By Christine Gianas Weinheimer Yellowstone Forever
While most Yellowstone National Park roads recently closed to automobiles for the winter season, the town of Mammoth Hot Springs—the park’s headquarters—is accessible by car year-round. Five miles south of the park’s North Entrance, the historic village is a great place to begin your winter Yellowstone adventure, and stopping by the Albright Visitor Center is the perfect way to kick off your day. From free ranger programs to trip-planning information and hands-on exhibits, you’ll find everything you need to make the most of your Yellowstone experience.
Fort Yellowstone in Mammoth Hot Springs was built by the U.S. Army to be their park headquarters when they administered Yellowstone in the 1890s and early 1900s. One of the buildings they constructed in 1909 was the bachelor officers’ quarters. This transformed historical building is now the Albright Visitor Center, named after Horace M. Albright, the second director of the National Park Service. It is the only visitor center in Yellowstone that is open year-round.
The center reopened in spring 2015 after a major two-year renovation to make it more accessible, retrofit it for seismic activity, completely refurbish the interior, and upgrade the educational exhibits. Several of the exhibits, which were funded by Yellowstone Forever, guide visitors through Yellowstone’s cultural history beginning with its early Native American inhabitants. Other exhibits illustrate the relationships between Yellowstone wildlife and to their mountainous home. Visitors of all ages will enjoy checking out a life-size bison, a hands-on antler vs. horn comparison, specialty movies, interactive displays, and more.
The visitor center is your go-to source for trip-planning information. Park rangers at the desk can help you plan your time, and if you’re hitting a winter trail or driving out to the Lamar Valley it’s a good idea to inquire about road or trail conditions and wildlife activity in the area. You can also pick up a park map or a self-guiding trail booklet for the Mammoth Terraces or Fort Yellowstone. In addition, the visitor center houses a Yellowstone Forever Park Store, a backcountry office, and restrooms. Looking for Wi-Fi service? You’ll find it there, too.
While you’re there, be sure to check out the schedule of free ranger talks and tours that begin at the center. During past winter seasons (December to March) the calendar has included snowshoe tours, Mammoth Terraces walks, and afternoon or evening talks that highlight a fascinating aspect of Yellowstone.
Families traveling with children ages 4 and up will want to participate in the self-guided Winter Junior Ranger Program by requesting the $3 Junior Ranger book. Some winter activities require the use of a thermometer and hand lens, so ask to check out a Junior Ranger Snowpack, also available at the visitor center. Children will enjoy checking activities off the list as their family explores Yellowstone, and those who complete the program will earn a special snowflake patch.
The Albright Visitor Center’s winter hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.