Back to Stories

A Tale of Three Roads: Yellowstone Weighs Options for North Entrance

When severe flooding in 2022 wiped out Yellowstone's North Entrance Road, the park built a temporary fix. Now officials seek public input for a permanent solution.

Yellowstone National Park officials called flooding in June 2022 a “500-year flood event.” More than 10,000 visitors, employees and residents were evacuated. Photo by Jacob W. Frank/NPS
Yellowstone National Park officials called flooding in June 2022 a “500-year flood event.” More than 10,000 visitors, employees and residents were evacuated. Photo by Jacob W. Frank/NPS
CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, Cam Sholly was incorrectly referred to as Sam Sholly. The error has been corrected below.

by Julia Barton

For nearly 150 years, the North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park led visitors on a scenic drive through steep canyon walls between Gardiner, Montana and Mammoth, Wyoming. But during what park officials refer to as a “500-year flood event” during spring runoff in 2022, sections of the roadway were wiped out and visitors have since taken a temporary replacement route. As this stopgap road’s lifespan wears thin, park officials are seeking public comment on three alternative solutions for a permanent fix.

Calling it a 500-year flood may sound dramatic, but June 13, 2022 was nothing short of catastrophic. More than 10,000 visitors, employees and residents were evacuated and the park closed down as the Yellowstone River and its tributaries ran far beyond their banks, swallowing anything in their paths. The flood caused tens of millions of dollars in damage, and cut off Yellowstone visitors, workers and residents from the park.

Officials opted to turn the unpaved Old Gardiner Road—the park’s original stagecoach entrance constructed in 1879—into a temporary entrance. The road opened just four months after the flood, but Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly says it was never intended to be a permanent solution. The park has outlined three alternatives, including bringing the Old Gardiner Road up to modern park standards, repairing the pre-flood entrance road, and creating a new road entirely.
“Anything we do in this park can have long-term consequences, especially if we get it wrong. I wish there was an alternative that was perfect. There’s not.” – Cam Sholly, Superintendent, Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone hosted online public information sessions on Feb. 12 and 14 and March 1, and has one more session scheduled for March 6. Park officials declined an interview with Mountain Journal to discuss the alternatives.

“Anything we do in this park can have long-term consequences, especially if we get it wrong,” Sholly said in the Feb. 14 session. “I wish there was an alternative that was perfect. There’s not.”

Various factors must be considered since the park wants the road to be resilient to future hazards while minimizing negative impacts on the landscape, visitor experience and gateway communities.

“One of our goals for the new and permanent road is to have a positive impact on gateway communities by providing year-round access between Yellowstone National Park and the communities of Gardiner, Montana, and Cooke City/Silver Gate, Montana,” Morgan Warthin, the park’s chief of public affairs, wrote in an email to Mountain Journal.
Yellowstone officials are seeking public comment on three options to provide permanent solutions to the North Entrance Road, which saw significant damage during flooding in June 2022. Map courtesy NPS
Yellowstone officials are seeking public comment on three options to provide permanent solutions to the North Entrance Road, which saw significant damage during flooding in June 2022. Map courtesy NPS
The first alternative, updating the Old Gardiner Road, would likely be the most “logistically challenging” alternative, according to Sholly. As is, the road is too steep and narrow, and improvements would have to be made while the road is in use, requiring one-way traffic and potential night closures. For the other two options, traffic could continue on the Old Gardiner Road until construction is completed, providing a less disruptive experience.

The second alternative is repairing the road along the Gardiner River canyon, which poses significant—and costly—engineering challenges: the road would have to include various bridges and rockfall-prevention structures to withstand future environmental hazards such as another major flood. “The biggest number of comments that I’ve gotten in the last 18 months has been not to go back to the canyon [road] and to restore the canyon back to its natural state,” Sholly said in the session.

If option 2, known as the Canyon Alignment, isn’t selected, many areas would likely be restored and some existing infrastructure may be repurposed to create trail access, according to Bob Kammel, Yellowstone’s chief of professional services.

The final alternative is dubbed the Center Alignment and would run in between the Old Gardiner Road and the pre-flood entrance road, utilizing two miles of undamaged roadway on the Mammoth side. Primary concerns for this alternative include unstable soils and archaeological zones.

Cost is also a significant consideration. Officials in the meeting said that cost models for each alternative have not yet been completed, but suggested that the Canyon Alignment would likely have the highest price tag. In any case, construction is expected to take a minimum of three years. Ongoing geological, wetland, rare plant and archaeological surveys have yet to be completed, and results from each will be factored into the final decision. Officials have not yet indicated a preferred alternative.

After public comment closes, a draft environmental assessment with a preferred alternative is expected over the summer and released for public comment in the fall. A final decision is then anticipated in early 2025 with construction beginning in 2026, Warthin confirmed.

The park encourages folks to join one of the two upcoming public information sessions to learn more or to ask questions to experts. Formal public comment may also be submitted via the project’s informational webpage through March 12.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Mountain Journal is the only nonprofit, public-interest journalism organization of its kind dedicated to covering the wildlife and wild lands of Greater Yellowstone. We take pride in our work, yet to keep bold, independent journalism free, we need your support. Please donate here. Thank you.

Julia Barton
About Julia Barton

Julia Barton is a freelance journalist and communications specialist based out of Bozeman. A Montana native, she earned a journalism degree from the University of Southern California and reports on the environment, outdoor recreation and the arts.
Increase our impact by sharing this story.
GET OUR FREE NEWSLETTER
Defending Nature

Defend Truth &
Wild Places

SUPPORT US
SUPPORT US

Related Stories

October 31, 2023

Are Humans Killing More Grizzlies?
Since August, five Greater Yellowstone grizzlies have been killed by hunters and anglers in self-defense. Why?

February 14, 2024

Why are bighorn and domestic sheep hanging out? Here's why we should care.
A respiratory illness common in domestic sheep can devastate wild bighorn sheep herds. In a quest to minimize transmission, a pair of...

November 16, 2023

Montana unveils first wolf management plan update in 20 years
The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission reduced this year’s quota from 450 to 313 wolves following slight population decreases since 2020....