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Out of Hibernation: Opening Yellowstone National Park Lodges for the season

Out of Hibernation: Opening Yellowstone National Park Lodges for the season

Written by: , April 03rd, 2024

Opening Yellowstone

When the calendar changes to spring in Yellowstone, most people think of seasonal events like birds migrating, bison calving, and bears emerging from their dens. But many don’t consider the events undertaken to get lodges, restaurants, gift shops, and other operations up and running after being shuttered for at least six months. In a typical year, our summer season begins in late April when all nine lodges begin to open on a staggered schedule.

Emerging from hibernation is no easy task for our team members. Discover the journey our team takes as each department prepares for the summer season ahead.

Snow removal


Before work can even start, the first order of business for our staff is just getting to a lodge location. Most park roads are closed to vehicle traffic in the winter and access to the park interior is only available by over-snow transportation. In late-March, plowing crews begin clearing a winter’s worth of snow.

After the National Park Service (NPS) plows have passed through, the Heavy Equipment Crew will move literally tons of snow to gain access to structures. Once the snow has been removed, the Fire Systems Crew will test and commission approximately 125 sprinkler and alarm systems park-wide, making it safe to put heat, electricity, and water into the buildings.

After fire comes water. Each village has a complex water distribution system that includes scores of main domestic water supply and drain valves. To ensure water quality, those valves must be operated several times before being brought into service. At Canyon Village alone, there are more than 10,000 valves! Each room has a tub/shower, sink, and a toilet (i.e., 5 valves in each room) and each fixture valve must first be closed in order to air test the building’s domestic water system for leaks or freeze breaks. When water is brought into each building, each valve must then be opened to vent the air and flush the system until clear water is flowing.

Canyon Village has more than 500 guest rooms across seven lodges and 21 multi-occupancy cabins. In addition, there are four employee dorms with 200 rooms, a full-service Camper Services building with public showers and laundry facilities, a 276 site visitor campground with 15 comfort stations, and 52 watering points.

At Grant Village, there are roughly 1,700 building valves (not including fixtures such as sinks, showers, and toilets). Just a half dozen trips to the second story of every Grant building is 132 flights of stairs (that’s nearly a mile of stairs)!

And that’s only two of our nine lodges. Let’s just say, the maintenance crew has a ton on their plate!

opening IT

IT working on network systems

Information Technologies (IT)

Another department that gets an early start in our lodges is IT. One of their initial tasks is getting about 200 pieces of networking gear online so the Fire Systems Crew can make sure the buildings are safe. At times, IT may be working in buildings without power, heat, or running water. Once that is done, over 1,000 computers are readied for lodging, food & beverage, and retail staff to run their operations.

opening lake lodge

Lake Lodge Lobby


It is often only a matter of weeks between the Heavy Equipment Crew clearing a property of snow and welcoming the first guests of the season. It takes less than two weeks for the lodging department to complete their tasks, which include, uncovering furniture, cleaning carpets, polishing floors, cleaning and preparing rooms, restrooms, and lobbies at each lodge. Staff from the laundry facility in Gardiner, MT process and deliver thousands of pounds of sheets, blankets, pillowcases, towels, and more to prepare each lodge room. Hundreds of staff (many of them new to Yellowstone) are trained in all facets of their jobs including safety, guest service, and technical skills. When the lodging department is running at full capacity, we serve guests staying in over 1,400 campsites and 2,200 rooms and cabins that are available each night.

opening bear paw deli

Bear Paw Deli at Old Faithful Inn

Food & Beverage

Food and beverage, our largest department, supports more than 51 different venues, including over 30 guest outlets ranging from cocktail lounges and espresso carts, to dining rooms and fast food. Their first order of business is ensuring that the buildings and kitchens are cleaned and sanitized so they can be stocked and equipped for service. Part of their opening operations also includes training more than 900 employees in over 25 different job functions so staff are ready to serve over 2 million meals to park visitors.

Retail opening

Old Faithful Lodge Gift Shop preparing to open


The Retail department is responsible for opening gift shops in our nine lodges. Hundreds of pallets of merchandise and tens of thousands of boxes are received at the Gardiner, MT warehouse and then distributed throughout the park. We stock crucial necessities for the travelers (like bear spray), water bottles, and sun protection. But we also carefully curated gifts from local artists’ including Yellowstone inspired prints, paintings, glassworks, and custom pieces. And not to be missed are the mouth-watering huckleberry specialties. Our team of over 125 retail employees set up and stock the stores to ensure a memorable guest experience.

Freshly painted sign for the Roosevelt Corrals

Other Departments

Support Services helps out with many tasks include building mug displays for the gift shop, giving a fresh coat of paint to signage, printing materials for both guests and employees at the print shop, and reconditioning and re-upholstering modern and historic furnishing for the 2,200 rooms and cabins. Transportation gets their fleet of vehicles, including our Historic Yellow Buses, charter and rental boats, and horse-drawn stagecoaches, cleaned and maintained after winter’s storage. Sustainability ensures that back-of-house and front-of-house waste collection containers are in place, clearly identified, and ready to divert material from the landfill. While each department has its role in bringing a property out of hibernation, many work collaboratively to accomplish tasks. In particular, Human Resources and Learning & Development assist all departments with hiring, onboarding, and training the 3,500+ employees that are hired each season.

opening snow lake

Cleared walkway at Lake Yellowstone Hotel

These are just a sample of all the activities that Yellowstone National Park Lodges perform  to take a lodge from hibernation to full operation. Multiply that by our nine lodges in the park, and the numbers are huge! Cody Lockner, Assistant Director of Operations, summarizes the enormous task succinctly: “most people will never experience a process like this once in their life… and we do it annually.”

Special thanks to IT, Food and Beverage, Retail, Sustainability, Lodging, and Support Services,  for contributions to this blog.

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Want to experience Yellowstone in-depth? See what makes Yellowstone National Park a great place to work for a season or longer!