When snow blankets Yellowstone National Park, there’s only two ways to get into the heart of the park: by snowmobile or snowcoach.
In early November each year Yellowstone closes all but one road to normal vehicle traffic. As the snow begins to fly and cover our first national park, a different sort of vehicle gets ready to transport visitors through a winter wonderland. A snowcoach is a shuttle van either on extra large (picture a monster truck) tires or tracks like a snowmobile. These specially designed vehicles are perfect for navigating the park’s unplowed roads and, other than snowmobiles, are the only way to access the interior of the park in the winter. With big picture windows, you’ll be able to see all the sights from the park’s abundant winter wildlife to steaming geysers.
Snowcoaches are a great way to see the park since you’ll stay warm and cozy inside the vehicle, unlike a snowmobile tour where you’ll have to bundle up. Your driver will also be able to share fun facts about the park and easily point out wildlife as you drive. Tours range from half-day scenic drives to full-day excursions to packages where you’ll do both a scenic drive and ski or snowshoe in the park.
A snowcoach is also the only transportation to Old Faithful Snow Lodge, the park’s only hotel other than Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, open in the winter (note: Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel will be closed winter 2022/23). A stay in the heart of the park in winter is magical. From spending the day skiing or snowshoeing past geysers to curling up next to the fire with a book to ice skating under the stars, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Yellowstone Snowcoach Options
West Entrance Tours
Located in West Yellowstone, Mont., the park’s West Entrance is closed to normal vehicles in the winter months, but is known as the “Snowmobiling Capital of the World.” You can take a guided snowmobile tour in the park from West Yellowstone, but you can also depart on a day tour from this town to see the park from the comfort of a snowcoach. These tour operators offer day trips into the park, usually to either Old Faithful or Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone:
See Yellowstone – seeyellowstone.com
Backcountry Adventures – backcountry-adventures.com
Yellowstone Vacations – www.yellowstonevacations.com
Yellowstone Expeditions (Ski camping tours) – yellowstoneexpeditions.com
South Entrance Tours
Yellowstone’s South Entrance is located closest to Jackson, Wyo., a famous winter ski destination thanks to Jackson Hole Resort. Nearby Grand Teton National Park is also home to lots of winter fun including snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. From Jackson, you can head north with one of these tour operators to spend the day seeing Yellowstone by snowcoach, or be dropped off at Old Faithful Snow Lodge for a stay:
Scenic Safaris – www.scenic-safaris.com
North Entrance Tours and Transportation to Old Faithful Snow Lodge
The North Entrance, just outside of Gardiner, Mont., is where you’ll find the only year-round road open to normal vehicles through the park. In winter, you can drive plowed roads to the Mammoth Hot Springs area and through Lamar Valley to the Northeast Entrance where the tiny Montana towns of Silver Gate and Cooke City await. You can also book a snowcoach day tour into the park, or transportation to the only hotel inside the park besides Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel that offers winter lodging: Old Faithful Snow Lodge.
Yellowstone Vacations (day tours from Mammoth) – www.yellowstonevacations.com
Yellowstone National Park Lodges (day tours from Mammoth and Old Faithful, transportation to Old Faithful Snow Lodge) – www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/adventures/winter-adventures/
How Far in Advance Do I Need to Book a Snowcoach Tour?
If you’re using a snowcoach as transportation to the Snow Lodge, it’s best to book your ride as soon as you book your stay since there is only one company at the North Entrance and one company at the South Entrance that offers transportation.
Day tours are more flexible since there are more operators, but it’s best to book as far in advance as possible in order to ensure you get a seat. Last minute reservations may be available, but don’t count on them.
How Much Are Yellowstone Snowcoach Tours?
Yellowstone snowcoach tours range in price depending on which company and tour you choose. In Winter 2022/23 half-day scenic snowcoach tours could be found for less than $100 for adults and less than $50 for children. Transportation, including two pieces of luggage, between Mammoth and Old Faithful Snow Lodge cost $144 for adults and $72 for children each way for the 2022/23 season. While tipping is not required, it’s expected. Be prepared to tip your driver 15-20% in cash.
Be sure to note whether or not your snowcoach operator includes your park pass in your tour price. If they do not, you’ll need to purchase a pass in advance. On guided tours, a 7-day, annual or lifetime pass is only good for one person, so be sure to have a pass for each individual in your group. These passes cost $20 in 2022/23 for adults 16 and over. Children 15 and under are free.
What Do You Wear on a Snowcoach Tour?
While snowcoaches are heated, it’s important to be properly dressed for winter conditions as you’ll be entering and exiting the snowcoach in snowy and cold weather and will likely get out and explore at certain stops along the way.
Dress in layers so that you can be comfortable on the drive but quickly gear up to get out in the cold. A waterproof and insulated jacket, a warm hat, warm gloves and snow boots or other waterproof boots with good tread are recommended. Wool or synthetic fabrics are better than cotton for winter trips as they wick away moisture more quickly.
Start planning a winter vacation by downloading the Winter Trip Planner for Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park today.