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
Many roads close to wheeled traffic on October 15, 2019 and more on November 4, 2019, except for the road between the North and Northeast entrances which remain open year-round.
Beartooth Highway Closing to Northeast Entrance
Beartooth Highway (US 212 to Red Lodge, Montana) closes in mid-October and reopens in early May.
Winter Recreation Season
The park opens for winter recreation and over-snow travel in mid-December for the 2019-20 winter. Roads will open to oversnow travel by snowmobile and snowcoach at 8 a.m. on the following dates:
- Dec. 15, 2019: 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, 2019: East Entrance to Lake Butte Overlook (Sylvan Pass)
The winter recreation season closes in March. Here are the spring 2019 closure dates. Roads will close to oversnow travel by snowmobile and snowcoach at 9 p.m. on the following dates:
- March 1, 2020: East Entrance to Lake Butte Overlook (Sylvan Pass).
- March 8, 2020: Mammoth to Norris.
- March 10, 2020: Norris to Madison, Norris to Canyon.
- March 10, 2020: Canyon to Fishing Bridge.
- March 15, 2020: 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 2020, roads are slated to reopen for the summer season 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.
Find out more about Yellowstone Winter Road Access.
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.
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.
Only have one day? Opt for the 8-hour tours from the Yellowstone Forever, which explore Yellowstone’s northern range in search of wildlife. Try a short hike, snowshoe or ski outing as part of the day.
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.
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.