Vehicles began arriving at the East Gate of Yellowstone National Park well ahead of its scheduled noon opening on May 18, 2020. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks began the process of opening up to summer tourism last week. Yellowstone opened its Wyoming gates from Cody and Jackson for daytime-only visits Monday May 18, while GTNP also allowed limited use. 

The openings marked the first step in a phased plan to welcome visitors following the COVID-19 closures that began in late March.

A Yellowstone National Park ranger uses an extendable arm device to limit contact while handing out maps and park information to visitors on May 18, 2020. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

Visitors showed up in droves. Lines of vehicles queued up at Yellowstone’s  Wyoming gates starting well ahead of Monday’s planned noon opening, prompting officials to release visitors into the parks earlier than planned.

New social distancing signs appear around Yellowstone National Park. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

Commercial buses were not allowed during this first phase of reopening, but license plates in the park suggested travelers from as far as Mississippi, New York and Washington.

Visitors wait for the Old Faithful geyser to erupt on May 18, 2020. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

Parts of the park and many facilities remained closed, but visitation was high at popular destinations like Old Faithful. The crowds included a mix of masked visitors and those with bare faces. 

Rangers wore masks and gloves, and employed metal extendable devices to deliver maps and guides to visitors coming through the gates.

Yellowstone National Park rangers wore masks and gloves to receive visitors as the park reopened for limited use on May 18, 2020. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

New signs were also erected throughout the park instructing people to maintain a minimum 6-foot distance from one another. Along with geysers, guests were treated to wildlife sightings — they saw bison, elk, bighorn sheep, muskrats and grizzly bears.

A bison in front of the historic Old Faithful Inn. The inn remained closed as Yellowstone National Park opened for limited use on May 18, 2020. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

Other popular destinations, like Old Faithful Inn, remained closed. Guests walked around the lodge to peer into its empty interior. 

Yellowstone National Park visitors found more elbow room than usual on reopening day, May 18, 2020. Here, a lone tourist waits for the next Old Faithful eruption. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

How the remainder of the season develops depends in part on how visitors behave, Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly said in a May 13 media briefing. 

“I put an enormous responsibility on the public,” he said, urging adherence to pandemic safety guidelines. 

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  1. Shame that the animals couldn;t have more time to enjoy their home to themselves. I sincerely hope the Park takes a slow approach to visitor re-entry, ensuring the wildlife has a chance to find refuge again before being overrun with tourists and cars…or even better yet, placing limits on the number of people who can enter at one time-let’s try to learn a little from nature instead of rushing back to ugly old habits.

  2. When we stopped at Old Faithful Monday. For the most part the people using the restrooms were not masked up.While enjoying a snack in a parking lot at Old Faithful we only saw six individuals wearing masks returning to their vehicles after the show.
    Spring is by far the best time to visit the park. Dunraven Pass was closed so we were not able to make it up to Lamar Valley.

    Hoping to see bears is similar to hoping to see a hole in one.