Yellowstone in Winter

Yellowstone is one of our favorite national parks, and we’ve visited dozens of times, but always during the summer. This year, we decided to make a visit to the crown-jewel of the national park system during the winter. Yellowstone in Winter is amazing.

What’s Open

There are a few things that you need to know before visiting Yellowstone during the Winter Season. First, private vehicles aren’t permitted in most areas of the park. The only road open is the northern road between Mammoth and Cooke City. You can stay inside the park at the Mammoth Hotel, but many places are closed and activities are limited.

You can also stay at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, but you will need a tour company or shuttle bus to take you in, since private vehicles are not allowed to enter in this area.

Riding in a snow coach was a ton of fun.

Guided Tours

In order to see other areas of the park you will need to take a guided tour. This can be done through several companies, who operate a variety of tour lengths and destinations (use this list of approved companies to decide). Winter season at Yellowstone is from Dec 15-Mar 15.

There were quite a few snow coaches in Yellowstone.

We chose a snowcoach tour for our family. Our tour was a simple day tour from West Yellowstone, departing at 8 am and returning around 4 pm. We chose to go to Old Faithful because the company said this area was better for seeing wildlife. Many companies also run tours to the Canyon area.

Some people choose the snowmobile tour. We decided this would be tough with our kids since you would be on the snowmobile for eight hours. But this is another option offered at Yellowstone in winter.

The snow coach had big windows so everyone could see.

Snow Coach Tour Info

Each of the snow coach vehicles entering the park is basically a large van with massive tires. Even in the deep snow, these vehicles do really well. The ride was smooth and easy, and we enjoyed not dealing with traffic, as the park was mostly empty. The transports had big windows so everyone could enjoy looking outside.

This is what our snow coach looked like.

Our driver picked us up directly at our hotel since we stayed in West Yellowstone. Then we met up with a few other people who were part of the tour that day. Our group had twelve people in all.

The snowcoach took us into Yellowstone. There were some planned stops at geyser basins to walk around, and one at the Madison Ranger station for a restroom break. They also stop for wildlife. We watched a herd of buffalo crossing the river and coyotes running next to our snow coach.

The bison were beautiful and not shaggy in the winter.
We also saw a ton of Trumpeter Swans.
Seeing the coyotes was our favorite.
The bison walked right next to our snow coach.

We made it to Old Faithful around lunch time. We brought a cooler with our own lunch. There are yurts to protect you from the cold as you prepare and eat lunch. Lots of people ordered lunch from a local deli in West Yellowstone and enjoyed a boxed lunch. The Geyser Grill is also serving a few options if you don’t want to worry about bringing your own lunch.

We watched Old Faithful erupt while we were in the Old Faithful area, and then worked our way back to the entrance with a few more stops at Geyser Basins along the way.

Old Faithful in the winter
There were quite a few geyser basins to enjoy in winter.
It was awesome to see the hot springs by the snow.
The mud pots were super fun to watch.

Why We Enjoyed Yellowstone in Winter

There are a few reasons that you might want to visit Yellowstone in Winter Season. First, the animals are very active. We saw 3 coyotes, dozens of buffalo, a lot of swans, a bald eagle, and some brown trout in the river. All of these sightings were close enough to our vehicle that we didn’t need binoculars, though we did take a few pair. We hoped to see wolves since winter is often a better time to catch them, but we didn’t spot any. Hopefully next time.

Seeing the animals in winter was worth it.

Yellowstone is also much more peaceful, and in a way, more beautiful than during summer. Ice hangs from the trees. Steam from the geysers hangs in the air before freezing on the branches. Crowds are considerably thinner, and parking is not a problem because of the big vehicles. Even the waterfalls are sparkling with ice.

The water was super steamy against the cold air.

We loved that Yellowstone in Winter had no crowds. We could walk around the geyser basins without a ton of people pushing passed on the other side. It was nice to see nature with a few less people.

We loved the beauty of Yellowstone in Winter.

Tips

One thing you should know about any trip into Yellowstone, is that they still check passes. Even as passengers, we had to show our National Parks Pass. Without it, there is a $20/person fee to enter the park. Check with your tour company about how they handle this fee. You’ll also want some cash to tip your guide.

Be prepared to bring your own food, snacks, and water. We packed our own lunch and water bottles. I didn’t think to bring snacks, so our kids were pretty hungry. We would suggest bringing a few small snacks for young kids.

Lunch in the yurt was so fun!

Schedule your trip early. Lodging and tours fill up, so if you are planning a trip to Yellowstone in winter, we suggest booking as soon as you can. We booked our hotel and tour in August.

Plan enough time to travel. Winter can be a tricky time to travel since storms and roads can affect driving, so allow enough time to arrive in West Yellowstone for your tour. Make sure to have appropriate winter travel tires such as winter tires or chains.

Bundle up, but also dress in layers. Depending on the weather, you will want to have a variety of layers such as coats, thermals, hats, gloves, scarves, and snow pants. You will definitely want boots since there is a lot of snow to be tromping around in.

We wore our winter gear most of the day and it was a comparatively warm day.

Yellowstone National Park offers some tips and other information about visiting in winter on their website. If you are looking for more information about Yellowstone, check out our Yellowstone Info page. We have written a lot about this national park.

If you have any questions, feel free to comment below or send us an email: info@utahsadventurefamily.com and we are happy to help.

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