In the stillness of a frigid early morn in Yellowstone National Park, bison graze, elk feed and a wolf wails his cry. It’s often coldest just before sunrise, and crisp powdery snow sifts like sugar from the trees as a valley breeze ghosts its way through the timber. As the sun bursts over mountains to the east, the snow sings its radiance, welcoming a textbook bluebird day.
Snow has a way of transforming a place like Yellowstone, blanketing a fiery land characterized by rivers that don’t freeze, geysers that cascade frozen mist and wildlife well-adapted to survive the near-polar conditions.
While services are limited in the park during the winter season, there are a number of ways to experience wintertime in Yellowstone. If you do venture out, be sure to check the park’s webpage for current conditions and information on how plan accordingly, as winter weather is far less forgiving than its warmer counterparts.
Things to do
With the majority of Yellowstone’s roads closed from November to March, skis, snowshoes, snowcoaches and snowmobiles quickly become staples of transportation. The road from Gardiner to Cooke City remains open to wheeled vehicles, otherwise consider booking a snow trip with a winter guide, hitching a snowcoach ride into the park interior, or travel by ski or showshoe on any of a series of trails open to public access.
Stay: Within the park proper, visitors can make reservations at the Mammoth Hotel or Old Faithful Snowlodge, as well as camp out at the Mammoth Campground. For those traveling to the Snowlodge, be prepared for a special treat—you can only get there on one of a number of commercial snowcoaches.
Hit the trails: Whether you spend the night or are just visiting for the day, consider making first tracks on one of Yellowstone’s many trails. Some are even groomed for cross-country skiing, and can be accessed off of the open road between Gardiner and Cooke City, or with the help of a snowcoach shuttle. Yellowstone also offers a select number of permits for snowmobile trips into Yellowstone—book with a guide or try your luck winning a permit—the park takes applications each summer.
Take a soak: While it is not only illegal, but also very dangerous, to soak in the park’s many hot springs, a dip in the warm waters where the Boiling River flows into the Gardner River is allowed. After leaving your car at the parking lot between the North Entrance at Gardiner and Mammoth Hot Springs, walk a half-mile along the Gardner River then pick a spot in the river. If you’d rather treat yourself to a more developed hot springs experience, try the Yellowstone Hot Springs , an established facility located about 7 miles north of Gardiner on Highway 89.
Enjoy the views: From the North Entrance at Gardiner, you can drive all the way to Cooke City, passing through the famed Lamar Valley. This area is called Yellowstone’s Northern Range and is an excellent place to view wildlife. Visitors can also book snowmobile or snowcoach tours aimed to view wildlife, or tour key landmarks in the park.
2020 Winter Closing Dates
Roads will close to oversnow travel by snowmobile and snowcoach at 9 p.m. on the following dates:
March 1: East Entrance to Lake Butte Overlook (Sylvan Pass)
March 8: Mammoth Hot Springs to Norris
March 10: Norris to Madison, Norris to Canyon Village, Canyon Village to Fishing Bridge
March 15: All remaining groomed roads close
Winter Season Services
Anything not included in this list is closed during the winter.
Albright Visitor Center: Open year-round
Mammoth Campground: Open year-round
Mammoth Clinic: Open year-round
Mammoth General Store: Open year-round
Mammoth Hotel: Dec. 15-March 2
Mammoth Ski Shop: Dec. 15-March 2
Old Faithful Show Lodge: Dec. 16-March 1
Old Faithful Visitor Education Center: Dec. 15-March 15
West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center: Open year-round