Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?

Yellowstone National Park's Extreme Flooding Washes Out Roads, Shuts Off Access

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
Contributing editor Eric Mack covers space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
Eric Mack
2 min read

Yellowstone National Park's North Entrance Road between Gardiner, Mont., and Mammoth Hot Springs has been washed away entirely.

Doug Kraus/National Park Service

What's happening

Record rains have swollen rivers in the oldest national park, washing out bridges and roads.

Why it matters

All access to the park has been closed, nearby communities have been cut off and visitors within the park are being moved or evacuated.

All of Yellowstone National Park's entrances and roads remain closed Wednesday morning due to intense flooding, rockslides and high waters washing out entire sections of roads. 

The northern part of the park may not open again for a "substantial length of time," park officials tweeted Tuesday evening.

Videos captured via helicopter on Monday showed raging waters in Gardner Canyon claiming sections of the road that runs into the park from its north entrance near Gardiner, Mont.   

Dramatic photos and video shared on social media also capture multiple bridges inside the park being ripped from their pilings and foundations by the torrents. 

Record amounts of rainfall up to 4 inches fell on nearby mountains over the weekend, melting snowpack that further contributed to the downstream destruction. 

The intense flooding and infrastructure damage hit right at the start of the summer tourism season. Yellowstone, one of the most popular nationals parks, attracts millions of visitors each year. The park, which is mostly in Wyoming, is a natural wonder, filled with geysers, hot springs, mudpots and other amazing geothermal features. Its most famous geyser is known as "Old Faithful."  

On Monday, park officials announced that inbound visitor traffic would be closed for Tuesday and Wednesday "at a minimum."

"Due to record flooding events in the park and more precipitation in the forecast, we have made the decision to close Yellowstone to all inbound visitation," park superintendent Cam Sholly said in a statement. "Our first priority has been to evacuate the northern section of the park where we have multiple road and bridge failures, mudslides and other issues. The community of Gardiner is currently isolated, and we are working with the county and State of Montana to provide necessary support to residents, who are currently without water and power in some areas."

Sholly added that visitors in the park's southern loop were also being moved due to concerns with flooding, water and wastewater systems. 

It's too early to assess the contribution of climate change to this particular weather event, but scientists have consistently documented that such extreme precipitation events would be far less likely to happen without the impact humans are having on the climate.

National Weather Service data shows that a water gauge on the Lamar River in the park reached a record height of almost 17 feet on Monday -- the previous record at that location was just over 12 feet. Water levels dropped on Tuesday, but Sholly said the park remains on high alert.

"We will not know timing of the park's reopening until flood waters subside and we're able to assess the damage throughout the park," Sholly said.