Monday, January 30, 2017

2016 - A Year of Records in Yellowstone

Visitation in Yellowstone National Park exceeded previous records with a total of 4,257,177 million visits in 2016. This is a 3.89 percent increase from 4,097,710 visits in 2015 and a 21.17 percent increase over visits in 2014. One of the most notable changes in visitation trends in recent years is the number of commercial tour buses entering Yellowstone’s gates. The number of buses entering in 2016 was 12,778 which was a 21.3 percent increase over 2015 entries and a 46.5 percent increase over the number of buses in 2014. Park management is currently considering options for commercial tour bus management.

Taking a longer view, the growth of visitation over the last century is impressive. One hundred years ago, 35,849 visitors came to the park shortly after automobile travel was first permitted in Yellowstone. Fifty years ago in 1966, the park saw 2,130,300 visits. Since that time, visitation has grown 99.8 percent.

“During the busiest times of the year, visitation levels in the park have led to long lines, traffic congestion, diminishing visitor experiences, and impacts on park resources,” said Superintendent Dan Wenk. “It’s our job to recognize the trend, how it’s affecting this magnificent park, understand our visitors, and what we may need to do to protect Yellowstone for future generations. All options are on the table.”

In August 2016, the park conducted social science studies to better understand visitors including their demographics, experiences, opinions, and preferences. The data will help park managers make decisions that reflect the experiences and needs of visitors both in the present and in the future. The results of the study are expected in spring of 2017.

Yellowstone is a place known and loved by local, regional, national, and international visitors. In this era of increased visitation, park officials remain committed to preserving Yellowstone’s resources and the experience of the visitors who come here.


Friday, January 27, 2017

Grand Teton Sets Visitation Record

Grand Teton National Park’s 2016 visitation set a record for the third consecutive year. The park received over 4.8 million visits, a 3.8 percent increase from the previous record of 4.6 million visits in 2015. The most significant increases came in the months of May, June, and November when total visitation increased 20, 11, and 10 percent, respectively.

The record visitation is part of a longer term upward trend which has seen park visitation increase 23 percent over the past four years. The record is also part of a nationwide trend which has brought record numbers to parks across the country.

Park managers believe a number of factors contribute to the rising visitation levels including gas prices, overall economic growth, interest generated by the National Park Service Centennial, trends in the tourism industry, and marketing promotions including the Find Your Park campaign. The record year came despite the Berry Fire, the largest wildland fire in park history, which closed portions of U.S. Highway 89/191/287 in the park for 11 days in August and September.

Park managers implemented measures in 2016 to mitigate the impacts of increased visitation on park resources and the visitors’ experience. The most visible was the new String Lake Volunteer Team, which limited human-wildlife conflicts and provided an on-the-ground presence in the increasingly popular String Lake shoreline area. In 2017, park managers will begin implementation of the Moose-Wilson Corridor Comprehensive Management Plan, which will ultimately manage the number of visitors in the area at any one time. Also this summer, social scientists and ecologists will begin a study designed to better understand how visitors use the String Lake and Leigh Lake areas, when they visit, their preferences, and the impacts of their visitation.

Visitation numbers are derived from traffic counter data. The numbers recorded by these counters are run through an algorithm to determine an estimated visitation number. This process has gone largely unchanged since 1992, with no changes made since 2005. The consistent methodology allows park managers to compare visitation levels from year to year. An 18 percent decline in December visits when compared to 2015 is likely explained by extreme cold temperatures which deterred visitors and traffic counters which malfunctioned on a few days due to the frigid temperatures.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Top 6 Reasons to Visit Glacier National Park

I know this may sound a little over-the-top, but every person living in this country should visit Glacier National Park at least once in their lifetime. It will forever change them. John Muir once said of Glacier; "Give a month at least to this precious reserve. The time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal. Nevermore will time seem short or long, and cares will never again fall heavily on you, but gently and kindly as gifts from heaven."

I know I can’t, but I'm pretty sure there aren’t too many others that can quite sum-up the Glacier experience better than Muir did. Here are just a few of the reasons on why I think Glacier is so special:

Unparalleled Beauty
In my humble opinion Glacier National Park is by far the most beautiful park I’ve ever seen. This includes almost every major national park in the lower 48. As a disclaimer, I should note that I haven’t been to Alaska….yet. Having said that, my love affair with this park began immediately the first time I laid eyes on it. To be precise, it was during the drive from Browning along Highway 2 as we approached the East Glacier/Two Medicine area. My love and awe for the park has grown after every hike and after each subsequent visit. At every turn on any road or trail is one spectacular scene after another. In fact, there are no bad or boring hikes. Photographers could spend a lifetime here taking photos of scenes that normally show up in Backpacker Magazine or National Geographic. One of the most famous photo locations in the entire National Park System is at a spot known as Wild Goose Island Overlook. You may recognize the scene in the photo below:

Most people assume that Glacier received its name as a result of the 25 glaciers that are located throughout the park. However, the park was actually given its name as a result of the rugged mountains that were carved by massive glaciers during the ice ages. Fortunately, many of the glaciers can be reached by trail. Some of the most popular hikes for enjoying front row views of these glaciers include Iceberg Lake and Grinnell Glacier.

The Highline Trail
The Highline Trail from Logan Pass is widely recognized as one of the best hikes in the park, if not the entire National Park System. At every step and every turn hikers will enjoy absolutely spectacular scenery as they follow along the Continental Divide. The exceptionally beautiful views, the excellent opportunities for spotting wildlife, and the wildflowers all combine to make this a hike you'll remember the rest of your life. If you can make it past the narrow ledge section near the trailhead you’ll have the option of traveling to Haystack Pass, Granite Park Chalet, or making a one-way hike which continues all the way to “The Loop”. You'll also have the option of taking the steep spur trail up to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road
The famous Going-to-the-Sun Road is the only road to cross Glacier National Park from east to west. The epic route transports visitors through some of the most spectacular scenery the park has to offer. This engineering marvel spans more than 50 miles across the park's interior, takes passengers over the Continental Divide at Logan Pass, and treats visitors to some of the grandest sights in the Rocky Mountains. Along its course the road passes glacial lakes and cedar forests in the lower valleys, and windswept alpine meadows and sweeping mountain vistas atop the 6646-foot pass.

Several scenic viewpoints and pullouts along the way provide motorists with ample opportunities to stop for extended views and photographs. Once at Logan Pass be sure to visit Hidden Lake Overlook, a relatively easy hike that takes hikers across the Continental Divide just above the Logan Pass Visitor Center.

Some drivers (and passengers) might be a little intimidated by the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Portions of it hug the mountainside as it traverses over steep drop-offs and steers through tight curves. If this gives you any pause, you may want to consider letting the drivers of the iconic Red "jammer" Buses take you across the mountains.

Outside of Yellowstone, Glacier National Park is arguably the best park for spotting and viewing wildlife. Although wildlife are frequently spotted along the road, a venture into the wilderness is likely to bring better results. Trails like Iceberg Lake, Ptarmigan Tunnel, Grinnell Glacier and Swiftcurrent Pass are excellent choices if you wish to possibly see a grizzly or black bear. Bullhead Lake, the Swiftcurrent Nature Trail, Dawson Pass and Cobalt Lake are all great choices for spotting moose. For bighorn sheep, check out Grinnell Glacier, Dawson Pass or the Highline Trail. For the best opportunities to possibly spot a mountain goat, check out Hidden Lake Overlook, the Highline Trail or Piegan Pass.

Backcountry Chalets
2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the Sperry and Granite Park Chalets. Both backcountry chalets were built in 1914 during a period when the Great Northern Railway was promoting Glacier National Park under the "See America First" campaign. Today the two backcountry chalets offer hikers the opportunity to trek to an overnight backcountry destination without being bogged down with a bunch of camping gear.

Perched at an elevation of more than 6500 feet, the Sperry Chalet sits high atop a rock ledge that offers visitors commanding views of majestic mountain peaks, waterfalls, as well as Lake McDonald in the valley far below. The Granite Park Chalet rests just below Swiftcurrent Pass, along the edge of a sub-alpine meadow that offers commanding views of Heavens Peak and the McDonald Valley. Day hikers and overnight guests commonly reach this chalet by one of three trails: the Highline Trail, the Granite Park Trail or the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail out of Many Glacier.

With more than 740 miles of trails meandering throughout the park, hiking is the absolute best way to see Glacier National Park. In addition to the hikes listed above, the park offers a variety of other outstanding hikes. If you do plan to visit Glacier this year, please note that our hiking website also offers a wide variety of accommodation listings as well as other things to do to help with all your vacation planning.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Three Defendants from the High On Life Group Plead Guilty

Three defendants from the Canadian group High On Life appeared Thursday, January 19, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Carman at the Yellowstone Justice Center in Mammoth Hot Springs, WY. Two defendants attended the hearing in person and one defendant was on the phone. Charles Ryker Gamble, Alexey Andriyovych Lyakh, and Justis Cooper Price Brown pleaded guilty to violations in Yellowstone National Park, Zion National Park, Death Valley National Park, and Mesa Verde National Park.

The group, consisting of Charles Ryker Gamble, Alexey Andriyovych Lyakh, Justis Cooper Price Brown, Parker Heuser, and Hamish McNab Campbell Cross, were the subject of multiple investigations by the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

C. Gamble and A. Lyakh pleaded guilty to charges in Yellowstone National Park that included disorderly conduct by creating a hazardous condition and foot travel in a thermal area. They also pleaded guilty to charges for commercial photography without a permit in Zion National Park; use of a drone in a closed area, riding a bike in wilderness, and commercial photography without a permit in Death Valley National Park; and the use of a drone in a closed area in Mesa Verde National Park. Both individuals will serve seven days in jail, pay more than $2,000.00 in fines, restitution, community service payments paid to Yellowstone Forever, and fees. They will be on probation for five years which includes being banned from public lands managed by the U.S. Department of Interior, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. As a condition of probation, C. Gamble and A. Lyakh will remove from their social media accounts all photographs and videos taken of public lands where they were charged violations.

J. Price Brown pleaded guilty to charges in Yellowstone National Park that included disorderly conduct by creating a hazardous condition and foot travel in a thermal area. He agreed to pay over $3,500.00 in fines, restitution, community service payments paid to Yellowstone Forever, and fees. He too will be on probation for five years which includes being banned from public lands managed by the U.S. Department of Interior, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

On November 1, 2016, two defendants from High On Life, Hamish Cross and Parker Heuser, pleaded guilty to violations in Yellowstone National Park and Death Valley National Park.

“The judge’s decision today sends a strong and poignant message about thermal feature protection and safety,” said Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk. “We implore all visitors to learn about the rules in Yellowstone, respect the rules and follow them. We ask visitors to take the Yellowstone Pledge. Protect your park and protect yourselves by staying on the boardwalks. If you witness resource violations, call 911 or contact a park ranger.”

On May 16, 2016, a concerned citizen contacted park rangers in Yellowstone National Park, after seeing four individuals walking on Grand Prismatic Spring. During the course of the investigation, park rangers identified the four individuals involved in the violations in Yellowstone National Park and arrest warrants were issued. Through the use of social media and tips from the public, additional investigations were conducted about the group’s activities on other federal lands.

The High On Life group was issued violation notices from:

•Zion National Park
•Death Valley National Park
•Yellowstone National Park
•Mesa Verde National Park
•Corona Arch (BLM)
•Bonneville Salt Flats (BLM)


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Interior Department Cancels Remaining Oil and Gas Leases Near Glacier National Park

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced yesterday that the Bureau of Land Management has canceled the final two oil and gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine area within the Lewis and Clark National Forest in Northwest Montana. The two lease cancellations address outstanding concerns about the potential for oil and gas development in this culturally and ecologically important area.

“We are proud to have worked alongside the Blackfeet Nation and the U.S. Forest Service throughout this process to roll back decades-old leases and reinforce the importance of developing resources in the right way and the right places.” said Secretary Jewell. “The cancellation of the final two leases in the rich cultural and natural Badger-Two Medicine Area will ensure it is protected for future generations.”

The BLM notified J.G. Kluthe Trust of Nebraska and W.A. Moncrief Jr. of Texas of the cancellations of the final two leases in the area. The lease cancellations occur after thirty years of administrative, legal and legislative actions and reflect the historical and cultural significance of the area to the Blackfeet Tribe and concerns regarding leasing issuance.

The Badger-Two Medicine is a 130,000 acre area, bounded by Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. This portion of the Rocky Mountain Front is considered sacred by the Blackfeet Tribe, and is part of a Traditional Cultural District. These characteristics caused Congress to legislatively withdraw the area from mineral development in 2006.

The canceled leases were issued in the 1980s and have not had any drilling in the area since issuance.

The cancellation respects recommendations by the U.S. Forest Service, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and concerns expressed by the Blackfeet Tribe and interested members of the public. In 2016, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced the cancellation of 16 leases in the area. The leases were held by Solonex LLC and Devon Energy.


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Drifting and Limited to No Visibility on Teton Park Roads

Grand Teton National Park temporarily closed U.S. Highway 89/26/191 today due to limited and no visibility, and significant drifting on various locations along the road. At approximately 8:30 a.m. the highway was closed between Moose and Moran Junction. The closure was then extended to the south from Moose to the Jackson Hole Airport junction at approximately 1 p.m.

Approximately 150 individuals will be staying overnight at Headwaters Lodge at Flagg Ranch due to the road closure. These include participants in snowmobile and snow coach tours, as well as the guides. Flagg Ranch Company is providing overnight arrangements and food for the displaced visitors and staff.

The park worked cooperatively with the Kelly and Moran Schools during the road closures. Park rangers helped escort a north-bound school bus on the closed road to facilitate safe transportation of students to their families.

Rangers also escorted vehicles for southbound and northbound traffic between Moose Junction and Jackson Hole Airport Junction between 1:30-3:30 p.m. The road was opened to traffic south of Moose at approximately 3:30 p.m.

The road from Moose to Moran continues to be closed. Park road crews will utilize rotary plowing operations to open the road as soon as feasible and safe.

Weather forecasts include additional snow and very windy conditions. Roads will be open as conditions allow. Park headquarters will be closed Wednesday, January 11.

Drivers traveling U.S. Highway 89/26/191, Kelly Road and any other park road should use caution and drive slowly. Road conditions are snow packed, icy and drifting, with limited visibility at times. Please call the park road condition information line for updated information at 307-739-3682.


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Winter Trails Day in the Flathead

The Flathead Community of Resource Educators (CORE), a network of individuals and organizations working together to increase awareness and understanding about the natural, historical and cultural resources of the Flathead Region, is celebrating Winter Trails Day on Saturday, January 14 with several free outdoor activities.

These free activities are a great way to enjoy the outdoors in winter and discover the fitness and social benefits of snowshoeing and winter hiking in Northwest Montana. All activities are suitable for beginners and families. Be prepared with warm clothing and wear sturdy hiking shoes or boots. Bring along binoculars for catching a glimpse of winter birds.

* A snowshoe walk on the Flathead National Forest, hosted by the Swan Lake Ranger District and Foys to Blacktail Trails, will be at the Blacktail Mountain cross-country ski trails near Lakeside, 10am-Noon. Participants may bring snowshoes, or a limited number of children and adult shoes will be available by reservation. Please meet at the upper trailhead parking area. Reservations are not required. For more information or to reserve snowshoes, please contact the Swan Lake Ranger District at 837-7500.

* Explore Lone Pine State Park on snowshoes. From 10am to 5pm, park visitors can borrow snowshoes and explore the many park trails. Adult and children’s snowshoes are available on a first-come, first-served basis. A ranger-led snowshoe walk takes place at 1pm. Please contact the park at 755-2706 for more information and to reserve snowshoes for the 1pm walk.

* Ranger-led snowshoe hikes at Glacier National Park will be hosted at 10:30am and 2pm. Each hike will last approximately two hours and reservations are not required. Snowshoes are available for hike participants. Visitors need to purchase a park entrance pass. Please meet at the Apgar Visitor Center. Call 888-7800 for more information.

* Join Flathead Audubon for a guided ‘Winter Birds and Tracks’ hike along the trails at the Owen Sowerwine Natural Area in Kalispell, from 10am to Noon. Bring your snowshoes. Meet at the Treasure Lane entrance gate (at end of Treasure Lane off Willow Glen). Call 249-3987 for more information and to register.

Snowshoe and learn about winter ecology on a four-mile round trip hike to Stanton Lake in the Middle Fork of the Flathead, hosted by the Montana Wilderness Association. Families welcome. To register visit and click on the Winter Walks link. For more information call 303-726-3931 or email

For more information about the above local events visit,

During the month of January there are several other opportunities to get outdoors and enjoy winter trails, including another Winter Walk with the Montana Wilderness Association on January 21 ( and a guided snow science walk hosted by Whitefish Legacy Partners along the Whitefish Trail, January 22, (call 862-3880 for more information).


Friday, January 6, 2017

Backcountry skier dies from avalanche related injuries

A skier was caught in an avalanche in Glacier National Park on yesterday afternoon (January 5th). He and a companion were skiing on the south face of Mt. Stanton, and were approximately 500 feet from the summit. A third skiing companion had previously gone back to the trailhead.

The park received a 911 call from the companion skier at approximately 3:15 pm. He was able to place a call from his cell phone.

The individual stated that his skiing partner had been caught in an avalanche, and that he was not buried but was severely injured. The reporting party confirmed that he had been able to locate his companion, warm him, and continued to provide comfort and care until medical help arrived.

The park, in partnership with the Flathead County Sheriff and Alert, launched a rescue mission. Park rangers responded with a ground rescue mission while an air rescue mission was initiated using Flathead County aviation asset Two Bear Air. Two Bear Air responded to the injured party’s location shortly after 4 pm.

The injured skier was in critical condition when Two Bear Air arrived, and was determined deceased during rescue efforts. The victim has been identified as 36-year- old Benjamin Parsons of Kalispell, MT.

The park will work with the Flathead Avalanche Center to learn more about the sequence of events and other circumstances that may have contributed to this incident. The investigation is ongoing.

This is the ninth recorded avalanche fatality since the park was established in 1910.