Most people think of a visit to Yellowstone as a summer activity, but I think Christmas in Yellowstone National Park (or any time in winter) is a lovely time to explore Wonderland. The park is blanketed in snow, the geysers and hot springs emit steam that creates a magical atmosphere, and the wildlife is actively adapting to the cold conditions. A Yellowstone Christmas vacation is a truly magical and unforgettable experience.

My family’s Christmas Eve tradition is to spend the day in Yellowstone. We used to start with a soak in the Boiling River, which is now closed, but we still make it to Yellowstone National Park in December to celebrate. 

family in Yellowstone with   santa hat for Christmas in Yellowstone

 

We still cross-country ski around the Upper Terrace Drive and part of the Snow Pass Trail in Mammoth Hot Springs and picnic lunch in the Map Room at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel beneath the large Christmas tree. The hotel lobby is decked out in holiday flair and there is often Christmas music playing to enrich the festive atmosphere. 

These days, we pop into Yellowstone Hot Springs — about 10 miles north of Gardiner — on our way home to warm up and take in the winter scenery from the hot pool.

There are a few special events during the winter holidays, but mostly it’s about getting to know Yellowstone in the quiet season. I’ll share how to visit Yellowstone for Christmas and the winter holidays here and you can read all about things to do in Yellowstone in winter in another post. 

The Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and the Old Faithful Snow Lodge are the only hotels open in the park in winter. There are many hotels open in Gardiner and West Yellowstone. See where to stay in Yellowstone for more information on lodging options. 

Grab my Yellowstone Winter Packing List and get ready for a memorable holiday season!

Yellowstone at Christmas

 

How to Spend Christmas Eve in Yellowstone

There’s something truly magical about spending Christmas Eve in Yellowstone National Park. The air is crisp, and the snow-covered landscape sets the stage for a picturesque celebration. 

Many visitors gather in the cozy lobbies at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel or the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, sharing stories and sipping on hot cocoa. The festive atmosphere is enhanced by the twinkling lights, trees, and decorations adorning the common areas.

All the gift shops and bookstores sell Yellowstone-themed Christmas ornaments and other holiday souvenirs. 

On Christmas Eve, visitors can enjoy a variety of festive activities, including:

  • Candlelight services at the Mammoth Chapel
  • Storytelling by the fireplace in the Old Faithful Snow Lodge
  • Caroling at the Mammoth Hotel and the Snow Lodge
  • A special Christmas Eve dinner at the Mammoth Hotel or the Snow Lodge
family cross country skiing with hot spring on the side

 

Christmas Day in Yellowstone 

Yellowstone during Christmas is a unique and serene experience. Wake up to the soft glow of the winter sun on the snow-covered trees, and perhaps even catch a glimpse of some local wildlife. 

You can opt for a guided snowshoe tour to explore the park’s wonders in their winter coat. The geysers, hot springs, and steaming vents take on a whole new level of beauty against the backdrop of a Yellowstone Christmas.

Christmas Day in Yellowstone is a time for relaxation and family time. Enjoy:

  • A traditional Christmas feast at the Mammoth Hotel or Snow Lodge
  • Snowshoeing or cross-country skiing through the park
  • Wildlife watching, as bison, elk, and wolves are often more visible in the winter
  • Stargazing, as the clear night skies provide excellent conditions for viewing the stars
Mammoth Hotel at Christmas;
Jim Peaco;
December 2011;
Catalog #19235d;
Original #275I1733

Christmas at the Mammoth Hotel

The Mammoth Hotel is the oldest hotel in Yellowstone National Park, and it offers a traditional Christmas experience. The hotel is decorated for the holidays, and there is a special Christmas Eve dinner and a Christmas Day brunch.

  • Look for the huge conifer filled with lights near Officers’ Row at Mammoth Hot Springs.
  • Everyone is welcome at Candlelight services on Christmas Eve at the Mammoth Chapel. 
  • The lobby and Map Room at the Mammoth Hotel are decked out with a large Christmas tree, evergreen boughs, and other holiday decorations. 
  • Enjoy a fire and music as you ice skate on the rink behind the hotel (there are free skates for your use!).
  • The Mammoth Dining Room serves a traditional holiday feast with all of the fixings (make a reservation!) on Christmas Eve and a Christmas Day brunch. 

Since you can drive to the Mammoth Hotel, you can enjoy the festivities whether you are staying in the park, in Gardiner, Livingston, or elsewhere. 

Old Faithful Geyser erupting on New Years in Yellowstone

Christmas at Old Faithful

Old Faithful, the park’s most famous geyser, becomes even more enchanting during the holiday season. Picture the iconic eruption against the snowy landscape, illuminated by the soft glow of holiday lights. And Christmas at Yellowstone Snow Lodge is extra special because you really are out there in the wild (but in very comfortable lodging!). 

  • Rangers often organize special programs and activities for visitors, adding a touch of Christmas magic to this natural wonder.
  • Sing carols by the fire in the Snow Lodge lobby.
  • Ice skate on the rink behind the hotel (there are free skates for your use!).
  • The Obsidian Dining Room in the Snow Lodge serves a traditional holiday feast with all of the fixings (make a reservation!) on Christmas Eve and a Christmas Day brunch. 

Read more about how to Visit Old Faithful in Winter.

Interior of the Snow Lodge at Old Faithful for Christmas

 

Winter Holidays at Canyon

It’s more rugged and wild than Mammoth or Old Faithful, but spending time exploring Yellowstone’s Winter Wonderland with Yellowstone Expeditions at their yurt camp near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is an incredibly special experience. It’s not for winter novices, but it is a trip I’ve done twice and regularly dream about.

Yellowstone Expedition’s Yurt Camp.
Yellowstone Expedition’s Yurt Camp.

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in Yellowstone

Bid farewell to the old year and welcome the new one in the heart of nature. As the clock strikes midnight, join fellow visitors in toasting the beauty of Yellowstone and the adventures that await in the coming year.

I spent a couple of New Year’s Eves at the Snow Lodge when I used to guide tours in the park and I think it might be the best time to visit Yellowstone in winter – especially Old Faithful. 

One of the most exciting activities is seeing Old Faithful Geyser’s first eruption of the year along with other visitors. We all make a lot of noise, sing songs, and revel in starting the year in Yellowstone.

Yellowstone National Park is a great place to ring in the New Year. You can enjoy:

  • A New Year’s Eve dinner at the Mammoth Hotel or Old Faithful Lodge.
  • After midnight at Old Faithful, head to the iconic geyser to see the first eruption of the new year. 
  • A New Year’s Day hike or snowshoe trek
Little boy throwing snowball and grinning.

Yellowstone Christmas in August

You might be wondering, “Christmas in Yellowstone in August?”  Indeed, on August 25, the park celebrates a unique tradition known as “Christmas in Yellowstone.” 

While it might seem unconventional, there are special programs, festive decorations including Christmas trees, carols, gifts, and even Christmas-themed treats during this summer celebration.

There are several stories about why park employees celebrate Christmas in August, and many of them are fun, but probably not true. One false story claims that Christmas in August commemorates a snowstorm that occurred on August 24, 1912, which stranded a group of travelers in the park. The travelers, making the best of the situation, decided to celebrate Christmas by singing carols and preparing a sumptuous Christmas feast.

The most likely story has something to do with a Montana tradition. In Montana in the early 1900s, there was a Christmas celebration on July 25th (as well as the traditional December 25). I am not sure why and would love to learn more about it! It seems that Yellowstone employees from Montana brought the tradition to the park and it eventually slid back to August 25th. 

trees covered in snow with steam from a geyser in background

Greater Yellowstone for Christmas and Winter

While I think Yellowstone is magical during the winter holidays, there is a lot to see and do in the Greater Yellowstone Area: 

Yellow lamp with silhouette of cross country skier

 

The Movie Christmas in Yellowstone

The PBS Nature documentary, Christmas in Yellowstone, was filmed in the park and it is a great way to get into the Christmas spirit. 

For a cozy night in, dive into the park’s winter wonderland, with the movie showcasing the beauty and tranquility of Yellowstone during the holiday season. 

Where to Watch the Movie “Christmas in Yellowstone”

mom and son spending Christmas Eve in Yellowstone

FAQs About Christmas in Yellowstone 

Why does Yellowstone celebrate Christmas in August?

Yellowstone celebrates Christmas in August as part of a tradition passed down from the early days in Montana where Christmas was celebrated in July. Scroll up for the details.

How do you spend Christmas in Yellowstone?

Spend Christmas in Yellowstone by enjoying festive activities, exploring the winter landscape, and partaking in special holiday programs organized by the park. Whether it’s a guided snowshoe tour or a cozy evening by the fireplace, there’s something for everyone.

Why is it Christmas in Yellowstone?

The celebration of Christmas in August in Yellowstone is a unique tradition that began in the early 1900s. Park employees and their families would gather for a Christmas celebration in the middle of the summer, and this tradition continues today.

Is Yellowstone a good place to visit for Christmas?

Yellowstone is a great place to visit for Christmas. The park is blanketed in snow, the geysers and hot springs emit steam that creates a magical atmosphere, and the wildlife is actively adapting to the cold conditions. Visitors can enjoy a variety of festive activities, including traditional Christmas dinners, caroling, and snowshoeing through the park.

Is Yellowstone worth it in December?

Yellowstone in December is well worth it! The park is less crowded than in the summer months, and the winter scenery is truly spectacular. Visitors can enjoy a variety of winter activities, such as snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and ice skating.

Is Yellowstone open at Christmas time?

Yes, Yellowstone National Park is open at Christmas time. However, most roads and facilities are closed for the winter. The road from Gardiner, Montana at the North Entrance and Cooke City, Montana at the Northeast Entrance is open. All other roads must be traversed by snowmobile or snowcoach. The Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and the Old Faithful Snow Lodge are open.

Where can I watch Christmas in Yellowstone?

The movie “Christmas in Yellowstone” was filmed in the park, and it is a great way to get into the Christmas spirit. The movie is available to rent or stream online (scroll up for the details). Christmas in Yellowstone is available at various visitor centers within the park.

Who is the narrator of the Christmas in Yellowstone?

The narrator of the Christmas in Yellowstone is Linda Hunt.

Christmas at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge includes a boy coloring in front of decorations

 

More Tips for Visiting Yellowstone in December for the Winter Holidays


More Tips for Visiting Yellowstone