Yellowstone Visitation Down by One-Third in 2022

Businesses suffered after June floods brought widespread cancellations

Record floods in June washed out wide sections of roads in Yellowstone National Park, blocking access for months from the park to Montana entrances in Cooke City and Gardiner. (Courtesy photo from National Park Service)

By Ruffin Prevost

Special to the Wyoming Truth

CODY, Wyo. — Record floods last June closed two of the five entrances to Yellowstone National Park, cutting annual visitation in 2022 by nearly one-third compared to the year before, according to figures released by the National Park Service. 

Tourism industry insiders say the steep drop shows that many visitors chose to cancel their plans for the year, rather than adopt new itineraries to get around a park where more than 90 percent of roads had reopened by mid-July.

“So many of them just flat-out canceled entirely,” said Terri Briggs owner of the Big Moose Resort and president of the Cooke City Chamber of Commerce. The tiny Montana tourist town near the Wyoming border was hit hard by the four-month closure of Yellowstone’s Northeast Gate, located just four miles away.

A woman wears a face mask while waiting for Old Faithful to erupt in Yellowstone National Park during the early days of the 2020 pandemic. Tourist traffic to the park dropped in 2020, but was down substantially more in 2022 after record floods. (Wyoming Truth file photo by Ruffin Prevost)

Cooke City and nearby Silver Gate, Mont., offer the closest lodging to Yellowstone’s famous Lamar Valley, a section of the park’s Northern Range often called the “American Serengeti” because of its abundant wildlife, which can easily be spotted from roads, parking areas and trails.

“A lot of my guests stay with me because we’re close to Lamar, and they’re looking for the animals,” Briggs said. “Some of them don’t even go anywhere else in the park.”

So when historic floods in mid-June washed out the road between Cooke City and the Lamar Valley, as well as the North Entrance road from Gardiner, Mont., businesses there were hit especially hard. Briggs said that resort tax revenues were down more than 50% compared to 2021.

The park hosted 3,290,242 recreation visits in 2022, down 32% from 2021, which was the busiest year on record as families sought outdoor experiences away from crowds amid the ongoing pandemic.

On June 13, all park entrances closed, and visitors were moved out of the park over the following 24 hours. Park officials spent several days checking roads, bridges and other infrastructure for damage, as well as repairing water and sewer systems.

The park’s Wyoming entrances near Cody and Jackson reopened June 22, along with the entrance at West Yellowstone, Mont. But temporary road repairs near Gardiner and Cooke City weren’t completed until October, just before Yellowstone’s usual early November closure for the season.

In Cody, lodging tax collections were down approximately 18% for 2022, said Ryan Hauck, executive director of Cody Yellowstone, the marketing arm for the region that includes the Wyoming towns of Cody, Powell and Meeteetse, as well as some areas inside Yellowstone.

Some in the tourism industry thought visitors would still flock to the park, but change their plans to use a different gateway community. While that didn’t happen across the board, Cody fared better than the park-wide average drop in traffic for the year, Hauck said.

“I think it shows that Cody is starting to prove itself as a destination in its own right, and not just a pitstop on the way to or from Yellowstone,” he said.

Hauck expects business to be “very good” this summer, with many who canceled trips last year already booking accommodations, particularly international visitors and group tours traveling by bus.

Briggs said she is seeing similar strong interest, with “many of the people who had to cancel last year already planning to come this summer, but for a longer stay—they’re just tacking on extra days.”

The lure of Yellowstone eventually brings loyal visitors back no matter what, and continues to attracts new ones, she said.

“I’m booked up pretty good right now, almost full, clear through the first of August,” Briggs said. “Which is good, after the summer we had last year.”

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