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Too crowded? Yellowstone National Park copes with crowds

2021 saw over 4.8M visitors to park
Posted at 9:14 AM, Mar 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-01 11:48:55-05

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK - You may have seen it yourself, or saw photos or video of the long lines of traffic at Yellowstone gates last summer when the park blew past its previous visitation record. More than 4.8 million visits were registered in Yellowstone National Park in 2021.

That’s the most ever, breaking the old record by more than 600,000.

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Last summer, MTN spoke with park superintendent Cam Sholly about how to handle those crowds.

Last summer, MTN spoke with park superintendent Cam Sholly about how to handle those crowds. He acknowledged the issue and said, “I think that even the gateways will recognize that at a certain visitation threshold, certain actions are going to be necessary.”

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Early Campers to Yellowstone; Photographer unknown; No date

Sholly said that doesn’t mean he sees Yellowstone going the way of Glacier, Rocky Mountain, Yosemite or other parks by requiring permits just to get in. Instead, he said traffic should only be limited at some of the more popular attractions.

“The Grand Prismatics, the Norrises, the Canyon Rims. Those are areas that we can do that pretty effectively and pretty quickly. We can learn a lot from that and we can scale up as necessary, said Sholly.

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He is talking about closing parking lots once they become full and only allowing more cars in once spaces open up.

“The difference in Yellowstone, unlike many other parks, is the trip planning of the visitors. So many people spend a night or two in Jackson, then they use the park to traverse and stay in West Yellowstone for the next night. Or go from Cody to Gardiner,” Sholly said.

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As the year progresses we’ll be checking in with all the groups and people who have a stake in how the park is managed and will bring you their thoughts.

He added that makes limiting entry to the park a lot more difficult because it could break up family vacations. Limiting entry at certain times of the day is not attractive to Sholly either.

He told us: “The notion that a timed entry or reservation system is going to reduce visitation, I’m not sure I agree with that.”

But he said all options should be explored and discussed. That will be happening this year in a series of meetings with Gateway Community members, businesses and conservation groups.

“What I don’t want to do is make a bad decision that isn’t well thought out, isn’t defensible and that people don’t support,” said Sholly.