The National Park Service requires specific authorizations for commercial businesses to operate in national parks, usually in the form of a Commercial Use Authorization.
What is a Commercial Use Authorization (CUA)?
Public Law 105-391, Section 418, which was signed in 1998, provides for the issuance of Commercial Use Authorizations (CUAs) to a private person, corporation, or other entity to provide suitable commercial services for park area visitors. Commercial activities are generally prohibited in National Parks unless authorized by a CUA or concessions contract.
What activities are authorized in Yellowstone?
Guided Bicycle Tours - The CUA For Guided Bicycling Tours allows the CUA holder to conduct road-based bicycle trips and front country hiking on boardwalk areas and trails less than ½ mile from the road.
Day Hiking - The CUA for Guided Day Hiking Tours allows the CUA holder to conduct interpretive day hiking trips.
Guided Skiing/Snowshoeing - The CUA for Guided Skiing/Snowshoeing Trips allows the CUA holder to conduct interpretative nordic skiing, telemark skiing or snowshoeing trips.
Motorized Boating - The CUA for Guided Motorized Boating Trips allows the CUA holder to conduct guided touring or fishing trips in larger motorized boats on Yellowstone Lake and/or Lewis Lake. Portions of Yellowstone Lake and all of Shoshone Lake are restricted to non-motorized boats.
Non-motorized Boating - The CUA for Guided Non-Motorized Boat Trips allows the CUA holder to conduct guided touring using dories, single or tandem kayaks, canoes and other small non-motorized vessels in Yellowstone, Lewis, or Shoshone Lakes.
Overnight Backcountry Trips - The CUA for Guided, Overnight Backcountry Trips allows the CUA holder to conduct overnight backcountry camping with an appropriate backcountry permit.
Painting and Photography - The CUA for Painting and Photography Services allows the CUA holder to conduct interpretive road based photography trips, instruction and/or painting instruction and services such as wedding and portrait photography. Video filming is not allowed with this permit. Limited front country hiking on boardwalk areas and designated trails less than ½ mile from the road is permitted. Hiking to Trout Lake is also permitted.
Stream and Shoreline Fishing - The CUA for Commercial Stream and Shoreline Fishing Services allows the CUA holder to conduct guided walk and wade fishing trips in park streams and lakes. Float tube use in lakes is permitted with this CUA. Use of boats (including pontoon boats) is not authorized and requires a separate boating CUA.
Road-Based Interpretive Tours, including Step-On Guide and Shuttle Service - If you would like to apply for a Road-Based Commercial Tour CUA, please contact the Concessions Management Office at 307-344-2271 prior to filling out an application and paying application fees.
The CUA for Guided Road- based Tours and Services allows the CUA holder to conduct vehicle tours, provide shuttle services, and act as a step-on guide, on paved park roads with visits to facilities and services in combination with short walks on boardwalks, front-country roads, and trails. Only businesses that are located in gateway communities and use vehicles with a maximum capacity of 25 passengers are eligible for road-based transportation CUA. All other businesses offering road-based transportation enter the park by paying the commercial tour fee. Step-on-Guides provide the same services from a visitor’s personal vehicle or from the vehicle of another commercial operator.
Towing - The CUA for Towing Services allows the CUA holder to provide towing services. Yellowstone Concessions Contract YELL 004-008 is the primary towing provider and towing CUA holders are secondary towing providers. Towing CUA holders must follow the Towing Protocol attached to the CUA towing operating plan.
Other miscellaneous suitable visitor services - The CUA for other miscellaneous services allows the CUA holders to provide services (locksmith, RV and RV appliance repair, water access, etc.) as approved by the Superintendent.
What are the general criteria for the issuance of a CUA?
The authorization is issued to a qualified operator to permit the provision of suitable commercial services to park area visitors. A qualified operator is an organization that the superintendent determines has the ability to satisfactorily provide visitor services and carry out the terms of the CUA.
The superintendent determines that the commercial services are “suitable”; that is they (a) will have minimal impact on park area’s resources and values; (b) are consistent with the purposes for which the park area was established; and, (c) are consistent with all applicable park area management plans, policies, and regulations.
The holder must agree to comply with all of the general and specific conditions described in the CUA conditions and activity-specific operating plan. You should familiarize yourself with these documents before applying for a CUA.
For what length of time is a CUA issued?
CUAs are issued for a one-year period. The operating year is from January 1 to December 31.
When is the application period?
Applications are accepted on a year-round basis. Please submit applications 45 days before your first trip in the park.
What are the fees for a CUA?
A $300 application fee for each service category is due with the application. This fee is not refundable. The initial $300 per service fee will be credited toward the market rate fee, which is based on percentage of gross receipts. The market rate fee, based on a percentage of the previous year’s gross receipts, must be paid to the park by January 31 of each year with the year-end financial statement.
“Gross receipts” means the total of all revenues received from services offered within Yellowstone National Park. Revenue collected that is passed directly through to in-park concessioners to purchase visitor services such as lodging, meals, or concessioner-provided activities may be deducted when calculating the market rate fee. Revenue for services conducted outside Yellowstone is not included in the gross receipts amount when calculating the assessed fee. Usually services outside Yellowstone are prorated based on time. For example for operators who hold CUAs with both Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks should allocate gross receipts to each park according to the percentage of the total trip time spent in each park.
The CUA holder is responsible for maintaining accounting records that demonstrate evidence of gross receipts and required fee payment. The Service may audit CUA holder financial reports at any time.
Why does the park charge a fee for a CUA?
National Park Service Policy requires the Superintendent to charge a reasonable fee for CUAs. The park retains such fees to help pay for the cost of the CUA program, including administration, evaluations, monitoring and training.
When are Annual Financial Reports and fees due?
Annual Financial Reports, which cover the operating year and require reporting of gross receipts and visitors served for each month of that year, are due on January 31 of each year. At that time, the balance of the management fee, based on the gross receipts reported in the Annual Financial Report, is due.
Commercial Use Authorization holders must make payments through pay.gov. This process requires a Commercial Use Authorization number. If you don’t yet have a Commercial Use Authorization number, please read about the application process below.
What are the insurance requirements?
The CUA holder must maintain comprehensive general liability coverage in the amount of $500,000 minimum per occurrence. The CUA holder must maintain commercial automobile liability coverage for all owned, non-owned, and hired vehicles used by the licensee that is driven into the park that carry passengers or equipment. The policy shall be underwritten by a United States company and must name the United States of America as an additional insured.
What are the reporting requirements?
All required documentation must be submitted for the authorization to remain active.
What are Monthly Use Reports and when are they due?
CUA holders are required to submit monthly use reports by the 4th of each month. Reports request the number of trips taken and the number of visitors served, and but may also include other relevant trip information such as where trips took place, etc. This information assists us with our monitoring efforts. If you have no use in a particular month, no monthly use form is required.
How long does it take to obtain a CUA?
A minimum of 45 days is required for issuance of a CUA. Delays will occur if application materials are not submitted accurately or completely, or if authorizations needing operator signature are not returned promptly.
Review all of the checklist items below. Once you have all of the required documentation, you can submit either electronically or by mail. Scan and email your application package to firstname.lastname@example.org. The application will not be processed until application fee is received. Or mail your application package and check to:
Contact the Concessions Management Office at:
What happens once I submit an application?
Please send your typed responses to the following questions to Becky Wyman:
1. Describe your service: (Services to be offered, season of operation, park locations if known, estimated number of trips/year, estimated duration of trip/session, estimated group size, etc.)
2. Resource Protection: The objective of the park is to ensure the protection of resources: hydrothermal features, wildlife, archeological sites, rare plants, historic properties, etc.
3. Visitor Safety: The park expects that commercial use authorization holders will provide safe visitor services.
4. Visitor Satisfaction: The park expects CUA holders to provide quality visitor services.
5. Interpretive Knowledge: It is important that CUA operators are able to provide accurate and pertinent information about the park resources and values to visitors.
6. Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability: Yellowstone National Park is dedicated to improving its operations and services in a sustainable manner.
7. Operational Expertise: Please provide the following:
8. Administrative Requirements: CUA holders must provide the following documentation:
Last updated: July 31, 2019