One of the best ways to explore Yellowstone National Park during the winter is by strapping on some cross-country skis! Yellowstone boasts world-class cross-country skiing and abundant wilderness trails, and has a variety of terrain suitable for everyone from beginners and families to seasoned skiers!
Thanks to its diverse geography, even first-timers who are afraid to strap on a pair of skinny skis can enjoy the powdery snow, breathtaking scenery, and native wildlife. After all, where else can you ski and see bison, elk, and maybe even wolves along the way? Yellowstone also offers a unique opportunity to tour geysers and hot springs from the ski trails. The features are most dramatic in winter when they are dressed in all their steamy glory. Have we piqued your interest to ski Yellowstone? If so, here’s a quick guide to help you get started.
Planning your ski trip
Yellowstone winter travel
The first thing to know when planning your Yellowstone ski trip is that the majority of roads in Yellowstone are only open to motorized oversnow travel beginning in mid-December through mid-March. That means you can’t drive your normal vehicle on almost all roads, and instead must take a snowmobile or special oversnow coach!
While you plan out which trails to take (see our Trails section below), take into account the road restrictions and how you’ll get to the trailhead. A great option is to book a ride on ski shuttle in advance through our partners at Yellowstone National Park Lodges. These shuttles run just to get adventurers like you into the interior of the park! Or, if you’d like to take a guided ski trip, check out the Ski Programs section below. Whether you plan your own travel or go with a guide, figuring out how you’ll get into the park is a great first step!
Yellowstone winter lodging
If you’re planning on making your ski trip a multi-day adventure, plan to book your lodging in advance! With roads closed to cars in the winter, access to hotels in the park is limited. During the winter months, the only in-park hotels open to guests are the Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.
And for the extra adventurous (and prepared), consider a winter backcountry camping trip! Learn more about winter backcountry camping before you go.
Yellowstone ski clothing & equipment
If you don’t have your own cross-country ski gear, that’s OK! There are many places to rent skis when you get to the Yellowstone area. Some of the easiest and most popular places to rent are right in the park at the Bears Den Ski Shops. There is one inside the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and another at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. These shops will get you in gear with rentals, and even offer beginner lessons!
There are additional rental options in the communities surrounding the park, like Parks Fly Shop in Gardiner, MT.
Remember that it’s not only skis you need to worry about — be prepared for rapidly changing weather. Dress properly and know how to layer for severe winter temperatures.
In addition, carry the following items with you on your journey:
- Extra clothing
- Compass (whiteout conditions can be disorienting)
Check out our video to learn more about preparing for winter activities.
Guided ski programs in Yellowstone
We know that Yellowstone is a big place with lots to discover, and sometimes it’s helpful to have a knowledgeable guide to educate you on your journey. And that’s true on skis as well! Our Yellowstone Forever Institute offers an amazing array of services to accommodate skiers.
Yellowstone Field Seminar group program
This winter we are thrilled to offer a new Yellowstone by Ski or Snowshoe program through our highly-regarded Yellowstone Forever Institute. This program, led by two Yellowstone experts, gives you an opportunity to live in the heart of wolf, bison, and elk country and to either hone or learn new ski or snowshoe skills as you gain a deeper understanding of the wildlife and geology of the park’s northern range. Learn more about this program.
Yellowstone Private Tours
If you’re looking for an intimate experience with a local expert, take the whole family on a Yellowstone Forever Institute Private Tour. Options include an all-day skiing and sightseeing experience in Yellowstone’s winter wilderness.
Other guided tours
Many businesses in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem offer private guided ski options. Check out the list of authorized businesses here.
Top Yellowstone Ski Trails
The best part of planning is scoping out your trails! The park’s trails are broken up into six different regions: Canyon, Mammoth, Northeast, Old Faithful, Tower, and West Yellowstone. The National Park Service offers in-depth descriptions of trails, including average time to complete them, on their website.
Here are just a few of our favorites for beginners at Yellowstone Forever!
- Mammoth: Beginners will enjoy the 2.2-mile Indian Creek Loop, which is not groomed, but is tracked by skiers. Another good option is the 1.5-mile Upper Terrace Loop, which passes several hydrothermal features. Start on the left and travel clockwise for the easiest routes.
- Tower: The Tower Fall Trail is a fantastic route for skiers of all levels. You can park your vehicle at the entrance to Roosevelt Lodge at Tower Junction, and ski the snow-covered road 2.5 miles to Tower Fall.
- Northeast: If you’re hoping to spot wolves on your winter trip, Lamar Valley is your best bet. Bannock Trail (2 miles) and Barronette Trail (3.5 miles) each parallel and connect to the Northeast Entrance Road on both ends.
- Old Faithful: The Lone Star Geyser Trail is a favorite choice for an easy, groomed trail. The trail is flat most of the way and follows the Firehole River for 2.5 miles to Lone Star Geyser. Be sure to check at the visitor center for estimated eruption times. Or hop on the Upper Geyser Basin Trail right at the Old Faithful Inn to see several geysers and hot springs on your way to Biscuit Basin (2.5 miles one-way).