The North Entrance at Gardiner, Montana is the Only Entrance that is Open Year Round to visitors and vehicle traffic. You can visit Mammoth Hot Springs, the Mammoth Visitor Center and Albright Museum and tour the park from Mammoth to Roosevelt to the Northeast Entrance of the park. The road (Highway 212) is plowed and open to the Montana cities of Silver Gate and Cooke City. Travel east of Cooke City is not possible until late spring when the road east of Cooke City is plowed.
If you are interested in viewing thermal activity and wildlife, this is a great area for viewing antelope, bears, bison, birds, elk, otters, wolves and other wildlife. The road through Lamar Valley is Open Year Round and winter is a fantastic time for wolf watching in Lamar.
During the winter months (beginning of Nov - mid Apr) most roads in Yellowstone are closed to wheeled vehicle travel EXCEPT the road from the North Entrance (at Gardiner, Montana) to Mammoth Hot Springs to the Northeast Entrance (Silver Gate and Cooke City, Montana). This is State Road 212 and it is kept open year round. There may be temporary road closures due to weather and snow tires or chains may be required.
From mid Dec to the beginning of Mar - the West, East and South entrances open to over snow vehicles for winter activities in the park. Over snow vehicles are skis, snowshoes, snowcoaches and snowmobiles. No wheeled vehicles (cars or trucks) are permitted to enter Yellowstone through these entrances (they may use the North Entrance Only during this time frame).
The following winter activities are offered in Yellowstone National Park:
Crosscountry skiing - (West Yellowstone is the U.S. Olympic Crosscountry Ski Teams Training area)
Scenic / Wildlife tours in a Snowcoach and/or Snowmobile
All the equipment you would need for any of these activities can be rented outside or inside the park.
Snowcoach shuttles run from:
West Yellowstone to Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Old Faithful to Canyon
South Entrance to Old Faithful
Mammoth to Old Faithful
Mammoth to West Yellowstone
Mammoth to Canyon
These shuttles start running in mid December through the beginning of March.
If you have seen winter pictures of Yellowstone or some PBS documentary films - the scenery is fantastic and wildlife is abundant - and the crowds are very small.
Yellowstone Park Service Stations provide snowcoach and snowmobile fuel and other basic snowmobile services at stations located throughout the park. Service stations will be open at Canyon Junction, Fishing Bridge and Old Faithful from 20 Dec 2006 to 05 Mar 2007, and at Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces from 20 Dec 2006 to 04 Mar 2007.
Warming huts will be open at Canyon, Fishing Bridge, Indian Creek, Madison, Old Faithful and West Thumb. All warming huts, except Old Faithful, are open 24 hours a day; the Old Faithful Warming Hut is open during daytime hours only. Canyon and Madison warming huts have light snacks and hot drinks during the day; vending machine snacks are available anytime at all warming huts except Indian Creek and West Thumb.
"Snowmobile operators are subject to all park regulations. All snowmobile operators in Yellowstone National Park must possess a valid motor vehicle operator's license. In addition, persons possessing a learner's permit may operate a snowmobile in the park only when supervised within line of sight (but no further than 100 yards) by a licensed person 21 years of age or older.
Snowmobilers are reminded to always be prepared for emergencies and be alert for snowdrifts in some areas or sections of bare pavement, especially in thermally-influenced areas." This information was provided by the National Park Service.
The Junior Ranger Program is designed for children from 5 - 12 years of age and their families. Participants explore the winter world of snow, ice and steam through activities focusing on geology, wildlife adaptations, weather, snow crystals and more. In addition to completing an age-appropriate activity paper, participants attend a program led by a park ranger, record wildlife observations, make a record of geyser and hot spring activity, and hike, ski, or snowshoe a trail.
Children can participate by requesting the program at either the Mammoth or Old Faithful visitor centers. For $ 3.00 they receive an activity paper, as well as equipment and materials to assist them in the completion of required activities. "Snowpacks", containing a thermometer, hand lens, and other tools help with data collection. Snowshoes provide a fun and efficient way to make explorations, and are available at Mammoth specifically for use by Junior Rangers and their families. Upon completion of the program, children return to the visitor center to have their work reviewed by a park ranger, and receive an embroidered patch. Fees collected through this program help maintain the program, allow for the continued development of new program components, and provide high school students summer jobs working with Junior Rangers.
This program is a natural offshoot of Yellowstone's well-established summer Junior Ranger program, which awards 15,000 patches each summer. Most parks offer some sort of Junior Ranger program, and many children enjoy collecting the great variety of patches and badges offered.
This is a great opportunity for youth to learn about and enjoy Yellowstone's Winter Wonderland. Follow this link for more information about the Junior Ranger Program.
Most of Yellowstone is backcountry and managed as wilderness; many miles of trails are available for skiing. Track is set only on a few trails. All unplowed roads and trails are open to cross country skiing and showshoeing.
There are dangers inherent in wilderness: unpredictable wildlife, changing weather conditions, remote thermal areas, deep snow, open streams, and rugged mountains with extreme avalanche danger. When you choose to explore Yellowstone, you experience the land on its own terms; there is no guarantee of your safety. Be prepared for any situation. Carefully read all backcountry guidelines and regulations, and know the limit of your ability.
Most trails are marked with orange metal markers attached to trees. Few streams have bridges. Parties venturing into the backcountry should carry a USGS topographic map and a compass and know how to use them. Even on a well-marked trail, it is easy to get lost in a "whiteout" or blizzard. Only skiers thoroughly familiar with the area should attempt off-trail travel. When planning your trip, get specific information on conditions from rangers at a ranger station or visitor center.
Park elevations with adequate skiable snow range from 7,000 to 10,000 feet (2133 - 3048 meters). Skiers and snowshoers who live at lower elevations should take a short day or overnight trip to test their capabilities before attempting longer outings.
A Backcountry Use Permit is required for all overnight ski trips. Contact a park ranger at a ranger station or visitor center before you begin a ski trip -- whether for a few hours or several days. Trip planning should include allowances for limited daylight, snow conditions, temperature extremes, and the number of people in the group, their experience and physical condition. Overnight ski and snowshoe trips during December and January are difficult due to short days, extreme temperatures, and soft snow. Learn as much as you can about winter survival. Talk with park rangers before you leave on any trip.
Choose skis and boots made for touring or mountaineering. Narrow racing skis won't provide enough surface area to break trail. Information provided by the NPS.
Some trails that are "normally" groomed (depending on snow and weather conditions) are: Lone Star (Old Faithful area), Tower Loop (Tower area) and Upper Loop Terrace (Mammoth area). See the Hiking Page for trail information. Check with the ranger station or visitor center for a complete list of trails and grooming info, also check the Trail Descriptions listed below.
For additional info see the Current Condition Page and the Weather Page.
In the winter, Yellowstone offers a variety of enjoyable and challenging trails for the skier. All trails are marked but may be untracked. On some trails, the more difficult and most difficult sections can be avoided by skiing part way in and returning to the same trailhead. The experience you have will depend upon the amount of planning and preparation you do prior to your trip. We suggest that you stop at a visitors center or ski shop and discuss your trip in person. The staff will be happy to provide current information on weather, trails, snow conditions, and alert you to any special winter hazards. Wood fires are not permitted. Pets are not allowed on ski trails or in backcountry areas.
Some backcountry trails are suitable for skiing, but should only be attempted by experienced parties equipped with topographic maps and a compass. Overnight camping requires a free backcountry use permit which must be obtained in person from the Mammoth or Old Faithful Ranger Stations or West, South, or East Entrance Stations. Your permit may be picked up 48 hours in advance and will designate the camping area to be used.
When skiing near thermal areas, stay on marked trails. Approaching thermal features is dangerous because of unstable ground. The snow in these ares is often icy and what appears to be bare ground may be a thin crust over boiling water.
Winter weather in Yellowstone changes rapidly and can be severe. Many areas are frequently windy. Wear proper clothing. Watch yourself and other members of your party for signs of frostbite and hypothermia. For your safety, always ski with someone else. Carry extra clothing, food, water, map and compass, matches, flashlight, and a whistle. Sign in at trail registers and tell someone where you are going, by what route, and when you plan to return.
Please do not approach wildlife. Large mammals survive on stored fat and low quality food during winter. Causing them to move will cost them precious calories vital for survival. If animals look at you and move away, you are too close.
Trails within Yellowstone National Park have been rated by the National Park Service with trail ratings specific to Yellowstone. We strongly encourage all skiers to inquire at a ranger station or ski shop before beginning their first ski trip. Weather conditions may cause icy trails, deep snow, avalanche conditions, or barren sections increasing the difficulty of a trail and trip.
|Biscuit Basin Loop
7,320 - 7,360 feet
40 feet elevation change
|The route begins across the road from Old Faithful Snow Lodge and continues through the Geyser Basin. The trail goes east of Morning Glory Pool and on to Biscuit Basin. This trail passes by many thermal features with good possibilities of viewing wildlife. You may wish to remove your skis as bare spots are frequent and skiing in the geyser basins may cause icing on skis. To complete a loop back to Old Faithful, follow the Mystic Falls Trail a few yards, then turn left onto a trail which leads down to a footbridge across the Little Firehole River. From the bridge, the trail continues through the woods and meadows for about a mile, returning to the main trail through the Geyser Basin at Grotto Geyser.|
|Black Sand Basin
7,280 - 7,360 feet
80 feet elevation change
|The route begins in front of the Old Faithful Visitor Center and travels up Geyser Hill toward Morning Glory Pool. Take the turn-off to the Daisy Geyser Group and continue on this trial until you come to the snow vehicle road. Across the road is Black Sand Basin which is often bare so you may wish to remove your skis.|
8,044 to 8,779 feet
|3 miles||More Difficult
735 feet elevation change
|The route begins approximately 7 miles east of Old Faithful. A snowcoach can drop you off there. The trail climbs approximately 1.7 miles up to a lookout tower that is on the Continental Divide. The tower is no longer used and is closed to the public.|
7,240 to 7,400 feet
160 feet elevation change
|The route begins at the southern end of the Fountain Flats Drive. A snowcoach can drop you off there. At approximately 1.3 miles the trail divides. Continue skiing to the left passing through lodgepole pine forest to Fairy Falls, one of the most spectacular ice-encrusted falls in the park. To return to Old Faithful, ski back to the snow vehicle road and follow the trail that runs parallel to the Biscuit Basin Trail. CAUTION: Do not attempt to ski back to Old Faithful on the Fairy Creek Trail unless you are in excellent condition and have planned in advance for a long trip!|
|Fern Cascades Loop
7,360 to 7,600 feet
|3 miles||More Difficult
240 feet elevation change
|The one-way Fern Cascades Trail begins next to the Old Faithful Snow Lodge continuing past the Bear Den Ski Shop. After the trail crosses the snow vehicle road, look for directional arrows marking the beginning of the one way loop. For your enjoyment and safety, follow the one way signs. The trail continues along a powerline, past some government buildings, turns left and climbs approximately 250 feet. The trail continues .2 miles through rolling woodlands to Fern Cascades. CAUTION: Do not get close to the edge of the snowbanks when you view the cascades! The loop continues through lodgepole pine forest until you reach the last section, a steep downhill run. Return to the Old Faithful Snow Lodge by the same route.|
|Lone Star Geyser
7,360 to 7,600 feet
240 feet elevation change
|Beginning across from the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, the trail follows Mallard Lake Trail through the Old Faithful Lodge cabin area crossing the Firehole River. The trail goes to the right following an old road cut to the snow vehicle road. Approximately 100 feet up th road, signs will direct you back into the woods. After skiing about .5 mile over moderate hills, the trail returns to the snow vehicle road at Kepler Cascades. Across the road the trail continues along the east bank of the Firehole River. The trail connects with and follows an old service road to Lone Star Geyser. The geyser erupts about every three hours with activity lasting approximately 30 minutes. Novice skiers should return to Old Faithful by the same route. A more difficult return route can be made on the Howard Eaton Trail.|
|Lone Star Geyser Loop
7,360 to 7,860 feet
|7 miles||Easiest to More Difficult
500 feet elevation change
|You may ski this loop in either direction; however, if you begin by following the Lone Star Geyser Trail, you will encounter some very steep downhill sections on the Howard Eaton Trail upon leaving Lone Star Geyser. If you begin your trip on the Howard Eaton Trail, be prepared for some steep climbs. Please yield the track to skiers coming down.|
|Mallard Creek Loop
7,320 to 8,120 feet
|12 miles||More Difficult to Most Difficult
760 feet elevation change
|Follow the Mallard Lake Trail 3.2 miles going left at the fork before reaching the lake. From there, the trail is steep with challenging turns! The trail ends at the snow vehicle road. Here, take the trail to your left which parallels the main road back through the geyser basin to Old Faithful. The trail to your right goes to Fairy Falls|
7,320 to 8,120 feet
|6.6 miles||More Difficult
800 feet elevation change
|The Mallard Lake Trail begins across the road from the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. Leading you through the Old Faithful Lodge cabin area and down a short hill to the Firehole River. After crossing the bridge, the trail divides with the Mallard Lake Trail straight ahead and Lone Star to the right. There is a 750 foot climb to Mallard Lake with some steep sections. Returning by the same route can be quite fast when the snow is packed. A permit is required if you wish to stay overnight in the area.|
7,320 - 7,400 feet
|7 miles||Easy to More Difficult
80 feet elevation change
|Follow the Biscuit Basin Trail through Geyser Hill to Morning Glory Pool and on to Biscuit Basin. You will find the trail to Mystic Falls at the far end of the basin boardwalk area. Ahead about 50 yards towards Mystic Falls, the trail branches left to Summit Lake. Continue on, the Mystic Falls Trail approaches the falls with a series of steep switchbacks. The last steep section is often bare due to thermal warmth so you may need to remove your skis and walk this part of the trail. Return by the same route. CAUTION: Do not ski any backcountry trails without first checking conditions and detailed maps. Give yourself enough time to complete either route before dark.|
7,360 - 8,100 feet
|8 miles||Easiest to More Difficult
740 feet elevation change
|This one-way trip begins with a drop off (available by snowcoach) at Divide Lookout Trailhead, approximately 7 miles east of Old Faithful. The trail follows Spring Creek consisting mostly of gentle downhill slopes with a few steep sections crossing back and forth over a series of bridges. After crossing the Firehole River Bridge, the trail joins the Lone Star Geyser Trail returning to Old Faithful.|
Temperatures at this time of year generally range from 0°F to 30°F during daylight hours, and dropping to 0°F to -30°F at night. Wind, sudden storms and thermal features can cause variations in these temperatures and the otherwise dry and powdery snow conditions. When you enter Yellowstone, and before you take any backcountry trips, check with a ranger for local conditions and current weather reports.
Beware of Hypothermia - the lowering of the body's inner core temperature. Be on the lookout for the following major symptoms:
In winter situation such as Yellowstone's, the correct clothing could mean the difference between life and death. Rather than attempt to fulfill all your clothing needs in one layer, clothing of several adjustable layers enables you to be prepared for changing conditions:
Emergency Equipment and Provisions
Equipment is as important a factor as clothing when it comes to your safety. The following items should be taken on ALL ski trips:
Never approach wildlife too closely -- they can travel faster through the snow than you can, and may charge if they feel threatened. Winter is a critical time for animals; disturbing them unnecessarily may make them use precious energy vital to their survival.
Unique to Yellowstone are its thermal features. However, they may harbor hidden dangers during the winter season. Be aware of overhanging snow ledges, thin crusts and icy patches leading to or around such areas.
Heavy fresh snowfall, high winds or extreme temperature changes may cause avalanches. Check with a ranger on current avalanche conditions before you go into the backcountry.
Most park trails are not groomed and on occasion you will find yourself breaking trail. Anyone who has done this knows how difficult it can be, and maintaining good tracks is a help to all. Snowshoers should walk to the side of existing ski tracks and not directly on them. Fellow skiers who take spills should make an effort to repair the damage to the tracks.
Safety Rules and Hints
Not only during winter, but anytime you venture into the backcountry, the following rules and hints apply:
Hotels are open in West Yellowstone, Montana that offer all of the above activities, plus winter packages.
Contact the following for winter activity information, lodging rates, and reservations:
Gray Wolf Inn and Suites
Stage Coach Inn
Two Top Snowmobile Rental, Inc.
West Yellowstone Central Reservations
West Yellowstone Reservations
For Travel Arrangements, Winter Activities, Tours and more information contact:
Callowishus Park Touring Company
The following lodging is open in the park: Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Old Faithful Snow Lodge.
For reservations in the park call:
Xanterra - Phone: 307-344-7311 - Fax: 307-344-7456