Cross-country Ski Tours and Trails in Yellowstone

Take a cross-country ski tour of Yellowstone, or go it on your own on these three trails that range from easy to difficult.
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Take a cross-country ski tour of Yellowstone, or go it on your own on these three trails that range from easy to difficult.
This pair of skiers started in West Yellowstone and were skiing to Old Faithful. They are skiing under the steam from the geysers at the Fountain Paint Pots. Photo by permission Flickr Bryan_French.

This pair of skiers started in West Yellowstone and were skiing to Old Faithful. They are skiing under the steam from the geysers at the Fountain Paint Pots. Photo by permission Flickr Bryan_French.

There are some great ski trails for winter cross-country skiing in Yellowstone. All of Yellowstone's unplowed roads and trails are open to cross country skiing and snowshoeing during the winter. In the Old Faithful area alone, there are 40 miles of cross-country trails, many of which are interconnected. Snowcoach drop-offs are available from the Old Faithful Snow Lodge to either the Divide or Fairy Falls trailheads, but you need to get back on your skis.

Visitors unfamiliar with the Yellowstone area should stay on marked trails. Guided ski tours and shuttles are also available from park concessionaires. A popular tour is the Yellowstone Association Institute's Winter Wonderland program on snowcoach, snowshoes and skis shown in the video below.

Do you want to go it alone but don't know where to start? Here are three trails that range from easy to difficult.

Yellowstone Canyon Rim Ski Trail

4.5 miles long; easy to intermediate

This loop trail begins and ends at the Canyon warming hut. It's 4.5 miles long, involves a 200-foot elevation change, and is considered an easy to intermediate ski.

From Canyon Junction, the Canyon Rim Trail follows North Rim Drive for about three-quarters of a mile before turning left on the access road to Inspiration Point. From here, you'll ski back up the Inspiration Point access road for a half a mile or so, and then turn left and ski along the rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone for about another half of a mile.

The trail then crosses North Rim Drive and leads through a coniferous forest to the Canyon cabin area, all closed in winter. You'll also ski past some shuttered dormitories and stores and the Canyon Visitors Center (also closed in winter) before returning to your starting point.

On the Canyon Rim Trail, you're not likely to see much large wildlife - perhaps just an old bull bison or two. You will enjoy fantastic views of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. The canyon was formed by the Yellowstone River cutting through rock that had been softened by geothermal activity.

The canyon is truly an awesome spectacle, and was one of the principal reasons Yellowstone National Park was created "for the benefit and enjoyment of the people" in 1872.

Roller Coaster Ski Trail in Yellowstone

1.8 miles long; intermediate to difficult

This 1.8-mile loop begins and ends at the Canyon warming hut. It involves a 200-foot elevation change and is considered and intermediate to difficult ski.

From the warming hut, the trail leads along the North Rim Drive for about 100 yards before turning left on a service road. This turn should be marked. You'll ski the service road for about one-third of a mile before the trail leaves the road and enters an evergreen forest. The trail then becomes a series of ups and downs - hence, the name Roller Coaster.

Once the trail returns to the North Rim Drive after your roller-coaster rides, you'll have a choice of turning right and going directly back to Canyon Junction or of turning left and assuming the route of the Canyon Rim Trail. Skiing directly back to Canyon Junction from this point is about a half of a mile. (See Canyon Rim Trail description above)

Fern Cascades Trail from Old Faithful Snow Lodge

3 miles; intermediate level

This one-way loop trail begins and ends at Old Faithful Snow Lodge Bear Den. From the Bear Den, follow the signs and arrows across Grand Loop Road and through the National Park Service residential area. At the edge of the area, the trail enters a burned forest and immediately begins a fairly steep 250-foot climb. At the top of your climb, where the topography flattens, you'll come to a junction. A right will lead you one-tenth of a mile to the Fern Cascades Overlook.

These cascades on a form of Iron Spring Creek are worth a look. Returning from the cascades to the trail junction will put you back on the Fern Cascades Loop. (Remember, it's a one-way loop) From the junction, you'll ski another two miles or so through rolling country before you come to a moderately steep descent. Here you'll give up the elevation you gained on your climb at the beginning of the effort. At the bottom of the run-out, the trail again crosses Grand Loop Road, so don't kamikaze down the slope and into the road without first checking for snowcoaches and snowmobilers!

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