Everything You Need to Know


Steaming hot springs and geysers. Cozy lodges. Thick blankets of snow. Yellowstone is incredible — and entirely different — in the winter! Temperatures plummet, snow accumulates by the foot, and wolves and bison flock to valleys and thermal basins. Here's everything you need to know about visiting Yellowstone in the winter!

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Steaming hot springs and geysers. Cozy lodges with roaring fireplaces. Thick blankets of snow on rolling mountains. While most people tend to think of Yellowstone National Park in its green, summertime beauty, Yellowstone is a fantastic — and entirely different — place to visit in the winter.

Temperatures plummet, snow accumulates by the foot, and wildlife flock to the valleys and thermal basins to escape the worst of winter. Old Faithful may be arguably even more magical erupting through the snow, and wolves travel across the white tundra— Yellowstone is just as alive as in the summer!

Sure, it’s tough to get around, but that’s half the fun isn’t it? Conditions require extra preparation and grit, but there are snowmobiles, snowcoaches, and plenty of adventure to be had in this pristine winter wonderland.

Visiting Yellowstone in winter is one of the quietest, most beautiful, and most peaceful ways to experience the world’s first national park. So let’s dive in and discover the best things to do in Yellowstone in the winter!

Psst: Looking for more National Parks to explore? We LOVE exploring National Parks so have a lot of posts you can check out to plan your next trip. Get them all here or here are some of our favorites.

Psst: If you’re planning to visit multiple parks this year, we recommend picking up an America is Beautiful National Parks Pass. The pass is valid at over 2,000 National Parks and 10% of the sale proceeds are donated to the National Park Foundation, helping to keep our parks beautiful! The average cost of admission to a National Park is $35, which means that the pass quickly pays for itself after just a few visits. AND you are supporting the National Park Foundation. Win/win! You can pick up a pass online at REI or in person at any National Park.

Hey, need a handy dandy checklist to help you pack? We’ve got a printable cold weather packing list that includes EVERYTHING you’ll need for your trip. Sign up in the box below and we’ll deliver it right to your inbox. Just call us the fairy godmother of packing lists!

Printable Winter Packing List

This FREE 3-page printable packing list will help make sure you don’t forget anything for your next winter trip. We’ll also send you our favorite travel tips!

Snowmobiles and a snowcoach passing a herd of bison on a snowy road in Yellowstone National Park
In order to explore much of Yellowstone in the winter, you’ve got to travel over the snow — by snowmobile, snowcoach, snowshoe, or ski! Photo Credit

Things to Know about Yellowstone in Winter

Yellowstone is a huge park, covering 2.2 million acres and spanning across northwestern Wyoming into Montana and Idaho. So there’s a lot to know while planning your trip! And even if you’ve been in the summer, Yellowstone is a whole different beast in the winter. Below, we’ve rounded up some winter-specific tips to help you plan.

You can’t just drive in

Well, for the most part. Beginning in October, most of Yellowstone’s roads close for the season. By the time there’s a healthy blanket of snow covering the park in mid-December, most of Yellowstone’s roads are groomed for snowcoach and snowmobile travel. 

Three of Yellowstone’s five entrance stations require over-snow travel to get into the park. Another is completely inaccessible from outside the park. Yellowstone receives so much snow that plows simply can’t keep up.

The only road that does get plowed is the stretch from the North Entrance to the Northeast Entrance (from Gardiner to Cooke City). 

Which means in order to explore the rest of Yellowstone, you’ve got to travel over the snow — by snowmobile, snowcoach, snowshoe, or ski.

Two cross-country skiers on a snowy, deserted road during a snowstorm in Yellowstone National Park
Skiing is one of the best ways to get around the park on a snowy day! (Photo Credit)

Roads can close at any time

Just because a road is scheduled to be open doesn’t mean it will be. For example, the road between Cooke City and Gardiner is supposed to be open all year, but sudden storms, sketchy conditions, and whiteouts can close the road on a dime.

Even the biggest snow plows and most experienced drivers are no match for Yellowstone’s unpredictable weather. Check the park’s website before planning any trips over plowed park roads, and check road closures when driving outside of the park, too. 

Depending on where you’re staying and traveling, you can check Montana’s or Wyoming’s transportation websites for up-to-date conditions. 

A view of snowy Electric Peak in winter surrounded by snow and trees in Yellowstone National Park
The sun shining on Electric Peak is stunning in the winter. (Photo Credit)

Yellowstone is a high-elevation park

Elevations range from around 5,000 feet to more than 11,000 feet in Yellowstone National Park (though you won’t be traveling up to those highest peaks in the winter, unless you’re like, a professional mountaineer). 

If you’re coming from sea level (or close to it), you might feel the impacts of elevation, especially when you’re skiing, snowshoeing, or walking around. The dry mountain air can add to the effect.

The best ways to combat a possible negative reaction with altitude are to stay hydrated and save high-energy activities for later in your trip, after you’ve had a chance to acclimate.

Upper Geyser Basin with steam coming up surrounded by snow in Yellowstone National Park
Upper Geyser Basin looks especially stunning in the winter. Everything is even more beautiful in the snow! (Photo Credit)

It’s really cold and snowy

As mentioned above (and will be mentioned again), Yellowstone National Park is cold in the winter. Typically, winter days range from 0-20℉. The average snowfall in the park is about 150 inches, but the higher elevations can get twice that.

This isn’t the oops-I-forgot-my-mittens, I-don’t-actually-need-to-zip-my-jacket cold — it’s really freakin’ cold. Here’s a fun fact: The lowest recorded temperature in Yellowstone was on February 9, 1933, near the West Entrance — the thermometer read -66 degrees Fahrenheit. 

But don’t let that deter you! It sure gets cold and snowy, but it’s usually not that cold. Simply put, winter in Yellowstone is everything winter should be. If you pack and dress well, you should be plenty comfortable.

Cell service is spotty, so take precautions

Not only may cell service be spotty, but the cold might zap your phone battery (you’ll definitely want to keep it buried as deep in your layers as possible). That’s Yellowstone in winter for ya! 

Knowing this, prepare ahead of time as much as possible. If you are driving yourself into the park, print directions ahead of time. Come through, Google Maps!

The same goes for knowing where and when to meet any tours or guides, making reservations for dining, and knowing details like hotel check-in times. Basically, don’t expect to be able to look up any information you need on the fly. It never hurts to have all this info in a Google Doc that you can access offline (which is, incidentally, one of our go-to travel planning tips)!

If you’re traveling on a tour, like a snowcoach or snowmobile day trip, your guides will know the park like the back of their hand, so you can sit back and leave the navigation to the pros.

However, if you decide to go for an independent adventure (via snowshoe, cross-country ski, or car), take extra precautions. If you’re headed on any trails, let someone know where you’re going: leave a plan with your hotel, leave a note on your windshield, or, if nothing else, let a trusted friend or family member know which trail you’re heading for and that you’ll let them know when you’re back at your hotel.

It may seem extreme, but Yellowstone is extreme, and it’s not hard to get lost on unfamiliar, snowy trails.

Madison Junction southbound directional sign surrounded by snow in Yellowstone National Park
So many places to go, so many things to see! Where will you go first? (Photo Credit)

When is Winter in Yellowstone?

December, January, and February are all excellent months for winter travel in Yellowstone. While snow can fall any month of the year and winter can creep in as early as October, the true winter travel season in Yellowstone doesn’t start until mid-December. 

In order to operate the snowcoaches and snowmobiles that make park travel possible, a thick layer of snow is necessary, which means that the park can’t open to oversnow traffic until lots of snow has fallen. 

In mid-March, the park closes roads to over-snow travel so they can start the long and difficult process of plowing the roads for summer traffic.

Visiting Yellowstone anytime between mid-December and mid-March pretty much guarantees you’ll get the full winter experience. 

A holiday trip in late December is a fantastic time to visit the park, though travel may be pricier. If you’re willing to splurge, you can count on it being festive, snowy, and beautiful.

A lone coyote walking on a snowy, deserted road in Yellowstone National Park
A wolf on the prowl. Wolf watching is a big thing in Yellowstone! (Photo Credit)

How to get to Yellowstone in the Winter

Traveling to and around Yellowstone in the winter is no joke, especially if you’re doing so in the middle of a mountain blizzard. Depending on where you’re traveling from, you might drive right to a park entrance or fly to a nearby town.

Yellowstone National Park has five entrances, but only four of them are directly accessible in the winter. Entering the park through three of these entrances requires snowmobile or snowcoach travel. Only the North Entrance, near Gardiner, Montana, is open to wheeled vehicles year-round. 

The closest airports to Yellowstone National Park are in Bozeman, Montana, and Jackson, Wyoming. (Psst: check out our guides to Jackson Hole in the winter and this awesome 10-day Montana road trip itinerary, too!)

From the North

If you’re staying near the North Entrance or Gardiner, Montana, fly into Bozeman Yellowstone Airport (BZN). From there you can rent a car and drive to the North Entrance, or catch a shuttle to the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel in Yellowstone.

From the South

If you’re staying in Jackson or near the south entrance of Yellowstone, you’ll want to fly into the Jackson Hole Airport (JAC).

Visiting Yellowstone from Jackson means you’ll also get to see Grand Teton National Park, which sits between the town of Jackson and Yellowstone National Park. It adds some time to your journey, but this breathtaking mountain range is worth your time.

Once in Jackson, you can rent a car for exploring the area, but you won’t be able to drive into Yellowstone. For your Yellowstone excursion (be it a day trip or a multi-day trip), you’ll need to make reservations with a snowcoach or snowmobile guide to get into the park (more on that below!).

From the East or West

You can also enter the park through the east or west entrance stations, though both require a guided over-snow vehicle shuttle.

West Yellowstone, Montana, outside the park’s west entrance, has plenty to see and do, though the airport (WYS) doesn’t currently operate in the winter.

Cody, Wyoming, outside the park’s east entrance, is about 50 miles from the park. While it’s truly an authentic Wild West town with tons of attractions, museums, and outdoor activities, it’s not the most convenient location for park access, especially in the winter. Flights are limited, with just a couple each day in the winter.

A bird's eye view overlooking the snowy Yellowstone River and Calcite Springs in Yellowstone National Park
 Yellowstone River and Calcite Springs in the winter are otherworldly. (Photo Credit)

Things to Do In Yellowstone in Winter

You might have the impression that with all of the road closures, freezing temperatures, and difficulty getting around, there isn’t much to do in Yellowstone in the winter. Well, that is definitely not the case. 

Many of Yellowstone’s main attractions — wildlife, geysers, and hot springs — are very much part of the winter experience. Plus, with all of the snow and ice, the scenery (and opportunities for snowshoeing and skiing) add to the magic.

Here are our favorite things to do in Yellowstone in the winter: 

Take a guided snowshoeing or cross-country skiing excursion to experience the quiet beauty of Yellowstone National Park in the winter! Photo Credit

Snowshoe or Cross-Country Ski in a Winter Wonderland

Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are the two ways to get around Yellowstone in the winter by foot. If you’re not piloting a snowmobile or nestled warm and snug in the back of a snowcoach, skis and snowshoes are your only hope of getting anywhere when there are five feet of snow on the ground.

You can also sign up for completely guided excursions via ski or snowshoe, which are a great idea for beginners.

Oh, and don’t worry if you don’t have your own gear — rentals (and lessons) are available at both Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful!

You can ski or snowshoe basically anywhere you want in the park, but there are some precautions to keep in mind:

  • First, if you’re inexperienced at skiing, snowshoeing, or just… winter in general, you should stay on groomed trails. The park service grooms lots of trails near Old Faithful, Mammoth Hot Springs, Canyon Village, Lamar Valley, Tower, and West Yellowstone. There are miles of groomed trails that make skiing or snowshoeing a lot easier and safer!
  • If you ski or snowshoe off trail, you’ll have the difficult task of setting the trail in the fluffy, deep snow. Unlike skiing on a pre-set, packed, groomed trail, you’ll likely be sinking into the snow a little more as it compresses underneath you. It can be a really fun and adventurous way to enjoy the winter landscape, but it’s a lot more exhausting than skiing or snowshoeing on a groomed trail. 
  • If you’re exploring thermal areas, always stay on the groomed trails. In a thermal basin, you never know how solid the ground is or when a geyser might spew. In general, it’s a good idea to stick to the groomed trails if you are at all worried about getting lost. In a blizzard, your tracks will fill in a flash, and retracing your steps can quickly become impossible.
  • Depending on where you’re staying in the park, getting to the trailheads can be half the excitement. The park concessionaire offers skier shuttles to some of the more popular areas that you can take independently — shuttles service Mammoth area trails and Old Faithful area trails, and if you have a car, you can access Tower area trails on your own. 
Snowmobiles driving on a snowy road in the forest with the Grand Tetons in the background in Yellowstone National Park
Snowmobiling isn’t just a practical way to get around in Yellowstone in the winter — it’s also a ton of fun! Photo Credit

Snowmobile Through the Park

Snowmobiling isn’t just a practical way to get around in cold, snowy destinations— and one of the only ways to get around Yellowstone in the winter — it’s also a ton of fun.

Imagine piloting your own big-kid sled past forests, hot springs, and herds of bison, all with an actual steering system. (Remember trying to “steer” a sled as a kid, but actually just having to bail before hitting a tree? Steering a snowmobile is much easier.)

But you might be wondering what snowmobiles are doing in Yellowstone National Park. It is a national park after all, and snowmobiles are usually loud, noisy, generally un-peaceful machines – do they disturb the wildlife or harm the environment?

Snowmobiles were first allowed in the park in the 1960s in a bid to increase winter visitation, and at the time, there wasn’t much oversight or thought to their impact on the climate or wildlife. But when park purists and environmentalists began speaking up about concerns over noise and air pollution, the National Park Service had to come up with a compromise.

Today, the Park Service limits the number of snowmobilers in the park on any given day. Any snowmobile coming into the park needs to have a “BAT” (Best Available Technology) rating, meaning they adhere to strict noise, emission, and environmental standards. 

There are two ways to snowmobile into Yellowstone National Park — either with an authorized concessionaire, or through the Non-commercially Guided Snowmobile Access Program (N-CGSAP for… short?). The former is what the majority of people do, especially those without snowmobile experience and extensive knowledge of the area. It’s also what we recommend to you! 

There are several experienced outfitters to choose from, all licensed to operate within Yellowstone. The biggest factor in choosing a guide is the location/park entrance where they’re based. You’ll want to choose a tour operator with trips departing near where you’re staying.

Here are a few options from the different entrances:

South Entrance (near Jackson, Wyoming)

  • Scenic Safaris: Based in Jackson, Wyoming, Scenic Safaris offers all kinds of trips in both winter and summer. They guide two snowmobile trips into Yellowstone – one to Old Faithful and one to the Canyon area. 
  • Old Faithful Snowmobile Tours: This family-run business has been guiding snowmobile trips from Jackson Hole since 1987. You’ll start the day driving with your guide from Jackson to the southern entrance of Yellowstone, where you’ll hop on snowmobiles and see highlights around Old Faithful. 

West Entrance (near West Yellowstone, Montana)

  • Backcountry Adventures: This company is a great option for those staying in West Yellowstone. Friendly, experienced guides lead daily trips to Old Faithful and Canyon Village. The owner, a second generation Montanan, is also a former West Yellowstone’s mayor!
  • Yellowstone Vacations: Also located in West Yellowstone, this highly-rated outfit runs custom and daily snowmobile tours to Old Faithful. Daily tours depart West Yellowstone at 8:00 AM and return around 5:00 PM, so gear up for a full day of fun!

East Entrance (near Cody, Wyoming)

  • Gary Fales Outfitting: This outfit in Cody, Wyoming, offers day trips and overnights. A day trip gives you the chance to see either Old Faithful or the Canyon area, and you’ll see gorgeous scenery on either trip. The overnight trips are either one or two nights and showcase both the park’s upper and lower loops.
A snowcoach driving on a snowy road passing a herd of bison and Madison River in Yellowstone National Park
A snowcoach ride is a great way to stay cozy and let someone else take the reins! Also, you’ll be at a safe distance from bison and wolves. Which is nice. (Photo Credit)

See the Sights on a Snowcoach Ride

Riding a snowcoach is definitely the comfiest, coziest way to get around Yellowstone in the winter. So what’s a snowcoach, you ask? 

Picture a large van propped up on either tracks (like a snowmobile) or giant, low-pressure tires. A snowcoach is designed to drive over the thick layers of snow that accumulate on Yellowstone roads.

They’re fun to ride in, and great for wildlife watching. You don’t have to worry about the wind whipping your hair or snowflakes stinging your eyes. 

Snowcoaches are a pretty amazing way to travel over snow-covered roads, but they can’t go nearly as fast as a regular car or bus. Snowcoach travel is slow and scenic! 

There are lots of options for snowcoach operators and tours, all of which are authorized concessionaires of Yellowstone National Park. You can take a tour for the day from one of Yellowstone’s gateway towns, or you can take a snowcoach shuttle to lodging or attractions within the park. There are also daily snowcoach shuttles that run between Mammoth and Old Faithful.

While there aren’t any snowcoach tours or shuttles available from the east entrance, you can find them at the south, west, and north entrances. Here are the operators based at each entrance: 

South

  • Scenic Safaris: This company offers tons of tours year-round, including a shuttle and day trips to Yellowstone, including tours from Jackson to Old Faithful, with some other fantastic stops along the way.
  • Teton Science Schools: The only non-profit wildlife tour operator in town, Teton Science Schools offers expert-led trips with a heavy focus on wildlife. These tours are definitely some of the most educational excursions you’ll find, with knowledgeable naturalists leading the way.

West

  • Yellowstone Expeditions: Based in West Yellowstone, Yellowstone Expeditions is a family-owned business offering tours, private charters, shuttles, and skier and snowshoer drop-offs. Daily tours go to either Old Faithful or the Canyon area. 
  • Yellowstone Vacations: In addition to snowmobile tours, Yellowstone Vacations offers snowcoach tours from their West Yellowstone Location. Departing daily to Old Faithful and Canyon, both tours offer chances to see wildlife and a variety of thermal features.
  • Backcountry Adventures: This family-run company out of West Yellowstone offers snowcoach tours in addition to snowmobile tours. Choose either Old Faithful or Canyon as your destination, or customize a trip to your liking. 

North

  • Yellowstone Vacations: This operator, based in West Yellowstone, Montana, also runs tours out of Gardiner, Montana. If you’re staying near the park’s north entrance, you can hop on one of these tours (to Canyon or Old Faithful) instead. 
A lone wolf and a pack of birds surrounded by snow at Blacktail Pond in Yellowstone National Park
Wolf eradication in Yellowstone National Park was an excellent example of human intervention gone horribly wrong. Luckily, we’ve since corrected our mistake and learned from it! (Photo Credit)

Go Wolf Watching in Lamar Valley

Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley is considered by many to be the best place in the world to see wolves in the wild, and winter is undoubtedly the best time of year to see them. 

Wolves disappeared (ahem… were hunted, trapped, and killed) from Yellowstone in the 1920s. Considered by many to be a troublesome and dangerous predator, especially in the ranching communities that surround Yellowstone National Park, a government-sponsored “wolf extermination program” led to the near extinction of wolves in the lower 48 states. 

But without wolves, other mammal populations (mainly elk) exploded, leading to overgrazing and other unexpected ecological impacts that changed natural dynamics with Yellowstone National Park.

In 1994, a plan crafted by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and the Rocky Mountain states was put into action with hopes of restoring the park to its natural state. Biologists released wolves captured in Canada (keeping them in large pens at first) into Yellowstone Park with hopes they’d establish a population in the area. 

The plan went about as smoothly as it could, ecologically speaking. The wolves stayed in Yellowstone and bred to form several healthy packs. Today’s population of wolves in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem hovers around 500.

While the wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone has been a biological success, it’s still a controversial topic among local stakeholders. Nearby ranching communities, especially, have to deal with the return of a predator that can threaten their livelihood. For an interesting dive into many sides of the story of wolves in Yellowstone, read American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee before or during your visit! 

Seeing wolves in the wild is an indescribable experience, so make sure you allow some time in Lamar Valley during your trip!

Here are some tips for spotting wolves in Lamar Valley during your winter visit:

  • Look for wolves at dawn and dusk. Wolves (and a lot of other wildlife) are most active during the early morning and twilight hours. 
  • Look for other wolf watchers first. It may sound silly, but one of the easiest ways to spot wolves and other wildlife is to spot the people who have already found them! There are a number of wolf watchers who religiously watch these animals and know where to look for them. Drive through Lamar Valley with an eye out for both wolves and other people, and stop when you see either!
  • Ask other wolf watchers about the wolves. Wolves are incredibly social animals, and the dynamics of different packs and individual wolves can sound like something out of a soap opera. If you’re lucky, you’ll find one of the hardcore watchers who knows the latest scoop on specific wolves and packs within the valley.
  • Bring binoculars, if you have them. It’s often tough to see wolves with the naked eye, so binoculars can help. If you don’t have any, chances are someone will offer you a look through their scope!
  • Bundle up and bring a hot drink. Wolf watching is incredibly exciting, but generally requires a lot of standing around in the bitter cold. Dress warm, and bring hot tea or coffee to warm yourself from the inside out. 

If you want the best chance of seeing wolves and want to learn from an expert, you can sign up for a wolf-watching tour. There are a variety of overnight tours specializing in wolf and wildlife watching. This wolf-watching tour out of Bozeman includes four days of wolf watching and sightseeing.

Old Faithful Geyser erupting with steam while surrounded by snow on a sunny day in Yellowstone National Park
Old Faithful remains faithful – even in winter! Photo Credit

Explore Old Faithful & Yellowstone’s Thermal Basins

Old Faithful, while tougher to get to in the winter, is still one of Yellowstone’s must-see attractions. All the effort it takes to get there is well worth it, because you’ll never experience Old Faithful as quiet as it is in the winter!

You can take a snowcoach tour to Old Faithful and walk, ski, or snowshoe around. If you’re staying at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, you can experience Old Faithful right outside your door.

This reliable geyser erupts about every 60-90 minutes, depending on the height and duration of the previous eruption. Scientists can predict when the geyser will erupt within a 20-minute window — a pretty true testament to its name! 

While Old Faithful isn’t the tallest geyser in the park (that distinction goes to the unpredictable Steamboat Geyser, which is actually the world’s tallest geyser), it’s the one you can definitely count on seeing.

Old Faithful and the rest of the Upper Geyser Basin isn’t all you should check out on your winter trip. Midway Geyser Basin, home of Grand Prismatic Spring, is probably the most shockingly colorful feature in the park, with oranges, greens, yellows, and browns on display.

Norris Geyser Basin, Lower Geyser Basin and West Thumb Geyser Basin also boast an impressive array of thermal features — all unique — that are especially vibrant in the winter snow. 

Shuttles and snowmobiles can take you to these basins, which are spread all over the western half of the park. You may want to choose one or two to visit that are close to where you’re staying. A lot of snowmobile and snow coach tours also include visits to thermal basins, so check your itinerary if you’re going on one of these tours. 

Mammoth Hot Springs is the only thermal area in the park that you can reach by car in the winter. Make a point to check it out if you’re staying in Gardiner, Mammoth, or Cooke City!

  • Travel Tip: While the steam in the basins melts a lot of the snow off the boardwalks, that steam quickly freezes and makes for some seriously slippery boardwalks. Yak Trax or other traction cleats are a fantastic (and possibly injury-preventing) idea.
Boiling River bank with steam coming up in the wintertime surrounded by snow frost near Yellowstone National Park
Boiling River may not be *actually* boiling, but it is steamy and warm! Ahhhh. (Photo Credit)

Soak in Steaming Hot Springs

Yellowstone National Park is home to more than 10,000 thermal features – the highest concentration of thermal features on the planet.

Hot springs, fumaroles, geysers, and mud pots make up those 10,000 features, and boy, what a sight they are to see. Some hot springs, like Grand Prismatic and Abyss Pool, are simply stunning. But they’re not the kind of hot spring you can take a soak in.

Yellowstone’s hot springs are much too hot (not to mention illegal) to soak in. They’re also incredible natural features that are part of a balanced ecosystem, and human activity can be detrimental. Plus, they’re unpredictable, and therefore dangerous. So, no matter how enticing Yellowstone hot springs look, don’t even think about taking a soak in them. 

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to relax in a natural hot spring while big fluffy flakes fall around you in a beautiful, natural snow globe!

Here are some of the best hot springs near Yellowstone National Park where you can safely and responsibly enjoy a nice, relaxing soak:

  • Boiling River: Okay, okay, so this one actually is in Yellowstone, but it’s completely legal to soak in (conditions permitting — respect closures!). The perfect natural swimming hole forms where the Boiling River flows into the Gardner River. Obviously, there are some hazards when swimming in natural thermal areas (and fast-moving rivers), so be careful. You might not get that nice, even temperature that you can get in a developed pool – you’ll have to find the perfect mix of hot and cold water for yourself. Still, it’s a thoroughly unique Yellowstone winter experience! 
  • Yellowstone Hot Springs: These hot springs aren’t in Yellowstone National Park, but they’re about as close as can be. Yellowstone Hot Springs is ten minutes from the park, located just north of Gardiner. It’s the newest hot spring on the list, only having opened in 2019. The brand-new facility uses natural, mineral-rich water from a nearby source, though they channel the water into different temperature pools. This is a relaxing, even luxurious way to enjoy the area’s natural hot springs.
  • Chico Hot Springs: Chico Hot Springs is a much-loved Montana classic, though it’s a bit farther from Yellowstone — about a 40-minute drive. Chico is known as a vacation resort in Montana’s Paradise Valley, and makes a great addition or even basecamp for a Yellowstone trip. The spring-fed, open-air pools are available to both resort guests and day visitors all year round. While the scenery and the pools are definitely worth the trip, Chico also boasts impressive fine dining.
  • Astoria Hot Springs: For those staying in Jackson, Wyoming, Astoria Hot Springs is the best place for a soak! This natural hot spring sits near the confluence of the Snake and Hoback Rivers, about 15 miles south of Jackson. The springs were recently redeveloped after the original facilities were sold in the late 90s, and today, they’re beautifully built up and ready for visitors. Soak in these natural springs with 360-degree mountain views. 
A decorated Christmas tree at Old Faithful Snow Lodge during the holidays in Yellowstone National Park
While Yellowstone may not have a ton of holiday festivities, it will certainly put you in the holiday spirit! (Photo Credit)

Attend Yellowstone’s Holiday Festivities

There’s something special about celebrating holidays in a national park, and around the winter holidays, what better place to celebrate than a park that does winter so well?

With the glittering snowflakes, steamy geysers, and charismatic wildlife, Yellowstone is already a festive place. But around Christmas and New Year’s, you’ll find the lodges decorated for the holiday season.

Live music, caroling, and holiday decor dress up these cozy lodges for a holiday you’ll never forget. If you’re here over the holidays, here are the special events you won’t want to miss: 

  • Candlelight services: If you’re in the park for Christmas, you can celebrate the occasion with other visitors, park rangers, and Mammoth locals. At the Mammoth Chapel, you can attend one of the two Christmas Eve services, a longstanding tradition in this national park. 
  • Holiday Dinner: On Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve, you can find a delicious holiday feast in the dining rooms at both the Old Faithful Snow Lodge and the Mammoth Hotel Dining Room. Gather, celebrate, and stuff your face with all of your favorite holiday dishes in these cozy, warm park lodges. 
  • New Year’s at Old Faithful: Ring in the New Year like never before — Yellowstone style. Come to Old Faithful for New Year’s Eve, and just after midnight, head outside with other visitors to see this reliable geyser’s first eruption of the New Year. No fireworks needed — nature knows how to put on a show!

Go Dog Sledding 

There might not be anything more wintery than riding a sled pulled by a team of dogs through the snowy, scenic mountains.

To anyone who watched the animated movie Balto as a kid, this is a dream come true. And while you’re not driving a team across hundreds of miles of Alaskan wilderness to deliver life-saving medicine to sick children (thank goodness), you’ll still get a thrill from this kind of travel!

There are a few different companies around Yellowstone National Park that offer tours, though none actually operate in the park. If you’re staying in one of the park’s gateway towns, you can easily make plans to dog sled with a nearby guide for a day you don’t go into the park. Otherwise, make this a stop on either end of your trip!

Here are two guides that offer dog sledding trips near Yellowstone National Park:

  • Yellowstone Dog Sled Adventures: This company is based just outside of Big Sky, Montana (between Bozeman and West Yellowstone), and offers both “basic” and “learn-to-mush” trips. If you fly into Bozeman or stay in West Yellowstone, this trip is the perfect detour to kick off or wrap up your Yellowstone adventure.
  • Jackson Hole Iditarod Sled Dog Tours: If your winter travels through Yellowstone include any time in Jackson, Wyoming, this trip is a can’t-miss. They’ll even pick you up from your hotel and drive you to the trail, which is a ways down snowy roads outside of town. A full-day dog sledding tour includes miles of mushing to a natural hot spring, where you can enjoy a soak and hot lunch before the trip back.
A herd of bison in snow with steam coming from the water in Yellowstone National Park
Do these look delicious to you? Because… well, they are. You’ll see bison on lots of menus in Yellowstone National Park! Photo Credit

Where and What to Eat in Yellowstone National Park 

As you know by now, there isn’t much available in terms of amenities and facilities during Yellowstone’s winter season. If you’re staying outside of the park, you should have plenty of options. Jackson, Wyoming, a skiing mecca and crowded town in the winter, will likely have the most options, and tiny Cooke City will have the fewest. 

If you’re staying inside the park, you’ll have access to the dining rooms in the park lodges. If you’re at Old Faithful, that’s about all you’ll have access to. If you’re staying in Mammoth, however, the town of Gardiner and its restaurants are a short drive away. 

Here’s where and what you can expect to eat inside Yellowstone National Park in the winter: 

  • Old Faithful Snow Lodge: There are two options at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge in the winter — the Obsidian Dining Room and the Geyser Grill. The Dining Room serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a classic Yellowstone atmosphere. Trout, bison short ribs, or a dressed up burger are just a few of the hearty menu options. The Geyser Grill is the more casual option, with soup, sandwiches, salads, and the like. If you want a quick meal between outings, this is the spot. 
  • Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel: Mammoth Hotel just has one restaurant — the Mammoth Hotel Dining Room — but it’s got everything you need for three hearty meals a day. It’s also the first four-star certified green restaurant in a National Park. In the winter, expect entrees of rich, braised meat and lunches of chili and satisfying sandwiches. If you’re looking for an afternoon pick-me-up, the Map Room Bar has a hot drink to warm you right up — or a cold drink, if that’s more your thing. The bar’s open in the morning for quick breakfast items and coffee, and again in the afternoon for full bar service. 
  • Warming Huts: Warming huts, scattered around the park, are welcome respites from the intense and bitter cold. While the main purpose of the huts is the warmth and shelter they provide, some of them are even stocked with vending machines and drinks. The Madison Warming Hut near the park’s west entrance is staffed throughout the day and serves light snacks and hot drinks — so stop in for a bite if you’re in the area.
The exterior of Old Faithful Snow Lodge surrounded by snow during wintertime in Yellowstone National Park
The Old Faithful Snow Lodge is a cozy place to stay if you want to check out that famous geyser. (Photo Credit)

Where to Stay In (and Near) Yellowstone in Winter

Where to Stay In Yellowstone National Park

Staying in the park any time of year takes lots of advanced planning — and may cost you a pretty penny, too.

In the summer, all of the park’s hotels and cabins (plus all of the campgrounds) are open and accessible. In the winter, though, only two hotels (and one campground, if you dare) stay open. If you’re intent on staying in the park, you’ve got to act early and be ready to fork over a little more dough.

If you do choose to stay in the park, both options are fantastic and just steps away from some of Yellowstone’s highlights. Note that these hotels close during the shoulder seasons, and are open for winter business from mid-December to early March.

  • Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins is a recently renovated, welcoming winter refuge. The hotel has its own dining room, as well as its cozy map room, where you can curl up with a book or board game and listen to live piano music. The otherworldly terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs are steps away, as well as ski and snowshoe trails. This is a great place to stay if you want to spend a lot of time seeing wildlife in Lamar Valley – it’s just a short drive away! It’s also a great jumping-off point for hopping on a tour to other areas of the park. 
  • In the southern half of Yellowstone, Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins is a cozy place to stay near Yellowstone’s most famous sight — Old Faithful Geyser. Unlike Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, you can only get to the Snow Lodge by snowcoach or snowmobile. Tours also depart from the Snow Lodge, though there is a lot to do in the immediate area. Old Faithful is just one feature in a large geyser basin next door. You can rent skis and snowshoes in the lodge, or even borrow skates to use on the outdoor rink. When you want to see more, hop on a snowcoach and head out to see more of the park!

Where to Stay Near Yellowstone National Park

There are certainly perks to staying outside of Yellowstone National Park in the winter — most notably, the freedom to explore on your own. Nearby towns each have their own character and attractions to explore, plus more options for dining and lodging.

Hotels are plentiful in these gateway towns, but if you’re looking for a cozy rental, here are our picks:

Jackson, Wyoming

If you plan to fly into Jackson, Wyoming and begin your Yellowstone adventure here, this cute downtown studio apartment is the perfect basecamp. Stay a night or two before entering the park from the South Entrance, and make the most of your time in this Yellowstone gateway town.

This rental is a block away from the famous Town Square and — more importantly — steps away from the locally loved Persephone Bakery. Big windows, heated floors, and a comfortable cute space make this an affordable gem in pricey Jackson Hole!

West Yellowstone, Montana

There are lots of hotels in the popular tourist town of West Yellowstone (and they’re much more affordable than those in Jackson), but if you want the privacy and kitchen that come with a rental, this downtown cabin might be the place for you.

Only one mile from Yellowstone’s west entrance and a couple minutes’ walk from dining and shopping, the location can’t get much better. Plus, this cozy, clean, and comfortable cabin is well-appointed for cooking your own rich, refueling meals. 

Cooke City, Montana 

Okay, this one is a bit of a splurge, but the cabin is nothing short of magical. The teeny, tiny town of Cooke City sits just outside Yellowstone’s northeast entrance, and in the winter, the only way into town is by way of the winding, snowy road through Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley. For that reason, the town feels like a wilderness outpost.

This luxury loft, though, will make you feel right at home. Right on the banks of Soda Butte Creek, this place has its own creekside sauna and hot tub — plus a beautiful indoor soaking tub if the weather outside is just too frightful. This beautiful rental has all the luxurious touches you want, tucked into the towering mountains surrounding the town. 

Gardiner, Montana

This Gardiner rental has a lot going for it, starting with its location only half a mile from Yellowstone’s north entrance. Since the north entrance is the only accessible entrance in the winter, Gardiner is a great place to stay if you want the freedom of driving into the park on your own.

This rental is centrally lcoated, so you can easily walk to restaurants and shops. Best of all, the views out the windows are unbeatable — you’re looking right down at the Yellowstone River and the park itself.

Cody, Wyoming

This wilderness cabin is halfway between Yellowstone’s east entrance and the Western town of Cody, Wyoming — about 25 miles to each. This cabin isn’t for you if you’re looking for convenience, but it is if you want to spend a few days in a remote, cozy, snowy cabin, watching for wildlife outside your window. The views from this place are incredible and make you feel like you’re in the middle of Wyoming’s vast wintry wilderness. Which, actually, you are.

Couple Snowball Fight in Banff National Park Alberta Canada in the winter
It’s important to be bundled up during winter trips, so that if your husband starts an impromptu snowball fight you can retaliate properly. We recommend wearing a merino wool baselayer underneath your clothing and keeping a divorce lawyer on speed dial.

What to Pack for Yellowstone National Park in the Winter

Ever heard that saying, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing?”  In addition to keeping you warm as you explore, weatherproof clothing is especially important if you’re going to do outdoor activities. So, be sure to bundle up in your favorite cozy sweaters, a warm coat, and waterproof winter boots! We’ve got all the details you need.

We recommend wearing a base layer underneath your clothing on cold days during your winter trip – that means that the layer closest to your skin should all be made from merino wool. Merino wool is super warm, incredibly soft (nope, it’s not itchy) and much more lightweight than synthetic fabrics, as well as being naturally antibacterial, which means you can re-wear it without the re-wear funk. If wool isn’t your thing, wear an equally insulating textile like hemp or silk. Avoid non-insulating fabrics like cotton, and remember that natural fibers are pretty much always better than manmade textiles like polyester.

After your base layer, you’ll need to add on at least 1 additional layer before your outerwear, like a pair of pants and a sweater. On REALLY cold days, where the temperatures are below 10 degrees, we recommend adding on another base layer before your clothing layer & outerwear. And if you’re doing winter activities, add a waterproof layer as well, like lined snow pants. For more winter travel packing tips, head over to our Cold Weather Packing Guide.

Here are our tried and true travel essentials for winter travel.

  • Merino Wool Base Layer Leggings: These super comfy 100% wool leggings function just like long underwear. They’re made of soft, super-luxurious wool and make your legs feel like they’re being hugged by an extremely soft sheep. Jeremy has this pair. You’ll want to wear these underneath your pants on cold days during your trip.
  • Merino Wool Base Layer Undershirt: Laying is crucial when it’s this cold, and you’ll need to start with a layer of insulation on top and bottom. If it’s not terribly cold that day, I can sometimes get away with a short sleeved or even sleeveless wool base layer. I also defintey just wear my long sleeved base layer as a shirt somtimes! This is mine and this is Jeremy’s.
  • Wool Socks: Make sure you don’t just have run-of-the-mill acrylic socks for your trip – they won’t keep your feet warm while you’re out in the snow! Instead, bring socks that are primarily made of soft, heat-regulating wool, like these or these.
  • Warm Walking Boots: We recommend boots that can withstand ice or snow, are weatherproof and waterproof, and are comfortable enough to walk in for HOURS. Sounds darn near impossible, right? Well, it’s not. We’ve found the best boots for winter, and we’re OBSESSED with them (and yes, we both have the same ones. Because we’re kinda gross like that). They’re cute, they’re insanely comfortable, they’re waterproof leather with warm thermal insoles, and they’re extremely lightweight and foldable so you can stuff them in your bag when you travel. We can’t recommend these boots enough, and they’re the only shoes we bring on cold weather trips. They’re made to last and they’re worth every cent. Here are my boots and Jeremy’s boots. You can read more about them in our round-up of our favorite travel shoes for women or for men.
  • Travel Jeans:  My favorite travel jeans have 6 POCKETS. 6!! And 2 of them are zipped and hidden inside other pockets, for extra pickpocket protection. They’re super stretchy and buttery soft, dry quickly even after walking through the snow, and roomy enough to layer over an insulating base layer (or two). They’re cozy enough to wear on a plane, stretchy enough to accommodate that 5 extra pounds of holiday weight I always seem to bring back home with me, and they’re super cute! We’re both obsessed. You can get a pair of men’s or women’s jeans on the Aviator USA website.
  • Warm Flannel ShirtI’m in LOVE with the MerinoLux flannel button-down from Royal Robbins. It’s stretchy, it’s cozy, it’s blended with merino wool (yassss) and most importantly, it’s warm AF and super breathable. It’s also wrinkle-resistant, odor-resistant, and moisture-wicking, and has a hidden zip pocket – so basically everything you could ever ask for in a flannel shirt. I’ve been searching for the perfect flannel for YEARS (you know, like one that didn’t give me that annoying button-down boob gap and allowed me to actually cross my arms) and this is The One. I love it! Here’s mine and Jeremy’s.
Lia frolicking in the snow in Banff in the winter.
It’s important to dress appropriately for snow frolicking, so that you can frolic freely without worrying about, like, how much snow you’re going to get down your shirt (yikes). Practice safe frolicking, y’all!
  • Lined Leggings: On very cold days, I add an extra layer of insulating warmth by throwing a pair of lined leggings on over my base layer and under my jeans (I’ve also worn them without extra pants on top of my base layer because leggings are real pants, fight me). I have two pairs of warm lined winter leggings, one lined with merino wool and one lined with fleece.
  • Warm HatA warm hat is an absolute necessity. It also doubles as a super cute accessory! Did I just rhyme? You want a hat that will stay on your head when it’s windy wind and keep your ears nice and warm – bonus points if it’s lined. Personally I’m a fan of the ones with poofs on top, like this or this. Jeremy is more of a purist, and likes to wear beanies like this one, which is made from earth-friendly recycled wool and nylon.
  • Warm Coat: Your jacket is arguably the most important thing you’ll bring on a winter trip other than your shoes. It has a big job – namely, keeping you warm but not sweaty, allowing you to actually move your arms, and letting you explore for hours without feeling heavy or restrictive. Plus, it’s gonna be in almost all of your photos.  I bring this this cozy fleece-lined coat with me, and Jeremy wears a wool-blend coat similar to this one and this one.
  • Packable Down Jacket: Jeremy and I each bring two jackets each on our winter trips: our heavy/bulky coats, and a lightweight, travel-friendly packable down jacket. It’s perfect for those days when I want the freedom of not wearing a big heavy coat, and it’s also a fantastic added layer of warmth on super cold days. For this trip, I brought this down jacket and Jeremy brought this down jacket.
  • Gloves: Don’t go outside in the winter without gloves on! Jeremy and I both have these wool gloves that work with touchscreens, because let’s face it, I have a hard enough time using my phone without wearing gloves. Over those gloves we layer on a thicker pair that allows us to do things like throw snowballs at each other.
  • Scarves:  I LOVE a chunky scarf. They’re my favorite accessory! I love this super soft scarf from Royal Robbins, which is blended with wool and turns into a cute shawl or infinity scarf with a few well-placed buttons. I’m also a big fan of scarves that are big enough to double as blankets, like this one or this one.
  • Winter Sports Gear: If you’re planning to go skiing or snowboarding on your trip, bringing a few things can easily be packed in your suitcase will save you cash on rentals. We recommend these goggles and these gloves for snowboarding, and these travel-friendly crampons for snowshoeing.  

Whew! That should keep you warm and toasty. Oh hey, want a printable version? Just sign up below and we’ll send a checklist straight to your inbox.

Printable Winter Packing List

This FREE 3-page printable packing list will help make sure you don’t forget anything for your next winter trip. We’ll also send you our favorite travel tips!

About Our Contributor: Emily is a copywriter, nature lover, and art dabbler who lives in the northern Michigan town of Traverse City. Her favorite parts of travel are the outdoor pursuits unique to the destination — and the best local food and drink she can find. Learn more at emilycarolcopy.com


What are you most looking forward to doing in Yellowstone National Park in the winter? Area you ready to hunt wolves? But like, visually, not literally… Let us know in the comments below!

Psst: Planning more wintery trips in the West? We have lots of guides to other beautiful National Parks!

Psst: If you’re planning to visit multiple parks this year, we recommend picking up an America is Beautiful National Parks Pass. The pass is valid at over 2,000 National Parks and 10% of the sale proceeds are donated to the National Park Foundation, helping to keep our parks beautiful! The average cost of admission to a National Park is $35, which means that the pass quickly pays for itself after just a few visits. AND you are supporting the National Park Foundation. Win/win! You can pick up a pass online at REI or in person at any National Park.

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Our Top Travel Tips & Resources

Here are our favorite travel tips & resources for saving money and planning travel logistics! For more tips, check out our travel tips resource page or our guide to planning a trip.

  • Booking Flights: To score flight deals, search on Google Flights or Kayak. Money-saving tips: fly mid-week or on the weekend; fly carry-on only on a budget airline; and take red-eyes or early morning flights.
  • Accommodations: We usually stay in budget-friendly vacation rentals, boutique hotels or private rooms in hostels. We use Booking.com to book hotels (we love their flexible cancellation policy) and Hostelworld to book hostels (low deposit, easy change/cancellation, and excellent reviews). For vacation rentals, we prefer to book using VRBO because they’ve got lower fees and better support than Airbnb, and we’re not fans of Airbnb’s unethical track record. You can also book vacation rentals on Expedia and Hotels.com. We also use TrustedHousesitters as both hosts (for our home and our fur-child) and travelers!
  • Travel Insurance: We always, always, ALWAYS buy travel insurance for international trips, and we STRONGLY suggest it – visit our Travel Insurance Guide to find out why. We recommend either World Nomads or SafetyWing for international travel insurance. SafetyWing is one of the few policies that covers Covid-19, and they have excellent monthly policies that are perfect for Digital Nomads and long term travelers!
  • Travel Credit Card: We book all of our trips on our favorite travel credit card. Not only do we earn cash back that we can spend on more travel, but the card offers fantastic travel perks like travel insurance, trip delay and cancellation coverage, lost baggage reimbursement, and rental car coverage, which helps protect us on our travels. Learn more here.
  • Vaccines & Meds: We use the travel guides on the CDC website to research recommended medications and vaccines for international trips. We always recommend getting every vaccine recommended by the CDC! You can get them at your primary care doctor’s office or a walk-in pharmacy.
  • Tours: We love booking guided tours, especially food tours and walking tours, to get a local’s perspective and a history lesson while sight-seeing! We book our tours using Viator and GetYourGuide.
  • Transportation: We use Rome2Rio to figure out how to get from place to place, and book local transportation online using Bookaway wherever we can. When we book a rental car, we use Kayak to compare rental companies and find the best deal.
  • Luggage Storage: Whenever we’re checking out early or taking advantage of a long layover, we use LuggageHero to safely store our luggage while we’re running around. Use the code PRACTICALW for 2 hours of free luggage storage on us.
  • VPN Service: A VPN keeps your digital information (like website login details, bank info, etc) safe, even when you’re connected to an unsecured network while traveling. Plus, it lets you use Netflix & other streaming sites abroad! We use NordVPN. Use the code WANDERLUSTPROMO when you sign up!
  • What to Pack: Here are the travel essentials that we bring on every trip. We also have packing lists for hot weather, cold weather, and many more. Take a look at all of our packing guides!



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