Not up for the summer crowds at Yellowstone National Park? That's no reason to skip this quintessential American outdoor experience. Try Yellowstone in winter for the ultimate in unique national park experiences. Geothermal features warm the white landscape, and getting there really is half the fun. The snow reaches such heights that regular cars are now allowed on most roads, and "snow coaches," "winter keepers," and "snow lodges" are part of the everyday vernacular. Dreaming of a snow day (or week) in the park? From mid–December to mid–March, choose from our top three options below ranging from day tours to extended backcountry adventures.
Experience the Highlights on a Day Tour
You can ride or drive a snowmobile on a group tour, and outfitters will provide everything you need, from boots to helmets. Another popular day trip is on board snow coaches, special 8– to 20–people passenger vehicles with tracks instead of wheels. Either way you'll spend a fair amount of time on the go, but it's a beautiful ride with regular stops for scenery and wildlife (easy to spot against a snowy backdrop). Some theme tours focus on special interests like photography, and if a group tour isn't your thing, private options can be arranged.
Pros: good for travelers with limited time, staying outside the park means access to the most dining and lodging options
Cons:controversial environmental impact of snowmobiles, group tour feeling means few moments of solitude
Stay Overnight at National Park Lodging
While the iconic Old Faithful Inn isn't open year-round, there are other classic park options. Both Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins as well as Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins are open for the winter season. Many guests choose to combine a stay at both. After your trip in by snow coach, enjoy activities like cross–country skiing the continental divide or snowshoeing around the Upper Geyser Basin. While Old Faithful draws steady tour crowds during mid-day, it's a special experience once only overnight guests remain.
Pros: good value for in–park stays in classic lodging, access to quiet times between day trippers
Cons: travel time can make short stays feel rushed, not as many lodging options as other seasons or outside the park
Explore the Backcountry with Alternative Lodging
Far from the popular base of most winter park activities, Yellowstone Expeditions runs a yurt camp near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. You'll sleep in a private (heated) hut and share a sauna, (hot) showers, and (heated) outhouse after full days of cross–country and snowshoeing excursions. Multiple guides mean guests can choose from easy flat trips to telemark skiing on the steeps. Choose from 4–, 5–, or 8–day trips to truly immerse yourself in the landscape.
Pros: worlds away from other travelers, spectacular setting, once–in–a–lifetime experiences like tracking wolves
Cons: not for those with limited time, camp is cozy but bathrooms are for the adventurous
Where to Stay Outside the Park
Just outside the park, West Yellowstone is a great base for all types of winter activities, including excursions into the park with Yellowstone Travel. Don't miss the highly–acclaimed Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. Powder hounds should consider staying at the nearby ski resorts of Jackson Hole or Big Sky to combine some elevation with your Yellowstone adventure.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Cate Starmer