Dream about winter in Yellowstone National Park? Yellowstone looks brilliant in winter scenery as hot geysers erupt from beneath a fluffy blanket of snow. Majestic bison with frosted noses search for blades of grass. And the silence is broken from time to time by the howling wolves and coyotes. Yellowstone in winter is the perfect time to visit. There are few tourists so you can admire nature in all its glory. How to visit Yellowstone in winter? What’s open? What is the weather like? What are the Yellowstone winter activities? How to prepare for a winter visit to Yellowstone National Park? What to pack? We help you plan a perfect adventure step by step. So, check our detailed guide with the list of the Best Things To Do in Yellowstone in Winter.This article may contain affiliate / compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer here.
Things to do in Yellowstone in Winter – Introduction
Throughout the winter, from December to March, Yellowstone National Park has as many tourists as there are in a single day in July! So, for sure, it is worth visiting this park in winter. Instead of the crowds of tourists, you can fully admire the power of nature. Of course, Yellowstone National Park is worth visiting at any time of the year due to its unique color scheme of geysers. But winter in Yellowstone is a particular time for wildlife observation, photography, and snow games and activities enthusiasts. So, if you are not afraid of frost and cold temperatures, if you like winter activities, and if you love nature, check out our detailed guide with the Best Things to do in Yellowstone in winter.
After a week in Yellowstone wonderland, we give you the best tips which help you prepare for the unforgettable Yellowstone winter vacation. Below we give you details on how to get to Yellowstone in winter on your own, and with organized tours as well. Thanks to this, you can make the best choice for you. The first part of the article helps you to plan a trip. In the second part, we tell you the best things to do in Yellowstone in the winter scenery. Use the table of contents for more straightforward navigation.
What is open in winter in Yellowstone?
The most important thing is that getting around Yellowstone in winter is much more challenging than in other seasons, and you should prepare adequately for your Yellowstone winter tours. Moreover, only one road in the park is open for vehicles in winter. Of the 300 miles of road in the Park, only 50 miles of Northern Range are open to regular cars. It’s an exclusive place during wintertime. And it’s not cheap if you decide on one of the Yellowstone winter tours. But it’s a fabulous adventure and worth each penny. Below are details of what is open and what to do in the park.
TRIP TIP: In June 2022, unprecedented rainfall caused substantial flooding, rockslides, and severe damage to roads and infrastructure within Yellowstone National Park. So check the official park website with alerts before your winter trip to Yellowstone.
Winter in Yellowstone – Entrance Fee
Although much of the park is closed in winter, an entrance fee still applies, as in all US parks. That is why it is worth having an annual America the Beautiful Pass. It is worth buying online before entering the park. Even if you buy a Yellowstone winter package tour, the price does not include entry to the park. In addition, the gate in the winter season is sometimes closed. So if you already have the annual card, you will save time completing the formalities and paying the fee.
Without the annual card, the entrance fee (Seven-day Passes) is:
- The private, non-commercial vehicle is $35
- Individual (by foot, bicycle, ski, etc.) is $20/person
PRO TIP: The Pass is valid for 1 year from the month of purchase, so it’s the perfect solution if you plan to visit three or more national parks throughout the year. It cost’s only $79.99 per year! America the Beautiful Pass is your ticket to 2,000+ federal recreation sites—including all US national parks.
Yellowstone in Winter – directions to the Park
Directions to Yellowstone from Bozeman
Bozeman, Montana, is 80 miles from North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park and 123 miles from the West Entrance to the park. Go directly to the North Entrance in winter. You can rent a car at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport. We highly recommend having 4WD, as there is a lot of deep snow in the park. You also need wheel chains and a shovel. It’s great to visit the park independently if you are well prepared. Or you can also buy an organized day tour from Bozeman to Yellowstone.
Directions to Yellowstone from Jackson
From Jackson, Wyoming, is 148 miles to Yellowstone North Entrance Road, near Gardiner. This gate is the best for winter visits. You can also consider the 4-Day Grand Teton and Yellowstone Tour from Jackson or Yellowstone Snowmobile Tour to Old Faithful from Jackson.
The interior Yellowstone National Park road between these two entrances (West and North) is closed in winter. The circular route is over 168 miles and takes 3-4 hours of driving in winter.
Most attractions and the most significant part of the park open in winter are located in the northern region. The only open vehicle road is also in this part (Northern Range). Therefore, if you are going from Bozeman, go directly to the North Entrance. The town at the entrance to the park is Gardiner.
Yellowstone roads open to regular traffic in winter
Most park roads are closed to regular traffic from early November to mid-April. The only open year-round road is from Gardiner – North Entrance to Mammoth Hot Springs and to the Northeast Entrance.
The road is closed east of Cooke City, Montana. So, Yellowstone’s Northern Range is the only area of the park accessible by automobile year-round. It is a fabulous 57-mile drive that traverses the range, offering spectacular views full of wildlife on 600 square miles along the Lamar and Yellowstone river basins. Here you can check details on the official NPS map.
You can drive only this road in a private car by all winter. You need wheel chains and a shovel. Driving without the 4×4 drive may not be possible. But check the road status on the official website before you go.
PRO TIP: If you decide to enter Yellowstone National Park in your own car, drive very carefully and slowly. The road is very icy or snow-covered. Wild animals may suddenly jump onto the road. If you don’t want to drive yourself, you can also consider a commercial one-day Winter Yellowstone Tour from Gardiner, which is the perfect option.
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How to get to the interior of Yellowstone in winter?
One of the best things to do in Yellowstone in winter is to get to the park’s interior. It’s a unique and spectacular adventure. The only way to get to Yellowstone National Park interior in winter is a guided tour by a snowmobile or snow coach. We chose a snow coach. Next time we plan to get there by snowmobile. So, we highly recommend you consider booking a Yellowstone in winter package or tour to make the most of the park if you’re keen to see the main attractions of this snowy wonderland. Check our photos and recommendations to see if it’s worth going to. The Interior of Yellowstone was breathtaking in winter. We made this trip, which was one of the best winter experiences.
Getting around Yellowstone in winter in your own car
Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho get a lot of snow in winter, so many roads are closed. Moreover, most of Yellowstone’s interior roads are seasonally closed. If you plan a Yellowstone winter tour on your own or rented car, you must have snow chains, and it the best if you have a 4WD car.
Prepare the car for the road, and check the oil level and brakes. In addition to the chains, get a snow removal kit. Prepare well for freezing temperatures. Windshield snow cover and windshield de-icer will also be very handy in Yellowstone. Here are our Road Trip Packing List Essentials, which help you prepare for your adventure.
It might be freezing. During our Yellowstone winter vacation, eggs and even cooking oil froze in our RV when we left it in the parking, going to the park’s interior by snow coach.
Is Yellowstone National Park worth visiting in winter?
Yes definitely! Below we describe how to get around the winter wonderland. Our Yellowstone winter trip lasted one week, and we would like to repeat this adventure again. You should know that Yellowstone winter vacations are not cheap. The prices of winter tours are pretty high. That’s why it’s worth it to prepare well for this trip and book everything in advance. We do not regret the money spent, because it was one of our best winter holidays.
How many days do you need for Yellowstone winter vacations?
It all depends on your needs and, above all, your budget. We spent one week of winter in Yellowstone National Park and would love to do it again. For sure, it’s worth spending at least 2-4 days there to enjoy the Yellowstone winter scenery.
In our opinion, one day is too short. You won’t see anything if there is a blizzard on that day. The weather is unpredictable, so at least 2-4 days is optimal.
How to get to Yellowstone park’s interior in winter?
Take a snow coach or snowmobile
Most famous Yellowstone attractions like Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and hundreds of geysers are hidden in the park’s interior, which is closed to vehicles in winter. So, how to visit them?
From mid-December to mid-March, Yellowstone roads are open to “oversnow” travel only. This means the only way to visit the park’s famous destinations, like Old Faithful, or the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, during winter is by:
We describe each option in detail below. Yellowstone winter travel hours are 7 am-9 pm.
Please note that mid-November till mid-December and mid-March through mid-April are preparation months for the seasons. So there is no possibility of taking a trip to the Yellowstone interior.
PRO TIP: Due to the limited number of services in winter, it is worth booking your Yellowstone winter vacation well in advance, especially if you are planning a trip to the park’s interior. NPS provides a list of Authorized Snowmobile and Snowcoach Tour Companies in Yellowstone National Park.
Take a Yellowstone Winter Tour
Moreover, you can take a fully guided Yellowstone winter tour. One-day tour or a few days, depending on your needs and budget. But if you decide on a one-day tour – read carefully if it’s a trip to the park interior or if it is focused only on the Northern Range. A few days’ trips are usually to the Yellowstone National Park interior.
With a tour, in addition to transport, you are guaranteed the care of an experienced guide who has excellent knowledge about Yellowstone National Park. Moreover, the guide also knows the habits of wild animals very well, so you will certainly have the opportunity to see the most stunning places in the park during a trip and photograph or observe wildlife. Wildlife watching is one of the best things to do in Yellowstone in winter! Below are some Yellowstone winter tours options.
Yellowstone in Winter – Tours from Gardiner
If you do not wish to drive your own car through the Northern Range, you can visit it on a guided tour. The tour lasts all day long, a large part of which you will spend in the beautiful Lamar Valley, where Yellowstone’s wolves most often reside, deer, bison, and coyotes are. This trip is not to the park’s interior. Here you can check the details.
It’s a perfect option if you love wildlife and wildlife photography but you are on a budget. The price compared to other winter tours are affordable. The attractions are unique. This trip focuses on wildlife watching, especially wolfs in Lamar Valley. You will visit Roosevelt Arch, Mammoth Hot Springs, Hayden Valley, and Tower Fall. Yellowstone in winter is the best time for wildlife photography. Here you can book it.
Yellowstone in Winter – Tours from Bozeman
Choose this trip if you are a photographer and dream of photographing wolves in their natural habitat. During our visit to Yellowstone, we did not know that there were special wolf-watching tours. Wolfs are very active in the park during the winter. Unfortunately, we found out about this tour too late, and no spots were available. We saw other photographers’ photos from this trip, which were excellent. They managed to photograph a whole pack of wolves. They had great shots of wolves in snowy scenery. The guides know perfectly well where to spot wolves in winter. They know their habits, so with such a trip, the chances of taking great photos are much more significant than during a solo trip. We know because we tried. We tried to spot wolves for a few days – we failed. Everyone who went on an organized trip had the opportunity to observe the wolves and take pictures of them.
Yellowstone in Winter – Tours from Jackson
It’s a perfect guided winter adventure into Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. You will spot winter wildlife from a heated vehicle. Moreover, you will take a horse-drawn Elk-Refuge sleigh and a snow coach tour in Yellowstone to witness the Old Faithful geyser explode. This trip will be a fabulous winter adventure. Book your winter trip to Yellowstone here.
Pick-up is possible in Salt Lake City and Jackson. This exclusive tour will allow you to admire two unique national parks in winter: Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park. A professional guide will look after you, and accommodation and meals will be provided. Most importantly, you will have the opportunity to admire the fantastic winter scenery of both parks. This tour includes the most interesting places in Yellowstone’s interior, including the Old Faithful area. Moreover, you will soak at Lava Hot Springs. Here are the details.
Yellowstone in Winter – Lodging
Where to stay during Yellowstone winter vacations? Below are our recommendations.
Accommodation inside the Yellowstone National Park in Winter
Hotels & Cabins in Yellowstone in winter
The Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins and Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins are the only two places with facilities (lodging and dining) open in winter inside the park. But Old Faithful Snow Lodge is located in the park interior, so you can only get there by snowmobile or snow coach. We decided to stay 3 nights at the cozy Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins, which was a great choice. One of the best things to do in Yellowstone in winter is to stay in this cozy place to enjoy the scenery.
You can only book both places through the official website. And it is worth doing it several months in advance because both are extremely popular.
Campgrounds in Yellowstone in winter
Yellowstone offers 12 campgrounds with over 2,000 sites. But only 1 campground is open year-round. It’s Mammoth Campground located at an elevation of 6,200 feet (1890 m). It’s five miles south of the park’s North Entrance. It costs $25 per night. We traveled by RV, so we decided to stay there for a night. Well, we planned to stay longer, but it was so cold that for the next two nights, we decided on a hotel in Gardiner 😉 We were the only RV on the campground. There were no facilities, like electric hookups. The outside temperature at night was -4°F ( -20℃) degrees frost.
Yellowstone winter lodging outside the park
Outside Yellowstone National Park, you will also find exciting winter accommodations. What’s important, the prices are definitely much more favorable than inside the park.
Yellowstone Winter Lodging in Gardiner
Gardiner is the closest town to North Entrance to Yellowstone. It’s a charming town with lodging and dining option. We stayed there 2 nights at two different hotels because we didn’t book accommodation early enough. We can recommend The Ridgeline Hotel at Yellowstone and Absaroka Lodge.
But if you’re looking for something more affordable, book your accommodation in advance via booking.com, or TripAdvisor.com. Although there are fewer tourists in winter, there is a problem with accommodation, because some of the hotels, cabins are closed for the winter. So, book your accommodation in advance to save time and money during your winter holidays. If you decide to take one of the winter trips we presented above – you do not have to worry about accommodation. You will have it included in the price of the winter trip.
Yellowstone Winter Lodging in Cook City
A wide range of accommodations from hotels to cozy cabins also offers Cook City, close to Northeast Entrance.
West Yellowstone Winter Lodging
You can also stay and visit a small part of West Yellowstone in winter. But you must know that it is a 3-4 hour drive to North Yellowstone from West Yellowstone during winter. We stayed there for one night. But West Yellowstone, in our opinion, has less to offer in winter than the northern part. So if you have little time for a winter visit to Yellowstone, the best idea is to choose the North Entrance area.
Temperatures in Yellowstone in Winter
Whether you plan to spend two days or a week in Yellowstone during winter, be prepared for frigid temperatures and a lot of snow. We were in Yellowstone all week in January and had terrific weather. Of course, it was freezing. But the days were very sunny, which made the perceived temperature much higher. During the week, we had a blizzard only once.
During our stay, daytime temperatures were below 19.4 °F (-7°C). A few days were below 14 °F (-10°C). But the sun made us spend long hours actively in the fresh, frosty air. We have had excellent oxygenation, and we recommend everyone be active in Yellowstone in winter.
The evenings and nights were much colder. There was a severe frost. On the coldest night, the temperature dropped to -16.6 °F (-27 °C). The rest of the nights it was around -4 °F (-20 °C).
Yellowstone winter temperatures range from zero to 20°F (-20°C to -5°C) throughout the day. Sub-zero temperatures are common, especially at night and at higher elevations. The record low temperature is -66°F (-54°C).
What To Pack For Winter in Yellowstone?
It would be best if you prepared for frosty and snowy days. Therefore, the layers are the most important. Thermoactive warm clothing is a must. Please check our Day Hiking Packing List to see what we use. But below, we recommend a few items and tips which are must-haves for Yellowstone winter vacation.
It’s important to know that Snow Boots are a must-have for Yellowstone winter visits. Most of all, they should be warm and have good traction. Moreover, it should be waterproof. Look for something insulated and waterproof. You don’t have to spend a fortune on them. Check Snow Boots at affordable prices. We like Sorel for Men and Women. They have excellent quality. A large selection of snow boots is on the Rei.com outlet.
Waterproof Leg Gaiters, which are adjustable for Snow Boots and Snowshoeing, are also essential for Yellowstone winter tours. They protect your pants and boots. They will protect you from snow falling into your shoes. You must always keep your feet dry and warm during winter hikes. Otherwise, you may cool down your body quickly, which might be dangerous.
Yellowstone’s deep snow in winter is nothing unusual. Snowshoes are essential to prevent you from falling into snowdrifts. When fresh white snow falls, you won’t be able to walk with snow boots only. You don’t have to buy them. You can easily rent them at Old Faithful Snow Lodge or at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. But if you like winter activities, it’s definitely worth having your own Snowshoes. If you plan to buy your own consider a set with trekking poles, as they are also essential for hiking in the deep Yellowstone snow.
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Hand and Foot warmers
Hiking in winter Yellowstone is a fabulous adventure. But to enjoy this wonderland, you have to feel comfy. After a few hours in this fresh and freezing air, it was a fantastic solution to warm up our bodies using hand and foot warmers. It’s cheap but the perfect item for winter in Yellowstone. It can save your life if you are surprised by a severe frost.
We have already used these heaters several times in winter conditions. So, pack a few pairs of Hand Warmers and Foot Warmers, or Toe Foot Warmers.
Hiking crampons also turned out to be very useful. Roads and trails are icy in places, so pack them up and use them for safety. They are durable, do not cost much, and make it easier to wander on icy surfaces.
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The Best Things To Do in Yellowstone in Winter
Drive the Yellowstone’s Northern Range
One of the best things you can do in Yellowstone in winter is drive through the Northern Range, from Mammoth Hot Springs to Cooke City. The views are breathtaking. As we mentioned above, it’s the only winter road you can drive in Yellowstone. You can do this drive yourself or on a guided one-day tour from Gardiner or Bozeman.
Wildlife is very active in Yellowstone in winter. There are not many tourists, so the snow wonderland belongs to wildlife. Bison will cross your path many times. You can spot deer, and coyotes. And if you look around carefully, you have a good chance of spotting wolves. They are very active in Yellowstone in winter.
Even if you don’t plan to get to the Yellowstone interior, we assure you that you also have a chance to spot much wildlife in the North Range. We spent 3 days in the northern part of the park exploring the Northern Range with Lamar Valley, and we hope we back there one day. It was the most touching wildlife experience in our lives so far. We met photographers and wildlife enthusiasts who spent even a month or two in winter and weren’t bored at all.
PRO TIP: Stay away from wildlife. Keep a safe distance. Don’t feed the animals. Be extremely careful when you encounter bison. The road is very slippery, and bison stumble with their hooves sometimes if they are scared. They can also start rushing violently, which can be dangerous.
Watch for the Yellowstone wolves in Lamar Valley
Yellowstone in winter is full of wildlife. Driving through the Northern Range can be an unforgettable experience for you because, in Lamar Valley, you have the best chance of spotting wolves. Specialist wolf-watching tours are organized during winter in Yellowstone. Or you can choose a wildlife safari. With an experienced guide, you have a much better chance of seeing a pack of wolves. They know their paths, and each pack’s habits, and use special devices to help track down and hear wolves. So, this tour is a great option if you have little time for your winter adventure in Yellowstone.
But if you look carefully, you have a chance to spot them yourself in the white snow. Yellowstone National Park offers terrific wildlife-watching opportunities. We heard and spotted wolves several times. Unfortunately, they were far away, and we did not manage to take good photos. However, it was great to be able to observe these predators. We also admire coyotes in Lamar Valley, so we share our photos of coyotes. Wildlife watching is one of the best things to do in Yellowstone in winter.
Take the Yellowstone Snowcoach Tour
We decided to take a trip to Yellowstone’s interior, and we don’t regret the money spent. It was just a few unforgettable days in fantastic scenery. We booked three nights in the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, so we had to get there. The options were by snowmobile or by snow coach. As photographers, we decided to book a snow coach to take pictures during the drive. It was a fantastic choice. The driver often stopped for photos and told us about Yellowstone National Park. We can highly recommend it.
PRO TIP: If you don’t want to book Old Faithful Snow Lodge, you can take a one-day (go and back) Yellowstone snowcoach tour. You start your trip early in the morning. You will have some time in the Old Faithful area and will back in the afternoon.
Book your stay at Old Faithful Snow Lodge & Cabins
Book a stay at Old Faithful Snow Lodge & Cabins. At least two or three nights. You will not regret the money spent. It’s the only open place in Yellowstone National Park interior in winter. We stayed three nights there and regretted that it was so short! But we couldn’t afford a longer stay because we were on a dream journey from Alaska to Florida.
The place is extremely cozy. After a long snow hike, you can warm yourself in the warmth of the fireplace, eat a good dinner and drink some wine. It is a great place to explore the interior of the park. There are hundreds of active geysers in the area that you can admire while skiing or snowshoeing.
PRO TIP: Pack a lot of high-energy snacks. You will save money. Breakfast is included in the price. But thanks to snacks you will save money for lunch and eat later a warm dinner. Take high-energy and protein bars, beef jerky, and other favorite snacks with you. In winter, our body uses much more energy in frost, and you need to feed it. You’ll be very hungry. On such frosty days, you can eat twice as much as usual.
Go Hiking & Snowshoeing
Hiking is one of the best things to do in Yellowstone in winter. But, the best option is snowshoeing. Well, snowshoes are a must-have. Snow is intense. There are a lot of hiking trails in Yellowstone National Park, which are open in winter. Some you will find near the Mammoth Hot Springs area and Lamar Valley. But the best hiking trails are near Old Faithful because you can admire geysers.
If you don’t plan to visit Yellowstone’s interior, consider a Private Full-Day Yellowstone Snowshoe Safari from Gardiner.
Go Cross-Country Skiing
Also, cross-country skiing is popular in Yellowstone in winter. The routes are of different difficulty levels. There are many popular trails, but two of the most popular ones are the Biscuit Basin Trail (which goes through the Old Faithful geyser basin) and Blacktail Plateau Trail.
See the geysers against the snow
According to the NPS website, Yellowstone National Park preserves the most extraordinary collection of hot springs, geysers, mud pots, and fumaroles on Earth. More than 10,000 hydrothermal features are found here, of which more than 500 are geysers. One of the best things to do in Yellowstone in winter is to see the geysers!
When you wander between them, you feel like you are on a different planet. It is impossible to describe this extraordinary and magical beauty with words. In addition, Yellowstone in winter has a lot of color contrasts. Nothing distracts your eyes because there is only white around. So you can make out dozens of shades in geysers.
You can admire geysers only if you decide to go on a Yellowstone winter tour to the park interior. For us, Yellowstone in winter was one of the most delightful and, at the same time, intimidating places during our 8-month road trip through the US.
Visit West Yellowstone
You can also add a West Yellowstone in winter to your itinerary if you have time. But if you have to choose, take the northern part of Yellowstone National Park. In the west part, we like the most Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center. It’s an amazing place for families.
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