Confluence of Alum Creek, bottom, and the Yellowstone River in Hayden Valley. Sour Creek and Congress Creek also meet the Yellowstone at the top of the image. Hayden Valley is usually home to some of the best bison watching in the park. Only one car drove the road on June 15 when the News&Guide flew over.
A severed wastewater pipe sits beneath the collapsed North Entrance road. The wastewater has been diverted into a temporary system. For “probably a day and a half-ish,” Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly said, wastewater flowed into the Gardner River. Massive water flows “diffused that wastewater very quickly,” he said. The park plans a permanent Mammoth Hot Springs facility that won’t require wastewater to go down canyon to Gardiner, Montana.
Remains of the Carbella Bridge jut above the water just downstream of where it once stood north of Gardiner, Montana. Built in 1918, the bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Videos taken of the historic single-span truss bridge as it washed down the river went viral last week.
Benches and parking lots sit empty at the Old Faithful visitor complex in the Upper Geyser Basin. Roughly 800,000 people on average visit Yellowstone National Park in June. After the floods, park officials evacuated at least 10,000 visitors. Park employees largely remained inside to help the park reopen.
Bill Berg, a longtime Gardiner, Montana, resident, had seen floods before: Two years in the mid-1990s when the “river came up pretty fierce.” But the Park County, Montana, commissioner wasn’t expecting the floods that ripped through the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem between June 12 and 13.
Berg knew it would rain — and that the Yellowstone River, which bypasses his property, would likely flood — so he went out the night before “the waters came up big” and pulled an irrigation pump on his property well above the high water mark from the ’90s. When he woke up in the morning the pump was half submerged.
He’d never seen anything like it: flooding that shattered previous records, destroyed roads in Yellowstone National Park, and wiped out homes, bridges and other infrastructure just outside its boundaries. After roughly 2 inches of rain fell in northern Yellowstone and southern Montana, the Yellowstone River surged outside the park, cresting roughly 2.5 feet above its all-time peak gauge height of 11.5 feet, set in 1918. In the park the Lamar River blew past its previous record of 12 feet from 1996. It gushed 5 feet higher.
In the immediate aftermath of the flooding, Yellowstone closed and evacuated visitors. Gardiner sat isolated. The road south into the park was destroyed, and the road north to Livingston, Montana, was underwater. Though the northern road has opened and park officials are working to establish a route to the south, the northern part of the park remains closed.
While Yellowstone provided photos of the damage, views of the park’s interior were scarce. The News&Guide flew with a private pilot June 15 to get a clearer view of Yellowstone and Gardiner (weather conditions prevented flying northeast over Cooke City).
Four days later, park officials guided journalists on a ground-based tour of the damage to the North Entrance road that connects Gardiner and Mammoth Hot Springs. Only a few hundred feet of road were accessible.
The photos show the damage surrounding one of its hardest-hit gateways and how Yellowstone, usually teeming with visitors in June, sat empty after the floods. Boardwalks around Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic, two of the park's most iconic geothermal features, were empty. In Gardiner, roads were quiet as clouds floated over the town on what would normally have been a busy, early summer afternoon.
Billy Arnold has been covering the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the people who manage it since January 2022. He previously spent two years covering Teton County government, and a year editing Scene. Tips welcomed.