Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks began the process of opening up to summer tourism last week. Yellowstone opened its Wyoming gates from Cody and Jackson for daytime-only visits Monday May 18, while GTNP also allowed limited use.
The openings marked the first step in a phased plan to welcome visitors following the COVID-19 closures that began in late March.
Visitors showed up in droves. Lines of vehicles queued up at Yellowstone’s Wyoming gates starting well ahead of Monday’s planned noon opening, prompting officials to release visitors into the parks earlier than planned.
Commercial buses were not allowed during this first phase of reopening, but license plates in the park suggested travelers from as far as Mississippi, New York and Washington.
Parts of the park and many facilities remained closed, but visitation was high at popular destinations like Old Faithful. The crowds included a mix of masked visitors and those with bare faces.
Rangers wore masks and gloves, and employed metal extendable devices to deliver maps and guides to visitors coming through the gates.
New signs were also erected throughout the park instructing people to maintain a minimum 6-foot distance from one another. Along with geysers, guests were treated to wildlife sightings — they saw bison, elk, bighorn sheep, muskrats and grizzly bears.
Other popular destinations, like Old Faithful Inn, remained closed. Guests walked around the lodge to peer into its empty interior.
How the remainder of the season develops depends in part on how visitors behave, Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly said in a May 13 media briefing.
“I put an enormous responsibility on the public,” he said, urging adherence to pandemic safety guidelines.