Yellowstone searches for the right option in rebuilding north entrance

Posted 2/20/24

When the 500-year flood event hit Yellowstone National Park on June 13, 2022, Superintendent Cam Sholly warned it would take years to recover. Yet, a little more than four months later, all entrances …

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Yellowstone searches for the right option in rebuilding north entrance


When the 500-year flood event hit Yellowstone National Park on June 13, 2022, Superintendent Cam Sholly warned it would take years to recover. Yet, a little more than four months later, all entrances to the park were open. Some may have taken the successful transition for granted, forgetting his dismal warning.

Now, after building a new road to the North Entrance basically from scratch, Sholly is calling for public feedback on plans to replace the hurried, somewhat sketchy road. The next step will take three to five years, depending on the option selected, and will significantly impact those entering the park from Gardiner.

“Anything we do in this park can have long-term consequences, especially if we get it wrong,” Sholly said while leading a Zoom meeting with more than 100 members of the public from “Bozeman to New York.”

The meeting was one in what was billed as a pair of public engagement meetings. However, the response to the call for input was so great last Monday for the first of the two online-only meetings, it nearly crashed the system and many were not able to get in. By Wednesday’s meeting (Valentine’s Day) park officials had already announced doubling the effort by scheduling two more meetings in March.

“We’re taking our time to methodically go through and develop the right alternatives with your feedback,” Sholly said.

Park management and officials with the Federal Highway Administration had been considering a list of six options, but trimmed that list to three prior to the meeting. There are many complicating factors in replacing the canyon road devastated in the flood, including constantly shifting soil, steep elevation changes, endangered species, 14 archaeological sites, visual aspects and fear of future floods — just to name a few. The team began the process aiming for resiliency.

“I know everybody thinks this was a one in 500 year flood event, but I think it’s very likely it’ll happen sooner than 500 years,” Sholly said. “The last thing we’d want to do is spend $200 or $300 million dollars on a road and have it imploded from a rockslide or have another flood event come through and wipe it out again.”

The Old Gardiner Road — the current North Entrance roadway — was identified as an only temporary solution. It required major improvements before it could be open to the public. Constructed in 1879, it was the original northern entrance road to Yellowstone until being replaced in 1884. The current configuration was opened on Oct. 31, 2022. The following day it snowed hard on the skinny, winding road and the team soon began planning for a permanent option.

The North Entrance is the only entrance open year-round and the second busiest of the five entrances. About 4.5 million visits were recorded in the park in 2023.


Three options

The canyon option (replacing the road lost in the flood) would follow the previous pre-flood North Entrance road alignment and would require multiple bridges through the Gardiner River Canyon. Bridges would be constructed to withstand rockfall and landslides and they have discussed building a roof over the road in many sections prone to damage from rock falls. It was fairly obvious from the start that cost is a major concern for replacing the old road due to the numerous bridges required.

“If that ends up being the preferred alternative, we’d be analyzing that alternative against a resilience analysis,” said Nathan Jones, project manager with the Federal Highway Administration. “Our criteria would be — if we had a similar event to what happened in June of 2022 — we’d be looking for our infrastructure to be able to be open to emergency vehicles within 24 hours of that 500 year event.”

The next two options are both troubled by the shifting earth on which they would be built.

“Any alternative that we pick, we’re going to need to know exactly where that soil is sliding [and] how much it’s sliding, and then make sure that we’ve got the right engineering solutions to build a road that can withstand some of those unstable soils,” Sholly said.

Engineers completed nine boring projects in 2023 to measure the soil sliding and are planing to do 14 more this year. The park averages 3,000 vehicles per day entering through the North Entrance.

“We’ve got to get that work done. As I stressed earlier, it’s very important,” he said.

The center alignment would follow the pre-flood North Entrance road for 2 miles north from Mammoth, where a proposed bridge would provide a high crossing of the Gardiner River. The road would travel northwest past the west of Slide Lake, aligning with the current North Entrance road for a short segment. The road would then veer northeast towards the pre-flood North Entrance road on the approach into the station in Gardiner. The proposed roadway would widen to include the park standard 30-foot width.

The option of making the current temporary road permanent would require widening the existing 22-foot width to the park standard 30-foot width. Retaining and draining structures would also be replaced or enlarged to fit the wider road. The current steepness and tight curves would be modified to improve safety and drivability. And for better connection to the north entrance station, the roadway would be realigned on the approach and to Gardiner, Montana.

“There isn’t a perfect alternative,” Sholly said.

Officials have yet to make a determination on permanent solutions for the Northeast Entrance Road. The Cooke City/Silver Gate, Montana, entrance is the least used entrance of the five gates. Sholly said a separate process for discussing plans over the long-term in the Northeast Corridor would be scheduled at a later date. Three of the five gates are in Montana despite 96% of the park being located in Wyoming.

The public is asked to give feedback on the three options, either through the public engagement meetings or by making a formal written comment. Future meetings are scheduled Friday, March 1 at 10 a.m. and Wednesday, March 6, at 3:30 p.m. Links to the meetings are available at