Among the National Parks, Yellowstone already stands out with its unique collection of hydrothermal features, wildlife, and vast scenery. However, when the busy season ends, and only the hardiest of locals remain, winter comes in hard and transforms Yellowstone into a snow-covered wonderland.
Because Yellowstone National Park sits mostly on a high plateau, the cold air is abundant. Add the Snake River Plain of Idaho funneling storms north, and you have a perfect setup for multiple feet of snow in each of the winter months. Starting in November and lasting through March or April, temperatures rarely get above freezing, and can dip down to forty degrees below zero.
Unless you're afraid of the bitter cold, there are not many reasons why you shouldn't visit, but here are a few why you should! Keep in mind, Yellowstone is only open to private tours in the winter, via snowcoach or snowmobile.
1. The wildlife is easier to spot.
Because the snow often contrasts with the dark furs of wildlife, it makes them easier to spot while on your tour. Although bears hibernate during these months, the wolves become much more active than during the summer. Foxes, otters, bobcats, and more all are fighting for survival, making them easily seen out in the open.
2. The crowds are gone.
With the beautiful weather of summer in Wyoming, crowds are abundant. In the winter, you pretty much have the park to yourself, besides your own small tour group. You get to walk on the boardwalks in complete silence, and take in the sights without the crowds.
3. The snow is plentiful.
Although some people hate it after a day or two, everyone loves snow. Yellowstone averages 150 to 300 inches of the white stuff in the winter, and it is very slow to melt. By the end of the season, snow drifts can be higher than five feet in the lower elevations, and more than twice that in the mountains.
4. Cross country skiing is like hiking, but better.
When I started cross country skiing, I found it very easy to get the hang of. It's a great way to extend your hiking season to year round, and you can get more miles in a day. Personally, I find cross country skiing more enjoyable than downhill skiing, just for the solitude and relaxation. Trails for cross country skiing and snowshoeing in the Yellowstone areas are plentiful.
5. The geysers and hot springs are much more impressive.
During the winter, the scalding water of Yellowstone's thermal features clash dramatically with the bitterly cold air, creating thick steam that fills the air. This steam can also reach the trees, where it quickly builds up a layer of frost, turning the trees white.
If you're interested in seeing Yellowstone in the winter, I would recommend a snowcoach tour with Yellowstone Vacations. If you're feeling adventurous, you can also book a snowmobile tour with Yellowstone Adventures. Both are based in the town of West Yellowstone, and the Faithful Street Inn offers cozy cabin lodging all year long.