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If You're Going to Yellowstone, Check Your Car for This First, Officials Warn

This seemingly minor detail will majorly affect your visit to the beloved park.

The beloved National Park system provides a unique way for travelers to come up close and personal with some of the greatest natural wonders and awe-inspiring beauty found anywhere on earth. Among the 63 sites that cover 52.2 million acres, Yellowstone remains one of the most popular destinations in the agency's purview, attracting 4.86 million visitors in 2021, according to the U.S. National Park Service. But just as this year's busy summer season began, many travelers saw their plans jeopardized after catastrophic flooding forced the park to close abruptly. Now that the park is reopening, officials have announced some significant rule changes for anyone going to Yellowstone soon—including one determined by your car or vehicle. Read on to see what could have a major impact on your trip.

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Yellowstone was recently devastated by a record-breaking flood.

Photo of a place flooded. Overflow.

While most of the U.S. has been no stranger to extreme weather recently, Yellowstone National Park suffered a devastating flood over the weekend of June 11 that park officials said was caused by "unprecedented" rainfall in the area, per The New York Times. The record-breaking high water levels damaged and destroyed roads and bridges, completely washing away some major routes while blocking others with downed trees and mudslides in what the U.S. Geological Survey called a "one in 500-year event." In response, officials closed all five entrances to the park on June 13 and evacuated 10,000 visitors left inside, Axios reports. But officials are already warning that the damage caused by the surging water may be affecting visits for some time to come while they assess all needed repairs.

"The landscape literally and figuratively has changed dramatically in the last 36 hours," Bill Berg, a commissioner in nearby Park County, told the Associated Press. "A little bit ironic that this spectacular landscape was created by violent geologic and hydrologic events, and it's just not very handy when it happens while we're all here settled on it."

But on top of the physical changes brought on by the extreme weather, officials have also announced new rules that will affect visitors to the park in the coming months.

Something on your car could affect your next visit to Yellowstone National Park.


Just a week after its entrances were closed, officials announced on June 20 that Yellowstone National Park would partially reopen beginning at 8 a.m. on June 22, according to a press release from the National Park Service. Initially, visitors will only have access to the park's south loop as officials "determine how to manage summer visitation while the north loop remains closed due to flood damage."

But besides limiting which areas can be visited, officials are also instituting a new "interim visitor access plan" known as the Alternating License Plate System (ALPS). The admissions rules aim to ensure "the south loop does not become overwhelmed by visitors" by restricting entry to Yellowstone based on the numbers printed on a vehicle's license plate.

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Visitors will be granted access to Yellowstone based on the calendar date and license plates.

Couple driving a convertible down the road adjacent to the water for a weekend getaway

According to the National Park Service, the new system will work based on the last numerical digit on a vehicle's license plate and the numerical calendar date of the month. Cars with odd numbers as the last digit on their license plates can enter on odd days of the month, while vehicles with even last numbers can enter on even days.

Vehicles with vanity plates that don't include any numbers will only be allowed to enter on "odd" days, according to the official press release. In addition, any cars with a mix of numbers and letters on their personalized license plate will use the last printed number to determine their entry eligibility.

Officials also point out there are a few exceptions to the entry rules. Visitors who have proof of overnight reservations at hotels, campgrounds, or backcountry reservations can gain access regardless of their license plate, as well as commercial operators such as organized tour groups or commercial motorcoaches. However, all motorcycle groups will only be granted entry on even dates.

It may take "substantial time" to reopen certain areas of the park.

Yellowstone National Park Sign
Zack Frank/Shutterstock

Despite the entry requirement changes, the relatively quick reopening of the park's south loop will likely come as a relief to anyone who has a trip planned. But those looking to explore the park's famous north loop may not be able to do so anytime soon.

"We anticipate this area of the park will likely remain closed for a substantial length of time," the National Park Service's FAQ website states. "Many sections of road in these areas are completely gone and will require substantial time and effort to reconstruct. Yellowstone staff are working to determine other potential sections of the park that may be reopened prior to all park roads closing for the season on Nov. 1."

Still, officials remained cautiously optimistic in the face of the catastrophic damage. "We have made tremendous progress in a very short amount of time but have a long way to go," Cam Sholly, Yellowstone National Park Superintendent, said in the press release. "We have an aggressive plan for recovery in the north and resumption of operations in the south."

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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