- Winter is a magical time to visit Yellowstone.
- The only road open to vehicles in winter is from the north (Gardiner) entrance at Mammoth Hot Springs to the northeast entrance at Cooke City.
- There are miles of cross-country trails in the Park in the winter. Cross-country equipment rentals, ski instruction, ski shuttles to various locations, and guided ski tours are all available.
- One of the best ways to explore the park in the winter is via a guided snowcoach or snowmobile tour.
Winter is a magical time to visit Yellowstone. Much of the wildlife gathers in the winter around the steaming hot pools and geysers, which generate little islands of warmth and clear ground. Bison become frosted, shaggy beasts, easily spotted as they take advantage of the more accessible vegetation on the thawed ground.
Yellowstone Lake's surface freezes to an average thickness of 3 feet, creating a vast ice sheet that sings and moans as the huge plates of ice shift. Waterfalls become astounding pieces of frozen sculpture. Endangered trumpeter swans glide through geyser-fed streams under clear blue skies of clean, crisp mountain air.
How to explore Yellowstone in the Winter
If wanting to see the park by automobile, the North (Gardiner MT) entrance stays open year-round and connects to the towns of Silver Gate and Cooke City. The road beyond Cooke City - known as the Beartooth Highway that connects to Red Lodge - is not plowed during the winter months. This route takes guests through Mammoth Hot Springs, the northern plateau and the Lamar Valley, home to the largest herds of bison, wolves and elk that remain inside the Park boundaries during winter. Hiring a guide to spot them is the best way to ensure viewing success.
From mid-December to early-March, the East, South and West entrances offer access to other park attractions through over-snow vehicles such as snowmobiles or snowcoaches.
A guided winter tour of Yellowstone is quite different from any other season's tour. The park is less traveled with only two lodges in operation, the Old Faithful Snow Lodge and the Mammoth Hot Springs hotel.
In the Old Faithful area, there are 40 miles of cross-country trails. The Lone Star Geyser Trail, an 8 mile trail in a remote setting that starts at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge is very popular, and the Fern Cascades Trail, a 3 mile trail, winds through rolling woodland landscape on a short loop close to the Old Faithful area.
In the Mammoth area, try the Upper Geyser Basin and Biscuit Basin Trail. It is nearly 6 miles and some say it is the best in Yellowstone.
Rentals & Fees
To access the park via snowmobile or snowcoach, it is mandatory to sign up with a guided tour. Fees vary depending on the length and type of trip.
Cross-country equipment rentals, ski instruction, ski shuttles to various locations, and guided ski tours are all available at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge and the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.
In Mammoth, folks of all ages can enjoy an hour or more of ice-skating. The Mammoth Skating Rink is located behind the Mammoth Hot Springs Recreation Center, and skates can be rented for $1 per hour, or $4 per day.
Hire a Guide
There are private outfitters as well, offering multiday cross-country skiing excursions and snowmobile tours. Snow vans, also known as snowcoaches, are used to transport clients from West Yellowstone to the Yellowstone Yurt Camp, located in Canyon Village, one half mile from the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Clients are joined with certified backcountry ski guides and explore meadows, backcountry hot spring basins, the rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, or telemark ski the slopes of the Washburn Range.
Many visitors prefer to see Yellowstone during the winter on board a snowmobile. Snowmobiling offers more mobility to the most popular attractions, an excellent way to sightsee at your own pace. Moderate speed limits are strictly enforced, a driver's license is required for rental, and snowmobiling is confined to roads only.
Today’s modern snowcoaches are converted vans on snow tracks. They offer an enclosed and heated option, chauffeured by a naturalist guide.