Our visit to Yellowstone National Park was hosted by Yellowstone Country Montana. All opinions remain our own.
Yellowstone National Park was the first national park in the United States, and probably in the world. Parts of Yellowstone are in Idaho and Montana, but the park is largely in Wyoming.
More than four million people visit Yellowstone each year for its geysers, trails, and natural attractions. Most of these visitors come during the summer. If you want to experience unspoiled nature and quiet majesty, however, you should visit during the winter, when Yellowstone really shines.
Here are just a few reasons to visit Yellowstone National Park in the winter.
1. It’s Beautiful
There’s no question that Yellowstone is one of the most beautiful parks in the world. Its many natural features include waterfalls, gorges, marshes, hot springs, lakes, valleys, meadows, and forests just waiting to be explored.
But in the winter, the park dazzles with glistening snow-covered terrain. You’ll see lakes surrounded by frosted evergreens, hills covered with sparkling snow, and streams gently winding around soft white snowbanks.
When visiting Yellowstone in the winter, beauty is just about everywhere. Even if you’re not an avid photographer, you’ll find yourself wanting to capture the gorgeous scenery in images you can enjoy later. The peaceful beauty is simply awe-inspiring.
2. You’ll Avoid The Crowds
If there’s one thing we like to avoid when visiting a natural environment such as a national park, it’s hordes of other visitors. The best way to do that in Yellowstone is to visit in the winter, when the crowds virtually disappear. While not every attraction or establishment stays open during the winter, plenty of them do. And you’ll have your pick of the best of everything without waiting in line or having your serenity spoiled by loads of other people standing in your path.
During our visit to Yellowstone in winter, we watched the amazing Old Faithful Geyser erupt with its furious energy from as close as you can get. We were joined by a couple of other people, a ranger, and a coyote. This is a totally different experience in the summer, when there are huge crowds surrounding the geyser and most other attractions you will want to see.
Enjoying the park practically on your own in the beauty of winter is an exceptional experience we highly recommend.
3. There’s A Lot To See And Do
Though not everything is open in the winter, most of what you’ll want to see and do is.
Old Faithful is there, along with the other nearby geysers, erupting as they always do. And seeing them up close and in the snow highlights the astonishing power of these natural wonders. The paint pots in the Lower Geyser Basin gurgle with their colorful mud bubbles. The Upper Geyser Basin and its shimmering blue pools are even more spectacular when surrounded in white.
You can speed through the forests on snowmobiles — or enjoy peace and quiet while snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. You can take a fantastic snowcoach tour and see the park, stop at important attractions, and enjoy the winter scenery from inside a tall and toasty warm vehicle.
When you’re ready to take off your boots after exploring the glistening scene, you can pop inside a local spot to grab a warm bite or beverage.
4. The Local Wildlife Is Out And About
During the winter, many animals are surprisingly active in Yellowstone National Park. Although the bears will probably be hibernating, you’ll have the opportunity to see many other creatures.
Bison are abundant and will often walk along the side of the road in large herds. Because it will likely be just a few of you and them, you’ll see them much more readily than you would if there were throngs of people around. Wolves, elk, deer, foxes, bighorn sheep, coyotes, and smaller animals like muskrats are easy to spot in the snow.
On our visit, we saw all of these animals as well as eagles and other birds. You can book park vehicle tours that will take you to all the right places for the best views of the wildlife.
5. The Availability And Prices Are Great
One of the many advantages of visiting Yellowstone in the winter is that competition for everything — from accommodations to restaurant reservations — is a lot less fierce. Places that would need to be booked very far in advance are usually much easier to get into during the winter months.
There are also some great packages tailored to your needs and interests that make one-stop shopping easy. Be sure to shop around and compare to get just what you want at the best price.
You will need to consider that transportation options inside the park itself are limited in winter, with most access only available by snowmobile or snowcoach.
6. You Won’t Contribute To Overtourism
We have been spending much of our travel-planning time exploring ways to be more responsible and sustainable travelers. Overtourism is a real problem at some of the most important places in the world. Unfortunately, national parks are not immune.
That’s one of the reasons we love recommending travel experiences that are both amazing and responsible, and visiting Yellowstone National Park in the winter is a great example. Winter visitors will see one of the most glorious places on Earth at a time when it is bursting with beauty. Crowds are at a minimum, so you’ll see more of the park in less time because you won’t have to deal with lines or wait times. You’ll also be able to enjoy the quiet and view wildlife and natural attractions without interruptions or traffic or noise. That alone is a worthy consideration to us.
7. You Can Better Relax And Enjoy Your Time
Because visiting Yellowstone during winter minimizes time spent getting to key attractions, you can actually relax and enjoy your time there. So often we end up exhausted after a vacation because we spent time desperately trying to see and do everything on our list, all while wasting time standing in lines, dealing with long waiting times, and sharing every event and space with crowds of others doing the same thing.
Yellowstone in winter offers a chance to enjoy attractions with less competition and a lot more freedom. You can plan ahead for certain things, and go with the flow for others. If an experience you didn’t think about suddenly becomes interesting, you can easily add it to your schedule.
We didn’t know how much we would enjoy snowshoeing — but turns out we loved it! And after about an hour of snowshoeing along sparkling white forest trails, we went back to our hotel and enjoyed a lovely cocktail while lounging comfortably by a fireplace and looking through the window at the gorgeous winter scene outside.
8. You Can Enjoy Dog-Sledding
Winter offers some treats that even the locals can’t wait to enjoy. One of those treats is dog-sledding. Dog-sledding is not done inside the park itself, but just outside. We had never been dog-sledding before and were a little anxious about it, but we were overwhelmed by how easy and fun it was.
The dogs are amazing, and they just can’t wait to run. They literally jump for joy when they’re chosen to be part of a team. The skilled mushers will tuck you into the sled and drive you through breathtaking scenery. If you’re interested, you can also take a turn leading the team yourself!
The dogs are lovingly cared for and are given a rest when they need one, even if they don’t want it. We stopped to appreciate the winter beauty with cookies and hot chocolate before making our way back.
Where To Stay
Two of the park lodges inside of Yellowstone are open during the winter.
Old Faithful Snow Lodge & Cabins
Located in the Old Faithful area in the southwestern part of the park, Old Faithful Snow Lodge & Cabins offers premium and accessible lodge rooms with full bathrooms, refrigerators, and other amenities as well as cabins and accessible cabins that are simple and cozy. Snowcoach transportation is available to book online, and you can choose from a variety of activities and stops to create your own perfect adventure.
Mammoth Hot Springs & Cabins
Mammoth Hot Springs & Cabins offers the outdoor enthusiast access to the Northern Range wildlife viewing and ski trails. Accommodations include newly remodeled premium hotel rooms and suites. There are also cabins and even a few hot-tub cabins, each with a private hot tub in a fenced enclosure. Of course, one of the reasons visitors stay here is to see the geothermal activity of the hot springs and the beautiful travertine terraces.
There are also places to stay in West Yellowstone just outside the park itself. The Best Western Desert Inn has an indoor pool and jacuzzi as well as free breakfast. The Explorer Cabins at Yellowstone are great for multigenerational travel, and all cabins come with kitchenettes. Some pet-friendly cabins are available, too. And if you want a grownup getaway, 1872 Inn provides boutique lodging — no people under 21 or pets allowed.
Wildlife lovers might enjoy the nearby Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. It’s a nonprofit educational animal park that gives rescue animals unable to survive in the wild a chance to be wildlife ambassadors.
Yellowstone National Park is a fantastic destination to visit at any time of the year, but we think that winter brings even more opportunities for creating a unique and memorable vacation.