Yellowstone in Winter

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When you imagine Yellowstone National Park, you may think about the colourful pools, lush valleys and erupting geysers bathed in sunlight in the height of summer. However, Yellowstone truly comes into its own during winter, when you’ll have snow underfoot, an array of wildlife to spot and even more activities than during summer. Yellowstone is the original national park, and at 2.2 million acres, there are almost endless things to do. In winter, Yellowstone can have unpredictable weather so preparation and flexibility are key. 

Go with the flow, and you can enjoy skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, snowmobiling and wildlife watching, along with classic experiences such as seeing Old Faithful and other thermal basins and geysers in the park – plus, you can warm up out of the snow in a hot spring. All of this and without the crowds of the warmer months, visiting in the off-season is one of the best times to take a trip to Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone In Winter

Top Tours

PRIVATE Wolf & Wildlife Watching in Yellowstone's Lamar Valley
One of the amazing experiences in Yellowstone in winter is to see wolves.

How To Get To Yellowstone In Winter

Unsurprisingly, due to the weather and its sheer size, Yellowstone isn’t easy to access during winter.

In fact, nearly all roads into Yosemite close in October due to snow.

The primary way to get into and around the parks is using snowcoaches or snowmobiles – any vehicle that can travel over heavy, deep snow.

If you’re arriving at a nearby town or airport, you should be fine driving until you get right up to the park’s entrances, but you’ll need to organise in-park travel separately since you can’t drive.

Yosemite has five entrances; four of these can be accessed in winter but only one, the North Entrance, remains open year-round for normal cars. 

Getting to Yellowstone also depends largely on where you’re coming from.

In the north, the nearest airport is Bozeman Yellowstone Airport, and you can drive to the North Entrance.

The airport closest to the South Entrance is Jackson Hole, which is a brilliant place to arrive as you’ll also get to explore Grand Teton National Park on the drive to Yellowstone.

However, as the South Entrance closes, you’ll need a snow coach within the park.

Entering Yellowstone from the east or west is not advised, as the entrances are closed, airports generally shut down and parking is limited.

Getting Around Yellowstone In Winter

Yellowstone National Park Self Driving Audio Tour
Winter in Yellowstone National Park is an enchanting time of year.

As mentioned, there’s no way to drive around Yellowstone in winter, so although it could be wise to hire a car to get you there or explore surrounding areas, it can’t be used in the park.

Download this Yellowstone National Park Self Driving Audio Tour

Vehicles are generally prohibited from the first week in November, and then in mid-December, most roads open to snow vehicles.

These include snow coaches, snow shoes, skis, and snowmobiles.

Because of these rules, you’ll probably need to book a tour unless you have your own cross-country skis (and even then, an expert guide would be helpful).

At the South Entrance, you can book snowmobile and snow coach tours through a few different companies.

Self-guided snowmobile trips can also be done, but you’ll need to secure a permit via the park’s official site, which involves a lottery.

These park tours will take you to all the places you could want to see on a trip and have customised itineraries, whether you’re keen to spot some wolves and elks or just want to watch the geysers.

Recommended tours:

What Is The Weather Like In Yellowstone In Winter?

Winter At Yellowstone Upper Falls With Huge Snowy Slopes
The Upper Falls is a frozen magic in Yellowstone in winter.

Winter in Yellowstone is (and we can’t emphasise this enough) very cold and snowy.

Temperatures can drop to -10 and the lowest recorded temperature was -54.

Added to this, Yellowstone sits at a high elevation, of between 5,000 – 11,000ft, and the higher points can get extremely deep snow.

The average for the park is 380cm of snow, which can be double in high areas, and this falls over the course of winter.

Winter in Yellowstone stretches between December and February, when the weather eases up slightly, however, it’s not until March that roads stop allowing snow vehicles and until the end of April that regular vehicles are allowed.

Since the weather is particularly bitter, it’s essential to bring all the gear you’ll need, such as down coats, warm boots, thermals and snacks.

Tours will provide you with certain pieces of gear if you’ve booked to go snowshoeing or skiing, for example, but otherwise, you’ll need to pack your warmest things.

Where To Stay In Yellowstone In Winter

Winter Weather In The West Yellowstone
Visiting Yellowstone in the winter is a unique experience.

Staying in Yellowstone itself during winter provides more of a challenge, as in summertime, all of the accommodations, lodges and campgrounds stay open.

In winter, there are just two lodges, a glamping site and a campground to choose from – prices can spike and they’re in high demand, so advance planning is essential.

That said, you can choose to stay near the park instead.

Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel & Cabins

The road runs directly here from Yellowstone’s North entrance, and this hotel has everything you’ll need for a cosy winter base.

There’s a dining room and map room, plus a variety of room options.

Suites, cabins and even hot tub suites are available, plus, the hotel offers daily tours into the park to sights like the Grand Canyon, Lamar Valley, and Old Faithful.

There’s also a ski shop with equipment rental, lessons and tours for those wanting to ski or snowshoe in the park. 

Old Faithful Snow Lodge & Cabins

In the south of Yellowstone, Old Faithful Snow Lodge is a very popular place to stay year-round, but in winter, it is only reachable by snow coach or snowmobile.

The hotel is extremely well equipped, with two restaurants, a gift shop, a ski rental shop and even ice skating.

Choose from a deluxe room or two types of cabin, and they’re experts in all things Yellowstone, from tours to tips.

Mammoth Campground

The only site open in winter; stay here if you’re brave enough (and have enough warm gear).

You don’t need a reservation here in winter like you would in summer or autumn, but places are first-come-first-served.

The campground sits at around 1,800ft elevation and can get very cold, although it’s a short distance from the facilities at Mammoth Hot Springs.

Hotel Jackson

For those arriving and staying in Jackson, Hotel Jackson is a great option for combining activities.

You’ll be able to easily get to the park’s south entrance by car or on a tour, while enjoying everything Jackson has to offer.

The hotel is in the centre of town, with great rooms, hot tubs, multiple restaurants and ski rentals, and they sell ski passes if you’re planning on skiing here too.

Wonderland Cafe & Lodge

There are many places to stay in Gardiner, Montana and even a couple right at Yellowstone’s North Entrance.

Wonderland is one of them, just a block from the park entrance and housing a 10,000sq/ft cafe, plus six unique and stylish suites.

It sleeps a max of 26 people and enjoys spectacular views, and the cafe serves excellent breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus snacks to take into the park.

It’s walkable to nearby shops and restaurants, but the lodge can also help book everything from cross-country skiing, to snowshoeing, tours and more.

If you love exploring national parks, you might like to read:

Best Things To Do In Yellowstone In Winter

1- Skiing and Snowshoeing

Yellowstone Snowshoe Adventure Private Tour from Jackson Hole
Snowshoeing is one of the fun things to do in Yellowstone in winter.

Whether you’re a newbie or a pro, skiing and snowshoeing are two of the best, and some of the only, ways to get around Yellowstone in winter.

The park transforms into a magical wonderland, so what could be better than walking or skiing through snow-dusted forests to see the sights? Tours are a great option, which normally visit all of the most famous places.

There’s also no need to bring your own gear as many companies, and the two hotels in the park, offer rentals and lessons.

Recommended tours:

2- Snowmobiling

Snowmobile Steering Wheel Close-Up At Sunset
Snowmobiling in Yellowstone in the winter.

Zipping around the park on a snowmobile is definitely one of the most fun ways to see Yellowstone.

Unless you secure a permit for self-guided snowmobiling, you’ll need to book a tour which are available through a variety of companies.

Most tours visit sights like Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon, on a half, full-day or even overnight trip.

You can check out who offers tours via the NPS website to pick a tour that maximises what you’ll see.

3- Wildlife Watching

Private Full Day Yellowstone Snowshoe Safari from Bozeman
The wildlife is one of the top attractions in winter in Yellowstone.

Yellowstone National Park is simply heaven for wildlife and in winter, a whole new set of locals come out to play.

The most popular animal to spot is wolves, with packs prowling around the Lamar Valley.

Other wildlife that are very common are elk, bison, coyotes, deer and otters.

There are many targeted wildlife-watching tours if you’re keen to tick them all off, but you’re likely to see many of these creatures while in the park sightseeing, as they venture to lower areas to avoid the snow at higher elevations.

Recommended tour: Private Yellowstone Winter Safari from Paradise Valley

4- Geysers, Thermal Basins and Hot Springs

Geysers In Yellowstone Biscuit Basin During Winter
Geysers in Yellowstone in winter.

Yellowstone National Park has the highest concentration of thermal features in the world, which includes geysers, hot springs, basins and mud pots.

Old Faithful is the most famous and unmissable geyser here, but don’t forget to see the rest of the thermal spots such as the famous Midway Geyser Basin that glows red, green and yellow.

The park also has hot springs such as Grand Prismatic but these aren’t for relaxing – in fact, they’re so hot you’d literally boil.

Instead, there are a few genuinely fun hot springs near the park that you can visit such as Yellowstone Hot Springs, or Astoria Hot Springs if you’re staying in Jackson.

Festivities in Winter in Yellowstone

If you head to Yellowstone when winter starts in December, then you’re certain to run into some festivities to get you feeling Christmassy.

Aside from the snowy winter wonderland, you’ll get to see in the park itself; the lodges are usually decked out in tinsel, fairy lights and Christmas trees, while places like Mammoth Chapel hold candlelight services on Christmas Eve.

Additionally, if you’re staying over the holiday, both lodges offer an amazing feast for both Christmas Day and NYE.

The latter you can enjoy before heading out for the traditional NYE midnight celebration, watching Old Faithful erupt for the first time after the clock strikes midnight.

Tips For Visiting Yellowstone In Winter

Winter Hits Yellowstone With Snow-Covered Terraces
Hot Springs in Yellowstone in winter.

Here are some things to remember if you’re planning to visit Yellowstone in winter, to ensure the trip goes smoothly, and more importantly, safely. 

Pack For Winter

It might seem easy to throw a warm jacket, beanie and some gloves into a bag, but you’ll need a lot more than this for Yellowstone. 

To start with, thermal underlayers are essential, including socks, plus a warm hat, scarf and gloves.

Warm, broken-in hiking boots, plus a thick, waterproof down coat will keep you from getting chilly.

Other things to remember to pack, although you can rent them in the worst case, are items such as skis, snowshoes, goggles, boots, skisuits and crampons.

Another tip is to pack a pair of binoculars – you never know what you’ll spot in the park.

Check The Weather

Firstly, checking the weather forecast means you can avoid booking a tour on a day that has particularly bad conditions, or weather that can stop you from taking part in certain activities.

More importantly, if you’re renting a car to get to the park entrance, checking out the weather is a necessary precaution.

Yellowstone can be icy, windy, snowy or foggy and this doesn’t just stop at the front gate – roads can be dangerous or closed due to snow, so plan your route in advance.

Book Early

Winter is far quieter in Yellowstone than summer, but that doesn’t mean it’s unpopular.

Reservations for accommodation are easier to come by, but still get booked quickly because there are so few options.

The lodges in the park have a 13-month reservation system.

This means they open for reservations for the following year, this year (for example, reservations for December 2024, would open at the start of December 2023).

Buy Extra Supplies

Another note on packing, whether or not you’re renting a car, is to bring plenty of water, snacks and even a Thermos for hot drinks.

Also bring a portable charger; the park has very little signal and phones can die quickly while trying to find a connection, and in a similar vein, a paper map is always a good idea in case online maps don’t work.

Most people forget to bring suncream, despite the bright white snow in the park causing sunburn.

Get A Park Pass

Finally, if you plan to visit other parks, such as Grand Teton, consider purchasing an annual America the Beautiful National Parks Pass.

Regular park entrance year-round generally costs $35 per vehicle, while the ATB Parks Pass pass is just $80, and gives access to all of the parks in America. 

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India Jayne trainor
India-Jayne Trainor is a British/Australian freelance writer, photographer and contributor to various online blogs and travel websites. She has travelled to almost 30 countries, most recently Cuba and Sri Lanka. Her work focuses on solo female travel, having spent two months backpacking alone through South East Asia as well as living in Germany for a year. Her favourite country to date has been Hong Kong, but she is happy in any country by the ocean. Her next destinations are Uzbekistan and a road trip through the American Mid-West. India is currently based in London, UK.