Although Yellowstone National Park is spectacular all year long, locals will tell you winter is a particularly special time of year. With fewer crowds, abundant wildlife, and stunning winter vistas, the park resembles a real live snowglobe when the land is covered in a blanket of white. If you’re considering a winter vacation to Yellowstone, don’t miss these ten bucket list-worthy winter experiences.
10. Go Wildlife Watching
Yellowstone is home to one of the most diverse ecosystems in North America. Bison, pronghorn, elk, deer, fox, coyote, and the occasional wolf roam freely throughout the park, and winter is prime wildlife watching time. Most species migrate to the more accessible lower elevations and are easier to spot against the snow. For best results, hire a guide out of Gardiner, Montana, who will customize your wildlife watching experience to your exact specifications – and provide hot drinks and transportation, too!
9. Try Cross-country Skiing or Snowshoeing
Nordic skiing and snowshoeing are popular activities in Yellowstone National Park. Both low-impact winter sports will keep you warm while allowing you to take in the wonders of the park at a slower pace. Our favorite cross-country ski and snowshoe trails offer breathtaking snowy landscapes, frozen waterfalls, and ample wildlife sightings. You’ll be so lost in the beauty around you, you’ll forget you’re getting a workout!
8. Take a Snowcoach Tour
Many roads in Yellowstone are closed to personal vehicles in the winter, but fear not! Yellowstone National Park Lodges provides a truly memorable way to get around in the park in winter – via a chartered snowcoach. We personally love to take the coach from Mammoth Hot Springs to Old Faithful Village. The Old Faithful area offers cozy lodging and a plethora of fun winter activities, but snowcoaches make the journey to the village half the fun!
7. Try Winter Landscape or Wildlife Photography
If photography is your passion, Yellowstone National Park is the perfect winter muse. Rather than describe it to you, we’ll just let these stunning winter photos do the talking.
6. Soak in a Hot Springs
After a day of winter adventures, warm up and relax your muscles by choosing from one of three hot springs in and around Yellowstone. The only hot springs you can soak in inside park boundaries is the Boiling River near the North Entrance; be sure to ask the Park Service about regulations and possible closures before you go. For an experience that isn’t quite as rustic, try Chico Hot Springs and Yellowstone Hot Springs, a few miles to the north of Yellowstone’s North Entrance.
5. Stay for the Holidays
There are many heart-warming holiday traditions in Yellowstone, from a Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Mammoth Hot Springs to celebrating Old Faithful’s first eruption of the New Year. Spending Christmas in Yellowstone National Park has become a tradition in itself for many winter enthusiasts – give it a try and you just might become a regular too!
4. Ice Skate at Old Faithful and Mammoth Hot Springs
Guests at Old Faithful and Mammoth Hot Springs can enjoy free ice skating (including skate rentals!) during the wintertime. We recommend going after sundown, when the clear northern skies are lit up by an indescribable blanket of stars.
3. Cozy Up by the Fire
There’s nothing like curling up by the fire on a winter’s night in the mountains. Old Faithful Snow Lodge, the Gardiner Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center, and Wonderland Café in Gardiner, Montana are some of our favorite places to warm our toes and sip on a hot beverage in the winter months.
2. Go Geyser Gazing
Yellowstone is home to more than 10,000 thermal features, including half the world’s active geysers. When cold winter temperatures meet the heat of Yellowstone’s geysers, mudpots, and hotsprings, the effect is even more dramatic than in the summer months. Our favorite places to “geyser gaze” in the wintertime include the Upper Geyser Basin at Old Faithful, Norris Hot Springs (home to the ever-more active Steamboat Geyser), and the Terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs.
1. Explore the Northern Range
Yellowstone’s Northern Range is the only section of the park open to personal vehicles all year round, so it’s one of the most convenient and cost-effective ways to the see the park in the wintertime. Plus, the opportunities for spotting wildlife and viewing jaw-dropping scenery are second-to-none. Access this scenic corridor from the North Entrance in Gardiner, Montana, then head northeast at Mammoth Hot Springs for Tower Junction. Take the lefthand turn at Tower Junction to enter the famous Lamar Valley – the “Serengeti of North America.” Continue on to the park’s Northeast Entrance at Cooke City, Montana, where you can enjoy a warm meal and friendly hospitality in the lodges of this eclectic little mountain town.
Photo credits: Hot springs soaker courtesy of Eric Ian. All others courtesy of Yellowstone NPS.