Access to Yellowstone National Park this spring has been an adventure, to say the least: snow slides have forced the closure of the Sylvan Pass this week, after slow slides forced the summoning of plows to clean up the mess.
It took National Park Service crews weeks to prep the East Entrance for an opening last week, as the heaviest snowpack in years made plowing a difficult chore, to say the least. At that time travelers were warned that conditions were good, but not great, and that travel could be impacted by changing conditions.
The Sylvan Pass, connecting Fishing Bridge and the East Entrance, was closed May 11 after the slides, one resulting in a debris field 70 yards wide and 20-30 feet deep across the road. Yellowstone National Park road crews work to clear four significant snow slides and more than 20 feet of snow; meanwhile, officials are also finding the heavy snowpack caused more damage in Park buildings as well.
A blanket of heavy melting snow in the park’s interior has also contributed to the roof collapse of the RV repair facility at Fishing Bridge and caused roof damage at the Grant Village Visitor Education Center.
You can expect a few more folks on the road, as the South Entrance is now open. It’s the last opening of the year, with all roads inside the Park accessible. Weather, too, plays a factor in folks from Jackson hoping to hit Yellowstone via Grand Teton National Park and the Rockefeller Highway: Heavy snowpack in Grand Teton is forcing NPS officials to monitor several locations for flooding. So expect a wet drive if you’re coming from the south.
The end of the month sees the last major regional opening when the Beartooth Highway opens for business on Memorial Day weekend.
The heavy snowpack, combined with consecutive days of mild spring temperatures, continue to deteriorate high-elevation conditions and are expected to delay the reopening of Sylvan Pass. The Sylvan Pass and the East Entrance will be open for business at 6 a.m. tomorrow (Wednesday) morning on a limited basis, as snow has been cleared from the roads, but folks could experience delays when the road narrows to one lane thanks to a washout.
Limited travel will be permitted through Sylvan Pass between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. Visitors headed westbound into the park should leave Cody no later than 8:30 a.m.
Travelers headed east out of the park toward Pahaska Tepee and Cody need to be across Fishing Bridge by 9:15 a.m. There could also be delays because water from the melting snow has saturated the ground along and beneath a section of the East Entrance road east of Sedge Bay along the northeast shore of Yellowstone Lake. A section of the roadbed has washed out leaving approximately 60 feet of the eastbound lane unsafe for travel. This section of the road will be limited to one lane travel only with the traffic flow regulated by flaggers or automated traffic lights. Visitors can expect some temporary delays on this section of road for several weeks until extensive repairs can be made.
During the closure periods, the section of road between the East Entrance and a point just west of Lake Butte will be closed.
Why the limited hours? Safety. Park avalanche forecasters have determined that the safest travel window across the pass will be during those early morning hours between 6 a.m.
and 10 a.m. Forecasting staff are closely monitoring weather, snowpack, moisture and all of the complex factors that go into determining the safety of opening the road for public travel.
A limited travel window schedule is expected to remain in place until enough snow melts along and above Sylvan Pass to eliminate the avalanche hazard to those traveling on the East Entrance road.