Under a blanket of snow, Yellowstone’s landscape is transformed, and so is the park experience. From photography to wildlife watching and geyser gazing, any familiar activity can seem new and different in the wintertime. What you choose to wear on your feet in winter may also allow you to see and do things in Yellowstone you might otherwise miss.
“Snowshoes let you get out of your car and explore more of the park—maybe discover a small waterfall or wander through a forested area looking for birds,” says Yellowstone Forever Institute instructor Julianne Baker, who will co-lead the Institute’s newest field seminar this winter: Yellowstone by Ski or Snowshoe. “It’s a fun and convenient way to tour the park on scenic trails, even when the snow is deep,” says Baker. “Like walking, it’s easy to balance while carrying binoculars or a camera, and it’s easy to make sudden stops to look around or take photos.”
If you’ve never been on snowshoes before and are intimidated by the prospect, Baker says don’t be. “If you can walk, you can snowshoe.” She explains that there’s a very small learning curve compared to cross-country skiing, and most people quickly find snowshoes easy to maneuver.
Many Yellowstone trails are groomed for skiing and snowshoeing throughout the winter season, including some boardwalks. Thermal areas, such as the Upper Geyser Basin surrounding Old Faithful, are particularly enchanting during the wintertime. “The juxtaposition of colorful hot springs, steam, and cold snow is incredible and well worth braving the cold weather to see,” says Baker.
Baker offers a few tips for beginners, including the use of poles to help with balance and starting out simple by staying on groomed trails before venturing off into parts unknown. Also, the most basic etiquette rule to remember is to avoid snowshoeing directly on ski tracks.
Several Yellowstone trails offer fantastic beginner snowshoeing. Among them are:
Old Canyon Bridge Ski Trail
1 MILE (CANYON)
Upper Terrace Loop
1.5 MILES (MAMMOTH)
Bannock Ski Trail
2 MILES (LAMAR)
Tower Fall Ski Trail
5 MILES (TOWER-ROOSEVELT)
Black Sand Basin Ski Trail
4 MILES (OLD FAITHFUL)
Observation Point Loop Snowshoe Trail
2 MILES (OLD FAITHFUL)
Before You Go
- If you don’t have your own snowshoes you can rent them at the Bear Den Ski Shop in either Mammoth or Old Faithful. Some shops in gateway communities also offer rentals.
- Inquire at the Ski Shop about current trail conditions and whether trails that interest you require a shuttle drop-off. You can also get ski shuttle information at ynplodges.com/skiing.
- Wear waterproof, lace-up boots that fit well but provide room to wiggle your toes even with thick socks.
- Be prepared for changing weather conditions. Bring a pack with warm layers, extra gloves, and sunscreen. Also bring extra water—snowshoeing can be vigorous exercise.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2018 issue of Yellowstone Quarterly.