Yellowstone in April - what's open?
April 5, 2015 10:23 PM   Subscribe

Considering a trip to Yellowstone starting on April 17th, but the information on the site is sparse about what's really available. Any MeFis with experience here?

I'd love to hear about tips for traveling so close to the dates that the roads officially open. Specific q's but any general advice about driving & hotels near Yellowstone would be helpful too:

- it looks like the West entrance will be open on the 17th. How accessible will the rest of the park be?
- If we only have access via the West entrance, how many days should we plan for our visit? I was thinking 3-4 days but not sure if there's more to do/see in the area
- Any recommendations for lodging outside the park? Everything in the park is closed at that time.
- Is it possible/recommended to drive to Grand Tetons from Yellowstone with the road closure limitations?
- We'll be flying from California, with the plan to fly into Bozemen MT and hoped to drive from North Entrance down to Old Faithful. With the road closures, it looks like Norris Junction to Madison Junction is closed. Is this true? Is there alternative to getting there easily at this time?
posted by hampanda to Travel & Transportation around Bozeman, Mt (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
The answer is "hardly anything will be open, and you won't be able to drive very far." This is still late winter/early spring at Yellowstone. For instance, at the moment, the only road open is the north road. You've got scattered snow and ice on I-89. It simply isn't possible to drive to the Grand Tetons from Yellowstone, since you can't get any significant distance into Yellowstone itself.

According to this page, the only facility open April 17th will be the Canyon Yellowstone Adventures Store in Canyon Village. No hotels. Probably few if any campsites, and those only if you're prepared for snow camping.

You are proposing to go insanely early. Most facilities won't open until May.
posted by blob at 6:14 AM on April 6, 2015


Spring is a great time to see wildlife, but you run the risk of spring snows. Some roads are open for biking, weather permitting. Not much is open, but there's some stuff going on in West Yellowstone.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:00 AM on April 6, 2015


I'm thirding what was said above: the roads aren't open yet, Yellowstone is essentially still closed.
You could go for a nice drive along the north road, see Mammoth hot springs, an a lot of brown plains.
I did it early last spring and it was a nice long day drive from Bozeman, hardly a vacation.
Granted, there are lots of lovely hikes and we saw a TON of Bison on our drive, but it was cold, and you can't see all the Famous Sites.
posted by Grandysaur at 9:12 AM on April 6, 2015


You can call the Mammoth visitor center for specific information right from the source, as far as conditions inside the park when you get closer to your proposed visit. The Montana Road Conditions Map is quite helpful and accurate for other roads in the area.

It's an iffy of time of year to visit.

However...

I live about 3 hours from Yellowstone, and my favorite visits have been before the season starts. I've gone during April or May several times. It's beautiful and magical. There is snow on the shaded hillsides, and the hot springs and thermal features create a mist in the cool, damp air. Pulling into the usually crowded but now empty parking lot at Old Faithful is surreal. Walking the boardwalks among the thermal features, or visiting the overlooks to waterfalls and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone with no one else around (or hardly anyone) is amazing.

Bison will be plentiful on the roads. They don't normally spook due to people anyway, but they are especially abundant pre-season. Just be careful and give them a lot of leeway.

There will be no concessions open in the park, so you'll have to take food and drinks in with you.

If the West road is open, there are hotels, restaurants and shops in West Yellowstone, Montana.

In short, IF the roads to Yellowstone are good, AND at least half of the roads in the park are open, it's totally worth spending a day there.

A few words of caution if you go:

Watch your footing, as there can be icy conditions on walkways and paths, and despite the abundance of safe overlooks, there are still plenty of places that present a fall hazard. This is nature after all.

Yellowstone weather can change extremely and rapidly, no matter what time of year. Yellowstone has micro-climates that you can drive into and out of with no warning. On my last trip there, I experienced blazing hot sun, rain showers, snow, a sky-darkening thunderstorm, and a windstorm that felled trees right across the road. This all happened in ONE DAY in July.

Good luck!
posted by The Deej at 9:15 AM on April 6, 2015


I'm from the area. The information on the site is not sparse about what's available; it's what's available that is sparse. The roads open are what's it; there's no alternative roads that the park service didn't include on their map.

With the road closures, it looks like Norris Junction to Madison Junction is closed. Is this true? No. Since Mammoth to Old Faithful is scheduled to be open, Norris to Madison is open as that's one leg of that trip.

Here's what's scheduled to be open: Gardiner, MT (Mammoth) all the way to: Old Faithful (via west loop side), West Yellowstone, and Canyon; West Yellowstone all the way to Old Faithful and northbound to Canyon. Here's what's not open: Canyon to anywhere north or south; the entirety of the Yellowstone lake area is completely closed, including West Thumb; Old Faithful to the east; Grant is completely closed; East Entrance to anywhere; South entrance to anywhere.

But the key word is "scheduled". Seconding The Deej that it's cool to go there in the shoulder seasons, I'd still be really hesitant about planning a 3-4 day trip via a plane trip "to see Yellowstone" around what could be squishy opening dates with a lot of the park still closed. This is early spring/late winter in the Rockies. Just because they're offering a possible opening date does not mean it will open - a late snow could totally mess that up. Note the "as conditions allow". Heck, some kind of snow plow problem like running into a compacted avalanche zone could set the opening of a road back a day. To give you an idea of how much snow they have to plow, note that Old Faithful to West Thumb (over the divide) doesn't even open until mid-June.

The roads might be open/dry and it might be brown. Or they might look like this in these pics of snowplows clearing the roads. There could be no turnouts because they're full of snow; you could have 2 foot high snowbanks everywhere. On top of that, people really underestimate how long it takes to drive around even with all the roads open. The speed limit is low; if you're not used to driving in the mountains you'll be even slower; then there's the gawking. So taking food and drink is imperative. There might be just a few places to go to the bathroom. Gas stations might be closed with the pumps as credit card only.

If you do go, take plenty of clothing for different kinds of weather and plenty of food and drink. There's a big construction zone near Norris as well with possible unpaved roads to be aware of.

You can drive to the Tetons if you're willing to drive around YNP; for example, through Cody and south to Thermopolis and then west to Moran (check with WYDOT for road conditions). Or drive from West Yellowstone down to Driggs and through Wilson. The South entrance to Lake isn't scheduled to open for 2 weeks until after you get there, so don't hold out hope it will magically open. Even then, everything else would have to be open as well because you'd have to drive the loop as Craig Pass will be closed.

If you've never been to YNP before, I wouldn't suggest this trip. If you were hoping to see it without a lot of tourists, go in the fall. Fall is my favorite time in the park.
posted by barchan at 10:14 AM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I made you a map. I overlaid what highways are scheduled to be open in black. Hopefully that helps.
posted by barchan at 10:21 AM on April 6, 2015


It's been a warm, dry winter in the west, so it seems like they should have a good chance of hitting their opening dates. That said, winter weather can still happen in April, it dumped snow in Big Sky last night and is snowing now.

Definitely consider visiting Jackson and getting a look at the Tetons. They're more beautiful to me than much of what Yellowstone has to offer. In good weather it's a pretty easy drive from Bozeman via 191, about 4.5 hours. I drove it just yesterday, there was no snow on or near any of the roads except Teton Pass, but plenty of bison.

You could also see whatever you can of Yellowstone, exit via the west entrance and proceed to Jackson that way.
posted by counterfeitfake at 11:03 AM on April 6, 2015


You are all fantastic! This was hugely helpful to our decision process. As much as I'd love to see Yellowstone in the winter, it sounds like it would be a gamble during the shoulder season, and not an easy route to make it to Grand Tetons in one trip. Looking now for a new destination for spring break and will save Yellowstone for a future date.
posted by hampanda at 6:52 PM on April 6, 2015


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