Tourists flood back to Yellowstone National Park as it reopens its southern loop after historic floods battered Montana and knocked out major roads

  •  Throngs of visitors flocked back to Yellowstone National Park for the first time Wednesday, after historic floods forced officials to close the park down this past week.
  •  Several thousand cars, trucks and recreational vehicles were seen up in long lines at entrances to Yellowstone National Park as it partially reopened Wednesday morning
  • The renowned national park, situated principally in northwestern Wyoming and partly in southern Montana and eastern Idaho, reopened its southern loop, after record floods reshaped the park's rivers and canyons 
  •  The flooding in the park began on June 13, spurring officials to order roughly 10,000 visitors to evacuate, after rivers across northern Wyoming and southern Montana surged over their banks after a torrent of rainfall
  • The rainfall, which reportedly exceeded five inches in parts of the park accelerated the spring snowmelt, which yielded another five inches of snow-water equivalent 

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Throngs of visitors flocked back to Yellowstone National Park for the first time Wednesday, after historic floods forced officials to close the park down this past week.

Several thousand cars, trucks and recreational vehicles were seen up in long lines at entrances to Yellowstone National Park as it partially reopened Wednesday morning. 

The renowned national park, situated principally in northwestern Wyoming and partly in southern Montana and eastern Idaho, reopened its southern loop, following record floods that reshaped the park's rivers and canyons.

The flooding in the park began on June 13, spurring park officials to order roughly 10,000 visitors to evacuate the grounds, after rivers across northern Wyoming and southern Montana surged over their banks following a torrent of rainfall. 

The dayslong downpour reportedly exceeded five inches in parts of the park accelerated the spring snowmelt, which yielded another five inches of liquid.

Photos and video the park uploaded by park official showed mud-mixed water surging through sections of road that had been knocked out due to the flooding, and subsequent mudslides and rockslides. 

River levels, meanwhile, surged to dangerous levels not seen in centuries, with the famed Yellowstone River in Corwin Springs, Montana, rising 6 feet from Sunday and Monday to its highest level ever - a 1 in 500-year event, according to a US Geological Survey.  

On Wednesday, in a partial reopening, park managers raised the gates at three of Yellowstone’s five entrances for the first time since, as the cost and scope of the damage continues to be assessed - with photos showing entire pieces of road in the sprawling park collapsed on itself.

Visitors flocked back to Yellowstone National Park in droves Wednesday, after historic floods forced officials to close the park down this past week

Visitors flocked back to Yellowstone National Park in droves Wednesday, after historic floods forced officials to close the park down this past week

Several thousand cars, trucks and recreational vehicles were seen up in long lines at entrances to Yellowstone National Park as it partially reopened Wednesday morning

Several thousand cars, trucks and recreational vehicles were seen up in long lines at entrances to Yellowstone National Park as it partially reopened Wednesday morning

The renowned national park, situated principally in northwestern Wyoming and partly in southern Montana and eastern Idaho, reopened its southern loop, following record floods that reshaped the park's rivers and canyons. Visitors are pictured waiting outside the park's south entrance to gain entry to the park Wednesday morning

The renowned national park, situated principally in northwestern Wyoming and partly in southern Montana and eastern Idaho, reopened its southern loop, following record floods that reshaped the park's rivers and canyons. Visitors are pictured waiting outside the park's south entrance to gain entry to the park Wednesday morning

Many of the premier attractions at Yellowstone, America's first national park, was again viewable, including the iconic Old Faithful geyser. Pictured are thousands of taking in the legendary hot spring Wednesday

Many of the premier attractions at Yellowstone, America's first national park, was again viewable, including the iconic Old Faithful geyser. Pictured are thousands of taking in the legendary hot spring Wednesday

Many of the premier attractions at Yellowstone, America's first national park, was again viewable, including the iconic Old Faithful geyser. Photos show thousands of onlookers flocking to the legendary hot spring, which regularly shoots towering bursts of steaming water like clockwork more than a dozen times a day.

However, the bears, wolves and bison that roam the park's Lamar Valley and the thermal features around Mammoth Hot Springs, remained out of reach. 

The wildlife-rich northern half of the park, set in Montana, will remain shuttered until at least early July, and key routes into the park remain blocked near the tourist towns of Gardiner, Red Lodge and Cooke City.

According to officials, roughly 2,000-3,000 vehicles entered the park within the first few hours it opened.

According to officials, roughly 2,000-3,000 vehicles entered the park within the first few hours it opened. Pictured are cars lined up outside the park's west entrance early Wednesday

According to officials, roughly 2,000-3,000 vehicles entered the park within the first few hours it opened. Pictured are cars lined up outside the park's west entrance early Wednesday

A bison is pictured backing up already rife traffic in the park's Hayden Valley Wednesday, as the creature crosses a road in the Hayden Valley portion of the park, set in Wyoming

A bison is pictured backing up already rife traffic in the park's Hayden Valley Wednesday, as the creature crosses a road in the Hayden Valley portion of the park, set in Wyoming

Dozens of vehicles lined up outside Yellowstone National Park's entrance on Wednesday prior to the park's soft reopening

Dozens of vehicles lined up outside Yellowstone National Park's entrance on Wednesday prior to the park's soft reopening

License plates at the east entrance near Wapiti, Wyoming, indicated they were from Indiana, Arkansas, Ohio, Colorado, British Columbia in Canada and other places. The first visitors going through didn´t have to contend with other traffic, but they had to watch for marmots on the road.

Park managers had been bracing for throngs as the park celebrated its 150th anniversary a year after it tallied a record 4.9 million visits.

Muris Demirovic, 43, of Miami and his 70-year-old mother arrived at the east entrance at about 5:30 am Wednesday and were second in a line of dozens of cars.

He and his mother, who is from Bosnia, were on a cross country trip visiting national parks and Yellowstone was at the top of their list.

However, when they arrived, it was closed due to flooding. Demirovic and his mother toured Cody, Wyoming, went to a rodeo, walked some trails and visited a museum.

The flooding in the park began on June 13, spurring park officials to order roughly 10,000 visitors to evacuate the grounds, after rivers across northern Wyoming and southern Montana surged over their banks following record rainfall. A river flows through a missing section of a key bridge that leads to the tourist town of Fishtail, Montana on Friday, after the flooding

The flooding in the park began on June 13, spurring park officials to order roughly 10,000 visitors to evacuate the grounds, after rivers across northern Wyoming and southern Montana surged over their banks following record rainfall. A river flows through a missing section of a key bridge that leads to the tourist town of Fishtail, Montana on Friday, after the flooding

A Yellowstone National Park ranger is seen standing near a road wiped out by flooding along the Gardner River the week before, near Gardiner, in Montana, Sunday. Park officials said they hope to open most of the park within two weeks after it was shuttered in the wake of the floods

A Yellowstone National Park ranger is seen standing near a road wiped out by flooding along the Gardner River the week before, near Gardiner, in Montana, Sunday. Park officials said they hope to open most of the park within two weeks after it was shuttered in the wake of the floods

A house sits in Rock Creek after floodwaters washed away a road and a bridge in Red Lodge, Montana, on June 15 after the flooding

A house sits in Rock Creek after floodwaters washed away a road and a bridge in Red Lodge, Montana, on June 15 after the flooding

A road in Gardiner, Montana, is pictured on June 15 cleaved in half by rising water from the Gardner River from flooding at the park

A road in Gardiner, Montana, is pictured on June 15 cleaved in half by rising water from the Gardner River from flooding at the park

The river carved a new route in the road, destroying an entire section of the park's all-important infrastructure, photos show

The river carved a new route in the road, destroying an entire section of the park's all-important infrastructure, photos show

The Gardner River is pictured in an overflowed state on Sunday, after record rainfall combined with snowmelt saw the region experience floods not seen in centuries

The Gardner River is pictured in an overflowed state on Sunday, after record rainfall combined with snowmelt saw the region experience floods not seen in centuries

This handout provided by the National Park Service shows the damage done to the North Entrance Road on Saturday

This handout provided by the National Park Service shows the damage done to the North Entrance Road on Saturday

 They had planned to leave the Yellowstone area on Monday, but stayed when they learned the park would re-open this week.

'This is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for me and my mom, so I had to make sure she sees this,' he said.

To keep visitor numbers down while repairs continue, park managers will use a system that only allows cars with even-numbered last digits on their license plates to enter on even days, while vehicles with odd-numbered last numbers can come on odd days.

Groups of visitors traveling together in different cars are exempt from the license plate system as well as people with reservations at campgrounds and hotels in the park.

Visitors from France cook breakfast next to their car outside the south entrance of Yellowstone National Park, one of three entrances to reopen Wednesday. License plates at the east entrance near Wapiti, Wyoming, indicated others were from Indiana, Arkansas, Ohio, Colorado, British Columbia in Canada and other places

Visitors from France cook breakfast next to their car outside the south entrance of Yellowstone National Park, one of three entrances to reopen Wednesday. License plates at the east entrance near Wapiti, Wyoming, indicated others were from Indiana, Arkansas, Ohio, Colorado, British Columbia in Canada and other places

A man exits his camper before sunrise at the recently reopened south entrance of Yellowstone National Park, in Wyoming Wednesday

A man exits his camper before sunrise at the recently reopened south entrance of Yellowstone National Park, in Wyoming Wednesday

Visitors take pictures of a bison herd in the Hayden Valley, Montana, portion of the park Wednesday as it once again welcomes guests

Visitors take pictures of a bison herd in the Hayden Valley, Montana, portion of the park Wednesday as it once again welcomes guests

People watch the eruption of Old Faithful Geyser Wednesday. Perhaps the park's most recognizable attraction, the geyser has been active for the past 135 years

People watch the eruption of Old Faithful Geyser Wednesday. Perhaps the park's most recognizable attraction, the geyser has been active for the past 135 years

If traffic along the park´s 400 miles (644 kilometers) of roads becomes unmanageable, Yellowstone Superintendent Cameron Sholly said officials will impose a reservation system to enter the park.

Along the road to Yellowstone´s south entrance in Wyoming, a long and slow-moving line of cars snaked along a road with a sign that had been flashing 'Yellowstone closed' for days but on Wednesday alerted drivers that the park was open but with restricted access.

'We were hoping to be in at a decent hour but it doesn´t look like that´s going to happen,' said Gracie Brennan of Kentucky, gesturing to the line.

Brennan and two of her friends were going to Yellowstone as part of a tour of various national parks. They were supposed to be on the road Wednesday to the Badlands but changed their plans.

A ranger checks cars in at the south entrance of Yellowstone National Park Wednesday, after the park's more-than-weeklong closure

A ranger checks cars in at the south entrance of Yellowstone National Park Wednesday, after the park's more-than-weeklong closure

A park ranger is pictured preparing to open the south entrance of Yellowstone National Park Wednesday morning, to welcome thousands of guests following the closures

A park ranger is pictured preparing to open the south entrance of Yellowstone National Park Wednesday morning, to welcome thousands of guests following the closures

Muris Demirovic, 43, of Miami arrived at the east entrance at about 5:30 am Wednesday as thousands of cars lined up to gain entry to to the newly reopened park

Muris Demirovic, 43, of Miami arrived at the east entrance at about 5:30 am Wednesday as thousands of cars lined up to gain entry to to the newly reopened park

'Old Faithful was the main thing I wanted to see, so if we can get there, which ever way we got to go, it doesn´t really matter,' Brennan said.

The reopening comes as officials in Yellowstone are still tallying the extent of the damage. 

Based on other national park disasters, it could take years and carry a steep price tag to rebuild.

It´s an environmentally sensitive landscape with a huge underground plumbing system that feeds into the park´s geysers, hot springs and other thermal features. 

Construction season only runs from the spring thaw until the first snowfall, a narrow window that means some roads could receive only temporary fixes this year.

That's turned some Montana communities into dead ends instead of being gateways to Yellowstone, a blow to their tourism-dependent economies. 

A park ranger stationed at the park's south entrance is pictured shortly before the gates were raised Wednesday, to once again welcome visitors

A park ranger stationed at the park's south entrance is pictured shortly before the gates were raised Wednesday, to once again welcome visitors

A boy waves from his car Wednesday morning as he and thousands of other patiently wait to gain entry to the iconic park

A boy waves from his car Wednesday morning as he and thousands of other patiently wait to gain entry to the iconic park 

Cars, campers and trucks were seen lining up before sunrise as enormous amounts of revelers traveled from far and wide for the park's partial reopening

Cars, campers and trucks were seen lining up before sunrise as enormous amounts of revelers traveled from far and wide for the park's partial reopening

They're also still struggling to clean up damage to several hundred homes and businesses that were swamped by flooding on the Yellowstone, Stillwater and Clarks Fork rivers.

In Red Lodge, one of those gateway towns cut off from the park, most businesses are open even as flood cleanup continues. 

The Montana Department of Transportation is beginning repairs to the road between Red Lodge and the scenic Beartooth Highway and the National Park Service is working to restore access to some areas in the northern part of the park.

'We have to remain optimistic, but we also have to remain realistic that there´s a lot of things going on and a lot of moving pieces to make it happen,' said Tim Weamer, who does marketing for the Red Lodge Chamber of Commerce.

'We're optimistic that we'll survive,' he said. 'We're not going to have the summer we were hoping for.'

For others the rebound may come faster. 

Yellowstone tour guide Derek Draimin said Tuesday he was fully booked up Wednesday with four groups that will be headed into the park. 

He expected large crowds of people hoping to be among the first inside after the rare and record flooding.

Draimin lost about 25 tours because of the flood but said he and others could get a bump as tourists who can´t get in through the park´s northern entrances get funneled through West Yellowstone, where his company, Yellowstone Adventure Tours, is based.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, who received criticism last week for not disclosing he was out of the country until two days after the flooding hit Yellowstone and parts of southern Montana, was not at the park for Wednesday´s reopening.

Spokesperson Brooke Stroyke said Gianforte was scheduled to meet with Cabinet members and be briefed on flood response and recovery in his state. Some flooding is also occurring in the Flathead Valley in western Montana, where a man died in a rafting accident on the swollen Flathead River on Tuesday.

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon also wasn't in the park, said his spokesperson Michael Pearlman.

Tiffany Jahn from Kenosha, Wisconsin, who was with her husband and daughter in the line at the south entrance in Wyoming, said she was excited to see anything that was still open and especially hoping to catch a glimpse of the park´s wildlife.

'We were actually coming last week and we were getting messages... saying 'Don't come, don't come,' she said. 'But we were already out here so we kind of just altered our plans and made it work.'

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Crowds flock to Yellowstone as park reopens after floods

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