Sports and the Outdoors in Yellowstone National Park

Advertisement

Sports and the Outdoors

In the winter months, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing are the activities of choice. In summer, hiking, biking, and fishing are the best ways to get out and enjoy the park.

Bicycling

Park management does not encourage bicycling in the park. It considers the vast majority of the park's roads "unimproved" and unsafe for bicyclists. A brochure titled "Bicycling in Yellowstone National Park" is available at some visitor centers and at the park Web site (www.nps.gov/yell), but is not widely promoted or disseminated. Still, many long-distance cyclists do ride in Yellowstone, despite heavy traffic and narrow roads. If you choose to ride the Grand Loop Road or entrance roads, be safe, ride single file, and wear a helmet and reflective gear. Be cautious in May and June, as high snow banks can make riding the park's narrow roads particularly dangerous. Remember that some routes, such as those over Craig Pass, Sylvan Pass, and Dunraven Pass, are especially challenging because of their steep climbs.

Blacktail Plateau Drive. Running parallel to Grand Loop Road, this gravel road is one-way traffic for cars traveling east, but bicycles are allowed in both directions. The road meanders through forest where you might see deer, coyotes, or elk. The western entrance to the road is 9 mi east of Mammoth Hot Springs, and the eastern entrance is 2 mi west of Tower-Roosevelt. Mountain bikes are recommended. Tower-Roosevelt, Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Fountain Freight Road. Fountain Flats Drive departs the Grand Loop Road south of the Nez Perce picnic area and follows the Firehole River to a trailhead 1½ mi away. From there, the Fountain Freight Road continues along the old roadbed, giving bikers access to the Sentinel Meadows Trail and the Fairy Falls Trail. The total length of the route is 5½ mi. Mountain bikes are recommended; you'll share Fountain Flats Drive with two-way automobile traffic and the Freight Road with hikers. Madison, Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Free Heel and Wheel. Free Heel and Wheel, just outside the West Entrance, rents bicycles, cruisers, and child carriers. The staff here can also recommend road cycling routes outside the park. 40 Yellowstone Ave., West Yellowstone, MT, 59758. 406/646–7744. www.freeheelandwheel.com. $8 an hour.

Natural Bridge Road. Leading off Grand Loop Road at Bridge Bay along the western shore of Yellowstone Lake, this easy 1-mi bike loop leads to Natural Bridge, a 50-foot cliff cut through by Bridge Creek. Yellowstone Lake area, Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Old Faithful to Morning Glory Pool. This paved 2-mile trail starts at the Delaware North Store at Old Faithful Village, loops near Old Faithful geyser, and ends at Morning Glory Pool. The entire route is through a geyser basin, so stay on the trail. Watch for elk and buffalo. Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Outfitter and Expeditions

Old Faithful Snow Lodge. Old Faithful Snow Lodge carries a fleet of mountain bikes in adult and child sizes. They have a limited number of trailers (for smaller children), cargo bags, and windbreakers. Rentals are available by the half-day, including helmet and bike lock. Other packages available with guides, and lodging. Old Faithful Village, far end of Old Faithful Bypass Rd., Yellowstone National Park, WY. 307/545–4825. www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com.

Boating

Motorized boats are allowed only on Lewis Lake and Yellowstone Lake. Kayaking or canoeing is allowed on all park lakes except Sylvan Lake, Eleanor Lake, Twin Lakes, and Beach Springs Lagoon; however, most lakes are inaccessible by car, so accessing the park's lakes requires long portages. Boating is not allowed on any park river, except for the Lewis River between Lewis Lake and Shoshone Lake, where nonmotorized boats are permitted.

You must purchase a seven-day, $5 permit for boats and floatables, or a $10 permit for motorized boats at Bridge Bay Ranger Station, South Entrance Ranger Station, Grant Village Backcountry Office, and Lewis Lake Ranger Station (at the campground). Nonmotorized permits are available at the Northeast entrance, West Yellowstone Information Center; backcountry offices at Mammoth, Old Faithful, and Canyon; Bechler Ranger Station; and locations where motorized permits are sold. Annual permits are also available for $20.

Boat permits issued in Grand Teton National Park are honored in Yellowstone, but owners must register their vessel in Yellowstone and obtain a no-charge Yellowstone validation sticker from a permit-issuing station.

Tours and Outfitters

Bridge Bay Marina. Watercraft, from rowboats to powerboats, are available for trips on Yellowstone Lake at Bridge Bay Marina. You also can rent 22- and 34-foot cabin cruisers with a guide. Grand Loop Rd., 2 miles south of Lake Village, Lake area, Yellowstone National Park, WY, 82190. 307/344–7311. www.xanterra.com/what-we-do/activities/. $88/hr for guided cruisers for fishing or sightseeing; $10/hr for rowboat; $47/hr for small boat with outboard motor. June–early Sept., daily 8:30–8:30.

Yellowstone Lake Scenic Cruises. Yellowstone Lake Scenic Cruises take visitors on one-hour cruises aboard the Lake Queen II. The vessel makes its way from Bridge Bay to Stevenson Island and back. Reservations are strongly recommended. Bridge Bay Marina, Lake area, Yellowstone National Park, WY. 307/344–7311. www.xanterra.com/what-we-do/activities/. Cruises $15. Late May–mid-Sept., daily 8:30 am–8:30 pm.

Fishing

Anglers flock to Yellowstone beginning the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, when fishing season begins. By the time the season ends in November, thousands have found a favorite spot along the park's rivers and streams. Native cutthroat trout are one of the prize catches, but four other varieties—brown, brook, lake, and rainbow—along with grayling and mountain whitefish inhabit Yellowstone's waters. Popular sportfishing opportunities include the Gardner and Yellowstone rivers as well as Soda Butte Creek, but the top fishing area in the region is Madison River, known to fly-fishermen throughout the country.

Yellowstone fishing permits are required for people over age 16. Montana and Wyoming fishing permits are not valid in the park. Yellowstone fishing permits cost $18 for a three-day permit, $25 for a seven-day permit, or $40 for a season permit. Anglers ages 15 and younger must have a (no-fee) permit or fish under direct supervision of an adult with a permit. Permits are available at all ranger stations, visitor centers, and Yellowstone general stores.

Outfitter

Xanterra Parks & Resorts. The park concessionaire Xanterra Parks & Resorts offers 2- to 12-hour guided Yellowstone Lake fishing charters for up to six passengers per boat; gear is included. Grand Loop Rd., 2 miles south of Lake Village, Bridge Bay, Yellowstone National Park, WY. 307/344–7311. www.xanterra.com/what-we-do/activities/. $88/hr. Mid-June–early Sept.

Hiking

Your most memorable Yellowstone moments will likely take place along a park hiking trail. Encountering a gang of elk in the woods is unquestionably more exciting than watching them graze on the grasses of Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. Hearing the creak of lodgepole pines on a breezy afternoon feels more authentic than listening to idle tourist chatter as you jostle for the best view of Old Faithful on a recycled-plastic boardwalk for 94 minutes or so.

Even a one-day visitor to Yellowstone can—and should—get off the roads and into the "wilderness." Because the park is a wild place, however, even a half-mile walk on a trail puts you at the mercy of nature, so be sure to prepare yourself accordingly. As a guide on an Old Yellow Bus Tour said, "You don't have to fear the animals—just respect them."

Much of Yellowstone lies more than 7,500 feet above sea level—significantly higher than Denver. The most frequent incidents requiring medical attention in the park are respiratory problems, not animal attacks. So be aware of your physical limitations—as well as those of young children or elderly companions.

Tours

Yellowstone Association Institute. If you'd like a park expert—be it a naturalist, geologist, or wildlife specialist—to accompany you, the Yellowstone Association Institute has daylong hiking excursions, multi-day excursions, and full-blown backcountry backpacking trips. P.O. Box 117Yellowstone National Park, WY, 115 3rd St. S., Yellowstone National Park, WY, 59030. 406/848–2400. www.yellowstoneassociation.org. From $100 a day.

Difficult

Heart Lake–Mt. Sheridan Trail. This 24-mi round-trip provides one of the park's top overnight backcountry experiences. After traversing 5½ mi of partly burned pine forest, the trail descends into Heart Lake Geyser Basin, reaching Heart Lake at the 8-mi mark. This is one of Yellowstone's most active thermal areas; the biggest geyser here is Rustic Geyser, which erupts to a height of 25 to 30 feet about every 15 minutes. Circle around the northern tip of Heart Lake and camp at one of five designated backcountry sites on the western shore (remember to get your permit beforehand). Leave all but the essentials here as you take on the 3-mi, 2,700-foot climb to the top of 10,308-foot Mt. Sheridan. To the south, if you look carefully, you can see the Tetons. Difficult. Trailhead 1 mi north of Lewis Lake on east side of South Entrance Rd., Grant Village, Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Easy

Biscuit Basin Trail. This easy 2.5-mi round-trip trail goes via a boardwalk across the Firehole River to colorful Sapphire Pool. Easy. Trailhead 3 mi north of Old Faithful Village off Grand Loop Rd., Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Fountain Paint Pots Nature Trail. Take the easy ½-mi loop boardwalk of Fountain Paint Pot Nature Trail to see fumaroles (steam vents), blue pools, pink mudpots, and mini-geysers in this thermal area. It's popular in both summer and winter because it's right next to Grand Loop Road. Easy. Trailhead at Lower Geyser Basin, between Old Faithful and Madison, Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Old Faithful Geyser Loop. Old Faithful and its environs in the Upper Geyser Basin are rich in short-walk options, starting with three connected loops that depart from visitor center. The 0.75-mi loop simply circles the benches around Old Faithful, filled nearly all day long in summer with tourists. Easy. Trailhead at Old Faithful Village, Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Moderate

Mystic Falls Trail. From the west end of Biscuit Basin boardwalk, this trail gently climbs 1 mi through heavily burned forest to the lava-rock base of 70-foot Mystic Falls. It then switchbacks up Madison Plateau to a lookout with the park's least-crowded view of Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin. Moderate. Trailhead 3 mi north of Old Faithful Village off Grand Loop Rd., Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Observation Point Loop. A 2-mi round-trip leaves Geyser Hill Loop boardwalk and becomes a trail shortly after the Firehole River; it circles a picturesque overview of Geyser Hill with Old Faithful Inn as a backdrop. You may also see Castle Geyser erupting as well. Even when 1,000-plus people are crowded on the boardwalk to watch Old Faithful, expect to find fewer than a dozen here. Moderate. Trailhead at Old Faithful Village, Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Easy

Back Basin Trail. A 1½-mi loop passes Emerald Spring, Steamboat Geyser, Cistern Spring, and Echinus Geyser. The latter was long known as Norris' most dependable big geyser, but its schedule has become much more erratic. Ask a ranger for the latest information. Easy. Trailhead at Grand Loop Rd., Norris, Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Porcelain Basin Trail. At Norris Geyser Basin, this ¾-mi loop leads from the north end of Norris Museum through whitish geyserite stone and past extremely active Whirligig and other small geysers. Easy. Trailhead at Grand Loop Rd., Norris, Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Two Ribbons Trail. This accessible boardwalk path runs along the Madison River for 1½ mi round-trip. Easy. Trailhead at Grand Loop Rd. at Old Gardiner Rd., Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Moderate

Purple Mountain Trail. Climbing a steady 1,500 feet from start to finish, this 6-mi round-trip trail takes you through lodgepole-pine forest. At the end of the trail catch views of Firehole and Gibbon valleys. Moderate. Trailhead ¼ mi north of Madison Junction, on Madison-Norris Rd., Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Moderate

Beaver Ponds Loop Trail. The hike to Beaver Ponds is a 2½-hour, 5-mi round-trip starting at Liberty Cap in the busy Lower Terrace of Mammoth Hot Springs. You enter Yellowstone backcountry within minutes as you climb 400 feet through spruce and fir, passing several ponds and dams, as well as a glacier-carved moraine, before emerging on a windswept plain overlooking Montana-Wyoming border. Look up to see Everts Peak to the east, Bunsen Peak to the south, and Sepulcher Mountain to the west. Your final descent into Mammoth Springs offers great views of Mammoth Springs. Moderate. Trailhead at Grand Loop Rd. at Old Gardiner Rd., Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Moderate

Bunsen Peak Trail. Past the entrance to Bunsen Peak Road, the moderately difficult trail is a 4-mi, three-hour round-trip that climbs 1,300 feet to Bunsen Peak for a panoramic view of Blacktail Plateau, Swan Lake Flats, the Gallatin Mountains, and the Yellowstone River valley. Moderate. Trailhead at Grand Loop Rd., 1½ mi south of Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Difficult

Osprey Falls Trail. Osprey Falls Trail, The 4-mi, two-hour round-trip starts near the entrance to Bunsen Peak Road. A series of switchbacks drops 800 feet to the bottom of Sheepeater Canyon and the base of the Gardner River's 151-foot Osprey Falls. As at Tower Fall, the canyon walls are basalt columns formed by ancient lava flow. Difficult. Trailhead at Bunsen Peak Rd., 3 mi south of Mammoth Hot Springs., Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Skyline Trail. In the park's northwest corner, this 16½-mi, 10-hour hike is a combination trail that climbs up and over numerous peaks whose ridgelines mark the park's northwest boundary before looping sharply back down via Black Butte Creek. For much of its length the trail follows the ridge tops, with steep drop-offs on either side. Difficult. Trailhead at U.S. 191, 25 mi north of West Yellowstone., Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Moderate

Slough Creek Trail. Starting at Slough Creek Campground, this trail climbs steeply along a historic wagon trail for the first 1½ mi before reaching expansive meadows and prime fishing spots, where moose are common and grizzlies occasionally wander. From this point the trail, now mostly level, meanders another 9½ mi to the park's northern boundary. Anglers absolutely rave about this trail. Moderate. Trailhead 7 mi east of Tower-Roosevelt off Northeast Entrance Rd., Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Difficult

Osprey Falls Trail. Osprey Falls Trail, The 4-mi, two-hour round-trip starts near the entrance to Bunsen Peak Road. A series of switchbacks drops 800 feet to the bottom of Sheepeater Canyon and the base of the Gardner River's 151-foot Osprey Falls. As at Tower Fall, the canyon walls are basalt columns formed by ancient lava flow. Difficult. Trailhead at Bunsen Peak Rd., 3 mi south of Mammoth Hot Springs., Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Skyline Trail. In the park's northwest corner, this 16½-mi, 10-hour hike is a combination trail that climbs up and over numerous peaks whose ridgelines mark the park's northwest boundary before looping sharply back down via Black Butte Creek. For much of its length the trail follows the ridge tops, with steep drop-offs on either side. Difficult. Trailhead at U.S. 191, 25 mi north of West Yellowstone., Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Easy

Cascade Lake Trail. This 4½-mi round-trip trail loops around Mud Volcano and seething, sulfuric mudpots like Black Dragon's Cauldron. Easy. Trailhead at Grand Loop Rd., 10 mi south of Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Mud Volcano Interpretive Trail. This ¾-mi round-trip trail loops gently around seething, sulfuric mudpots with such names as Sizzling Basin and Black Dragon's Cauldron and around Mud Volcano itself. Easy. Trailhead 10 mi south of Canyon Village on Grand Loop Rd., between, Canyon and Lake, Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Difficult

Osprey Falls Trail. Osprey Falls Trail, The 4-mi, two-hour round-trip starts near the entrance to Bunsen Peak Road. A series of switchbacks drops 800 feet to the bottom of Sheepeater Canyon and the base of the Gardner River's 151-foot Osprey Falls. As at Tower Fall, the canyon walls are basalt columns formed by ancient lava flow. Difficult. Trailhead at Bunsen Peak Rd., 3 mi south of Mammoth Hot Springs., Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Skyline Trail. In the park's northwest corner, this 16½-mi, 10-hour hike is a combination trail that climbs up and over numerous peaks whose ridgelines mark the park's northwest boundary before looping sharply back down via Black Butte Creek. For much of its length the trail follows the ridge tops, with steep drop-offs on either side. Difficult. Trailhead at U.S. 191, 25 mi north of West Yellowstone., Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Moderate

Brink of the Lower Falls Trail. Especially scenic, this trail branches off of the North Rim Trail at the Brink of the Upper Falls parking area. The steep ½-mi one-way trail switchbacks 600 feet down to within a few yards of the top of the Yellowstone River's Lower Falls. Moderate. Trailhead 300 yards east of Grand Loop Rd. on entrance to North Rim Drive, 1 mi south of Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, WY.

North Rim Trail. Offering great views of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, the 3-mi North Rim Trail runs from Inspiration Point to Chittenden Bridge. Especially scenic is the 0.5-mi section of the North Rim Trail from the Brink of the Upper Falls parking area to Chittenden Bridge that hugs the rushing Yellowstone River as it approaches the canyon. This trail is paved and fully accessible between Lookout Point and Grand View. Moderate. Trailhead 1 mi south of Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, WY.

South Rim Trail. Partly paved and fairly flat, this 1¾-mi trail along the south rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone affords impressive views and photo opportunities of the canyon and falls of the Yellowstone River. It starts at Chittenden Bridge and ends at Artist Point. Beyond Artist Point, the trail gives way to a high plateau and high mountain meadows. Although popular with day hikers, this is technically backcountry. Prepare accordingly, make some noise, and carry bear spray. Moderate. Trailhead at Chittenden Bridge, off South Rim Dr., Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Difficult

Osprey Falls Trail. Osprey Falls Trail, The 4-mi, two-hour round-trip starts near the entrance to Bunsen Peak Road. A series of switchbacks drops 800 feet to the bottom of Sheepeater Canyon and the base of the Gardner River's 151-foot Osprey Falls. As at Tower Fall, the canyon walls are basalt columns formed by ancient lava flow. Difficult. Trailhead at Bunsen Peak Rd., 3 mi south of Mammoth Hot Springs., Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Skyline Trail. In the park's northwest corner, this 16½-mi, 10-hour hike is a combination trail that climbs up and over numerous peaks whose ridgelines mark the park's northwest boundary before looping sharply back down via Black Butte Creek. For much of its length the trail follows the ridge tops, with steep drop-offs on either side. Difficult. Trailhead at U.S. 191, 25 mi north of West Yellowstone., Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Difficult

Uncle Tom's Trail. Accessed by the South Rim Drive, the spectacular and strenuous 700-step trail ½ mi east of Chittenden Bridge descends 500 feet from the parking area to the roaring base of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone. Much of this walk is on steel sheeting, which can have a film of ice on early summer mornings or anytime in spring and fall. Difficult. Trailhead at South Rim Drive, 1 mi. east of Chittenden Bridge, 3 mi south of Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Difficult

Osprey Falls Trail. Osprey Falls Trail, The 4-mi, two-hour round-trip starts near the entrance to Bunsen Peak Road. A series of switchbacks drops 800 feet to the bottom of Sheepeater Canyon and the base of the Gardner River's 151-foot Osprey Falls. As at Tower Fall, the canyon walls are basalt columns formed by ancient lava flow. Difficult. Trailhead at Bunsen Peak Rd., 3 mi south of Mammoth Hot Springs., Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Skyline Trail. In the park's northwest corner, this 16½-mi, 10-hour hike is a combination trail that climbs up and over numerous peaks whose ridgelines mark the park's northwest boundary before looping sharply back down via Black Butte Creek. For much of its length the trail follows the ridge tops, with steep drop-offs on either side. Difficult. Trailhead at U.S. 191, 25 mi north of West Yellowstone., Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Easy

Storm Point Trail. Well marked and mostly flat, this 1½-mi loop leaves the south side of the road for a perfect beginner's hike out to Yellowstone Lake, particularly with a setting sun. The trail rounds the western edge of Indian Pond, then passes moose habitat on its way to Yellowstone Lake's Storm Point, named for its frequent afternoon windstorms and crashing waves. Heading west along the shore, you're likely to hear the shrill chirping of yellow-bellied marmots, rodents that grow as long as 2 feet. Also look for ducks, pelicans, trumpeter swans, and bison. You will pass several small beaches where kids can explore on warm summer mornings. Easy. Trailhead 3 mi east of Lake Junction on East Entrance Rd., Fishing Bridge, Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Difficult

Osprey Falls Trail. Osprey Falls Trail, The 4-mi, two-hour round-trip starts near the entrance to Bunsen Peak Road. A series of switchbacks drops 800 feet to the bottom of Sheepeater Canyon and the base of the Gardner River's 151-foot Osprey Falls. As at Tower Fall, the canyon walls are basalt columns formed by ancient lava flow. Difficult. Trailhead at Bunsen Peak Rd., 3 mi south of Mammoth Hot Springs., Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Skyline Trail. In the park's northwest corner, this 16½-mi, 10-hour hike is a combination trail that climbs up and over numerous peaks whose ridgelines mark the park's northwest boundary before looping sharply back down via Black Butte Creek. For much of its length the trail follows the ridge tops, with steep drop-offs on either side. Difficult. Trailhead at U.S. 191, 25 mi north of West Yellowstone., Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Difficult

Avalanche Peak Trail. On a busy day in summer, maybe six parties will fill out the trail register at the Avalanche Peak trailhead, so you won't have a lot of company on this hike. Starting across from a parking area on the East Entrance Road, the difficult 4-mi, four-hour round-trip climbs 2,150 feet to the peak's 10,566-foot summit, from which you'll see the rugged Absaroka Mountains running north and south. Look around the talus and tundra near the top of Avalanche Peak for alpine wildflowers and butterflies. Don't try this trail before late June or after early September—it may be covered in deep snow. Rangers discourage hikers from attempting this hike in September or October because of bear activity. Difficult. Trailhead 2 mi east of Sylvan Lake on north side of East Entrance Rd., Fishing Bridge, Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Best Bets for Families

Osprey Falls Trail. Osprey Falls Trail, The 4-mi, two-hour round-trip starts near the entrance to Bunsen Peak Road. A series of switchbacks drops 800 feet to the bottom of Sheepeater Canyon and the base of the Gardner River's 151-foot Osprey Falls. As at Tower Fall, the canyon walls are basalt columns formed by ancient lava flow. Difficult. Trailhead at Bunsen Peak Rd., 3 mi south of Mammoth Hot Springs., Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Skyline Trail. In the park's northwest corner, this 16½-mi, 10-hour hike is a combination trail that climbs up and over numerous peaks whose ridgelines mark the park's northwest boundary before looping sharply back down via Black Butte Creek. For much of its length the trail follows the ridge tops, with steep drop-offs on either side. Difficult. Trailhead at U.S. 191, 25 mi north of West Yellowstone., Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Horseback Riding

Advance reservations are recommended. Don't worry about experience, as rangers estimate 90% of riders have not been on a horse in at least 10 years.

Private stock can be brought into the park. Horses are not allowed in frontcountry campgrounds but are permitted in certain backcountry campsites. For information on planning a backcountry trip with stock, call the Backcountry Office (307/344–2160).

Tours and Outfitters

About 50 area outfitters lead horse-packing trips and trail rides into Yellowstone. Expect to pay $250 to $400 per day for a backcountry trip, including meals, accommodations, and guides. A guide must accompany all horseback-riding trips.

Gunsel Horse Adventures. Since 1968, Gunsel Horse Adventures has provided four-day pack trips into the Yellowstone backcountry. The trips are a great way to see moose, bear, deer, elk, and wolves in Yellowstone's forests, but they will customize trips throughout the Black Hills and Badlands. Bring your sleeping bag. 605/343–7608. www.gunselhorseadventures.com. $350 per day.

Rimrock Dude Ranch. Outfitter Gary Fales has been leading multiday pack trips into Yellowstone for decades, operating out of Rimrock Dude Ranch west of Cody. Trips last from overnight to a week and include backcountry camping, fishing, hiking, and horseback activities. All food and camping items are provided. Weekly all-inclusive rates start at $1,875 per person. 2728 Northfork Rte., Cody, WY, 82414. 307/587–3970. www.rimrockranch.com. $300–$350 per night.

Wilderness Pack Trips. Mike and Erin Thompson at Wilderness Pack Trips have led small-group trips exclusively in Yellowstone National Park for nearly 20 years. Popular destinations include the spectacular remote waterfalls and wildlife-rich regions often closed to the general public. Families are welcome for these small-group trips. 172 E. River Rd., 59027. 406/848–9953. www.yellowstonepacktrips.com. From $275 per day.

Xanterra Parks & Resorts. Xanterra Parks & Resorts offers one-hour horseback rides at Mammoth, and one- and two-hour rides at Tower-Roosevelt and Canyon Village. Mammoth Hot Springs, 1 Grand Loop Rd. 307/344–7311 or 866/439–7375. www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/horseride.htm. $40–$60.

Yellowstone Wilderness Outfitters. Exclusively dedicated to trips inside Yellowstone National Park, Yellowstone Wilderness Outfitters employs musically inclined Jett Hitt as its multi-talented guide. Trips range from half- and full-day family rides to three- to 6-day pack trips in every area of the park. Trips feature wildlife biologists and lecturers. P.O. Box 745Yellowstone National Park82190. 406/223–3300. www.yellowstone.ws. $110 for half-day trips; $190 for full-day trips.

Yellowstone in Winter

Avalanche Peak Trail. On a busy day in summer, maybe six parties will fill out the trail register at the Avalanche Peak trailhead, so you won't have a lot of company on this hike. Starting across from a parking area on the East Entrance Road, the difficult 4-mi, four-hour round-trip climbs 2,150 feet to the peak's 10,566-foot summit, from which you'll see the rugged Absaroka Mountains running north and south. Look around the talus and tundra near the top of Avalanche Peak for alpine wildflowers and butterflies. Don't try this trail before late June or after early September—it may be covered in deep snow. Rangers discourage hikers from attempting this hike in September or October because of bear activity. Difficult. Trailhead 2 mi east of Sylvan Lake on north side of East Entrance Rd., Fishing Bridge, Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Best Bets for Families

Osprey Falls Trail. Osprey Falls Trail, The 4-mi, two-hour round-trip starts near the entrance to Bunsen Peak Road. A series of switchbacks drops 800 feet to the bottom of Sheepeater Canyon and the base of the Gardner River's 151-foot Osprey Falls. As at Tower Fall, the canyon walls are basalt columns formed by ancient lava flow. Difficult. Trailhead at Bunsen Peak Rd., 3 mi south of Mammoth Hot Springs., Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Skyline Trail. In the park's northwest corner, this 16½-mi, 10-hour hike is a combination trail that climbs up and over numerous peaks whose ridgelines mark the park's northwest boundary before looping sharply back down via Black Butte Creek. For much of its length the trail follows the ridge tops, with steep drop-offs on either side. Difficult. Trailhead at U.S. 191, 25 mi north of West Yellowstone., Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Skiing, Snowshoeing, and Snowmobiling

Yellowstone can be the coldest place in the continental United States in winter, with temperatures of –30°F not uncommon. Still, winter-sports enthusiasts flock here when the park opens for its winter season the last week of December. Until early March, the park's roads teem with over-snow vehicles like snowmobiles and snow coaches. Its trails bristle with cross-country skiers and snowshoers.

Snowmobiling is an exhilarating way to experience Yellowstone. It's also controversial: there's heated debate about the pollution and disruption to animal habitats. The number of riders per day is limited, and you must have a reservation, a guide, and a four-stroke engine (which is less polluting than the more common two-stroke variety). About a dozen companies have been authorized to lead snowmobile excursions into the park from the North, West, South, and East entrances. Prices vary, as do itineraries and inclusions—be sure to ask about insurance, guides, taxes, park entrance fees, clothing, helmets, and meals. Regulations are subject to change.

Lone Star Geyser Trail. Lone Star Geyser Trail is an easy 2.3-mi ski to the Lone Star Geyser, starting south of Kepler Cascades. You can ski back to the Old Faithful area. Trailhead 3½ mi west of Old Faithful Village, Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Madison River Bridge. Five ski trails begin at the Madison River Bridge trailhead. The shortest is 4 mi and the longest is 14 mi. West Entrance Rd., 6 mi west of Madison, Madison, Yellowstone National Park, WY.

Tours and Outfitters

Free Heel and Wheel. Free Heel and Wheel, outside the West Yellowstone entrance gate, is a source for cross-country ski gear, sleds, snowshoes, and advice. Expect to pay $25 to $35 per day for ski rentals. Ski lessons are also available. 40 Yellowstone Ave., West Yellowstone, MT, 59758. 406/646–7744. www.freeheelandwheel.com.

Jackson Hole Snowmobile Tours. Jackson Hole Snowmobile offers day, overnight and multi-day snowmobile trips into Yellowstone. Lodging is sometimes within the park, sometimes just outside. 945 W. Broadway, Jackson, WY, 83001. 307/733–6850 or 800/633–1733. wwww.jacksonholesnowmobile.com.

Xanterra Parks & Resorts. At Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Old Faithful Snow Lodge, Xanterra Parks & Resorts rents skis, snowmobiles, and snowshoes. Ski rentals (including skis, poles, gloves, and gaiters) are $15 per half day, $24.50 per full day. Snowshoes rentals are $12 per half day, $20 per full day. Skier shuttles run from Mammoth Hotel to Indian Creek and from Old Faithful Snow Lodge to Fairy Falls and the Continental Divide Overlook. Mammoth Hot Springs, 1 Grand Loop Rd., Yellowstone National Park, WY. 307/344–7311, 866/439–7375, or 307/344–5276. www.xanterra.com/activities/skier-shuttles/.

Yellowstone Association Institute. The Yellowstone Association Institute offers everything from daylong wildlife-watching excursions to multiday skiing and snowshoeing treks. 115 3rd St. S, Gardiner, MT, 59030. 406/848–2400. www.yellowstoneassociation.org.

Yellowstone Tour & Travel. Yellowstone Tour & Travel rents snowmobiles and leads trips into the park from West Yellowstone. Longer packages may include lodging in West Yellowstone. Rentals start at $115 per day. 211 Yellowstone Ave., West Yellowstone, MT, 59758. 406/646–9310 or 800/221–1151. www.yellowstone-travel.com.

Swimming

Numerous waterways delight kids; however, unless you come during July and August, you'll likely want to forego swimming due to the extremely cold water. Streams and lakes seldom have a chance to warm up in this climate, where nights can be subfreezing, even in summer. Boiling River and Firehole Canyon Drive are the only two spots in the park where visitors can sample waters warmed by geothermal activity.

Advertisement

Trip Finder
Store
Guidebooks

Compass American Guides: Wyoming, 5th Edition

View Details
Travel Deals
Forums