By Tyler Allen, Explorebigsky.com Staff Writer
WEST YELLOWSTONE – September was a good month in West Yellowstone. After July, it tends to be the second busiest month of the year, and this year’s warm weather and good fall fishing likely helped make it one of the best on record.
“There were definitely more people on the streets this September, lots of people were asking at the visitor’s center about rooms,” said Jan Stoddard, Marketing Director for the Chamber of Commerce.
Visitation at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center last month, “was up 3 percent from last year and last September was our busiest on record,” said GWDC Director John Heine. “Tourism fluctuates so much that to match last year’s numbers and to achieve an increase, we’re overjoyed by that,” Heine said.
If the trend continues, the GWDC should have its best October on record, Heine said. “The weather has been great, and the [fall] colors are spectacular this year.” A lot depends on the weekend weather, he added, since this time of year more visitors come from Montana and the surrounding region.
The Stagecoach Inn in West was sold out every night in September. “Demand is just as strong in September for seniors as it is for families in July,” said operations manager Mark Rogers. Rogers believes last month’s success was also due to the inn’s smaller rate increase this year, as compared to other hotels in town.
“We purposely positioned the rate lower than last year,” Rogers said. “Bookings [last month] were up in town 3.8 percent, but the average throughout the country is up 5.8 percent.” He pointed out that hotel bookings nationwide have also been high all fall, citing Smith Travel Research.
The fishing was quieter than usual in early September, but the Madison River below Quake Lake really heated up mid-month, said Cam Coffin, shop clerk at Blue Ribbon Flies for the last 25 years. “The park was decent fishing last month, and the rest of the area was pretty dang good,” he said. “We may have been as busy as July. We had a lot of bookings just the day before, while people will typically book a month or two in advance.”
The word is out that September and October are nice months to visit the park, said Kelly Sanders, owner of Free Heel and Wheel with her business partner Melissa Alder. “There aren’t many people, the fall colors are amazing,” Sanders said. “It’s not too cold yet, and we usually don’t get a lot of moisture in September and October.”
The annual fall cycling tour of 450 bicyclists that rode from West Yellowstone to Old Faithful and back, as well as the half marathon on Sept. 29 – boosted overall business in town, Sanders said.
“We’ve had unseasonably nice fall weather,” said park spokesman Al Nash. “We would expect that to reflect fairly strong September visitation.” The west entrance is by far the busiest and, “for the year we started out slowly, but should expect one of the highest visitations years [in the park] on record,” he added.
While the winter months can be pretty lean for businesses in West Yellowstone, the annual Yellowstone nordic festival over Thanksgiving week, plus snowmobiling and snowcoach tours in the park, and heavily discounted accommodations do also draw visitors throughout the season.