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UPDATED: Historic Yellowstone River Flooding Damages Yellowstone Park and Paradise Valley

YNP roads closed, downstream drainage impacted, check with outfitters before cancelling.

UPDATED: Historic Yellowstone River Flooding Damages Yellowstone Park and Paradise Valley

Several roads in Yellowstone National Park are closed as historic flooding occurs in the Yellowstone River drainage due to a heavy late-season snowpack and torrenrial rains, as shown here along the Gardner River. (Photo courtesy of Yellowstone National Park)

UPDATED 6-23-22: Anglers with guided trips booked in this area should check with their outfitters before cancelling–many fisheries were unaffected and there are many great alternate fisheries in the area if your trip was in the upper Yellowstone drainage. Yellowstone's Southern Loop reopened Wednesday 6-22; officials optimist that Northern Loop can reopen much earlier than expected. Click here for Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholly's updated Park policies. 


A large late-season snowpack and wet spring have culminated in massive flooding on the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley on Monday, June 13. Flows raged at nearly double the records; the Corwin Springs station reported flows at 51,400 cfs as of about 9:30am that day, which bests the 1918 record mark by 21,400.

The recently rebuilt Carbella Bridge at the downstream end of Yankee Jim Canyon has been wiped out, and Highway 89 closed south of Livingston, though local traffic was allowed to pass between Gardiner and Livingston using East River Road as of Wednesday the 15th. 

According to a Facebook post by the Park County (Montana) Sherriff’s Department: “Rain on snow event causing extraordinary runoff and flooding. US 89 South is closed between mp 13 and mp 15 due to mudslide, rocks and water on roadway. Gardiner to Mammoth is closed due to rocks and water on the roadway. Reports of 4 feet of water over the roadway in Silver Gate. Carbella bridge is closed due to water on the bridge. Mol Heron bridge is impassible due to down tree and water on the bridge. Burnside Rd. flooding from Mill Creek. The Yellowstone River stream gauge at Corwin Springs is showing record water flow. Stream gauge at Carter's Bridge is broken. Flooding is imminent in areas prone to flooding along small streams and the Yellowstone River. Use extreme caution around waterways. Water can continue to rise rapidly after the rain has stopped. Water on roadways is dangerous. Do not drive through moving water. We are out trying to do all we can to help keep everyone as safe as possible. Please be safe out there.”


Highway 212 at Silver Gate is washed out in places and several roads and ALL ENTRANCES were closed to Yellowstone National Park. The southern half of the Park (the East, South, and West entrances) reopened Wednesday, June 22, but the northern half of the Park's reopening is TBD, though there is now optimism that it can reopen later this summer. Click here for the latest updates. 


Historic Yellowstone Flooding
Northeast Entrance Road has washed out near Soda Butte Picnic Area. (Photo courtesy of Yellowstone National Park)

Anglers and outfitters are optimistic that the famous Paradise Valley spring creeks will recover without significant rehabilition. Though the river breached the berm between the river and both Armstrong's and Depuy, both are now apparently flowing clear again. Sections of the gravel road at Depuy were apparently washed out, however. Nelson's Spring Creek, on the east side of the river, also appears to have avoided significant damage. Past floods have caused serious damage to the creeks, requiring extensive riparian rehabilition. 

Some Gardiner and Paradise Valley outfitters have paused guided fishing trips for 2022, pending the outcomes of the floods. If you have a guided trip booked for 2022 in the area, please first check your outfitter's social media accounts before calling or cancelling. Many area fisheries, including the Madison, Big Hole, Beaverhead, Missouri, Bitterroot, Henry's Fork, Snake, and more, were largely or completely unaffected by this event and should have a normal fishing season. How this will ultimately affect the rivers and fishing in the upper Yellowstone drainage is yet to be seen, but there will assuredly be impacts.

Those who wish to help out area guides and outfitters should check out Josh Mill's "#fliesforfloodrelief" fundraiser (search that hashtag on Facebook and Instagram to find auctions, or use that hashtag to start your own) and/or the Guide Relief Program, which was started during the pandemic to aid affected fishing guides and outfitters. 

Other Montana rivers like the Middle Fork of the Flathead were also at or near flood stage. Several drainages in the Beartooth Mountains also saw flooding, and some campgrounds were closed due to flooding on the Gallatin River in the Gallatin Canyon north of Big Sky. Gardiner, Montana, at the North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park, was largely cutoff to emergency services, had a water main break, and had no power. A boil order was issued for the town's residents. There were also reports of flooding on the Boulder and Stillwater rivers–both tributaries to the Yellowstone River downstream of Paradise Valley–including additional washed out roads. 




A video of Carbella Bridge (courtesy of Montana Yellowstone Tours): 

An evacuation order was issued for parts of Red Lodge, Montana, due to flooding on Rock Creek which is also in the lower Yellowstone watershed.

Recommended


The Custer Gallatin National Forest requested that travel be avoided on any Forest Service road for the time being. Conditions continue to be hazardous and local search-and-rescue teams are already beyond their workload capacity.

On the nearby Madison River, Northwestern Energy reported that both Hebgen Lake and Ennis Lake are now full to capacity and flows out of their dams will be increased. NWE recommended no recreating on either the upper or lower Madison River for the week or so following the floods. Flows out of Hebgen had actually been dropped earlier this spring due to expected drought levels on the reservoir.

A press release from NWE, regarding the Madison River: 

"The significant precipitation over the weekend led to rapidly rising river levels. Inflows to Hebgen almost doubled in the last 24 hours and are still on an almost vertical rise.

As Hebgen has come up closer to full and in anticipation of the significant precipitation forecasted, NorthWestern made increases in our Hebgen outflows at our maximum 10% daily for the last 6 days. Our outflow is currently at 648 cfs.

Hebgen elevation is currently at 6534.02, 0.85 feet from full and rising quickly.

The conditions described above led to an operating emergency and NorthWestern will be increasing outflows at a rate greater than a 10% daily change in order to make sure we do not overfill Hebgen Lake. We will be making changes at 5% hourly in order to ensure public safety and to manage the reservoir elevation below full. We most likely will need to make changes at greater than 10% per day for a few days in order to manage Hebgen Reservoir levels."

The Madison and other rivers outside the upper Yellowstone drainage are now back to normal and fishing well.

More images: 

Historic Yellowstone Flooding
The Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley at Mill Creek Bridge on Monday morning, June 13. (Photo courtesy of Paul Weamer)
Historic Yellowstone Flooding
The Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley at Mallards Rest Fishing Access Site on Monday morning, June 13. (Photo courtesy of Paul Weamer)

Joshua Bergan is Fly Fisherman magazine's digital editor.

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