Yellowstone National Park: With flooding, June visits drop from 2021 record

Gardiner business owner: ‘It’s really, really, really slow’

By: - July 25, 2022 5:43 pm

This view of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is from below Lower Falls looking downstream. The splendid yellow-brown walls of the canyon consist predominantly of rhyolite tuff and lava (Sulfur Creek Tuff and Canyon flow, respectively), which were erupted nearly 500,000 years ago. Both units have been intensely altered by hydrothermal fluids. (Photo by S.R. Brantley via Yellowstone National Park | Public domain).

Yellowstone National Park saw a 43 percent drop in June visits this year compared to last year, and business owners based in Gardiner said they’re feeling the pain of closures from the floods.

“Things have definitely picked up since that first week after the floods when they evacuated the park, and we had the road closure and our water was nonpotable in town,” said Rebecca Demaree, who with her husband owns the Gardiner Market. “That week was definitely the lowest. But it’s really, really, really slow here still.”

In a news release Monday, Yellowstone announced the park counted 536,601 visits this June, a 43 percent drop compared to the record for June of 938,845 visits in 2021. So far in 2022, the park said it has hosted 1,268,053 recreation visits, down 20 percent from 2021.

On June 13, the park closed all entrances due to historic flooding, and all park visitors were evacuated during the next 24 hours, Yellowstone said in the news release. The park has slowly been reopening, but Yellowstone said visitors should stay updated about what’s open and closed.

At the Gardiner Market, Demaree said most visitors are coming from the region this year as opposed to visiting from farther away. Although business isn’t good, she also said a recent brewfest and fundraiser was a bright spot this season.

“I think it was actually the best turnout that we’ve ever had, and the bulk of the people were just from different parts of Montana coming out to support the town, and that was really gratifying to see,” Demaree said.

From the National Park Service. 

Richard Parks, who owns Parks Fly Shop, said the situation in Gardiner is grim because the town is “functionally on a dead-end road” since the North Entrance remains closed to vehicles. His own business has dropped.

“I’m running I think basically at about half, and that’s a vast improvement over what it was initially,” Parks said. “And I may be better off than some folks.”

Unlike members of the public, Parks can access the park because he has commercial authorization to take at least some of his guiding business into Yellowstone, he said. He said the rafting companies are doing some business too.

However, Parks said the tour bus crowd is “hugely conspicuous by its absence.” Those buses didn’t represent a lot of business for him, he said, but the buses are rerouting, and that means less business for restaurants, hotels and motels.

Parks’ father opened the fly shop in 1953, when Parks was 10 years old, and he said in a typical summer, a tourist might see people fishing in Yellowstone and want to try it. Normally, Parks would tell them how they could get outfitted and hopefully catch a fish, but that’s not taking place this summer either.

“That option is basically being cut off at the knees,” Parks said. “And it’s not coming back until we get access to the Grand Loop from here.”

On its website, Yellowstone notes the North Entrance is open for one mile to foot traffic and bicycles, but it’s closed to visitor vehicular traffic for repairs. The news release said the East, South and West entrances to the park reopened June 22 on a limited basis.

“Reconnecting the park to Gardiner and Cooke City/Silver Gate remains Yellowstone’s highest flood recovery priority,” the park said on its website.

In the meantime, Demaree said the town is still open, it’s a beautiful time to be there, and one silver lining is tourists who do visit won’t have much of a wait at local restaurants. But Yellowstone is the main draw, and she doesn’t anticipate big crowds are going to arrive anytime soon.

There’s no way it’s going to be anywhere near a regular summer,” Demaree said.

Yellowstone National Park trends

The list below shows the year-to-date trend for recreation visits over the last several years (through June), according to Yellowstone National Park:

2022 – 1,268,053 (The park was closed June 13 through June 21. Three entrances opened on June 22)

2021 – 1,587,998

2020 –    719,054 (The park was closed May 1 through May 18. Two entrances were open May 18 through May 31)

2019 – 1,358,629

2018 – 1,381,708

2017 – 1,354,137

More data on park visitation, including how we calculate these numbers, is available on the NPS Stats website.

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana.