Yellowstone in the winter is magical.
It’s surreal to see the park covered in a blanket of snow with billowing steam and mist from the geysers. And that snow, frost and mist that cover the landscape and wildlife result in amazing Yellowstone winter photography.
As you start to plan a Yellowstone vacation, consider visiting in the winter. It’s the best time to enjoy the quiet, natural setting of the park that is non-existent during the busy summer months.
If you’re looking for a unique vacation where you can get away from it all, we recommend Yellowstone in the winter.
Read more about our 5 reasons to visit Yellowstone in the winter; and use our tips to plan your winter trip to Yellowstone.
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5 REASONS TO VISIT YELLOWSTONE IN THE WINTER
Yellowstone in the Winter is a Unique Experience
Winter in Yellowstone is not your ordinary vacation.
Vehicles are not allowed in the park around the first week of November, except from Mammoth Hot Springs through the North Entrance.
In mid-December, the roads open to oversnow travel only via snowmobile, snowcoach, snowshoe and cross-country ski.
We enjoyed traveling along Yellowstone’s snow-covered roads in a bomardier snowcoach. There were no streams of cars, RVs or tour buses crowding the roads. If you’ve ever been to Yellowstone in the summer, you know this is a welcome change.
Can you imagine a better setting than Yellowstone to enjoy fun winter activities to explore the park by snowshoes, skis, snowmobiles or snowcoaches?
Quiet and Solitude in the Winter at Yellowstone
Not many people visit Yellowstone during the winter.
Finding quiet in the summer months is hard. Yellowstone in the winter offers miles and miles of solitude in a landscape that is unmatched by any other.
It was a welcome change to stop at popular locations like Grand Prismatic and the only sounds we heard were the flowing river and bubbling hot pools.
If you enjoy a destination that offers quiet and solitude, Yellowstone in the winter should be at the top of your bucket list.
Yellowstone Winter Photography
The winter landscape at Yellowstone is covered in a blanket of snow. There is frost on the trees and mist rising from the geysers.
As you can image, Yellowstone winter photography is spectacular.
We recommend you book a snowcoach that offers photo tours where there is flexibility to stop and take pictures at any time.
One of our favorite stops in the park was visiting Grand Prismatic where we captured the reflection of the winter landscape and rising steam in the water.
We were awestruck by the ice formations on the trees near the areas with hot pools and steam.
You’ll capture images that you can only get when photographing Yellowstone during the winter months.
Wildlife at Yellowstone in the Winter
The animals who call Yellowstone National Park home are even more exciting to watch in the snowy landscape.
Bison: During the winter, we love to photograph the contrast of the white snow against the dark hair of the animal. You’ll see the bison plow away the snow with their massive heads. Be patient and wait long enough for them to look at you and you’ll get that awesome shot of snow all over the bison’s head!
Wolves: Photographing the wolves in Yellowstone is pretty tough. You’ll see wolves, but they are usually too far away to get a good photo. Most of the photos of wolves in Yellowstone are shot through spotting scopes with cell phones mounted to the eyepiece to get a snapshot.
We were lucky to see wolves ‘near’ the road when we were there. Even with the 500 mm telephoto lens we had, it was hard to get an image where the wolf fills the frame.
We didn’t get the perfect photo where the scene is sharp due to the bad light and weather, but wow, being able to see about 8 wolves in close proximity was amazing.
Coyotes: During the winter Coyotes are fun to watch mousing. They sneak around the snow to hear noise from a mouse. When they hear it, their whole body stiffens up and they suddenly spring into the air and dive head-first into the snow to grab the mouse.
Elk, trumpeter swans, river otters and other animals can also be seen in Yellowstone during the winter.
Yellowstone Waterfalls in the Winter
Yellowstone waterfalls are one of our favorite things to photograph in the park.
During the winter, the snowy landscape provides a unique setting to showcase the photos of these waterfalls.
A snowcoach can take you to see the Firehole Falls on your way to Old Faithful, or you can see the Lower Falls on a trip to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
Keep your eyes open for wildlife along the rivers. We saw trumpeter swans, elk and bison as we ventured through the park.
PLANNING A WINTER TRIP TO YELLOWSTONE
Hopefully we’ve convinced you to visit Yellowstone in winter. Here’s all you need to know to start planning your winter trip to Yellowstone.
- Yellowstone’s winter season runs from mid-December to mid-March.
- Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful are the only two areas of the park with facilities open in winter (lodging and dining).
- The only road that is open to private vehicles runs between the North Entrance in Gardiner, Montana, to the Northeast Entrance in Cooke City, Montana, via Tower Junction. (While the road is “open” to cars, it may close temporarily due to weather or other reasons.)
Always check the National Park Service website for the latest information about specific dates and services in Yellowstone during the winter.
Getting to Yellowstone
The Yellowstone Regional Airport is just outside of Cody, Wyoming and about 50 miles from the park’s East Entrance. It offers service from Salt Lake City and Denver.
Jackson Hole Airport, on the edge of Grand Teton National Park, is about 50 miles south of the park and offers service from Salt Lake City, Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago, Atlanta and Denver.
Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport in Montana, is about 90 miles from the park’s north entrance, which is the only entrance open to car traffic in the winter.
Car rentals and shuttle service to nearby towns and hotels are available at all of the airports.
What to Expect at Yellowstone in the Winter
Cell service in and around Yellowstone can be spotty in some parts and non-existent in other parts.
If you stay in park lodging, there are no televisions, radios, or Wi-Fi at the hotels in order to provide guests the most authentic wilderness experience.
Because cell coverage is not reliable, it is a good idea to make proper preparations ahead of time. Print directions and reservations information prior to departure, or save them on a device that can be accessed offline.
Cold Weather Gear for Yellowstone in the Winter
Yellowstone in the winter is cold. Expect bitter cold temperatures and much snow. With the right cold weather gear you’ll be prepared for the cold so you can enjoy the adventure.
Cold weather gear is an absolute must and dressing in layers is the best option to ensure comfort. Definitely bring the following:
- Moisture-wicking base layer
- Fleece jacket or wool sweater
- Waterproof, breathable jacket
- Snow pants or bibs
- Insulated outer layer (down or synthetic coat)
- Warm hat
- Scarf, buff, or balaclava
- Wool socks
- Insulated snow boots with soles that have a good grip
- Insulated gloves or thin liner gloves with a heavier outer layer & hand warmers
- Eco-friendly, refillable water bottle (it’s so easy to become dehydrated in the cold, dry air)
Where to Stay in Yellowstone
We use Airbnb (here’s a $40 coupon) | Hotels.com | HotelsCombined to rent accommodations that have a kitchen. Cooking our meals saves us quite a bit of money compared to eating out, and it’s much healthier!
We have stayed in and recommend these hotels when visiting Yellowstone:
- Holiday Inn – West Yellowstone, MT
- Clubhouse Inn – West Yellowstone, MT
- Yellowstone Gateway Inn – Gardiner, MT
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