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Visiting Yellowstone in the Winter

Visiting Yellowstone in the winter is an amazing experience. Yellowstone National Park is absolutely beautiful in the winter. It is worth braving the cold to experience the park in a new way.

Visiting Yellowstone in the winter is different in a few ways. The first is the most obvious, everything (well almost everything) is covered in snow. The snow just makes everything seem so peaceful.

Another way visiting the park in the winter is different is that you have to go in with a tour company. Whether you are going in on a tour bus or a snowmobile, you have to go with a tour company. There are several tour companies that you can use. I have gone into the park twice during the winter. Both times I went with Yellowstone Vacations. 

These tour companies offer two tours. One to Old Faithful and the geyser basin and the other to Canyon and to Upper & Lower Falls. I have gone on both tours. Both are gorgeous.


Old Faithful Tour

Because Old Faithful is in the geyser basin part of the park, there is somewhat less snow. The ground is warmer because of the geothermal features. Most of the natural plumbing for these features is 3 miles or less underground it keeps the ground warm. Because of this, the snow melts. 

Because of this, the southern herd of buffalo spend their winter in the geyser basin. They migrate over Mary Mountain in the spring and spend their summer in the Hayden Valley and then come back over the mountain and spend the winter on the western side of the lower loop where it’s warmer (relatively of course). 


Canyon Tour

The tour to Canyon and the falls tends to have more snow. The year we went on this tour was an epic snowfall winter for us. Here in southeast Idaho we nearly set a record for snowfall. And since we get the same weather systems that Yellowstone gets, it was an epic year for them as well. However, it is typical that Canyon gets more snow than Old Faithful. 

The rivers and falls in the geyser basin are free flowing and don’t freeze up in the winter. However the river and falls on the eastern side are covered in ice and snow. 

The Upper and Lower Falls are absolutely gorgeous during the winter. The spray from the falls freeze and create beautiful natural ice sculptures. Words just can’t do it justice.

As I was saying before the amount of snow on this side of the park is more. Because of this, they have to clear  snow from the roofs of the buildings. We got to see this happening in Canyon. It is amazing. First the amount of snow and second the process of it. 

In the pictures above, you can see that the man uses a very large saw to cut the snow into blocks. And in the video below, you see him moving the block of snow off the roof. It’s is a very cool process.


There is one exception to having to use a tour company to go into the park. The road from Gardiner to Cooke City (North West gate to the North East gate) is open year round. I have not gone into the park this way as of yet. But it is on the list. Travel can be a little difficult to from here to Gardiner in winter. But one of these days, we are going to brave it.



One aspect of Yellowstone that I haven’t really talked about is the animals. There are far less animals visible in the park during the winter. The elk mostly migrate out of the park during the winter. One herd migrates north into the Gardiner area. Another herd migrates south into the Jackson area and another migrates west into the Ennis area. My first trip into the park in the winter, we saw a few elk. This past trip I saw none.

I explained earlier how the southern herd of buffalo migrate. The northern herd doesn’t migrate much. They spend most of their time in the Lamar Valley. They do migrate a little more north into Montana but not much. 

The wolves, coyotes and foxes are still around. We got to see a coyote this most recent trip. He just wandered through the parking lot of Biscuit Basin. The moose tend to move higher in elevation so we don’t see much of them. And of course the bears are hibernating.

Yellowstone National Park is an amazing place. When the explorers first discovered Yellowstone, they kept calling it Wonderland. It does have many wonders. The geothermal activity is amazing and changing constantly. The scenery is also amazing. The topography changes from one part of the park to another.  You have valleys, mountain passes, lava flows, and so much more.  Visiting Yellowstone in the winter and the summer is worth the time and the expense.

Wondering where to stay and where to eat when visiting Yellowstone. We’ve got that information in our Visiting Yellowstone – Tips, Tricks and Favorites post.

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