Tips for Enjoying Yellowstone National Park in the Winter
Yellowstone in the winter is truly magical. Silence and solitude take over, and the undisturbed blanket of white is breathtaking. Snow-covered bison, steamy geysers and icy rivers add to the beauty of the landscape. Visiting attractions like Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone take on a whole new extravagance with the absence of crowds. Make your reservations early, plan your activities and get ready for one of the most unique adventures you'll ever experience. Stock up on some insider tips for enjoying Yellowstone National Park in the winter below.
Where to Stay
There are two hotels open within the park, Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. Both give you the feeling of being completely remote, with the added luxury of good food and a comfortable bed. West Yellowstone, Gardiner and Cooke City are all gateway towns and great places to stay if you’re looking for some nightlife and retail therapy. For more amenities and lodging options, stay an hour-and-a-half away in Bozeman and take the short day-trip to Yellowstone.
Accessing the Park
Most roads in the park close for the winter, with the exception of the road between Gardiner and Cooke City, which runs through the Lamar Valley. This is a spectacular drive and the home of many of the park’s wolves. An overnight stay in Cooke City takes you literally to the end of the winter road. If you enter via West Yellowstone, guided snowmobile and snowcoach tours are the only means of transportation but are well worth it.
Best Ways to Experience Yellowstone in Winter
Speaking of guided tours, there are companies both inside and outside the park bringing an extra level of knowledge to your visit. They can also grant you access to areas of the park that are difficult to reach in winter due to road closures. Snowmobiles have come a long way— you’ll be surprised at their warmth and quietness. Snowcoaches are enclosed off-road vehicles so your whole group can learn about the park together. Snowshoe, nordic skiing and wildlife tours are also available.
Nordic Skiing and Snowshoeing
Snowshoes and cross country skis are an easy way to get out in the fresh air and provide recreation suited for any level of experience. You’ll get an intimate view of the park, and some exercise to boot! Ski shuttles are available if you’re interested in doing a longer trail.
Elk and bison migrate in the winter, so you’re almost guaranteed to see them. Wolves are easier to spot during the winter, with their dark coats set against the snowy background. (You’ll need to get up early or stay late if you want to spot these elusive animals.) For a real treat, try a Winter Photo Safari!
Yellowstone Forever offers field seminars led by experts including professors, naturalists, scientists, acclaimed photographers, writers, historians, and artists. Most are multi-day experiences ranging in activity level, with topics ranging from Wolf Management, Wildlife Photography, Yellowstone Conservation and Wilderness First Response, just to name a few.
For experienced riders, you can submit an application for an unguided snowmobile entrance. Up to four non-commercially guided groups are allowed each day, one at each oversnow entrance. Permits are awarded through a lottery; full information can be found here.
Prepare for Winter Weather
Be prepared – it can get cold, really cold. Highs can reach 30 degrees and overnight lows can drop to -30 degrees. But it's well worth it. Bring layers; a windproof outer layer and a base of wool or synthetic long underwear. Cotton is not recommended, as it doesn’t wick moisture and can leave you cold. Fleece and wool sweaters are good for a mid-layer, and be sure you have thick socks, boots, hats and gloves or mittens. Bring extra food and water; your body needs energy to stay warm, and it’s easy not to notice if you become dehydrated. The sun is intense in the winter so don’t forget sunscreen and sunglasses. Grab some hand and foot warmers and bring an adventurous spirit!
Winter Opening Days
Conditions permitting, roads will open to oversnow travel by snowmobile and snowcoach at 8 am on the following dates:
December 15, 2020
- West Entrance to Old Faithful
- Mammoth to Old Faithful
- Canyon to Norris
- Canyon to Lake
- Old Faithful to West Thumb
- South Entrance to Lake
- Lake to Lake Butte Overlook
- East Entrance to Lake Butte Overlook (Sylvan Pass)
Roads will close to oversnow travel in early-mid March 2021.
If you enjoyed this blog, take a look at our Bozeman Cold Weather Guide and some of our other related articles:
- How to get to Yellowstone National Park from Bozeman, MT
- Hiking in Yellowstone: Winter Edition
- 8 Reasons to Stop in Bozeman on Your Way to Yellowstone National Park