5 Reasons Why You Should Explore Yellowstone National Park In Winter

Explore America's first national park under a blanket of snow.

By: Crystal Guthrie
February 23, 2016

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If you are looking for a change of scenery and would like to experience quiet contemplation in nature, then you should add a winter trip to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming to your bucket list. Yellowstone is the first and one of the most spectacular national parks in the United States and it transforms into a winter wonderland each year. Here are 5 reasons to start planning your trip and packing your snow gear:

1. You’ll have the place to yourself.

Explore Yellowstone’s Upper Geyser Basin in Winter | Photo: Crystal Guthrie

Yellowstone’s beauty and accessibility make it one of the most popular national parks. In fact, nearly 4 million people visit each year. Less than 1% of that total visit the park in December. If you don’t mind cold temperatures and want to connect with nature, the winter months are the best time to go. However, you should follow the advice of the Boy Scouts and "be prepared!" Temperatures often range from 0 to 20F (-20 to -5C) throughout the day. Sub-zero temperatures overnight are common. This can feel incredibly dry and cold. (You may even experience icicles on your lashes.) Snow is typical, but the amount varies depending on the year and the elevation that you are visiting.

2. Wildlife loves the warmth.

Wildlife Photography in Lamar Valley | Photo: Brynn Schmidt

Have you ever dreamt of seeing a bison up close, or perhaps a wolf in the wild? Although Yellowstone is famous for its geology, the animal habitat that has been preserved here is simply amazing. Bison gather near hot spots in the Yellowstone River as well as the basin to graze on grass underneath the snow. Where the bison go, so do wolves, coyotes, fox, and birds. With snow on the ground, you can easily see where critters have traveled back and forth to the water to get a drink or hopefully find a meal.

3. The geothermal features look even more amazing.

Explore Yellowstone’s Upper Geyser Basin in Winter | Photo: Crystal Guthrie

Just imagine… you are walking through the world’s largest supervolcano. Although it is easy to see the many geothermal features of Yellowstone year round, the signs of these ancient eruptions are even more obvious in the winter because of the contrast between the hot steam and chilly air. Gazing out across the snow covered basin, you can see multiple plumes of steam rising from the constantly active geysers and vents. Did you know that Yellowstone contains more than 10,000 geothermal features? That amounts to half of the geothermal features on the planet and a whole lot of steam! Old Faithful is the most predictable of the geysers, erupting at regular intervals throughout the day.

During an eruption of Old Faithful, hot water shoots over 100 feet into the air for up to 5 minutes, producing a strong spray of water as well as steam. In addition to this spectacular geyser, there are a variety of springs, colorful ponds, and bubbling mud pots to view while you are out for a snow hike.

4. Go play in the snow.

Explore Yellowstone’s Upper Geyser Basin in Winter | Photo: Crystal Guthrie

Getting to Old Faithful Lodge requires a ride on the snow transport. Think of it like a van with really big windows and snow tracks instead of tires. The ride takes a couple of hours with stops to look at geysers on the way into the caldera. Although you can hike around some areas, the best way to get around Yellowstone in the winter is via cross-country skis or snowshoes. You can either bring your own or rent from local outfitters (rentals are available on the ground floor of the Old Faithful Snow Lodge). Packages include multiple opportunities for ski drops or guided tours. Note that there are also snowmobiles and snowcoaches available (mainly out of West Yellowstone).

5. Fantastic photography opportunities abound.

Wildlife Photography in Lamar Valley | Photo: Brynn Schmidt

There are few places you can visit that have scenic, untouched vistas of canyons, lakes, subalpine forests, mountains and rivers. Yellowstone truly has it all! When you combine this unique geography with the blue skies of the Mountain West and the thriving wildlife, Yellowstone simply makes for great photo opportunities. Take advantage of guided tours for day or nighttime photography during your visit. Also, bring a good telephoto lens for long range shots – keeping a safe distance is key since you don’t want to try for any selfies with the bison! A driving tour through Lamar Valley will be worthwhile to see multiple types of animals interacting in their natural habitat. You can either drive your own 4WD vehicle, or book with a tour company.

Cover photo: Bryan Miles

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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.