Yellowstone Lottery Opens Park To Private Snowmobiles

Sep 8, 2014

A guided snowmobile group near Lower Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park.
Credit YellowstoneNPS (CC-BY-2.0)

This winter, for the first time in more than a decade, people will be allowed to ride snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park on their own, and not as part of commercially-guided trip. The Park is holding a lottery for a limited number of private snowmobile group permits. It opened last week.

Jack Welch, with the motorized access group Blue Ribbon Coalition says it’s a big deal.

“Yes it is. Because it’s the first opportunity for people to be able to go into the park as a non-commercially guided leader, and that’s the whole purpose of the lottery. We’ve been working this since 2004, in order to get people not to have to go in and hire a commercial guide.”

Yellowstone started limiting snowmobile use in the park in 2004, over concerns about impacts on wildlife, and health concerns for staff at park entrances being exposed to snowmobile exhaust. Conservationists have long lobbied for motorized winter access to be limited to groups of visitors in vans modified to travel over snow, called snow coaches, rather than unrestricted snowmobile access. Between 2004 and this winter, snowmobilers could only enter the park as part of a guided trip with a commercial outfitter.

Welch says this winter’s lottery represents progress.

“Yes, it’s a compromise, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

The Greater Yellowstone Coalition says the compromise, finalized last October, is “not perfect,” but “a giant leap forward” from a decade ago when up to 2,000 snowmobiles a day entered the park. That number was reduced to just over 300 last year. This winter, with the new, non-commercial permits, more than 500 snowmobiles will be allowed in the park each day.

The lottery system allows up to 5 private snowmobiles per day to enter the park from each of its four winter entrances, near Gardiner and West Yellowstone, Montana, and Jackson and Cody, Wyoming. All snowmobiles must meet the park’s standards for noise and air pollution.

The lottery opened last week, and closes October third. Non-commercial snowmobiling permits are valid for a maximum of three days.