Things to Know Before Going to Yellowstone in Winter
Yellowstone National Park is one of America’s natural treasures. Though the park is popular in spring and summer, the winter season offers many perks of its own. Winter turns the park into an enchanted wonderland, and you’ll benefit from fewer crowds and more intimate experiences in nature.
If you want to visit the park in winter, check out these travel tips for traveling in Yellowstone and the best advice and tips to make the most of your visit.
Transportation to Yellowstone National Park
The winter season in Yellowstone National Park runs from December to March. It spans parts of Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho with five entrance stations, several of which are closed to private vehicles in winter.
There are many ways to get there, such as flying into Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport and renting a car to get into the park, or taking an airport shuttle. Commercial airlines also serve airports in Cody and Jackson, Wyoming; Bozeman and Billings, Montana; and Idaho Falls, Idaho. The Greyhound bus lines run from Bozeman and Livingston, Montana, to the park.
Transportation within the park
Once at the park, the only road that’s open to public vehicles is between the North Entrance and the Northeast Entrance. Keep in mind that inclement weather could cause a road closure, so check the updates on the website to know before you go and end up unable to travel.
Once inside the park, the only options for traveling to Old Faithful are snowmobiles and snow coaches. The park offers guided tours to see the area, and the tours are taken in large buses with massive windows for excellent viewing.
Lodging and dining
Another aspect of traveling to Yellowstone National Park in winter that you’ll wish you knew is that Old Faithful and Mammoth Hot Springs are the only areas with lodging and dining facilities during the winter season. The lodging facilities offer equipment rentals, guides, and tours. Even in the winter season, the rooms fill fast, so book early to ensure that you have accommodation.
Be sure you prepare for where you’ll stay, dine, and get any supplies you need. You can also stay in towns surrounding the park, which offer an array of accommodation options, shopping, and dining.
Yellowstone National Park gets cold in winter and often has snow, with average temperatures of 26-31°F for the high and 3-4°F for the low. On average, the park receives 150 inches of snowfall each year, and the higher elevations can receive double that. Check the local weather forecast for your trip dates, and be aware of the weather close to your visit and throughout your trip to prepare for what to bring with you and how to address winter hazards.
What to pack
With the winter temperatures, it’s vital that you pack plenty of warm clothing and options to prepare for the weather.
It’s best to have moisture-wicking thermal underwear, wool sweaters, snow coats and pants that are well-insulated, a mid-weight and heavyweight layer, several pairs of wool socks, knit hats that cover the ears, a neck warmer or gaiter, at least one pair of insulated gloves, and snow boots with a warm, insulated layer and high-grip soles. Ideally, you’ll prepare with clothing and accessories specifically designed for outdoor excursions in winter.
The park has roughly 50% cell service and multiple towers for Old Faithful, Mammoth, Grant Village, Canyon, and Tower-Roosevelt. Cell service can be spotty within the park, so it’s important to have a backup plan in advance and to anticipate any problems. Print out maps, directions, reservations, and other vital information in case you can’t access anything on your cell phone, or make sure this information is accessible offline. In the case of urgent situations, text messaging is more effective during spotty service than phone calls.
One of the greatest benefits of traveling through Yellowstone in winter is the abundance of wildlife. The cold temperatures and fewer visitors bring many of the animals into the lower elevations, so you’re more likely to spot elk, bison, wolves, bighorn sheep, badgers, and otters.
If you do spot wildlife, remember to keep your distance. It’s advised to keep at least 100 yards from bears and wolves and 25 yards from all other wildlife. Even normally docile animals can be provoked to charge. It’s also important not to feed any of the animals under any circumstances, and avoid going anywhere alone.
Old Faithful is the most famous geyser in Yellowstone National Park, but there are many other geysers and thermal features throughout the park. One of the benefits of visiting in winter is that the geysers are free from crowds, so you can enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience in solitude.
The hot springs are one of Yellowstone National Park’s most popular attractions, but also one of the most hazardous. Each year, tourists are injured from getting too close to the geothermal features or bathing in the basin. If you want to see the hot springs, view from the appropriate, designated areas.
Avalanches are a risk in the park in winter. They occur throughout the park and are potentially fatal, so it’s vital to learn how to recognize and avoid avalanche areas. Generally, avalanche terrain occurs on a slope steeper than 30 degrees and ridges with overhanging snow or ice.
You should always check the weather forecast in the area before venturing out. Feel free to talk to a ranger and ask questions about avalanches and learn what to know about other park hazards so you can stay safe.
Yellowstone National Park has many tour options for different interests, such as petroglyph tours, geyser tours, snowmobile tours, wolf tours, and more. If wildlife is your interest, the park offers tours to catch glimpses of wildlife with the safety of an experienced guide, such as the Lamar Valley Wildlife Tour and Winter Wildlife Tour. Be sure to pack a camera to get photographs of this rare opportunity to see some of the wildlife in the park and the terrain covered in a blanket of untouched snow.
Ready to plan your trip?
If you’re planning a winter trip, this guide should provide you with all the essential information you need before visiting Yellowstone. Now that you’re ready, visit Expedia to learn about Yellowstone vacations and discover great deals to make the most of the experience.