Ever walked through a winter wonderland? Visit Yellowstone National Park between November and March and you’ll likely get your chance. Covered in a blanket of white, the terrain looks as quiet and peaceful as it feels. Add in landscapes of steaming geysers for an ethereal feel and you’ve got a recipe for a great vacation!
Just be sure that you’re prepared. Here are some tips and dates to keep in mind.
Yellowstone’s Winter Season
Fall Park Road Closings
Roads inside Yellowstone close to wheeled traffic on Nov. 2, 2020, except for the road between the North and Northeast entrances, which remain open year-round. However, since the Beartooth Highway which leads to the East Entrance is also seasonally closed, the only way to enter the park in a vehicle is through the North Entrance.
Beartooth Highway Outside of the Park at the East Entrance
Beartooth Highway (US 212 to Red Lodge, Montana) closes Oct. 13, 2020, and reopens in early May.
Winter Recreation Season
The park opens for winter recreation and over-snow travel in mid-December for the 2020-21 winter. Roads will open to over-snow travel by snowmobile and snowcoach at 8 a.m. on the following dates:
- Dec. 15, 2020: West Entrance to Old Faithful, Mammoth to Old Faithful, Canyon to Norris, Canyon to Lake, Old Faithful to West Thumb, South Entrance to Lake, Lake to Lake Butte Overlook.
- Dec. 22, 2020: East Entrance to Lake Butte Overlook (Sylvan Pass)
The winter recreation season closes in March. Here are the spring 2021 closure dates. Roads will close to oversnow travel by snowmobile and snowcoach at 9 p.m. on the following dates:
- March 1, 2021: East Entrance to Lake Butte Overlook (Sylvan Pass).
- March 7, 2021: Mammoth to Norris.
- March 9, 2021: Norris to Madison, Norris to Canyon.
- March 14, 2021: Canyon to Fishing Bridge.
- March 15, 2021: All remaining groomed roads close.
Most of the park is closed for a couple weeks in April to plow the roads in preparation for the summer season. In 2021, road opening dates for the summer season have not been announced.
For reference, in 2020, the roads opened on these dates: April 17 (West Entrance), May 1 (East Entrance), May 8 (South Entrance) and May 22 (Tower Fall to Canyon and the Beartooth Highway to the Northeast Entrance) pending weather conditions.
Where to Stay Inside the Park in Winter
Many of Yellowstone’s hotels and cabins, including the famous Old Faithful Inn, are only open during the summer season. However, there are a couple of options for lodging during the winter inside the park.
Old Faithful Snow Lodge and cabins will not be available for overnight accommodations this winter 2020-21. The Bear Den Gift Shop and Geyser Grill (take-out lunch service) will be open from December 15, 2020, through March 15, 2021.
Mammoth Hotel, hot tub cabins, dining room, gift shop, ski shop, and day tour operations will be available from December 15, 2020, to March 1, 2021.
Learn more about Yellowstone’s winter lodging.
What to Wear in Winter at Yellowstone
Winter weather in Yellowstone can be severe, but when you’re dressed appropriately it’s fun to brave the cold. One of the most important tips to attire in this environment: Wear layers—especially if you’re going to be moving around skiing, snowshoeing or hiking.
Your layering lineup should include a windproof, hooded outer layer and baselayers, like wool or synthetic long underwear-esque items for both your upper and lower body. Avoid cotton jeans and sweatshirts if you plan to be active; these items lack wicking ability leaving you wet and cold. Choose thick socks and boots when hiking over well-trodden areas and add gaiters to the mix if you’ll be wandering through knee-deep snow. Hats are a must since you lose most of your heat from your head, and don’t forget the gloves/mittens to keep those fingers warm. Pro tip: Disposable hand-warmers stuffed into mittens can be a treat for those who get cold easily or have poor circulation to their hands.
One thing many people forget when adventuring outside in snowy conditions: sun protection. High-altitude sunlight reflecting off of snow is even more intense than at lower elevations, so be sure to pack the sunglasses and lather sunscreen onto any exposed skin to avoid sunburn.
Winter Activities in Yellowstone
Wondering what to do on your visit to a snow-covered Yellowstone? We have plenty of ideas! Take advantage of that white blanket of snow to zip through Yellowstone on a different form of transportation. Winter in the park provides opportunities to take in the steaming geyser basins and wildlife via snowshoes, cross country skis, snowmobiles and snowcoaches.
Yellowstone Wildlife in Winter
Wolf Watching in Wintertime
Longing to see Yellowstone’s most elusive major predator, the wolf? There’s no better time to get a glimpse of these beautiful animals than in winter, when their dark coats stand out against the white snow. Go on a wolf-watching tour for the best chance to spot one.
Yellowstone Safari Company offers a two-day trip to Yellowstone’s northern range, the Winter Wolf and Wildlife Safari. Participants get a long evening to look for the wolves, and then get an early-morning start the following day.
If you want a longer trip, check out Wolf Tracker, which offers five-day trips, including Wolf Watches in Gardiner, Mont. as well as a Wolf Retreat in Bozeman, Mont. Outings are led by a knowledgeable husband and wife team: He’s a Yellowstone native who’s studied wolf and elk ecology and she’s a researcher and conservationist.
Want to see wildlife and more on a winter snowshoe or ski tour? Our partner, Wildland Trekking, offers two winter experiences that are all inclusive with lodging and meals.
Elk Migrate in Winter
The National Elk Refuge is a great option for elk-viewing in the winter months. See thousands of elk while gliding along in a horse-drawn carriage.
Bison Migrate in Winter
Bison head for lower elevations during the winter in order to find food. Yellowstone’s central bison herd typically heads to the park’s west boundary during the colder months, whereas the northern herd usually migrates within park boundaries.
Bears Hibernate in Winter
Sorry folks. Bears are hibernating for the winter. Watch a video of a grizzly and cub hibernating.