Do you want to see a different side of Yellowstone National Park? Visit in winter!
Yes, Yellowstone Park in winter is cold. It’s snowy, and the roads are mostly closed to vehicles. However, people still visit. They discover a wonderland sparkling, fresh, and breathtakingly different from other seasons.
It’s quiet, and the crowd are gone. The animals are down where you are more likely to see them. They’re wearing their thickest, most luxurious coats. The geysers and hot pools bubble and steam, heedless of frigid air temperatures.
It’s fresh partly because of the way you see it. Instead of sitting inside of a temperature-controlled car, you see Yellowstone from the, slow, open-air on cross-country skis, snowshoes, or snowmobiles.
Snow Coach Tour
The easiest and, arguably, least stressful way to visit Yellowstone in winter is in the warm and guided comfort of a snow coach, which is what we did a few winters ago.
We started our visit by driving to West Yellowstone on the last day of February. Traditionally, West Yellowstone gets snow early, making it ideal for winter sports from Thanksgiving through March.
The town’s historic structures, topped with marshmallow caps of snow, poked their geometric shapes into the smoothly sculptured, white-on-white world. While some of the town shuts down in winter, plenty is open, including motels, restaurants, and gift shops.
We boarded a bright yellow snow coach waiting outside our motel early the next morning and headed for Old Faithful.
The rubber-tracked vehicle provided a quiet and smooth ride out of town through snow-ghosted trees. The friendly driver, in old-fashioned gear-jammer style, was full of Yellowstone facts, trivia, and a few hilarious lies.
Seeing the sites
Between West and Madison Junction we passed snow-crusted bison standing like carefully sculpted bronzes, conserving their energy against the cold. A pair of young bulls started a head-butting contest, reminding us that, yes, they can move quickly when they want to.
We spent most of our day at Old Faithful. The famous geyser spewed great clouds of steam into the overcast sky.
The new Visitor Center does an amazing job of explaining the underground geology of Yellowstone and how the geysers work. Being inside for awhile was a nice break from the wind and cold. We ate the lunch we brought in one of the yurts at Old Faithful. The wood fire burning in the stove cut the chill, but it still had the feel of a winter picnic.
After lunch we drove to Biscuit Basin, where scalding water steamed from the ground while icy crystals fell from the sky. The walkways, in places, were packed with snow and ice, making for a challenging walk. To complicate things, the steam from the geysers fogged our glasses until we struggled to see.
Both Rusty and Jewel geysers erupted while we were there. The wildlife are drawn to the warm pools. We were careful not to come very close.
On the way back to West, we saw golden eye, Canada geese, and eagles along the Firehole and Madison Rivers. Other creatures out hunting for food to fill their bellies included a couple of fat coyotes, a small herd of mountain sheep, and the ever-present ravens.
We arrived back in West Yellowstone in the early darkness, after a totally satisfying day of seeing Yellowstone in winter.