Our favorite time to visit Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, is winter. After all, the worst thing about Yellowstone National Park is the summer crowds and the best things are the wildlife and the geothermal features. In winter the former are gone and the latter remain.
That’s why it’s worth bundling up to experience the park’s natural wonders from December to early March. Blanketed by snow, the park shimmers with a fairytale-like beauty. And without hordes of people, such iconic must-sees as Old Faithful look even more impressive.
Against the snowy white background it’s actually easier to spot the animals. We’ve seen bison, their coats shaggy and tagged with icicles, gather near Old Faithful and other thermal features in search of warmth.
The Yellowstone Association Institute (YAI), a non-profit field school operated by the Yellowstone Association in partnership with the National Park Service, offers several Lodging and Learning programs as well as snowshoeing and cross-country ski outings.
Depending on the program, you spot wildlife from a snowcoach (similar to a bus fitted with over-the-snow tractor-like treads) or on guided snowshoe and cross-country ski outings. Along the way watch for elk, mule deer, antelope, coyotes and even wolves.
Some multi-day trips take you through the Lamar Valley, one of the U.S.’s best locations for observing wolves in the wild. With the YAI’s Winter Wolf Discovery package, in the morning go out on wolf-spotting expeditions and at night, try wolf howling. You howl and hope the wolves howl back. During the day, take to the trails for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.
Even without a multi-day program, Yellowstone rewards winter visitors. Enjoy cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. There’s something memorable about gliding by a snow dusted bison and striding by antelope tracks. Popular paths lead to some of Yellowstone’s bubbling hot springs and on the Blacktail Trail discover mountain views. YAI also offers private wildlife, skiing or snowshoeing outings.
At select times from late December to early March, get in step with rangers as they lead guided snowshoe tours, winter photo safaris and from the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, guided snowmobile tours. Bundle up against the night cold and experience the brilliant night sky, the bubbling steam pots and listen for animal sounds on Steam, Stars and Winter Soundscapes tour. Book these tours as well as any lodging or YAI program well in advance.
Old Faithful Snow Lodge, although open in winter, can only be reached by snowcoach. Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel is Yellowstone’s only visitor lodging accessible by automobile during the winter.