Yellowstone National Park, in Montana and Wyoming, is one of America's most popular national parks, and it's much more than a summer destination. During the winter season, Yellowstone turns into a wonderland perfect for wildlife watching, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and photography opportunities. Here, five reasons to love Yellowstone in winter.
1. HOT SPRINGS
The hot springs of Yellowstone are often characterized by a deep beautiful turquoise that turns to yellow orange hues at the outer edges, a result of bacteria that live in these scalding waters. The thermal waters that bubble up the travertine terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs, near the north entrance to the park, are constantly shifting. A series of boardwalks among the terraces is the best way to enjoy the vibrant colors and patterns that are characteristic of these step-like formations. Midway Geyser Basin affords a walk through the sometimes steamy, sulfuric-smelling mist that arises from the hot springs. Many of Yellowstone’s rivers, such as the Madison, don’t freeze in winter, a result of warm thermal waters that mingle with the rivers.
Spotting bison in the snow is one of Yellowstone's great winter thrills. The huge park denizens are most often seen around the Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek, in the region known as the Northern Range. Coyotes, found in all areas of the park, feed on rodents, rabbits and other small animals. While the herds of elk within Yellowstone during the warm season number between 10,000 and 20,000, during the winter those numbers are down in the 5,000 range as elk move into lower elevations outside the park to survive.
3. OLD FAITHFUL
Old Faithful is a reliable crowd pleaser as it erupts about 20 times per day. People will gather and patiently wait for a show of steamy water shooting up from 100 to 180 feet, and lasting anywhere between 1.5 to 5 minutes Park rangers can predict fairly accurately when Old Faithful's next eruption will occur, which can range anywhere from 35 to 120 minutes. During winter, the Old Faithful complex is accessible either by snowcoach or snowmobile.
4. THE NORTHERN RANGE
The only road to remain open to traffic within Yellowstone in the winter stretches from the park's north entrance at Gardiner, Montana, to the small hamlet of Cooke City (one of Budget Travel's Coolest Small Towns in America), just outside the park's northeast entrance. This portion of the park is known as the Northern Range, with vast open snowfields punctuated by the Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek. It’s a favorite bison hangout in the winter.
5. OLD FAITHFUL SNOW LODGE AND CABINS
Currently, the only option for lodging within the park during the winter season is the cozy Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins, accessible by either snowcoach or snowmobile. If Yellowstone in winter suits your travel personality, the lodge is a snug base of operations.