Post-flood bus access to Yellowstone shows success of collaboration

Historic flooding, mudslides and road collapses in Yellowstone completely closed the popular national park during high visitor season in mid-June. 

To accommodate reduced capacity when the park’s south loop reopened the following week, Yellowstone implemented an alternating license plate system.

But the park didn’t institute those same rules for buses and motorcoaches.

That decision showed how the progress that an industrywide coalition had made in its work with the National Parks Service (NPS). 

Yellowstone National Park
A bus enters Yellowstone. (NPS / Jacob W. Frank)

Industry goals

“Several smaller working groups, with a selection of tour operators, were created and have worked closely with specific national parks during and since COVID-19. A key issue has been access for motorcoaches and tour groups,” explained Bronwyn Wilson, IMG President.

She added that the collaboration with the National Parks Service and individual parks will continue as many areas remain in need of attention to assist the NPS and the motorcoach and tour sectors.

Challenging restrictions

Yellowstone and other National Parks are staples on group itineraries, but in recent years many independently introduced a variety of policies that have proven injurious to group travel by motorcoach, such as: 

  • Restricting passenger levels to nine riders plus the driver on motorcoaches that can typically seat 55 travelers as part of COVID constraints. 
  • Halting the issuance of Commercial Use Authorization (CUA) permits required for motorcoaches/groups to conduct commercial business in national parks.
  • Restricting group transportation mode to vehicles of fewer than 40 feet, indefinitely.

Yellowstone National Park working group collaborated closely with the park’s superintendent and manager of business and commercial services during COVID, which really helped raise the profile and understanding of the sector, according to Wilson. 

“Hopefully, the industry is increasingly recognized as responsible partners,” said Scott Michael, United Motorcoach Association president and CEO.

Park entry options

Over the Fourth of July weekend, Yellowstone National Park reopened the north loop, which raised accessibility to 93% of the roadways. Services in the north loop include general stores at Tower Fall and Mammoth Hot Springs, with fuel in both locations. Additional services may open in the upcoming weeks. (Visit Operating Hours and Seasons for details.)

This antique bus at Yellowstone shows that the national park has long been a destination for tour groups.

However, the North Entrance (from Gardiner, Montana, to Mammoth Hot Springs) and Northeast Entrance (from Cooke City/Silver Gate, Montana, to Tower-Roosevelt) remain closed to visitor vehicular traffic while temporary repairs are completed. The park is suspending the alternate license plate system.

What this means is that in addition to the south loops, motorcoach tours will now be able to access:

  • Norris Junction to Mammoth Hot Springs
  • Mammoth Hot Springs to Tower-Roosevelt
  • Tower-Roosevelt to Canyon Junction (Dunraven Pass).

Coaches can still only access the south and north loops via the East Entrance in Cody, Wyoming; South Entrance in Grand Teton/Jackson, Wyoming and West Entrance in West Yellowstone, Montana.

“We’re pleased to reopen the north loop of Yellowstone to the visiting public less than three weeks after this major flood event,” said Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly, in a statement.  “We have attempted to balance major recovery efforts while reopening as much of the park as possible. We have greatly appreciated the tremendous support of the Department of the Interior; National Park Service; Federal Highway Administration; and our congressional, community, county and state partners.”

Operators are encouraged to stay informed before taking groups into the park by visiting the Wyoming Office of Tourism website and the Yellowstone National Park website.

Share this post