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yellowstone national park rules
(Photo: Jacob Frank, NPS)

There’s plenty to do in our original national park. But knowing what Yellowstone National Park rules to follow can mean the difference between life and death.

Every year, a number of tourists lose their lives due to breaking Yellowstone National Park rules. The sad thing is, most park deaths are preventable.

But death isn’t the only thing that comes to call. Bison gore tourists, bears rarely attack, but in animal-related encounters, it’s most often the human that’s to blame.

Read on to learn more about what not to do. Following the Yellowstone National Park rules keeps both you and wildlife safer.

Yellowstone National Park Rules

Don’t Touch The Animals

Don’t touch or take the animals. They are not yours to touch, take, or even feed. Stay at least 25 yards away from wildlife. Make that 100 yards for wolves and bears.

In May 2016, a father and son from Canada were much closer than that and they did more than touch. They showed up at Yellowstone’s Lamar Buffalo Ranch with a bison calf in their car. They thought it looked cold. Of course, it was cold. Yellowstone is a hostile place with snow potential and freezing temperatures year-round. Consider yourself lucky if you last one day in YNP without a coat because it rarely happens.

The two tourists took the wild calf thinking they were helping it, but they were actually hurting it. Park rangers tried returning it to the herd, but it didn’t work. The calf had to be euthanized.

Don’t Stray From Designated Trails

Yellowstone is a volatile place. The Earth’s crust is thin in this park. That’s why there are springs and geysers exploding everywhere. That’s also why there are boardwalks through risky sections.

Stay on them. People get burned and sometimes killed when they wander. Don’t stray from the boardwalks. They keep you from falling through the crust.

More than 4,000,000 people visit Yellowstone National Park annually.

In a recent case from September 2019, an overnight guest sustained severe burns when he left the boardwalk and fell in thermal water near Old Faithful Geyser. The morning after, rangers found blood, a shoe, and a beer can at the scene.

In an older case, a Chinese visitor collected thermal water at Mammoth Hot Springs in June 2016. He had to leave the boardwalk to do it. A whistleblower watching him shot photos and turned him in. The tourist wasn’t hurt, but he did bust through the crust. He was charged with off-boardwalk travel in a thermal area warranting a $1,000 fine.

Don’t Drone In or Above the Park

Overhead footage and photos of geyser basins are beautiful. They display rainbows of color created by naturally occurring bacteria in the park’s springs. It’s hard to resist a quick quadcopter launch, but you must resist.

yellowstone national park rules
Yellowstone’s bourbon-colored bison are born in May.

The park banned drones in 2014, the same year a Dutch visitor crashed his quadcopter in Grand Prismatic Spring. He had to pay more than $3,000 in fines when his drone dropped into the spring where it remains today.

Don’t Pee in the Hot Springs

Even the obvious has to be addressed when it comes to the actions of tourists in Yellowstone—bathroom behavior included. Hot pools are not toilet bowls.

When a Colorado man was caught on camera at Old Faithful Geyser in a stance used for urinating, park devotees were appalled. It happened in September 2018. The man had to stray from the boardwalk to reach his chosen pit stop. Rangers arrested him as soon as he returned to the boardwalk.

The earth’s crust is thin in Yellowstone National Park allowing geysers, springs, and pools to explode throughout.

Don’t Squat on Top of the Toilet

Potty breaks make the list twice. In this case, tourists are using the right bowl, but not in the right way. That’s why new signs are showing up in restrooms and rest areas throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which includes Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, plus portions of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.

The new signs look like “no parking” signs only the red slash is over a figure squatting on a toilet rather than sitting on it.

A few years back, Yellowstone and Grand Teton started tallying unusually high amounts of broken toilet seats. Discovering the cause took some translation. Visitors from countries where holes in the ground are latrines, climb up the toilets in America and squat with their feet on the seat. The park built more toilets and converted some of them to squat style, which is more like a hole in the ground than a toilet you sit on.

“It’s just part of the bigger picture on visitor use and impact. It’s just not toilets. It’s overcrowding,” Veress says. “Visitation has definitely increased, and when you have more people, there are more chances for things to happen.”

yellowstone national park rules
Bison injure more people in Yellowstone National Park than any other animal. They are big, fast, and agile.

Final Thoughts: Yellowstone National Park Rules

The things that happen in the park seem outrageous, but they’re real. Lady in the Purple Pants included. She didn’t get attacked by that grizzly, but she got a stern lecture from the ranger. Pretty mild compared to what could have happened. And occasionally does.

Outdoor journalist Kris Millgate is based in Idaho where she runs trail and chases trout. Sometimes she even catches them when she doesn’t have a camera, or a kid, on her back. Her first book My Place Among Men is available now. See more of her work at tightlinemedia.com.

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