Room rates climb at some Yellowstone Park lodges

The historic yellow stagecoach arrives at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel as the crowd takes photos during the 125th anniversary celebration of the hotel in May 2016 in Yellowstone National Park.

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Some hotel rooms are opening to guests in Yellowstone National Park this month and more concession employees are going to show up to help the world’s first national park reopen during the coronavirus pandemic.

Rick Hoeninghausen, spokesman for Xanterra Travel Collection, said the company would offer about 20 rooms at Lake Hotel starting Friday. Some rooms at Canyon Lodge and Old Faithful Snowlodge will open to guests July 10, and part of the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel will open July 17.

“It’s not every room in the joint,” Hoeninghausen said.

The changes come as virus cases spike nationwide and in the states surrounding the park. But Hoeninghausen said the company feels confident offering more options for visitors, and that visitors are interested in the additional offerings.

And the company is adding one more protective measure as it opens more — mandatory face masks in the public portions of its buildings, like hotel lobbies and gift shops.

“We’re trying to be very calculated and cautious in our approach,” Hoeninghausen said.

Yellowstone closed for seven weeks this spring to help stem the spread of COVID-19 and has now been inching back toward normal. Many facilities are still closed to the public, including visitor centers and a number of other buildings.

Yellowstone has conducted 577 employee tests for the virus so far. No park employees have tested positive, though a construction contractor has. One concession company employee initially tested positive but further testing showed that it was a false positive.

Visitation to the park has slowly been ramping back up since the gates opened. Semi-regular reports from the park show that vehicle counts have been consistently below last year, but they’re getting closer. A report this week showed that parkwide vehicle counts between June 16 and 29 were at 89% of last year.

Morgan Warthin, a Yellowstone spokeswoman, said that signals visitation is getting closer to normal. She added that people visiting should expect lines, especially at the gates.

She said there’s no timeline for the reopening of visitor centers, or of the National Park Service campgrounds.

Xanterra’s return to normal has been gradual, too. At first, the company was offering just a handful of cabins to guests. A few campgrounds the company manages followed, and now parts of the iconic hotels. Some dining options are open, but many sit-down establishments are still closed.

People who had booked rooms in the hotels for this summer had the option of keeping their reservations in case the hotels reopened or canceling them. Hoeninghausen said the people who kept their reservations are being given two days to confirm or cancel their reservation before the rooms are offered to the public.

The increase in offerings this month means Xanterra will need to bring on more employees. Hoeninghausen said the company would bring on 115 more employees to cover the openings of parts of the hotels.

About 60 employees have been living in the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel as part of efforts to ensure any of them could be isolated if they tested positive. Those employees will be moved into normal employee housing, Hoeninghausen said.

That’s all possible because of a change in the pandemic housing policy that will allow employees to live in houses with shared bathrooms.

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Michael Wright can be reached at mwright@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2638.