Safety, Responsibility, and Risk
Your safety is important to Yellowstone Forever. We have established procedures to reduce medical emergencies and to provide treatment of those that occur. All members of the Yellowstone Forever Institute staff are trained to follow these procedures. Staff also receive additional training in driver safety, wilderness medicine, and the use of portable radios to contact National Park Service emergency services. The Yellowstone Forever Institute needs and expects you to take an active role in protecting yourself. You should be careful to choose a program that is appropriate to your medical and physical condition. Before arriving for a program, you need to fully and accurately inform Institute staff of relevant medical conditions, consult with your personal physician about any relevant medical conditions, and obtain all recommended clothing and equipment. Once you arrive, you need to continually monitor your condition and any external hazards, make prudent decisions, stay hydrated and well fed, and keep Institute staff informed of how you are feeling. Despite our combined efforts, Yellowstone Forever Institute programs entail some inherent risks, many of which are associated with moderate to vigorous physical activity in high altitude mountainous or wilderness terrain. Even programs that include little activity and do not stray far from developed areas may take place in areas where advanced medical care may be significantly delayed.
Release from Legal Liability and Collection of Health Information
On receipt of your completed registration form, we will send you an Assumption of Risks/Release of Liability form that must be signed by all participants, minors and adults. We will also send you a form to assist us in identifying medical issues that may arise during your program or activity. All information on this form will remain confidential and will be reviewed only by Institute staff or a licensed physician.
Code of Ethics
The Yellowstone Forever Institute is committed to demonstrating a high standard of appropriate and ethical behavior in Yellowstone. As a participant in an Institute program, we ask that you adhere to the following Code of Ethics. In addition to the ethics highlighted below, we abide by all National Park Service (NPS) rules and regulations. We also practice Leave No Trace guidelines for traveling responsibly in the wilderness.
Observing Wildlife: We will do our best to have as little impact on wildlife as possible. Animals will be observed from a distance, using high powered spotting scopes to help keep our presence from affecting their behavior. Participants should not expect to get close-up photographs of wildlife. We will adhere to NPS regulations by keeping a minimum distance of 25 yards from bison, elk, bighorn sheep, deer, moose, coyotes, nesting birds, and 100 yards from bears and wolves. We will not entice wildlife with food, animal calls, or any actions that change their behavior.
Leave What You Find: It is illegal to remove natural or cultural artifacts (plants, animals, bones, rocks, etc.) from the park. Institute instructors have permission from NPS to manipulate plants, rocks, bones, etc. for educational purposes, and will return them to their natural positions and locations.
General Etiquette: Yellowstone Forever Institute groups will be considerate of other visitors and respect the quality of their experience. Voices and vehicle sounds carry great distances and affect both wildlife and people. Remaining silent or very quiet while watching wildlife lets the sounds of Yellowstone (including wolf howls) prevail.
Roads and Vehicles: Expect wildlife on the road, and drive at or below the posted park speed limits. When stopping to observe wildlife or other park features, we will move vehicles entirely off the road. If there is no safe pullout available, we will drive to the next safe place and walk back to observe the wildlife. We will not stop in the middle of the road, and should a traffic jam develop as a result of our activities, we will cease the activity.
Properly Dispose of Waste: We will pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter. Your instructor will discuss techniques for properly disposing of human waste in the field.
Traveling Lightly: When hiking or walking in Yellowstone, we will use existing trails and boardwalks, and follow appropriate techniques when walking off-trail. Walking around muddy or wet places in the trail increases erosion and negatively affects the resource; proper equipment is essential to hiking ethically. Participants should come adequately prepared with the equipment listed for their program and should expect to walk through mud, snow, or puddles in the trail.
Practice Sustainable Methods: We will reduce waste by minimizing paper and other disposable products used during programs. Recycling will be practiced in vehicles and at Yellowstone Forever facilities. Effects of climate change, especially those evident in Yellowstone, will be highlighted by instructors, as well as the efforts of Yellowstone National Park and its partners to mitigate these effects.
Thank you for helping us set a good example in Yellowstone!
Transportation to and from Yellowstone
For all Yellowstone Forever Institute programs (except backpacking), students must arrange their own transportation to and from the location where the program begins. For those arriving by air, we recommend renting a car or contacting our Information Specialists for information on public transportation.
Transportation during Institute Programs
The Institute’s 14-passenger vehicles will be used for group transportation once a program begins.
Letter of Certification
For Field Seminar participants, the Yellowstone Forever Institute will gladly provide a letter of program completion, which includes the program title, description, and hours of instruction.
All Lodging & Learning programs are held at park hotels. Field Seminars may be based at either the Lamar Buffalo Ranch, the Yellowstone Overlook Field Campus, or at a park hotel. Backcountry programs take place in the wilderness in and around Yellowstone National Park. Private Tours and Youth and College programs take place in and around Yellowstone National Park. Program locations are included in each program description.
Most of Yellowstone National Park is above 6,000 feet. If you are coming from a much lower elevation, it is wise to allow yourself at least one “easy” day to adjust to this altitude before beginning strenuous activity. It is also important to drink plenty of fluids while you’re here to prevent dehydration.
Children who meet stated minimum age requirements are very welcome in family programs. All other programs are designed for adults only. However, children 16 years and older may participate if accompanied by a participating adult (18 and older).
Pets, RVs, and Camping
To avoid disturbing other students and resident wildlife, pets are not allowed at the Buffalo Ranch field campus or on any Institute programs. Park Service regulations prohibit camping and recreational vehicle use at the Buffalo Ranch field campus.
Leave No Trace
Leave No Trace (LNT) is a national education program designed to encourage minimum impact skills and ethics among outdoor users. The Yellowstone Forever Institute endorses this program and includes the LNT curriculum in our classes.
General Winter Information
Getting to the Lamar Buffalo Ranch Field Campus in winter:
In winter, the only accessible route to the Lamar Buffalo Ranch is via the north entrance to the park at Gardiner, Montana. From the north entrance, proceed south to Mammoth and then east via the all-season road connecting Mammoth and Cooke City. All other routes are closed to automobile traffic from November to April.
Within the park, the only services accessible to the Buffalo Ranch are in Mammoth Hot Springs, 29 miles to the west. In Mammoth, a National Park Service campground is operated year-round on a first-come, first-served basis; and a limited supply of groceries is available year-round at the Yellowstone General Store in Mammoth Hot Springs. As part of the ongoing improvements to park facilities, the Mammoth Hotel will be closed for the next two winters.
Additional services are available in the gateway communities of Gardiner, Montana, (34 miles west) and Silver Gate/Cooke City, Montana, (23 miles east). Gardiner is a larger town, with year-round motels, restaurants, gas stations, a laundromat, and a grocery store. Silver Gate and Cooke City are somewhat smaller and more seasonal, with motels, restaurants, gas stations, and convenience stores.