By Christine Gianas Weinheimer Yellowstone Forever
If you’ve ever wanted to experience the quieter side of Yellowstone, try visiting in the wintertime and hitting a trail. Many park trails are groomed for skiing and snowshoeing throughout the winter season, including some boardwalks. Skis or snowshoes let you see more of the park than you would normally see from a car or over-snow vehicle, from birds and wildlife to mountain views and thermal features.
Mammoth Hot Springs, in the northwest region of the park, provides the perfect starting point for your winter trail adventure, as it is accessible by automobiles year-round and offers both beginner-friendly trails and more advanced terrain.
If you don’t have your own skis or snowshoes you can rent them at the Bear Den Ski Shop at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. Inquire at the ski shop about current trail conditions and ski shuttle schedules.
The popular Upper Terrace Loop Ski Trail, at Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces, is a 1.5-mile loop that begins at the Upper Terrace parking area. It is easiest if beginning the loop to the left and moving clockwise. A moderate climb leads to views of hot springs, terraces, the Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District, and the surrounding mountains. Two more advanced trails that connect from the Upper Terrace Loop are the Snow Pass Ski Trail (4.2 miles, one way) and the Bunsen Peak Road Ski Trail (6 miles, one way).
For a longer day trip, take a shuttle to the Indian Creek Ski Area. Ski shuttles depart three times a day from the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. Visitors have the option to either ride the shuttle back to the hotel or to take a challenging route back that connects from Indian Creek to Mammoth Hot Springs.
Within the Indian Creek Ski Area, Indian Creek Loop Ski Trail is a skier-tracked, easy 2.2-mile trail suitable for any ability level. Begin at the Indian Creek Warming Hut and follow the campground road north, then west along Indian Creek and through gently rolling terrain. The view is mostly of the surrounding forest, but with glimpses of the Gallatin Range to the west. Other trails originating at the warming hut and served by the same shuttle are the easy but longer Sheepeater Ski Trail (5 miles, one way) and the more challenging Bighorn Loop Ski Trail (5.5 miles).
You may encounter elk, bison, deer or other wildlife when using Mammoth-area trails. Remember that federal regulations require you to stay at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves, and at least 25 yards away from bison and all other wild animals. For your safety, stay on boardwalks and designated trails, keeping in mind that the ground is unstable in hydrothermal areas.
There are also many opportunities to join up with a guided ski or snowshoe. The Yellowstone Forever Institute is offering a brand-new program called “Yellowstone by Ski or Snowshoe” starting in February, plus several other field seminars that afford the opportunity to use skis or snowshoes. Visit yellowstone.org/experience to learn more.
Yellowstone National Park’s free ranger programs often include a guided, beginner-friendly snowshoe walk around Mammoth Hot Springs (nps.gov/yell). Also, Yellowstone National Park Lodges offers guided cross-country ski tours and lessons (ynplodges.com/skiing).