Winter in Gardiner and Northern Yellowstone: Montana's Best Kept Secret

Winter in Gardiner and Northern Yellowstone: Montana's Best Kept Secret

October 12, 2018

If you ask almost any local, they will tell you winter is their favorite time of year here at Yellowstone’s North Entrance—and you really can’t blame them! From wildlife watching to winter recreation, see for yourself why our quaint summer town turns into a winter wonderland when the snow falls.

Cross-country Ski Trails

Imagine gliding past steamy thermal features, wooly bison covered in frost, and snow-clad evergreen forests. Cross-country skiers of any age and ability will find a trail that’s right for them in and around Gardiner, Montana, but what makes the experience truly special is the incredible scenery and opportunities to see wildlife. Our favorite trails include the Mammoth Terraces, B Bar Ranch, and any of the trails along Yellowstone’s Northern Range.

BaronetteSki FugereBarronette Ski Trail/Gardiner Chamber of Commcere


In 2021 Yellowstone National Park experienced another extremely busy season with over 4 million visitors. If Yellowstone is still on your bucket list, why not plan your visit when the crowds are long gone and the park resembles a real-live snow globe? Start here to plan your Yellowstone winter adventure.

BisonGibbonRiver NPSSnowy Bison along Gibbon River/Courtesy of Yellowstone NPS

Hot Springs

Is there anything more relaxing than soaking in naturally occurring warm water, the snow falling softly around you? What if you add a festive cocktail from the poolside bar at Chico Hot Springs? The Gardiner area is currently home to two incredible locations for hot springs enthusiasts: Chico Hot Springs in Paradise Valley and Yellowstone Hot Springs. Yellowstone Hot Springs is the area's newest place to soak just a few miles north of Gardiner.

Donaldson 20100128 6022 editedWinter at Chico Hot Springs & Resort/Courtesy of Chico Hot Springs

Wolf Watching

Northern Yellowstone, accessed year-round via the North Entrance in Gardiner when many park roads are closed, is one of the premier destinations in the world for watching wolves in the wild. While sightings aren't guaranteed, you can drive through the park and find expert information from park rangers and biologists who are happy to share information about these incredible carnivores. You can also increase your chances of a sighting by going out with a Gardiner-based guide, who are intimately familar with the park and where to spot wildlife.

AlphaMale NPSAlpha Male in Yellowstone/Courtesy of Yellowstone NPS

Scenic Drives

With jagged, snow-capped peaks and wildlife moving down to lower elevations, a sunny day in our area makes for the perfect scenic drive. This time of year, our favorites include the drive from Livingston, Montana, to Gardiner via Paradise Valley, as well as the drive between Gardiner and Cooke City, Montana, located at Yellowstone’s Northeast Entrance. Be on the lookout for elk, deer, bison, and even wolves along the way!

LamarValleyWinter NPSAlpenglow in Yellowstone's Lamar Valley/Courtesy of Yellowstone NPS

Mammoth Hot Springs

Just five miles south of Gardiner, Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park is even more spectacular in the winter. Give yourself ample time to learn about the wildlife of northern Yellowstone in the  Albright Visitor Center, then head over to the Mammoth Terraces to explore fascinating hot springs and other thermal features. The best part? The chilly temperatures make the thermal features even steamier and more dramatic than in summer—and you’ll have the whole boardwalk to yourself.

Terraces NPSWinter at the Mammoth Upper Terraces/Courtesy of Yellowstone NPS

Abundant Wildlife

As the higher elevations become snowpacked and less hospitable, wildlife head down to the lower elevations in Gardiner, Montana, for the winter months. Don’t be surprised to see bison or elk walking down the road right in the middle of town! If you're interested in learning more about the wildlife of the Yellowstone ecosystem – and you'd like someone to handle the winter driving for you – consider hiring a Gardiner-based guide who specializes in wildlife.

BuffaloArch3Bison at Roosevelt Arch/Gardiner Chamber of Commerce

The Christmas Stroll

Each December, Gardiner businesses come together for an evening event that is all about community and festive fun. This charming small-town experience, complete with local handicrafts, free wine and hors d’oervres, is an annual favorite for locals and visitors alike. The Christmas Stroll takes place every year on the first Thursday after Thanksgiving. 

Gardiner Winter ModesetteJGardiner, MT in Snow/Courtesy of Jean Modesette

Snow Sports at Cooke City

Cooke City is only accessed via Gardiner, Montana, in the winter months. Head 56 miles east through some of the most incredible scenery in Yellowstone National Park to say hello to our neighbors—who consider themselves winter adventure experts! Cooke City offers some of the best snowmobiling country anywhere in the United States, as well as trails for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and backcountry skiing.

Cooke City WinterLate Winter in Cooke City, MT/Courtesy of Jean Modesette

Guided Adventures

If you’re ready to embrace a winter Yellowstone adventure but are a little unsure about navigating winter driving conditions, a number of local guiding businesses are here to help. They’ll show you the best places to view wildlife, provide facts about what you’re seeing, and do all the driving so you can relax and take in the experience. Other guided adventures include cross-country ski instruction and photography tours.

SnowcoachTour NPSWinter Tour in Yellowstone/Courtesy of Yellowstone NPS

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