Editor’s Note: This story was updated June 20, 2022, due to parts of the park planned for reopening June 22 and an update on the damage and recovery.
One of America’s favorite national parks is closed as record flooding from snowmelt and heavy rains washed out road sections, with some parts likely closed for the rest of the tourist season.
The roiling, swollen Gardner River through Yellowstone National Park was captured on video June 13 by the National Park Service in a helicopter flyover, showing road washouts and erosion and other damage. Watch NPS video below taken by Doug Kraus:The damaged roadway stretches from Mammoth Hot Springs and the park’s north entrance through the Gardner Canyon. The National Park Service says the northern area is “likely to remain closed for a substantial length of time.” NPS says it will work as soon as possible to begin repairing the road.
To prevent visitors from potentially being stranded, overnight lodgers were evacuated.
All five entrances to the park are temporarily closed. The park service has since announced that the southern loop will reopen at 8 a.m. June 22. To prevent the park from being overwhelmed, the service says it is implementing an interim visitor access plan called the Alternating License Plate System.
The park will also receive $50 million in emergency funding to restore temporary access to Gardiner and Cooke City, Montana, and other additional sites, NPS says. Plans are being finalized for improving the Old Gardiner Road for temporary access between Yellowstone and Gardiner. In partnership with the Federal Highway Administration, road construction crews and materials that were already in the park for a project to repair 22 miles of the Grand Loop Road will be diverted to the Old Gardiner Road project.
“We have made tremendous progress in a very short amount of time but have a long way to go,” said Cam Sholly, park superintendent. “We have an aggressive plan for recovery in the north and resumption of operations in the south.”
The service reports the following damage:
- North Entrance (Gardiner, Montana) to Mammoth Hot Springs: road washed away in multiple places, significant rockslide at Gardner Canyon.
- Tower Junction to Northeast Entrance: segment of road washed away near Soda Butte Picnic Area, mudslides, downed trees.
- Tower-Roosevelt to Canyon Junction (Dunraven Pass): mudslide on road.
- Canyon Junction to Fishing Bridge: segment of road just south of Canyon Junction potentially compromised and closed for evaluation.
- Crews are evaluating multiple bridges across the park.
Water levels began receding June 14.
Nearby communities in Montana and Wyoming are also struggling with flooding from the Yellowstone River, which reached its highest levels in over 100 years. The river was expected to fall below flood level June 15 in Billings and by June 16 for eastern Yellowstone County.
The Montana Department of Transportation reports as of June 20 that flooding has closed sections of U.S. 89 and U.S. 212, as well as other local roads.