Although a return to normalcy for Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks is impossible to predict, private businesses that lodge and feed millions of park visitors have penciled in reopening dates.
Some summer season schedules have been pushed back by several weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to information from the two parks’ largest concessionaires: Xanterra and Grand Teton Lodge Company. Other facilities, at least for now, stand to open on time.
Xanterra, which runs nine hotels and five campgrounds in Yellowstone, announced its coronavirus-revised reopening plans March 20, when the corporate business said it would resume its park operations the Friday before Memorial Day
“This decision was not easy, and we recognize the significant impact on your travel plans, but we know that this is the responsible path forward to help slow the spread of the disease,” the Greenwood Village, Colorado-based business announced on its website. “We are deeply sorry that this pandemic is affecting your visit. We look forward to getting back to normal operations as of Friday, May 22, 2020.”
The most affected lodges and campgrounds are those that customarily open earliest, generally in the northern and western parts of Yellowstone.
The Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, for example, opened on April 26 in 2019, but those dates will be delayed nearly a month. The same goes for campgrounds like those at Mammoth and Madison, which are disrupted by a month or more based on the revised schedules.
The snowier, later-opening portions of the park are either not affected or are delayed by only a few days, such as Tower, Lake Village, West Thumb and Bridge Bay.
In Grand Teton National Park the primary concessionaire, Grand Teton Lodge Company, has set the following new open dates: Flagg Ranch Cabins, June 1; Jackson Lake Lodge, June 5; Colter Bay Village, June 8; and Jenny Lake Lodge, June 15. The Flagg Ranch targeted open date is unchanged by the pandemic, and those for Jackson Lake Lodge, Colter Bay and Jenny Lake Lodge are about two weeks later than normal.
Grand Teton Lodge Company Vice President Alex Klein said in an email that it was a “difficult decision” to delay the 2020 summer season.
“While it is incredibly disappointing for us,” Klein said, “we know it is the most responsible path forward for the health and wellbeing of our guests, our employees and the amazing community where we operate.”
Klein declined an interview for this story, and Xanterra’s sales and marketing director, Rick Hoeninghausen, could not be reached.
National Park Service officials have expressed a desire to open apace with their largest concessionaires. Both parks’ permanent staff are working, but visitor center openings are being delayed, as are the start dates of some seasonal employees.
“We are going do everything we can to ensure we’re in sync with the concessionaires,” Teton Park acting Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail said last week. “It doesn’t put anyone in a great situation to have one ready and the other not.”
Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly told the News&Guide last week that Memorial Day weekend — May 22 to May 25 — is the target opening date his largest concessionaires are eyeing.
“If we come out of this sooner, they’re ready to accelerate that timeline to the best degree possible,” he said.
Both national parks are closed indefinitely at this time, and there are no specific target dates for National Park Service facilities reopening.