In winter, this land of fire and ice transforms into a world of stunning contrasts—frozen waterfalls, steamy geysers and hot springs, and glistening snow-capped peaks. Wildlife are easier to spot against the snow-covered landscape, and there are far fewer crowds and lines at the entrance gates.
Although it may seem a little intimidating, a winter visit to Yellowstone is accessible to everyone with a little planning and preparation. Here are a few tips and tricks to ensure you have all the travel essentials you need for a safe, warm, and exhilarating visit the world’s first national park.
Come prepared for a winter wonderland! Temperatures can range from 20F to subzero temperatures in the winter months. According to the National Park Service website, the record low in Yellowstone was -66F! Snowfall can be unpredictable, but do expect to encounter at least some snow on your trip, especially if you plan to head into the interior (such as Old Faithful or Canyon Village).
It’s important to dress in layers, and plenty of ‘em! Our friends at Yellowstone National Park Lodges have compiled a great list of clothing essentials to help you stay warm, dry, and safe during your visit:
- Mid-weight insulating layer: A light synthetic fleece or wool shirt/pullover
- Heavyweight insulating layer: Wool, down or heavy-weight fleece jacket.
- Insulating underwear: Something that has the ability to wick moisture away from the body.
- Waterproof and windproof outer layer: Lightweight, and breathable if possible. Both jacket and pants are recommended.
- Pants: Wool or fleece pants or tights. Cotton is NOT recommended.
- Hat: An insulated hat that covers your ears.
- Gloves: Lightweight glove liners, and a pair of heavy wool/fleece gloves or mittens. A water and windproof outer layer is recommended.
- Synthetic or wool neck warmer or neck gaiter.
- Socks: A lightweight liner with heavyweight synthetic or wool socks.
- Gaiters: Knee-high ones to keep the snow out of your boots and to keep your socks and pants dry.
- Footwear: Insulated boots must have water repellent layers outside, thick insulation inside, and be large enough to fit over thick socks. (Tight boots are the surest way to get painfully cold feet.) General hiking boots will not provide adequate insulation in most cases
Gear and Essentials
If you plan to spend a day out in the park wildlife watching, skiing, snowshoeing, or just taking a scenic drive, Yellowstone National Park Lodges recommends the the following list. Remember, most of the park’s restaurants, lodges, and roads are closed for the winter season, so it’s best to over-pack!
- Daypack with enough capacity to carry extra clothes, water, lunch, camera, binoculars, field guides, etc.
- Water bottle one quart/liter is the minimum recommended. Camelback or similar hydration systems work well.
- Thermos for hot liquids
- Sunscreen/lip protector: Sun at high altitude can burn unprotected skin quickly.
- Camera, memory/film and batteries
- Binoculars and/or spotting scope and tripod
- Pocket hand and foot warmers
- Any prescription medications
If you forgot to pack something before your arrival, fear not! Gardiner, Montana, has a variety of shops and services with many of these items. Click here for a directory of businesses open during Yellowstone’s winter season.
Where to Stay
Baby, it’s cold outside—but it’s snug and cozy in your cabin just outside the park! You can also go for something a bit less rustic, such as a hotel room or vacation rental. Check out all of Gardiner’s winter lodging options.
Plan Your Activities
For those who are still feeling a little nervous about the park’s extreme environment in winter, we recommend hiring a local guide. Not only are Gardiner-based guides prepared to travel in the park this time of year (think extra hand-warmers!) they also have exceptional insider’s knowledge about the park’s natural and cultural history. Click here for a list of guides operating in the park in winter.
It’s a big park, so it helps to orient yourself before you arrive. Note this map is interactive: simply click on the image to use.
The staff at the Gardiner Chamber of Commerce are here to help, and we encourage you to contact us at any time. Winter is a favorite time of year for Gardiner locals (no, really!) and we’d love to help you plan the perfect trip for you and your family.
The North Entrance park sign in Gardiner, Montana. Courtesy of Yellowstone NPS.