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Winter is Yellowstone Park is a magical time. In fact, it’s my favorite time to visit the park. Soaking in hot springs, cross-country skiing to waterfalls, and getting a good look at wildlife that has come down from the mountains are some of my top things to do in Yellowstone in winter.

Winter at Yellowstone is a time of low(er) visitation and high solitude. Loads of snow and cold temperatures can mean it the perfect time to take your Yellowstone winter tours.

Here’s what you need to know to plan your Yellowstone winter vacation.

bobcat in yellowstone

If you want more guidance, hop over to my coaching page and I will create a custom itinerary for visiting Yellowstone in the winter.

Getting Around Yellowstone in Winter

One of the things that make winter trips to Yellowstone National Park so special is its remoteness and solitude. This is also what makes winter transportation in Yellowstone a little more of a challenge.

If you are coming in from the North Entrance in Gardiner, you can drive right in. The road to Mammoth Hot Springs, Tower Junction, the Lamar Valley, Silver Gate, and Cooke City is open. From both Mammoth Hot Springs and Cooke City on, the road is closed.

If you are coming in the West Entrance at West Yellowstone, Montana, the South Entrance near Grand Teton National Park and Jackson, Wyoming, or the East Entrance near Cody, Wyoming, you will need to travel in an oversnow vehicle: a snowmobile or snowcoach. The National Park Service has a list of companies authorized to provide snowmobile and snowcoach tours in Yellowstone.


Download my Winter Yellowstone Packing List so you have everything you need for a safe and comfortable trip.


old bombadier snow coack


Best Things to Do When Visiting Yellowstone National Park in Winter

Here’s the quick list of things to do on your Yellowstone winter visit. Keep reading for all the details on each activity and Yellowstone winter lodging.

  • Soak in a hot spring
  • Walk, ski, or snowshoe around the Mammoth Terraces
  • Become a Winter Junior Ranger
  • Cross-country ski or snowshoe
  • Watch for the Yellowstone wolves and other wildlife
  • Enjoy one of the snowcoach tours Yellowstone is famous for
  • Join a Yellowstone winter photography tour (or go on your own)
  • Snowmobile Yellowstone

walking on boardwalk in snow in Yellowstone


Yellowstone Winter Lodging

Wondering where to stay in Yellowstone in winter? You have a lot of choices. As I mentioned for visiting Yellowstone, winter is my favorite time of year. That’s mostly due to the park itself, of course, but also because I love the cozy winter lodging in Yellowstone.

There’s nothing better than playing in the snow all day or wildlife watching and then coming back to a roaring fire or Finnish sauna. Hot cocoa (and stronger drinks), and good food await Yellowstone’s winter explorers.

Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful are the only areas of the park with facilities open in winter (lodging and dining), except Yellowstone Expedition’s Yurt Camp, but you can only go there are part of their Yellowstone in winter packages.

Adventurous Winter Lodging Yellowstone

Yellowstone Expedition Yurt Camp 

Yellowstone Expedition’s Yurt Camp.

Staying at the yurt camp gets you out into the woods and canyons of Yellowstone’s backcountry. You can read my trip report here. This is my favorite of all the winter tours of Yellowstone. The trip is both rugged and full of creature comforts. It’s like winter glamping in Yellowstone.

Yellowstone Expedition drives you to their Yurt Camp in a snowcoach and you stay in little “yurtlets” modeled after ice fishing huts. Don’t worry, they are warm and the beds are comfy.

The staff makes the best meals and guides you on a day of skiing or snowshoeing in the most spectacular winter wilderness in the world (my opinion).

Watch the video or read about it and see if this is the way you want to visit Yellowstone Park in winter.

Cozy Winter Lodge in Yellowstone National Park

Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins 

The Snow Lodge just steps from the famous geyser. The hotel is lovely, warm, and comfortable — it’s the iconic Yellowstone lodging in winter. I’ve stayed at the Yellowstone Snow Lodge a handful of times and always loved it.

Both Christmas at Yellowstone Snow Lodge and New Year’s Eve are special experience. A giant Christmas tree and decorations make the lobby seem even cozier. Special holiday meals are available in the dining room.

For a little less expensive option, stay in one of the Yellowstone cabins rather than the lodge.

There are lots of opportunities to ski or snowshoe from the hotel. Or spend your days walking the boardwalks around Old Faithful Geyser Basin.

Read more about visiting Old Faithful Geyser in winter here.

The only way to get there is via snowcoach or snowmobile, and you need to plan both your transportation and your lodging at the same time. You should make your reservations in the Obsidian Dining Room, too. It fills up quickly and there is nowhere else to eat at the Snow Lodge.

The concessionaire that runs the Snow Lodge can organize Yellowstone winter packages that include lodging, transportation, dinner reservations, and even day tours. Make your reservation here.

front of building - old faithful snow lodge in Yellowstone

Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins

Mammoth Hot Springs was the original park headquarters and continues to be to this day and you can step in the history at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. You can drive there through the North Entrance at Gardiner, Montana and drive through the park to Silver Gate and Cooke City.

Take a historic walking tour around Fort Yellowstone, ski and snowshoe, and walk around Mammoth’s terraces.

Mammoth Hot Springs winter activities also access to many trails for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, walking; ice skating; hot spring soaking; and more. Many Yellowstone National Park winter tours start at the hotel.

Make your reservation here.


Winter Camping in Yellowstone

For the hardy, and experienced, Yellowstone winter camping is an option. The only campground open in winter in Yellowstone is the Mammoth Campground. It’s open to tents and RVs on a first-come, first-served basis.

If you prefer backcountry winter camping in Yellowstone Park, you can get a free permit. Plan to ski or snowshoe into your destination and camp in the snow. Check the park site for info on winter camping Yellowstone.

Versatile Yellowstone Base Camp

There are several Yellowstone gateway towns that have lodging open in winter. See my post on the best places to stay near Yellowstone for details on additional lodging for Yellowstone winter trips.


Yellowstone Winter Lodging in Gardiner, Montana

Best Western By Mammoth Hot Springs

For a more standard accommodation near Yellowstone National Park, try the Best Western By Mammoth Hot Springs in Gardiner. The Best Western Yellowstone is just what you’d expect from a Best Western – flat screen TVs, WiFi, clean rooms, a swimming pool, and free breakfast.

See more reviews and the best deals on a stay at Best Western By Mammoth Hot Springs.


Yellowstone Winter Lodging in Silver Gate, Montana

Lamar Valley Cabins

Every autumn, my friend and I stay in one of these cozy Yellowstone cabins. Our friend Jeff built both of the Lamar Valley Cabins himself and they were designed and decorated by his wife. They are comfy, but roomy; cozy and well appointed. My favorite thing is to wake up and gaze at the mountains out the bedroom window.

There are two choices for lodging near Yellowstone Park in the Lamar Valley Cabins: The Lamar (this is where we usually stay) and the Silver Falls.

  • The Lamar sleeps six in two bedrooms and a window bed on the upstairs landing.
  • The Silver Falls sleeps six in three bedrooms.

Both have patios for grilling and gorgeous views. Read more about our stay at the Lamar Valley cabins.

person walking up to cabins for rent near yellowstone


Yellowstone Winter Lodging in West Yellowstone, Montana

West Yellowstone hotels are at the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park. You can drive to West Yellowstone and use it for your base for Yellowstone snowcoach tours into the park, snowmobiling, or Nordic skiing.

Explorer Cabins at Yellowstone

The staff at the Explorer Cabins will organize a tour into the park or get you set for hiking, rafting, fishing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or ice fishing nearby. And the bonus is, when you get back to the Explorer Cabins you can roast marshmallows around campfire.

The Yellowstone camping cabins are clustered in groups of five, making it ideal for extended family or a group gathering.

Each private cabin boasts stylish décor, fine linens, a flat-screen TV and a kitchenette for whipping up your favorite meals. WiFi is available in the cabins and throughout the property. Dog-friendly cabins are available. Find more reviews and the best deals on the Explorer Cabins.


Yellowstone National Park Winter Activities

Soak in the Boiling River

The Boiling River can be accessed from Gardiner or Mammoth Hot Springs year round. It’s an easy 0.5 mile walk on a flat path to the spot where the Boiling River and the Gardner River come together to create perfect soaking temperatures.

The Boiling River is the only front country (no long hike) hot spring that you can soak in. We visit at least once or twice a winter and love watching the ice float down the river, American dippers “fly” underwater, and elk graze in the sage across the river while we soak in the hot water. Here are all the details to add the Boiling River to your winter tours of Yellowstone.


Walk, Cross-Country Ski, or Snowshoe Around the Mammoth Terraces

The road to Mammoth is open year round, so Mammoth is an easy place to visit in winter. Check out the newly remodeled visitor center and walk around the Lower Terraces.

If you are feeling adventurous, rent skis or snowshoes from the Bear Den (inside the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel) and ski around the Upper Terrace Drive. You’ll pass cool hot spring features like “Elephant’s Back” and “Orange Mound.”
three people looking at the Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone in winter


Become a Winter Junior Ranger

Yellowstone National Park has a special Junior Ranger program just for winter, in addition to their regular Junior Ranger program. Add this to your Yellowstone trip planner to get a little more out of your winter visit to the park.

The Yellowstone Junior Ranger programs are for kids (and the young at heart, they say) ages four and older. Pick up the booklet ($3) at the Albright or Old Faithful Visitor Centers. In the case of the winter program, you’ll need to check out at backpack (free) containing tools for winter measurements — thermometer and hand lens.

The program is self guided and we always have a blast doing the activities with our kids. It’s a great way to learn about the winter environment and the critters that are adapted to it.

You can also check out snowshoes at the Albright Visitor Center.

winter junior ranger program - ranger talking to kids at old faithful in yellowstone


Cross-Country Ski or Snowshoe

Yellowstone winter vacations begin with playing in the snow. There are so many trails in Yellowstone for skiing and snowshoeing. Cross-country skiing is my favorite thing to do in Yellowstone National Park in winter.

Ask at the hotel (if you are staying in the park) or a visitor center desk for a map of ski trails in the area.

If you are staying in West Yellowstone, Montana, see my post about cross-country skiing in West Yellowstone.

You can rent skis or snowshoes in Gardiner, Mammoth Hot Springs, Old Faithful, or West Yellowstone.

a woman and two kids cross country skiing at old faithful in yellowstone

Related: Exploring Yellowstone’s Winter Wonderland With Yellowstone Expeditions


Wolf Watching in Yellowstone

Winter is the best time to look for wolves in Yellowstone National Park. The elk come down from the high country in winter and the wolves follow. You can take one of the Yellowstone winter wolf tours or do it on your own.

Simply drive up and down the Lamar Valley looking for groups of people with spotting scopes. Where there are wolf watchers, there are often wolves. You may need a good spotting scope to see wolves in Yellowstone. And you’ll need a huge lens to get good photos (or a phone adapter for your scope.)

Related: Why You Should Hire a Guide in Yellowstone

wolf close up from Yellowstone winter tours wolves


Yellowstone Snowcoach Tours

Most of the roads in Yellowstone are closed in winter, but you can still get around. Sign up for a snowcoach tour from Mammoth Hot Springs, West Yellowstone, or the South Entrance.

Some of the tours are focused on wildlife or photography, others allow you to ski part of the way, and some are general park interpretation. The snowcoach drivers will stop at the best Yellowstone attractions to let you walk boardwalks, gaze at geysers, and wonder at waterfalls.

When you are in the snowcoach, Yellowstone opens up in front of you. Not only is it the best way to get to the park’s interior, you get to see Yellowstone in all it’s winter solitude and beauty.

If you are planning on staying at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge (see the lodging section above), you’ll need to show you have transportation to get there.

big yellows snowcoach tours Yellowstone with a boy in front


Yellowstone Winter Photography Tour

There are plenty of winter photography tours to choose from. I’d be happy to plan a photography-specific custom Yellowstone trip for you.

If you are more spontaneous, just head out around dawn and dusk for the best photographs of Yellowstone. One of the best things about photographing in Yellowstone in winter is that you don’t have to get up too early or stay out too late — days are short here.

For Yellowstone winter photography inspiration, check out Tom Murphy’s book — The Spirit of Winter. He’s a local photographer who has probably spent more time in Yellowstone’s backcountry in winter than almost anyone. His images are gorgeous and breathtaking.

There are a few good books for where to photograph in Yellowstone Park, but they are more suited for summer visitors. If you pick and choose, you will find some useful information.

Winter photography in Yellowstone December


Snowmobiling in Yellowstone

Personally, I feel like you miss out on the quiet, solitude, and peacefulness of Yellowstone in winter when you are roaring through on the back of a sled, however, many people seem to like it.

The good thing about snowmobiling Yellowstone National Park is that the Park Service  requires New Best Available Technology, which keeps emissions lower than the old 2-stroke snow machines.

Most snowmobile access to Yellowstone is via guided tours. Check the park’s website for a list of commercial snowmobile operators allowed to guide in the park. The Park Service also allows a (very) limited number of non-guided snowmobile groups into the park each day. How to apply to snowmobile in Yellowstone without a guide.

snowmobiling Yellowstone Park


Visit Yellowstone Winter FAQs

hot springs and frozen trees yellowstone

Is Yellowstone open in winter?

Yes, Yellowstone is open year round, 24 hours a day. However, most of the roads in the park are closed to everything except oversnow travel in winter.

Yellowstone’s winter season runs from mid-December through mid-March. (The road closures start around the beginning of November and reopen in April, depending on weather and road conditions.)

Is Yellowstone worth visiting in winter?

I think it is well worth visiting Yellowstone National Park in the winter. As you can see by scrolling up, there are so many Yellowstone winter activities. And while the park isn’t empty, there are many fewer people than the rest of the year.

What is there to do in Yellowstone in winter?

There is a lot to do in Yellowstone Park in the winter. Scroll up for all the details.

  • Soak in a hot spring
  • Walk, ski, or snowshoe around the Mammoth Terraces
  • Become a Winter Junior Ranger
  • Cross-country ski or snowshoe
  • Watch for the Yellowstone wolves and other wildlife
  • Enjoy one of the snowcoach tours Yellowstone is famous for
  • Join a Yellowstone winter photography tour (or go on your own)
  • Snowmobile Yellowstone

Can you drive through Yellowstone in winter?

Most park roads closed to automobiles November 4 and will begin reopening April 17, 2020. The road from the North Entrance at Gardiner, Montana through the park to Cooke City, Montana is open year-round.

To reach Old Faithful, Norris, Canyon or other areas within the park, you must use an oversnow vehicle (snowcoach or snowmobile). Scroll up to get the details on doing that.

front of snowcoach Yellowstone Park winter

What Yellowstone entrance is open in winter?

The North Entrance (Gardiner) is open year round to automobile traffic, as is the Northeast Entrance (Silver Gate- Cooke City), but you can only access the Northeast Entrance through the park in winter.

The West Entrance (West Yellowstone), East Entrance (Cody), and South Entrance are open to oversnow traffic, but you must be on a guided snowcoach or snowmobile tour or have a self-guided snowmobile permit (see above article for how to make those things happen).

You can ski, snowshoe, or walk through any Yellowstone National Park entrance.

How cold does it get in Yellowstone in winter?

You should be prepared for cold during a Yellowstone Park winter. (See my packing list for what to bring on your Yellowstone holidays in winter).

The northern part of the park, especially around Mammoth Hot Springs, is usually the warmest part of Yellowstone, though it can get well below zero F, there, too. While these average temperatures for Yellowstone in winter don’t seem that cold, trust me, it can get a lot colder. At least, that’s been my experience.

  • High/ low for Yellowstone in December: 26° / 4°F ( -3°/ -16°C)
  • High/ low for Yellowstone in January: 28° / 3°F (-2° / -16°C)
  • High/ low for Yellowstone in February: 31° / 4°F (0° / -15°C)
  • High/ low for Yellowstone in March: 39° / 10°F (4° / -12°C)

How will you spend your winter trip to Yellowstone? Feel free to ask questions in the comments.


Winter Adventures in Yellowstone National Park: A local’s perspective on the best things to do in Yellowstone in winter — how to get around, what to do, and where to stay and eat. See Yellowstone at its prettiest and least crowded. #Yellowstone #WinterTrip #NationalParks #Montana #Wyoming What to do in Yellowstone National Park in Winter: A local’s guide to Yellowstone in winter. Includes where to go, where to sleep and eat, what to pack, and how to experience Yellowstone in its best season. #Yellowstone #WinterTrip #NationalParks #Montana #Wyoming

Winter is a great time to visit Yellowstone National Park. Everything you need to know about what to see, what to do, and where to stay in Yellowstone in winter.

22 Comments

  1. La Viajera

    I love your Boiling River video! It’s a very different and probably the most interesting kind of vlog I’ve seen. Your kid screaming THIS IS AWESOME! made me smile. I have to say though that it just looks so odd to see everything covered in snow and then you’re in a river. :p

  2. Julie Cao

    The Yellowstone looks so beautiful and peaceful in winter. The Boiling River is magical and I do know there is an outdoor hot spring there where you can soak in and surrounded by the beautiful landscapes in winter, and the water does not seems deep it is just right to the point. If I head over there, I will definitely go for it. Thanks for sharing your experience and filming the great video about your travels at the Yellowstone.

  3. James Smith

    I just watched the vlog, your kids do have a lot of energy! The boiling river looked like a great experience. I visited Yellowstone in the summer, it seems in the winter it’s a completely different place! The landscapes are incredible covered in snow. When I visited, I think I stayed outside the park in a Super 8!

    • Melynda Harrison

      It is a totally different place in winter! I wonder if it was the Super 8 in Gardiner — I’ve stayed there!

  4. Winter in Yellowstone sounds amazing. I watched both your videos and love how you do a voiceover while showing us everything rather than talking at the camera. Very different from other vlogs and I enjoy your style much more! Your kids are so precious and the yurt looks so cozy. I can’t think of a better way to take a break from snowshoeing than hopping in a natural hot pool!

    • Melynda Harrison

      Thanks for the nice words about the videos! And yes, the Boiling River is a perfect spot to warm up after playing in the snow.

  5. Yellowstone certainly looks fabulous in the winter. I like that photo of the cat tucked neatly against old tree branches covered in snow. The Boiling River is like an oasis in the desert – a welcome spot to keep the body warm from the freezing weather. You surely had a great family outdoor activity at Yellowstone.

  6. I have only visited Yellowstone in summer and it is beautiful. I never realised so much of the park was open in winter and I bet it looks stunning with the snow. It would be great to go and see the Elk and Wolves on a tour and to visit the boiling river too 🙂

    • Melynda Harrison

      Most people don’t think of Yellowstone as a winter destination, but it’s a great time to visit.

  7. A Year Abroad In...

    Oh what a beautiful place to visit all year round 🙂 I love winter with proper snow, ‘crispiness’ and blue sky and so Yellowstone looks almost ideal. Would like to visit one day. Thank you so much for sharing.

  8. Wow Yellowstone seriously turns it on in winter! The most underrated season I reckon! Thanks for sharing! Amazing photos and great information!

  9. Ahhh, Yellowstone looks just as magical in the winter. It has been on my list for years and these tips are so handy. I never knew their was a boiling river, how incredible. Your photos are gorgeous, especially the photo of the Lynx.

  10. Ashley Bell

    Hi. My family and I are coming to west Yellowstone for Christmas time this year. We have a 8 year old and a 4 year old. Wondering what snow shoe trips you would reccomend? We are all very seasoned hikers. We are staying in west at the worldmark for 9 days.

    • Melynda Harrison

      Hi Ashely-
      What a great time to come to Yellowstone. Around West Yellowstone, I’d recommend the RiverSide Trails and Refuge Point. They are both gorgeous. And if you can take a snowcoach into the Park, there are some great spots around Old Faithful. Let me know if you want more specifics or help planning your trip!

      • Ashley Bell

        Great. We were thinking of snowshoeing up to tower falls from the spot the road is closed, worth it in your opinion?

        • That’s a great walk. We usually ski it once a winter. Be sure to pop out to Calcite Springs on your way up. You’ll also pass the basalt columns and have great views into and across the canyon. Plus, you get to see Tower Falls.

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