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Celebrate spring with a Yellowstone fee-free weekend

A bit of peace and quite gives this bull elk a chance to relax
A bit of peace and quite gives this bull elk a chance to relax
National Park Service

After nearly five months of being hidden under deep snow, Yellowstone National Park will be waiting to greet visitors when the road sections from Mammoth Hot Springs and West Yellowstone to the Old Faithful and Canyon areas open for the season on Friday morning, April 18. And if the thought of getting first tracks on the summer season isn't tempting enough, Yellowstone will also be extending a fee-free weekend – enter the park on April 19 or 20 and receive a free 7-day pass for both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in honor of National Park Week.

The popularity of Yellowstone, especially during the peak season of Memorial Day through Labor Day, is one of the best reasons to consider a spring trip to the park. After a strong winter season that saw snowfall levels at 140% of average in parts of the greater Yellowstone area, plow crews have spent the better part of the past two months clearing 198 miles of main roads, 124 miles of secondary roads and 124 acres of parking lots to make room for the estimated 3 million visitors who will visit the park this summer. Crowd sizes will increase as more roads and villages open, so you prime time to have Yellowstone to yourself is now.

If you have visited Old Faithful and know the feeling of watching the famed geyser with what feels like thousands of others, imagine that instead of hearing chatter and footsteps you hear the soundtrack of the geyser, from early gurgles to the rush of water as it hits the ground and cascades down the run off channel. At the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, the colors of the canyon walls jump in contrast to lingering snow. Anywhere along the road offers the opportunities to see baby bison and elk in their first days of life and bears slowly waking from their winter slumber, all with the distinct chance there will not be another human soul in sight.

While a spring drive through Yellowstone may mean throwing a few more layers in the car and braving some wet weather, it is one of the best chances around to feel the wilderness on a day trip (and the luxury of the car heater between stops!).

Services in the park are very limited until concessions operations begin to open on May 2 so visitors should plan ahead for snacks and meals, check current road conditions at 307-344-2117 (updated as conditions change) and follow all speed limits and park regulations. Conditions permitting, the East Entrance is scheduled to open on May second with the South Entrance following suit on May 9.