s northern loop is expected to reopen in two weeks or less following completion of clean-up, repairs and final inspection of the northern loop infrastructure. This will allow visitors to access Dunraven Pass, Tower, Mammoth Hot Springs and Norris. Opening the northern loop would provide access to approximately 80 percent of Yellowstone National Park. Additional details on access will be announced in the coming weeks.
OPEN in the south loop as of June 22:
- Backcountry areas accessible from roads open to the public will be available/restricted for day use only.
- Overnight use from trailheads in the south will open July 1.
- Visit Camp in Backcountry for details.
- Old Faithful, West Thumb, Grant Village, Bridge Bay, Fishing Bridge, Lake Village, and Norris visitor services
- West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center
- Canyon Village Visitor Education Center
CLOSED until further notice in the south loop:
- Canyon Village Lodges & Cabins
- Canyon, Madison, Norris and Lewis Lake campgrounds
- Fishing Bridge Visitor Center and Trailside Museum
For additional details, check the flood recovery section of the park’s website.