Visiting Yellowstone in winter is a magical experience. I don’t say that lightly. For playing in Yellowstone Park, winter is our favorite time to go. Imagine soaking in a hot spring with ice floating nearby, ghost trees lining the trail, boiling water shooting into the air and freezing at the top, and bison stoically pushing snow aside in search of dried grass.
Still wondering, “Is winter a good time to visit Yellowstone?”? Absolutely! Animals, including wolves, elk, and bison, come down from the mountains and are (mostly) easily visible from the road or ski track. It’s quiet and gorgeous and one of the most special experiences you can have, but you need to know what to pack for winter in Yellowstone so you can appreciate a Yellowstone National Park winter comfortably and safely.
This article will include a Yellowstone packing list for winter, information about Yellowstone winter lodging and how to plan your Yellowstone winter vacation. See also my packing list for Yellowstone vacation in summer. This packing list assumes you will be staying in a hotel, not Yellowstone winter camping.
There are so many things to do in Yellowstone in winter – I’ve spent many years exploring and still have barely scratched the surface. Before I get to the Yellowstone Packing Checklist, here’s a little info about accessing Yellowstone in winter.
How Do You Visit Yellowstone in winter?
There are a few places in the north part of Yellowstone that you can drive to year round. Other places in the park require an over-snow vehicle, but you can still get to them. And those are some of the best places for Yellowstone winter trips.
Many of the roads are closed to everything except permitted over-snow vehicles, except the road from Gardiner, Montana to Mammoth Hot Springs and Mammoth Hot Springs to the Northeast Entrance at Silver Gate – Cooke City. We often ski, snowshoe, hike, or soak in hot springs along this road. There is great access to winter activities in Yellowstone right from your personal vehicle.
You can take a snowcoach or snowmobile into Yellowstone during the winter and visit sites in the interior of the park including the Old Faithful area and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. You can even spend the night at the Old Faithful Snowlodge or at the Yurt Camp at Canyon. If at all possible, I highly recommend getting to Yellowstone in winter and staying in Yellowstone in winter.
Hotels and Airbnb rentals are available year round in West Yellowstone, Montana, Gardiner, Montana; and Silver Gate – Cooke City.
Can You Visit Old Faithful in Winter?
Yes! And you can, you should. I wrote a whole post on visiting Old Faithful in winter that will guide you through getting to Old Faithful, where to stay at Old Faithful in winter, and what to do at Old Faithful during the winter. Yellowstone winter photography is at its best around Old Faithful – picture steamy geysers and bison covered in icy snow.
Yellowstone Winter Clothing List
Here is your packing list for Yellowstone winter weather. And keep reading for a checklist you can download and print to make sure you don’t miss anything when you are packing your bags. And immediately below is the description of each item on the Yellowstone winter packing list.
You won’t be surprised to hear that Yellowstone during winter is cold! Yellowstone winter temperatures can dip to well below zero. Fortunately, on a sunny day they can be mild, too.
Temperatures often range from zero to 20F(-20 to -5C) throughout the day. Sub-zero temperatures are common, especially at night and at higher elevations. The record low temperature is -66F (-54C). Snowfall is highly variable. While the average is 150 inches per year, it is not uncommon for higher elevations to get twice that amount. – National Park Service
What to wear in Yellowstone in winter, isn’t that different than any other really cold place. Dress in layers and synthetic or wool clothing (no cotton!). Stock your backpack with things to keep you warm, including warm drinks in an insulated container and hand and foot warmers. And it’s a good idea to have one more layer than you think you need.
Winter Yellowstone Packing List — Clothes
|Base Layer||It all starts with a base layer. This is your long underwear or long johns. A top and bottom layer of silk, wool, or polypropylene thermal underwear need to be part of your Yellowstone National Park gear in winter. Really, most of the year in Yellowstone! We like wearing Patagonia’s Capilene lightweight long underwear as a base layer, but any non-cotton long johns will do. These are clothes needed for winter anywhere cold, so they are worth the investment in something good.|
|Midweight Layer||Next on your Yellowstone packing list is a fleece-type layer to pull over the base layer. The Kalaloch Reversible Shirt Jacket from OR is my go-to. It is wicking (pulls the sweat away from your body), quick drying, and breathable. I wear the ripstop side out when I want wind and light snow protection and the flannel side out when I want something insulating and cute. Since it’s reversible, it doesn’t look like I am always wearing the same thing. For clothes to wear snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, this often becomes my top layer. It comes in men’s and women’s versions.|
|Heavyweight Insulating Layer||A down jacket or heavy wool sweater will keep you warm and toasty. I usually start out cross-country skiing in this and then throw it into my backpack when I warm up. I also wear this all the time when I am not working up a sweat. On the way to the Snowlodge, ice skating, walking around the geyser basin – I wear my puffy jacket all the time. The Patagonia Down Sweaters are the clothes we wear in winter season almost every day.|
|Parka / Outer Layer||Warm clothes for winter season need to include a parka. Top off your whole ensemble with a water- resistant snow parka. It will keep the winter weather out and the warmth in.|
|Snow Pants||Packing for a Yellowstone Park winter vacation requires snow pants. If you are going to be riding on a snowmobile or just wandering around outside, you need to keep your legs warm. I bring a pair of insulated snow pants and a lighter pair of cross country ski or snowshoe pants.|
|Underwear||You can bring one pair for each day, but we really like ExOfficio underwear because you can wash it, roll it in a towel, hang it to dry, and it’s ready to wear again. Bonus: the antimicrobial treatment makes them less stinky. And they aren't cotton, so moisture is wicked away from your body.|
|Snow Boots||Snow boots top the list for things to bring on a winter trip. Look for something insulated and waterproof. I like my snow boots to work in snowshoes, too – most do. Functional and warm is more important than cute, in this case.|
|Winter Hat||An insulated hat that covers your ears will keep your head toasty. I bring a thinner hat for cross-country skiing or fitting under a snowmobile helmet and a warmer hat for being outside when I am not working hard.|
|Gloves or Mittens||Some people like lightweight glove liners under heavier, waterproof gloves, but I prefer to just bring insulated gloves with a water and windproof outer layer. I stick hand warmers in when it is really cold. That said, a thin glove is nice when you warm up from skiing or snowshoeing.|
|Socks||Warm, non-cotton socks are essential to keeping your feet warm and comfortable. Bring at least one pair more than you think you will need. Clothes used in winter season, including socks should be silk, wool, or synthetic material.|
|Scarf or Neck Gaiter||When you really want to keep the Yellowstone winter season away from your body, a scarf or neck gaiter closes the gap between your face and jacket.|
|Gaiters||Knee-high gaiters cover your lower legs and boots and keep the snow out. Dry pants and socks are a good thing. I’ve always used OR gaiters and find they work well and last forever. You can also rent or buy gaiters at the Bear Den Ski Shop in Mammoth or Old Faithful. (You may want to call ahead to make sure they have some available. 307.344.5276)|
|Swimsuit||If you are thinking of soaking in the Boiling River you are going to need a swimsuit. See the Boiling River post for how to navigate this delightful soak in winter.|
|Water Shoes||Water shoes make getting in and out of the Boiling River quicker and more comfortable. We bring our Chaco sandals, which even come in a Yellowstone hot spring motif.|
|Lodgewear||A pair of slippers and comfy clothes make wandering around the lodge or sitting by the fireplace at the Snowlodge or Mammoth Inn that much more pleasant. You don’t want to wear your ski/snowshoe/snowmobile clothes all day.|
|Sleepwear||Pack some jammies for bedtime.|
|Sunglasses||Protect those peepers from the reflection off the hot springs during your Yellowstone vacation with a pair of sunnies. Look for something with polarized lens to break up the glare off water and snow.|
Winter Yellowstone Packing List — Winter Equipment
When you are packing for your Yellowstone National Park, you should consider other things to brings for a winter trip. You remembered the clothes to wear snowshoeing, now don’t forget the snowshoes and boots (or have a plan to rent them).
The clothes we wear in winter season and the winter equipment we use is the same whether we are at home or in the park, but if you don’t normally play in cold, snowy environments, make sure you check off these items before you go.
|Cross Country Skis, Boots, Poles||Cross-country skiing in Yellowstone is one of the best things ever. In my opinion. The Rossignol Evo XC 60 Tour Cross Country Ski Package comes with skis, boots, and poles. Since they are no-wax, you get good traction without worrying about all thos ski waxes. You can also rent skis at the Bear Den Ski Shop in Mammoth or Old Faithful.|
|Glide Wax||Even waxless skis benefit from some glide wax, especially if the snow is sticky. I always carry a bottle of this in my daypack.|
|Hand & Toe Warmers||I don’t love the trash that goes along with these, but they do keep your hands and feet warm. There have been many ski days in Yellowstone made so much better by having warm feet. And being able to hand these off to a cold kid makes carrying a few in your pack worth it.|
|Snowshoes||I’ve had the same pair of Atlas snowshoes since 1996. They are bomber and perfect for Yellowstone winter travel. I prefer snowshoeing with ski poles, but they aren’t totally necessary. You can rent snowshoes at the Bear Den Ski Shop in Mammoth or Old Faithful.|
|Traction Cleats||Winter vacations in Yellowstone National Park mean walking around icy boardwalks watching geysers erupt and hot spring burble. A pair of cleats that slip over your snow boots keeps you upright while you are doing it. Using ski or trekking poles helps, too. You can also rent or buy Yaktrax at the Bear Den Ski Shop in Mammoth or Old Faithful.|
|Bandana||Noses run more in cold air, so stick a bandana in your pocket. This Yellowstone bandana has a map so you won't get lost (don't actually use this as your only map ;))|
|Food||There are plenty of places to eat in Yellowstone, but if you want to save money and time buy groceries ahead of time. The farther away from the park, the cheaper the food. So, buy in Bozeman or Idaho Falls rather than West Yellowstone or Jackson, if you can. There are general stores in the park for anything you’ve forgotten. We always carry snacks, even when we are eating out. Lately, we’ve been loving the yummy, lightweight snacks from AlpineAire, especially the Mango Fire trailmix.|
|Thermos Vacuum Insulated Bottle||There is nothing better than a hot cup of tea or a bowl of steaming miso when you are out in the snow. Except hot cocoa. We keep our hot drinks hot in an insulated bottle.|
|Insulated Water Bottle||Water bottle refill stations can be found throughout the park. By bringing your own bottle, you save money and do something good for the planet. In winter, an insulated bottle helps keep water from freezing.|
|binoculars or a spotting scope||Wildlife watchers are going to want a pair of binoculars or a |
spotting scope. Not all wildlife is close to the road and to get a good view of wolves, peregrine falcons, and fox, a pair of binoculars can come in handy.
|Sunscreen||Almost everything on the list of things to do in Yellowstone is outside. That means you’ll want a good sunscreen. It’s extra important in winter since the sun reflects off the snow. My favorite is My Chelle, because it works well and is easy on people and the planet. It’s extra important in winter since the sun reflects off the snow.|
|Cooler and Picnic Basket||If you are going to be doing any picnicking in Yellowstone, you’ll need a cooler to preserve your food. We keep cold items cold in a Yeti cooler and other items in a collapsible basket which doubles for holding car snacks. It seems counter intuitive to keep things cool in winter, but if you are driving around looking for wolves or storing snacks in one of the hotels, a cooler is important.|
|Camera lenses/ Phone battery Camera Lenses and External Battery||Of all the things to take on a trip to Yellowstone, a camera is the one that lets you take Yellowstone home with you. I am going to have a whole post on camera equipment, but I mostly use my cell phone with a clip on wide angle and macro adaptor. A rechargeable external battery means my phone won’t die just as a wolf rambles across the road in front of my car.|
|Quick Dry Towels||This is a great extra to have if you are going to soak in the Boiling River. Quick dry towels dry really fast (hence the name) and take up barely any space to pack.|
|Multi-tool||You never know when you will need to open a can, pull out a splinter, or spread peanut butter. We always have a Leatherman multi-tool handy for any repairs or food preparation that arises.|
|First Aid Kit||Chances are that a skinned knee or sprained ankle will happen when you are away from the visitor centers. Be prepared for little injuries and illnesses with a first aid kit. You can make your own by raiding your medicine cabinet or buy one that is pre-made.|
|Headlamp||It’s nice to have your headlamp when you wander out to Old Faithful after dark. Remember it gets dark around 4pm in winter, so there is a lot of nighttime to explore. We even use ours to see into the recesses of a stuffed duffel bag. I like headlamps better than flashlights because you still have both hands free when you use them.|
|Yellowstone Map||As you enter the park you will be handed a Yellowstone map. It’s great for driving, but not very detailed. You definitely wouldn’t use it for hiking or skiing. Buy a Yellowstone map here or at any visitor center or general store in the park.|
|Day Pack||With all these things I said to pack for Yellowstone, you are going to need something to carry them in. I like Osprey’s day packs because they are super sturdy, have pockets in all the right places, and have a lifetime guarantee. See my post on Choosing a Travel Backpack on my other site.|
You can download the pdf version of the Winter Yellowstone Packing List _ www.YellowstoneTrips.com.