Yellowstone in winter is a true wonderland—a place of natural beauty and inspiration, with steaming thermal features, incredible snowy landscapes, and recreation opportunities for both the novice and the expert.
Arm yourself with the following tips, and you’re sure to enjoy a winter getaway that’s safe, warm, and filled with unforgettable experiences.
The logistics of a winter trip to Yellowstone are slightly more involved than a summer visit. It’s important to remember you can only access the park’s interior—and classic attractions like Old Faithful—via a chartered snowcoach or snowmobile. At an average elevation of 8000 feet, the park is simply too snowy for wheeled vehicles to navigate in the dead of winter. If you do plan to visit the interior, book your snowcoach and lodging far in advance, and be aware of upcoming road and weather conditions.
Many of the lodges inside park boundaries are closed for the season, but you can still book rooms at Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hot Springs.* The gateway communities of Gardiner, Montana; West Yellowstone, Montana; Cody, Wyoming; and Cooke City, Montana, also offer a wide range of accommodations from hotels to cozy cabins.
*Due to ongoing renovations, the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel will be closed during the 2018/2019 winter.
What to Bring
You’ll want to come prepared with a few more cold-weather essentials than in the summer months (think layers!) Visit the park’s website for a list of recommended winter equipment—and note that the nearest box store is several hours’ drive away, so it helps to be as prepared as possible before you arrive!
Visit the Northern Range
If you don’t want to hire a snowcoach, there is ample opportunity to experience the best of Yellowstone along the Northern Range, the only section of the park with year-round vehicle access. Home to the famed Lamar Valley (also known as the Serengeti of North America) you’ll find opportunities like snowshoeing, wildlife watching, and cross-country skiing amongst incredible snowy vistas.
Take a Program with the Yellowstone Forever Institute
The Yellowstone Forever Institute offers programs each winter designed to give you a deeper understanding of the park’s ecology, history, wildlife and more. Winter programs run from mid-November to March, and Yellowstone Forever supporters receive $15 off tuition. Field Seminars come with the opportunity to stay at the historic Lamar Buffalo Ranch in the park’s northeast corner, or just outside the park at the Yellowstone Overlook Field Campus. You can also combine an educational program with in-park lodging at Old Faithful Snow Lodge by signing up for a Lodging & Learning program, offered in partnership with Yellowstone National Park Lodges. Or spend a morning wildlife watching with our expert naturalists guides on a Yellowstone Day Adventure.
Come for the Holidays
At Yellowstone Forever, we live on the doorstep of Yellowstone year-round—and we can tell you from experience there is something especially enchanting about the park around the holidays. From ringing in the New Year in the shadow of Old Faithful’s first eruption of the year, to the tree-lighting ceremony in Mammoth Hot Springs, there are several heart-warming Yellowstone holiday traditions you can take part in. You can even celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, or the New Year at a Yellowstone Forever Institute Field Seminar, watching wildlife each day and relaxing at the cozy Lamar Buffalo Ranch at night.
Try Skiing or Snowshoeing
Locals will tell you one of the best ways to experience the park in winter is on a pair of cross-country skis—and we are right there with them. The Yellowstone Forever Institute can help you learn the basics through a private tour or Field Seminar. You can also rent ski gear in Mammoth Hot Springs and take a lesson with Yellowstone National Park Lodges. If you’re ready to go off on your own, try one of our top trail picks for beginners, and be sure to brush up on more tips in our X-C Skiing 101 post. Are snowshoes more your style? Then check out our guide to snowshoeing in Yellowstone.
Pack the Camera
Ready to experience the park in winter? Pack the camera and get ready for winter photography in Yellowstone. You’ll see otherworldly thermal features at Mammoth and the Upper Geyser Basin, snowcapped peaks and old growth forests on the Northern Range, and abundant wildlife throughout this winter wonderland!