Yellowstone National Park will open to the public for the winter season as scheduled on December 15.
Beginning Thursday morning, visitors will be able to travel on commercially guided snowmobiles or rubber-tracked snowcoaches between the park’s South Entrance and Old Faithful. Businesses which normally offer commercially guided snowmobile and snowcoach tours will be temporarily allowed to use either rubber -tracked snowcoaches or wheeled vehicles to transport visitors from West Yellowstone and Mammoth Hot Springs to Old Faithful. Rubber-tracked snowcoaches will be permitted to travel between Norris and Canyon.
The rest of the interior park roads have too much ice and snow to allow visitor travel by commercial wheeled vehicles, but not enough snow yet to permit commercially guided snowmobile or snowcoach travel.
Park staff members will continue to closely monitor conditions and weather forecasts. Additional sections of the park will be opened to commercially guided snowmobile and snowcoach travel as soon enough new snow falls to permit the roads to be packed and groomed for safe oversnow travel.
Travel through the park’s East Entrance over Sylvan Pass is scheduled to begin December 22.
The road from the park’s North Entrance at Gardiner, Montana through Mammoth Hot Springs and on to Cooke City, Montana outside the park’s Northeast Entrance is open to automobile travel all year.
At Old Faithful, the Geyser Grill, the Bear Den Gift Shop, and the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center open for the season on December 15. The Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins and the Obsidian Dining Room open on Sunday, December 18.
The Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, dining room, and gift shop will open for the season on Tuesday, December 20. The Yellowstone General Store, the medical clinic, campground, post office, 24-hour gasoline pumps, and the Albright Visitor Center at Mammoth Hot Springs are open all year.
All communities around and on the way to Yellowstone are open year-round, with local businesses offering a wide range of winter recreation opportunities. Extensive information and assistance for planning a visit to Yellowstone are on the park’s web site at http://www.nps.gov/yell.
The final legal requirement to winter opening of the park was met Monday, with the publication of the “One Year Rule” in the Federal Register. This allows managed oversnow travel this season in the same manner as has been permitted under a temporary plan the last two winters.
Under the rule, up to 318 commercially guided, Best Available Technology (BAT) snowmobiles, and up to 78 commercially guided snowcoaches a day will be allowed into Yellowstone again this winter.
In the next few weeks, the National Park Service will begin working on a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in order to complete a long-term plan to guide winter use in Yellowstone. A draft Supplemental EIS will be completed and released for public review and comment in early 2012. The National Park Service intends to have a final Supplemental EIS, a Record of Decision, and a long-term regulation in place prior to the start of the 2012-2013 winter season.