As the calendar flips to winter and a blanket of snow descends upon the tranquil landscapes, a unique world of seasonal wonder awakens. I will show you how to have the best time on a visit to Island Park, Idaho in winter.
Nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountains and framed by the grandeur of Yellowstone National Park, this picturesque destination transforms into a snowy utopia that beckons adventurers and nature enthusiasts alike.
The crisp, frosty air, pristine white landscapes, and the promise of outdoor adventure are just a few reasons why Island Park is a must-visit winter wonderland.
In this blog post, I’ll be your guide to unlocking the fun things to do in Island Park, Idaho, during the winter months. From thrilling snowmobiling expeditions to serene cross-country skiing trails, we’ll delve into a diverse range of activities that make Island Park a captivating destination for those seeking an unforgettable winter experience.
Whether you’re an avid winter sports enthusiast or simply looking for a cozy retreat amidst the snow-covered pines, Island Park offers something special for everyone. So, bundle up and get ready to embark on a journey through this enchanting winter wonderland!
- 1 Where is Island Park, Idaho?
- 2 Where to Stay in Island Park
- 3 Skiing, Snowshoeing, & Fat Biking in Island Park
- 4 Rent a Cozy Yurt in Island Park
- 5 Dog Sled Races Near Island Park
- 6 Wild West Winterfest
- 7 Winter Photography and Stargazing
- 8 Winter Fishing in Island Park
- 9 Winter Bird Watching in Island Park
- 10 Snowmobiling in Island Park
- 11 Visit Yellowstone in Winter from Island Park, Idaho
- 12 Winter Safety Tips
- 13 Winter Events and Festivals in Island Park
- 14 Getting To Island Park in Winter and Transportation
- 15 More Tips for Visiting Yellowstone
- 16 More To Do in Idaho
Where is Island Park, Idaho?
Island Park is a 33-mile stretch of Highway 20 that strings together hotels, eateries, and cottages. The settlement is typically little wider than 500 feet. Island Park claims to have the “Longest Main Street in America” due to its peculiar shape.
Location: Island Park is situated in Fremont County, Idaho, in the northwestern United States. It occupies a strategic position, as it is bordered by Montana to the east and the iconic Yellowstone National Park to the south. The town of West Yellowstone, Montana, is just a short drive away, making it an ideal base for those looking to explore both Island Park and Yellowstone.
Scenic Surroundings: What sets Island Park apart is its breathtaking surroundings. The town itself is nestled within a lush valley and is flanked by dense forests of towering pine trees. It derives its name from the picturesque Henrys Lake, which, along with various other smaller lakes, rivers, and streams, dot the landscape, creating a unique topography. During the winter, these water bodies freeze over, creating a serene and frozen wonderland.
Winter Wonderland: Island Park is perhaps most celebrated for its winter transformation. As the snowfall blankets the region, the entire area becomes a playground for winter enthusiasts. The town’s elevation and northern latitude ensure a reliable and generous snowfall, which sets the stage for a range of winter activities such as snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, ice fishing, and more. The elevation — around 6,000 feet –along with an unusually high quantity of precipitation — about 230 inches annually –are the additional factors that make Island Park such a terrific place to go for wintertime fun.
Proximity to Yellowstone: One of the major draws of Island Park is its proximity to Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first National Park and one of the world’s most iconic natural wonders. Visitors can easily access Yellowstone’s West Entrance from Island Park, allowing them to explore the geysers, hot springs, wildlife, and mesmerizing landscapes that make Yellowstone a year-round attraction.
Where to Stay in Island Park
When you look for where to stay in Island Park in winter, your choices are more limited than in summer, but there are still plenty of hotels and vacation rentals available.
Island Park Hotels
The Springhill Suites at Mack’s Inn Island Park is our favorite hotel to stay at. The rooms are nice and spacious and the lobby is lovely. Plus you can’t beat being right on the river. There are a couple of restaurants within a few minutes walk. It’s about 25 minutes from the Yellowstone West Entrance and in the middle of Island Park. Check out deals and reviews of Springhill Suites at Mack’s Inn Island Park.
Another Island Park hotel we like is Sawtelle Mountain Resort. The rooms are nice and very clean. The hotel is close to Henry’s Lake and about 20 minutes from Yellowstone National Park. Check out deals and reviews of Sawtelle Mountain Resort.
There are several other hotels in Island Park – some are more rustic than others. See all the hotels in Island Park and be sure to enter your dates as some are not open in winter.
Island Park Vacation Rentals
If an Island Park Airbnb or an Island Park VRBO is more your style, check out Island Park vacation rentals here.
I really love this Treehouse glamping cabin near Yellowstone. It looks so cozy and would be a perfect winter getaway!
This log cabin in the woods has four bedrooms, sleeps 10, and has a hot tub. I can’t imagine a better base camp for winter Island Park adventures.
Skiing, Snowshoeing, & Fat Biking in Island Park
You can find a trail in Island Park whether you like cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or fat biking.
Harriman State Park checks all the boxes for wildlife observation, lodging, outdoor activities, and photography. You may cross-country ski (classic and skate), ride your fat bike, or go exploring on snowshoes thanks to the more than 24 miles of groomed paths. Near the Henry’s Fork, Silver Lake, over meadows, through the woods, and up and down slopes, trails meander.
The Buffalo-Brimstone Cross-Country Ski Trail consists of a number of loops of varied lengths and challenges. Weekly trail grooming for both traditional and skate skiing is done by the Forest Service. To get to Harriman State Park, there is even a 10.8-mile route, should you feel particularly motivated. As with any groomed track, snowshoers and those towing sleds should stay to the side of the groomed trail. Fat bikes are also not permitted.
The trails leading to Upper and Lower Mesa Falls along Canyon Rim Trail from the Bear Gulch parking area make for another fantastic ski, snowshoe, or fat bike trip. The Snake River plunges 114 feet over the brink of the Henry’s Fork Caldera at Upper Mesa Falls, creating a 200-foot-wide spectacle. Most of the track, which winds along the edge of the canyon, is designated for skiers and snowshoers although other sections are shared with snowmobiles.
Three loops make up the almost eight miles of Fall River Ridge Cross-Country Ski Trails. Particularly in the third loop, there is a mix of flat terrain through meadows and higher slopes.
On the Forest Service’s website, you can discover further trail information and maps.
Rent a Cozy Yurt in Island Park
In addition to a few cabins and bunkhouses, Harriman State Park also offers two yurts for rent. The 20-foot-diameter Mongolian-style yurts have two bunk beds (the lower bunk is a double) that can accommodate five to six people each. No matter the weather outside, you’ll stay warm and comfy inside with the wood stove blazing. An adjacent outhouse is present.
Access to ski, bike, and snowshoe paths is just outside the door. On Saturdays during the winter, the park offers instructive and interactive programs. Kids can participate in the Junior Ranger and Junior Snow Explorer Backpack programs every day.
See the Harriman State Park website for information, program offerings, and to reserve a yurt.
Dog Sled Races Near Island Park
The American Dog Derby has been mushing through Ashton, Idaho, just south of Island Park, for more than a century. The Lower 48 States’ oldest sled dog race is this one. Each February, fans can watch five different races, including a celebrity race, a snowshoe race, a skijoring race, and a weight pull (in which spectators and their dogs can participate!).
If you want to go dogsledding rather than just watch it there are several places (sort of) near Island Park where you can try your hand at mushing.
- Spirit of the North, West Yellowstone and Big Sky, Montana
- Yellowstone Dog Sled Adventures, between West Yellowstone and Big Sky, Montana (We’ve gone dog sledding with them and had a great time! While I am sure the rest of these companies are wonderful, too, this is the only one I can personally attest to. They treat their dogs well, it’s a fun ride, and they keep a fire going and a warming hut for clients.
- Jackson Hole Iditarod Sled Dog Tours, Jackson, Wyoming
- Call of the Wyld Sled Dog Tours, Teton Village, Wyoming
Wild West Winterfest
The Wild West Winterfest takes place each January to honor winter and has a different theme each year. Enjoy the fireworks, casino game night, snocross racing, parade of sleds, children’s carnival, torchlight parade, and snow sculptures.
Find details on the Wild West Winterfest Facebook page.
Winter Photography and Stargazing
Winter in Island Park, Idaho, offers a magical canvas for photographers and stargazers alike. The pristine snowscapes, crisp air, and often clear night skies create ideal conditions for capturing breathtaking moments and celestial wonders.
Winter Photography in Island Park
- Snowy Landscapes: Island Park’s snow-covered landscapes provide a stunning backdrop for photography. Capture the glistening snow-draped trees, frozen lakes, and the play of sunlight on the pristine white canvas.
- Wildlife Encounters: Winter is an excellent time to photograph the region’s wildlife. Keep an eye out for bison, elk, and other creatures as they navigate the snowy terrain.
- Northern Lights: While not guaranteed, the northern lights occasionally make appearances in Island Park’s dark winter skies. Capture this mesmerizing natural light show if you’re lucky.
Stargazing in Island Park in Winter
- Clear Night Skies: Island Park’s relatively low light pollution and clear winter nights make it an ideal spot for stargazing. Bring your telescope or simply lay back in the snow and gaze at the sparkling constellations.
- Aurora Borealis: As mentioned earlier, the northern lights can sometimes be seen in this region during the winter months. Check local forecasts and prepare for an extraordinary celestial display. You can find an aurora forecast on NOAA’s website.
Best Camera for Winter Photography
Selecting the best camera for winter photography depends on your specific needs and budget, but there are certain features and considerations that can be important for shooting in cold, snowy conditions. These three cameras have the features needed for the best winter photography.
We have a complete review of the best cameras for your trip to Island Park here, but the quick run down follows.
Sony A1 Mirrorless Camera — See reviews and prices for the Sony A1 Mirrorless Camera on Amazon.
Cannon R3 — See reviews and prices for the Canon R3 on Amazon.
Lumix G9ii — See reviews and prices for the Lumix G9ii on Amazon.
Winter Fishing in Island Park
There are several possibilities to fish in Island Park during the winter, including ice fishing for Kokanee and rainbow trout on Henry’s Lake or the Island Park Reservoir, as well as casting a line into the Henry’s Fork. If you’re interested in ice fishing regulations, guidelines, or safety advice, visit the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s website.
One of the most well-known trout streams in the country is the Henry’s Fork, and even though it slows down during the winter, the fishing is frequently still excellent.
To get back into the greatest fishing spots, such as Box Canyon, the mouth of the Warm River near Stone’s Bridge, and the tailwaters from Ashton Dam downstream to Chester, some fly fishing businesses hire snowshoes along with fishing equipment.
Winter Bird Watching in Island Park
Swans, other waterfowl, and birds of prey make Island Park their winter home. Winter may not seem like the finest season for bird watching, but I am always impressed by the birds we see year-round.
Trumpeter swans can be found in considerable numbers in Island Park during the winter. You can find them in many places along the Henry’s Fork River or in Harriman State Park.
Gray jays, great horned owls, bald eagles, ruffed-legged hawks, chickadees, and Canada geese can all be seen in plenty during the winter.
Snowmobiling in Island Park
Most people probably know Island Park best for being a wintertime haven for snowmobilers. While it’s not my thing, more than 900 miles of groomed trails draw riders from around the nation and the world.
Many of the pathways follow rivers. Take a ride to Big Springs to see the historic cabin that Johnny Mack, a German immigrant, erected. The paddle wheel he constructed for power generation is visible, as are the large brook and cutthroat trout that inhabit the crystal-clear lake that serves as the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River.
Snowmobiling trails offer many different routes: through meadows, through forests, over slopes, or to Mesa Falls. Four full-time groomers work every day at Island Park to keep the groomed snowmobile trails in top condition for easy riding. In addition, there is a ton of off-trail exploration.
A guided snowmobile tour can get you to some of the best sledding locations. You can also rent a snowmobile from one of several snowmobile shops or bring your own.
Visit Yellowstone in Winter from Island Park, Idaho
Depending on where you stay in Island Park, you may be 20 minutes to an hour from the West Entrance to Yellowstone.
While you can’t drive into the park from the West Yellowstone Entrance in winter (the only road open to vehicles in winter is between the North and Northeast Entrance) you can cross-country ski or snowshoe, snowmobile, or take a snowcoach into Yellowstone from West Yellowstone.
Winter is my favorite time in Yellowstone. Read through the following posts to see what and how to best visit Yellowstone in winter.
- What to Pack for Winter in Yellowstone (works for Island Park, too!)
Winter Safety Tips
While Island Park’s winter wonderland is a sight to behold, it’s important to stay safe during your visit. Here are some crucial winter safety tips:
- Dress in Layers: Layer your clothing to stay warm, and don’t forget insulated boots, gloves, and a hat. See my list of What to Pack for Winter in Yellowstone.
- Stay Informed: Check weather forecasts and road conditions before setting out. Be prepared for changing weather patterns.
- Drive Safely: If you’re driving, equip your vehicle with winter tires or chains. Drive cautiously on icy roads, and carry an emergency kit.
- Avalanche Awareness: If you plan on backcountry activities, be aware of avalanche risks and consider taking avalanche safety courses.
- Respect Wildlife: Keep a safe distance from wildlife and never approach them for photos. Use binoculars or a telephoto lens instead.
- Carry Essentials: Carry essentials like water, snacks, a map, a compass, and a flashlight when exploring outdoors.
- Inform Others: Let someone know your plans, including where you’re going and when you plan to return, especially if you’re venturing into remote areas.
Winter Events and Festivals in Island Park
Island Park may be a serene winter retreat, but it also hosts a few special events and festivals during the season:
- Island Park Snowmobile Poker Run: This exciting event invites snowmobilers to explore the area’s trails and participate in a poker game with a chance to win prizes.
- In January, the big event is the Wild West Winterfest (see section above for more details.)
- Winter Wildlife Tours: Various tour operators offer guided winter wildlife excursions in Yellowstone, where you can spot animals like bison, elk, and wolves.
- Christmas Festivities: Island Park decks the halls with holiday events, including tree lighting ceremonies and visits from Santa Claus.
Getting To Island Park in Winter and Transportation
Getting to Island Park, Idaho, during the winter months is part of the adventure. Here’s how to make your journey a breeze:
By Car: Many visitors drive to Island Park, and it’s accessible via U.S. Route 20, which runs through the town. Be sure to check road conditions, and if you’re coming from a distance, consider renting a four-wheel-drive vehicle. We drive an AWD and it’s fine, just know how to drive in winter conditions.
By Air: The nearest major airport is Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, in Bozeman, Montana, approximately 119 miles away. Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) is also an option for those willing to drive a bit further at 296 miles.
Local Transportation: Once in Island Park, having your vehicle is pretty necessary, but local tour operators can also provide transportation for specific activities and tours.
Island Park, Idaho, in winter is a true haven for nature lovers, adventurers, and anyone seeking the serenity of a snowy wonderland or the adrenaline rush of tearing up the snow on a sled.
From the allure of capturing stunning winter landscapes and stargazing under pristine night skies to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing to ice fishing and more, Island Park offers a unique and enchanting experience.
Don’t miss the opportunity to explore this out-of-the-way part of the Greater Yellowstone Area and create unforgettable memories amidst the magic of a snowy winter wonderland. Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, a sledneck, or simply seeking a peaceful winter escape, Island Park, Idaho, welcomes you with open arms and a world of seasonal wonders.
More Tips for Visiting Yellowstone
- Start Here! Planning a Trip to Yellowstone