Road Openings & Closings
Traveling Yellowstone's roads during spring months can be a roll of the dice because openings can be delayed for days (sometimes weeks) at a time, especially at higher altitudes. There is always some section of road in Yellowstone under construction (projects for Dunraven Pass and the stretch between Madison and Norris being the current hot spots) -- so call ahead and get a road report (tel. 307/344-7381). It's irritating, but don't take it out on the road workers; they often labor through the night to cause as little inconvenience as possible.
The only road open year-round in the area is the north entrance to Mammoth Hot Springs. From Mammoth, a winter access road to the northeast entrance and Cooke City is plowed throughout the winter. This service for Cooke City residents gives visitors a great opportunity to watch wildlife in winter in the Lamar Valley. Just be watchful of the weather; the road is often slick with ice.
Snowplowing begins in early March. In Yellowstone, the first roads open to motor vehicles (usually by the end of Apr) include Mammoth-Norris, Norris-Canyon, Madison-Old Faithful, and West Yellowstone-Madison. If the weather cooperates, the east and south entrances, as well as roads on the east and south sides of the park, will open early in May. Opening of the road from Tower-Roosevelt to Canyon Junction, however, might be delayed by late-season snowfall on Dunraven Pass.
The Sunlight Basin Road (which is also called the Chief Joseph Highway), connecting the entrances in Cooke City, Montana, and Cody, Wyoming, often opens by early May. The Beartooth Highway, between Cooke City and Red Lodge, Montana, is generally open by Memorial Day weekend.
Winter road closures typically begin in mid-October, when the Beartooth Highway closes. Depending upon weather, most other park roads remain open until the park season ends on the first Sunday in November.
Winter Road Conditions -- Due to the high elevation and the abundance of snow, most roads in Yellowstone are closed to all wheeled vehicles in winter. The only major park area that is accessible by car is Mammoth Hot Springs; cars are allowed to drive in the village there. Signs will alert you as to how far south into the park you can go (usually to Tower Junction, 18 miles away). From Tower Junction, it's another 29 miles to the northeast entrance. This entrance is open but not accessible from Red Lodge, Montana, and points east (because the Beartooth Hwy. is closed in winter). You can go only as far as Cooke City, Montana, and the roads are kept open specifically so that the folks in Cooke City aren't stranded during the long winters. Snowmobiles, snowcoaches, and cross-country skiers, however, use park roads regularly throughout the winter season. For up-to-the-minute information on weather and road conditions, call tel. 307/344-7381.
Basing yourself in West Yellowstone is another option. From the West Yellowstone entrance, it's only 14 miles to Madison Junction, which presents opportunities to head south to Old Faithful or north to the Grand Canyon and Mammoth Hot Springs. Because this is the most popular way to access the park, plan on making reservations early.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.