Our first trip to Yellowstone National Park was in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Granted, Wyoming hasn’t been hit like other states, but it was still a little nerve-wracking when we decided to load up our car and make the road trip. How safe was it? Read on.
** Everything is subject to change after this post has gone live. We were at the park at the end of June 2020 and health and operational guidelines may change. For up-to-date operating hours, visit the Yellowstone website. Please read the CDC’s guidelines for visiting parks.
Safety measures at Yellowstone
The park has taken many steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The one that will impact any visit is the closures of many buildings like visitor centers and inns. Places that are open, like some restaurants (for take-out only) and gift shops, encourage face masks, hand sanitizer and capacity limits.
There are plenty of signs throughout the park reminding people to maintain 6 feet of social distance. I saw them at lookouts and on boardwalk trails.
The popular Ranger chats were canceled while we were there, as well as most guided tours. * See the section below about which activities aren’t canceled.
What are the crowds like at Yellowstone?
I can’t tell you how crowd levels compare to previous visits since this was my first time at the park. However, I had been warned about crowds, and traffic jams, and I didn’t find much of that during our visit in what I had anticipated being peak summer crowd levels.
The most crowded area was at Old Faithful. There were a few people wearing masks outdoors, but the majority of the crowd did not. If you wanted to maintain social distancing and still have a good view, it was quite easy to do, though.
And side note: Parking at Old Faithful was not a problem, which I’m told is unheard of in the summer.
Tip: There are bathrooms near the general store at Old Faithful that will have less of a wait (or no wait) versus the bathrooms much closer to the geyser. There wasn’t much social distancing going on in the geyser bathroom line.
Key lookouts always had a handful of people there, but it was easy to keep 6 feet apart.
The only spots that were a little more difficult to maneuver around people were the boardwalks at Grand Prismatic and Mammoth Hot Springs. At least with Grand Prismatic, it was a one-way walking path. Mammoth Hot Springs had people coming and going down every path.
Related post: 7 Easy Hikes At Yellowstone National Park
Which restaurants are open at Yellowstone
We stayed at a cabin at Yellowstone National Park and it didn’t have a kitchen nor a fire pit outside. So, we did have to get food from time to time beyond our Nutella sandwiches. Luckily, there were some grills and dining rooms open – all for take-out, by the way. These were what were open in June 2020:
- Old Faithful Cafeteria: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (Get your ice cream here!)
- Old Faithful Lodge Bake Shop: 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
- Old Faithful Snowlodge Geyser Grill: 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
- Canyon Lodge Eatery: 6:30 to 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and 4:30 to 9:30 p.m.
- Lake Lodge Wiley’s Canteen: 6:30 to 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and 4:30 to 9:30 p.m.
- Mammoth Terrace Grill: 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
- Grant Village Dining Room: 6:30 to 10 a.m. and 5 to 9 p.m.
It was an interesting experience getting food there. Employees all wore masks but I rarely saw guests in line with masks, even indoors.
Some places, like the soda fountain at Canyon Lodge, served food to go in compostable containers.
What else is open at Yellowstone right now?
As I mentioned before, gift shops were open. Most seemed to have a single entrance and a separate exit to make sure the crowd went in one direction; though really, once you were inside, it was a free for all.
Again, not a whole lot of people wearing masks, save for a handful of families, and all employees. There were masked employees standing at the entrance and exit of the Yellowstone General Store.
The gift shops that were open when we visited were:
- Old Faithful Lodge Gift Ship
- Old Faithful Snow Lodge Gift Shop
- Lake Hotel Gift Shop
- Canyon Lodge Gift Shop
- Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel Gift Shop
Along with those gift shops, you’ll find general stores open at Old Faithful, Mammoth, Canyon, Lake Area, Fishing Bridge, and Grant Village.
When I was planning this trip a year ago, I had dreams of chuckwagon dinners and, who knows, maybe some twilight ranger chats. Well, most ranger chats and most activities have been canceled this summer. What IS open?
- Horseback rides at Canyon Corrals
- Guided fishing and sightseeing charters at Bridge Bay Marina. You can also rent boats there.
- Rent bikes at Old Faithful Snow Lodge Gift Shop.
There are two medical clinics open, though luckily, we never needed to visit one. Find the open clinics at Mammoth and Old Faithful.
Where can you stay overnight at Yellowstone National Park?
I almost thought the trip I started planning in May 2019 was going to be canceled since the park delayed reopening some lodging. Luckily, the cabin we reserved in Canyon reopened a few days before our reservations.
At check-in, the clerks were wearing face masks and stood behind plexiglass windows. Our room keys were plastic cards, which were handed to us in small envelopes, presumably so we never had to touch the cards, just the envelopes.
Other accommodations that are open:
- Lake Yellowstone Cabins
- Lake Lodge Cabins
- Mammoth Hot Springs Cabins
- Old Faithful Lodge Cabins
- Old Faithful Snow Lodge Cabins
Tentatively, there are plans to open up Old Faithful Inn, Old Faithful Snow Lodge, Canyon Lodge, Lake Yellowstone Hotel, and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel later this summer. See the predicted reopen dates here.
Most campgrounds are open, and many seemed to be full when we were there during the week. Reservations are highly recommended. To see which campgrounds are open and which are still closed, click here.
Roads that are closed
Unrelated to a pandemic, there are one road closure and construction that will affect visits in the summer of 2020. The biggie: The road between Tower-Roosevelt to Chittenden Road is closed. That closure will probably affect any of your North Loop plans. Check out the map of the road closure to get a better idea of how it will affect your plans.
There is also road construction near the North Entrance and along the Fishing Bridge to Indian Pond. Those closures didn’t really cause us a traffic headache for us, at least.
Plan a vacation to Yellowstone National Park
In the next few weeks, I’ll be publishing more stories about our trip to Yellowstone. Stay tuned for more stories!