A Winter Guide to Yellowstone National Park
Something special happens to Yellowstone in the winter. The snowy forests take on a mystical silence, clouds of steam billow up gently around deserted hot springs, and an air of solitude permeates the pristine, snow-covered wonderland. Yellowstone, with its hydrothermal features, lakes, waterfalls and wildlife, is stunningly beautiful and peaceful when blanketed with crisp, white snow. To truly experience the serenity of the season, spend some time exploring Yellowstone’s magnificent backcountry.
Several nearby airports make getting to one of Yellowstone National Park’s several entrances simple any time of year. The Yellowstone Regional Airport, two miles outside of Cody, is 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. The Gallatin Field Airport in Bozeman, 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.
Is Yellowstone Open in the Winter?
While exploring Yellowstone National Park during the winter months is a magical experience, it is important to understand that travel into and around the park requires more planning during this time of year. The park is open to visitors year-round, but getting into the park might require booking a one-of-a-kind experience.
The North Entrance, which is about 90 miles from the Gallatin Field Airport in Bozeman, Montana, is the only entrance open to traffic during the winter. The road from the North Entrance travels to Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel & Cabins, which is open year-round.
Those craving a more exciting Yellowstone adventure can enter the park from the South Entrance (40 miles north of Jackson, Wyoming), East Entrance (50 miles west of Cody, Wyoming) or West Entrance (3 miles west of Montana’s Yellowstone Airport) via snowmobile or snowcoach.
Traveling in the Park
Vehicles are not allowed in the park starting within the first week of November, except on a limited stretch of road to Mammoth Hot Springs through the North Entrance. In mid-December, roads closed to traffic open to oversnow travel, meaning visitors can enter the park via snowmobile, snowcoach, snowshoe and cross-country ski. Imagine seeing Yellowstone’s paved (and often crowded) roads transformed into snow-covered passages to the park’s otherworldy thermal features.
From the South Entrance, snowmobile tours are available through Old Faithful Snowmobile Tours and Scenic Safaris. Snowcoaches can be booked through Teton Science Schools, Inc. and Scenic Safaris. From Yellowstone’s East Entrance, snowmobile tours are available through Gary Fales Outfitting.
Non-guided snowmobile trips into and around Yellowstone National Park are only available to those who acquire a permit through the park’s Non-commercially Guided Snowmobile Access Program. Permits are open to anyone 18 and older, with lottery applications accepted August 1-31 and permits awarded mid-September.
Roads close to oversnow travel in early March and begin to open for regular vehicle travel in late-April, weather permitting. Find current road conditions, opening dates and closing dates.
Snowshoeing and Cross-country Skiing
Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are both great ways to experience Yellowstone’s backcountry in the winter. Miles of trails winding through the vast wilderness are open for exploration on foot. There are several outfitters nearby who rent gear, and several companies specialize in guided trips if you’d rather not venture out alone. Yellowstone National Park provides more information on how to traverse the park by ski or snowshoe.
An extension of the Continental Divide Snowmobile Trail, the trails of Yellowstone may be explored only with an authorized commercial guide or with a Non-Commercially Guided Snowmobile Access Program permit. Several hundred snowmobilers are allowed each day, but since permit applications are due each year by the end of August, exploring the park in this way requires advanced planning.
Bison, elk, river otters and other animals who call Yellowstone National Park home are even more magical to watch among snow-covered ground and steaming rivers. The intimacy a less-crowded park provides when observing wildlife face the elements of winter is something not to be missed. Learn more about spotting winter wildlife in Wyoming.
Two lodges in Yellowstone are open during the winter season. The cozy Old Faithful Snow Lodge & Cabins is open from mid-December through late February. The hotel offers equipment rentals, guides and tours. Rooms fill up fast, so make reservations as early as possible. Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins is also open during the winter months, however it is closed for renovations during the 2018-2019 winter season. There are plenty of places to stay in the towns surrounding the park too, from ranches and cabins to vacation rentals and B&Bs.