Visiting Yellowstone in Winter: A Guide
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Yellowstone in winter is magical! Clouds of steam billow up gently around deserted hot springs, and a sense of solitude surrounds the snow-covered park. Gone are the crowds of visitors, while the wildlife and world-famous geysers remain. In this blog, we’re sharing everything you need to know about visiting Yellowstone in winter, including how to access the park, where to stay, and what to do.
Is Yellowstone open in winter?
Yes, Yellowstone is open in winter, although in a more limited capacity. The North Entrance is the only entrance open to car traffic during the winter. To access the park’s interior—and classic attractions like Old Faithful— you’ll need a chartered snowcoach or snowmobile. But, that’s half the fun! Winter travel hours are 7 am-9 pm.
Where to Stay During Winter in Yellowstone
Yellowstone in winter has more limited lodging options than summertime, but more than you might think! Inside the park, you can stay at Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hot Springs during the winter. Or, you can stay in gateway communities of Gardiner, Montana, West Yellowstone, Cody and Cooke City outside of the park. Each offers an array of options from fancy hotel rooms to cozy cabins.
What to Bring for Winter in Yellowstone
When visiting Yellowstone in winter, you’ll want to come prepared with a few more cold-weather essentials than in the summer months. Layers are key! Be sure your clothing includes a windproof, hooded outer layer with wool or other insulating garments underneath. Synthetic or wool pants and long underwear beneath wind or rain-pants will keep your legs warm and dry. Lastly, wear gaiters over boots to keep the snow out, and have a hat and gloves on hand. If you get too warm, take layers off and store them in your bag. It is as important to prevent overheating/sweating as it is to prevent chilling!
What to do in Yellowstone in Winter
Here are some of the best things to do in Yellowstone in winter!
Cross-country ski (or snowshoe) past geysers
Cross-country skiing is one of the best things to do in Yellowstone in winter! All of Yellowstone’s unplowed roads and trails are open to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing during the winter. In the Old Faithful area alone, there are 40 miles of cross-country trails, many of which are interconnected. The trails range from easy groomed tracks to wild backcountry routes, making it the perfect activity for any skill level. Two popular trails are the Biscuit Basin Trail, which snakes through Old Faithful geyser basin, and Blacktail Plateau Trail, a challenging route on the summer Blacktail Plateau Drive. You can get dropped off and picked up at the trailheads by the Yellowstone Ski Shuttle.
If you don’t own your own skis, no problem! The Bear Den ski shops at Mammoth and Old Faithful rent cross-country ski equipment and accessories, and also wax skis.
You may miss out on the quiet peacefulness of Yellowstone in winter when you are roaring through on the back of a sled, but you’ll be rewarded with a fun adrenaline rush! If you have experience riding a snowmobile , you can rent one for the day; otherwise, there are plenty of guided tours available!
Look for wildlife
Wildlife watching is no doubt one of the best things to do in Yellowstone in winter! In fact, the best time to see wildlife in Yellowstone is actually in winter. The snowy conditions drive the wolves, bison, mule deer, and coyotes down from the high ridges and mountains to forage and hunt for food in the open meadows near the road, majorly increasing your chances for a sighting. While the north part of the park is open to driving in winter, the roads can be rough, so we recommend taking one of the overland vehicles!
Most people think of Alaska and the Iditarod when it comes to dog-sledding, but the greater Yellowstone region is fast becoming a dog-sledding destination for both recreational fun and serious racing. Yellowstone doesn’t allow it within its boundaries, but dogsledding is available from the gateway towns, and is a unique experience when in the area.
Soak in hot springs
After a day of winter adventures, there’s nothing better than relaxing in a warm hot spring! For a true rustic experience, head to the Boiling River near the North Entrance (be sure to ask the Park Service about regulations and possible closures before you go). Or try Chico Hot Springs and Yellowstone Hot Springs, a few miles to the north of Yellowstone’s North Entrance.
There you have it: your guide to Yellowstone in winter! Be sure to check out our trip to Yellowstone. We’ll book your accommodations and create an itinerary personalized to you!