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NPS proposes options for a new North Entrance Road to Yellowstone

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

On June 13, 2022, Yellowstone National Park experienced a devastating flood that wiped out segments of the Northeast Entrance Road between Tower Junction, Cooke City and Silver Gate, Mont., which serves as the only year-round vehicle access in and out of the park during winter months.  

After temporarily closing to regular visitor traffic, the Northeast Entrance Road reopened to the public in October 2022, after a $25 million temporary road was built along an old stagecoach route between Gardiner, Mont. and Mammoth Hot Springs, which opened a few weeks later.

Recently, the National Park Service (NPS) held two virtual public meetings to share information on the proposed North Entrance Road project.

In cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the NPS is considering construction of a new permanent north entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

Meeting details

During the first meeting, held Feb. 12, three preliminary road alignment alternatives were presented, along with video flyovers explaining damages, environmental challenges, constraints and opportunities of each alignment.

“A lot of thought needs to go into this project. It is a big investment, and we all deeply care about the area and protecting it,” stated Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholly. “It is extremely important we take our time and get it right. Everyone out there plays a big part in helping us do this.”

Sholly noted it’s valuable for the NPS and FHWA to engage with the public and obtain feedback on this project, and the recent public meetings were the first opportunity for individuals to see how NPS is preparing for the coming year.

“We came up with roughly six different alternatives, and we’ve gone through multiple processes internally, applying specific criteria to each of the six alternatives,” he said.

Sholly further noted three alternatives were eliminated because they impacted wildlife habitat too much, were extremely expensive or, based on where the road would have been constructed, created a negative visual impact.

Three solutions revealed

The first solution Sholly presented was to rebuild the old route along the Gardner River which was washed out in the 2022 flood.

“One thing about the canyon, it would have to be resilient to another flood event,” Sholly stated. “Utilizing the old canyon route would require the installation of a longer and higher profile bridge which would be pretty expensive.”

“The second alternative is to significantly improve the Old Gardiner Road – the newer temporary road built after the flood – which would require replacing or enlarging some of the existing retaining walls and drainage. Some of the tighter curves would be widened to improve safety, and the grade would be lessened on some hills. The alignment of the road to the entrance would be reconfigured,” he explained.

This alternative would require pretty significant traffic disruptions while work is done and could take up to three to five years to complete.

“However, if another route is chosen, this road could remain as a service road or bike path,” Sholly noted. “I don’t know if it’s worth spending $15 million plus to undo what we did in 2022 and turn it back into a one-lane dirt road.” 

The third alternative route is called the “Center Alternative,” and it follows the North Entrance Road for two miles north out of Mammoth Hot Springs. 

“At the first crossing of Gardner River, which is at the trailhead parking lot for Boiling River, a longer and higher bridge would be built. The road would continue to an area referred to as China Gardens, where a new bridge would cross the river and connect to a new road alignment climbing out of the canyon and past the west side of Slide Lake,” Sholly explained.

“It would then connect with the existing temporary road for almost a half mile before going back to the pre-flood North Entrance Road and on to Gardiner,” he added.

The Center Alternative would allow individuals to stay out of the canyon and take advantage of existing highways. It would not affect visitors coming in, as they would continue to use the Old Gardiner Road as new highways are being constructed.

“Plus, it is pretty hidden overall,” he noted. “And, with each alternative proposed, the highways would need to be widened to the standard 30-foot width as it travels through the park.”

Challenges addressed

Bob Kammel, chief of Professional Services at Yellowstone National Park commented, “Our design team is studying issues related to vulnerability and resiliency of each infrastructure.”

Engineers are concerned about soil stability, which they encountered when building the temporary road, but according to Nate Jones of FHWA, instability can be addressed by not making big cuts or fills and using lightweight soils as fill.

“The soils are relatively unstable,” Sholly added. “They’re shifting. This shift can be pretty substantial, depending on where we want to build a road.”

All of the proposed routes would impact archaeological sites, 34 of which were identified between Mammoth and Gardiner, Park Archaeologist Tom James explained.

“Of the three alternatives, the Old Gardiner Road would impact six sites – four in the canyon and as many as 14 in the center alignment,” James confirmed.

Kammel noted one of the main goals of the new entrance road is to make it resilient to climate change.

“We are looking at the frequency and intensity of storms as they relate to the corridor and what it means in terms of these three alignments,” he described. “We’re very focused on landslides, rockslides, rock fall and some of the relationships of these kind of natural occurring events with the infrastructure that’s proposed.”

NPS seeks comment

Beginning Feb. 12, the public can provide formal comments and are asked to submit comments online at Comments may also be mailed or hand-delivered to the Yellowstone Center. The deadline to submit comments is March 13.

At the conclusion of the 30-day public comment period, NPS will analyze and consider all comments received. A draft environmental assessment will likely be released for public review in the fall of 2024. A final decision is expected in early 2025.

Melissa Anderson is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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