Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — As Yellowstone tourists regroup and change plans following historic floods that heavily damaged the park and led to closures at all entrances, many are rerouting to Utah.
The Utah Office of Tourism said Wednesday they're watching things closely, including if tourists flood to the already busy national parks and small communities entering the busy summer season.
On Wednesday evening, a group of 10 guys and girls walked around the Utah State Capitol grounds. They ran to the top of the steps and looked out.
"Where's the lake at?" one person asked. They turned west to where the sun reflected off the Great Salt Lake.
They walked down the stairs and looked out over the Capitol lawn, toward the east.
"How tall are those mountains?" another asked, looking at the Wasatch Mountains.
The group's clear-skied site-seeing stroll was a far cry from where they had just come from.
Stephen Webster explained that they all work at Canyon Lodge in Yellowstone National Park, near the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. They experienced a snowstorm and heavy rains. Then came the flash floods.
"It was pretty crazy," Webster said. "I didn't think the whole park was going to get evacuated."
While Canyon Lodge isn't one of the hardest-hit areas — which is in the northern part of Yellowstone — the employees had to leave. They decided to turn the evacuation into an adventure.
"None of us have ever been to Utah, I don't think, so it's really cool. The drive down was awesome," he said.
They camped one night, then got a hotel for the second night. They spent all Wednesday exploring parts of the Salt Lake Valley and downtown.
With Yellowstone's path forward up in the air, the Utah Office of Tourism is watching to see how many others like Webster's group make impromptu trips to the Beehive State.
"We're not really sure yet what the data is showing, and if people have made massive changes," Bianca Lyon said, the community and partner relations director at the Utah Office of Tourism. "I think there's a lot of wait-and-see-attitude right now about how Yellowstone will be impacted in the long term."
She expects to know a little more in the next couple of days, depending on what Yellowstone announces its summer operations will look like and how much the park can open.
While it's hard to predict numbers now, with this being the busy season, Lyon suggests travelers plan ahead, research, and make what reservations they can before heading to Utah.
She noted that Arches National Park is currently using a time-entry system. Many hotels in towns like Moab are typically full this time of year.
On top of that, Lyon mentioned the importance of preparation if travel plans include backcountry exploration.
And while the five national parks in Utah are certainly a draw, she pointed out that Utah has many great state parks worth exploring. They've set up a webpage called Forever Mighty to help people as they are researching their trip.
"Being prepared with the right gear, with water, and then checking in advance to making sure that you have the latest information from the land agencies about how parks could be impacted," Lyon said.
Webster's group trip was a success in Utah. They plan to hit up the Tetons before returning to work in Yellowstone at Canyon Lodge and hopefully resuming operations in that part of the park.
They're glad they got a break down in Salt Lake.
"Honestly, I love it," Webster said of Salt Lake City. "I think it's great."