Yellowstone National Park, our nation's first national park, attracts millions of visitors per year with its geyser activity and abundance of wildlife.
While summer is the peak season for tourists, winter offers a unique and magical experience that should not be missed. But — traveling here in winter requires a bit of know-how, as many park entrances, park hotels, and park attractions are closed.
We recently had the opportunity to visit Yellowstone in the winter with Travel Wyoming, and we absolutely loved it!
Read on for more deets about how to travel Yellowstone in the winter.
Why visit Yellowstone in the winter?
Did you know? Over half of the world's geysers are found within the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park — and visiting in winter means you'll probably have most of them all to yourself.
When we visited, we had the insane opportunity to watch Old Faithful erupt — with all of five people around us. That never happens!
Visiting in winter is the ultimate VIP experience. There were days that we never saw another person at all. Compared to the summer months of traffic delays and foot traffic? It was a completely serene experience.
Yellowstone in the winter is also just a true winter wonderland. The park is blanketed in a pristine layer of snow, creating a picturesque landscape that is simply awe-inspiring.
Though the bears are sleeping, the wolves are more active in winter. It's a really special time to be driving around!
And, the wildlife is more visible during this time, making it a perfect opportunity for wildlife enthusiasts and photographers. We saw a fox dive into a snow hole right in front of us and I'll never forget it!
What park entrances are open during the winter?
During the winter, many of the park's entrances are closed. The only entrance open year-round is from the north near Gardiner, Montana.
Depending on conditions, the West entrance from West Yellowstone may be open to snowmobiles or commercial vehicles, but not to the public.
The South entrance is open only to travel via snowcoaches.
Snowcoaches are these very cool 12-seater vehicles with large tires that are somewhat deflated to travel over snow.
Driving around Yellowstone in winter
Getting around Yellowstone during winter involves connecting a few pieces.
From December to March, the only way to travel through Yellowstone is via a snowcoach as private vehicles are not permitted.
Snowcoaches can be booked through Scenic Safaris, who run tours to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Old Faithful.
Yellowstone National Park Lodges also has snowcoaches that can take you from Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel to Lamar Valley and back, and from Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel to Snow Lodge (near Old Faithful), one-way.
What hotels in the park are open during the winter?
All other hotels are closed.
What airports are open?
We flew into Bozeman, Montana, and then took a shuttle from Bozeman to Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.
What should you pack?
When traveling to Yellowstone in the winter, it is essential to pack the right gear to stay warm and comfortable.
Layering is key, as it allows you to adjust your clothing based on the temperature. Start with a moisture-wicking base layer, followed by an insulating layer, and finish with a waterproof and windproof outer layer.
Don't forget to pack warm socks, gloves, a hat, and a scarf to protect yourself from the cold.
It is also important to have the right equipment for the activities you plan to engage in.
If you're snowshoeing or skiing, make sure to bring appropriate footwear and equipment.
If you're participating in a guided snowmobile tour, check with the tour operator for any specific gear requirements.
What precautions should you take?
Traveling to Yellowstone in the winter requires extra precautions and some degree of flexibility because the weather can be unpredictable — and throughout most of the park, you won't have cell service.
That's why we only recommend traveling via a well-connected company like Scenic Safaris or Yellowstone National Park Lodges, who all have radios in their vehicles.
There are also companies that offer snowmobiling tours from West Yellowstone and from Jackson Hole. But be careful - there have been many snowmobiling accidents in years past.
It is also crucial to stay hydrated and well-nourished during your visit.
The cold weather can be deceptively dehydrating, so make sure to drink plenty of water and pack high-energy snacks to keep you fueled throughout the day.
Just do it!
Traveling to Yellowstone in the winter is a truly magical experience. From the stunning snowy landscapes to the abundance of wildlife, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
Whether you're seeking adventure or simply want to immerse yourself in nature's beauty, Yellowstone in the winter will not disappoint.
So bundle up, pack your gear, and get ready for an unforgettable winter getaway!