Winter in Yellowstone National Park

Winter in Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is one of the most visited parks in the country during the summer months, but most visitors never see it during the winter. From late fall to spring, the park becomes a white, silent haven for wildlife and showcases its impressive geography. Large snowfalls and brutal temperatures make winter harsh in Yellowstone, but the richness of the land more than makes up for the cold.

Time Frame

The official winter season in Yellowstone National Park lasts from mid-December through early March. Although this stretch typically includes the greatest snowfall and harshest temperatures, early snows are not uncommon in October and November. In the spring, snow can occasionally be seen as late as mid-May.

Geography

Yellowstone is made up of several plateaus varying in elevation from around 7,000 to over 10,000 feet above sea level. Its sharp geographic features include the Gallatin and Absoroka mountain ranges, 320-foot-deep Yellowstone Lake and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. These magnificent formations create scenic and breathtaking vistas during snow-covered winter months.

The famous geothermal activity of Yellowstone does not stop for winter. Mammoth Hot Springs to the north and the geyser basins of West Yellowstone continue their thermal activity year-round, creating a special contrast to a frost-filled landscape.

Features

Yellowstone winters are cold. It is not uncommon for temperatures to drop well below zero, sometimes plummeting to -20 degrees or lower. With these temperatures comes a fine, dry snow that lasts throughout the winter months. Pine forests become unbroken blankets of white and green, and rocky valleys can be made into pristine ski paths.

The mountainous geography and high elevations of Yellowstone National Park can make weather unpredictable. Winds and storms follow natural corridors formed by mountains and valleys and can sometimes change direction without warning.

Benefits

Yellowstone is a wonderful place to visit in the winter. Tourist traffic is minimal, and many people find the park more silent and majestic than during the summer.

The park is also a fantastic cross-country ski destination. Many roads are closed during the winter to all but snow vehicles and skiers, making the geysers of West Yellowstone ideal terrain for skis. Backcountry ski routes are also open and popular.

Perhaps the most memorable part of Yellowstone winters is wildlife. Though bears hibernate during the winter, bison, elk, moose, coyotes and wolves are all common sights in the white hills. Occasionally a lone mountain lion is spotted. Lower tourism traffic and more open terrain bring these animals into plain view much more often than during summer months.

Considerations

Other than the north entrance near Mammoth Hot Springs and the northeast entrance at Cook City, Montana, all entrances to Yellowstone National Park are closed from December until March. The only road that is open to normal traffic is Route 212, which connects these two entrance gates. The rest of the park is accessible only by snowmobile, snow coaches or skis.

Yellowstone has a harsh winter environment that requires quality outdoor clothing and equipment. Plan your trip well ahead, including lodging reservations and travel plans.

Article Written By Gregory Johnson

Greg's passion for the outdoors has led him in hikes across the United States and over diverse terrain. Though he currently resides in the foothills of Appalachia, Greg spends his summer months working and hiking in such places as Tucson, Arizona, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

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