With the Yellowstone National Park 2019-2020 winter season now upon us, it’s time to plan your trip to Yellowstone during a remarkably peaceful time of year, as snow blankets the region and your only company on many trails will be bison and precious few other visitors.
The northern route through Yellowstone, via Gardiner to Silver Gate and Cooke City, is open year-round, as is the Albright Visitor Center and Mammoth General Store. All other services in the park closed down last fall, but between then and now crews have been working to groom roads within the Park for snowcoaches and snowmobiles. Yesterday the North, West, and South Entrances were opened to snowcoach and snowmobile traffic.
Starting yesterday, Yellowstone National Park operates on a winter schedule, with a limited number of services offered between now and March 15. (You can view what’s open at Mammoth and Old Faithful on our opening and closing dates page.) Still, when planning a Yellowstone winter vacation, there is an abundance of options available, ranging from build-your-trip where you arrange transport to Mammoth and Old Faithful from a gateway community (Bozeman, Cody, West Yellowstone, Jackson) via snowcoach or snowmobile to a total package sold by a variety of outfitters. A three-day snowmobile tour, for example, can begin in Jackson and Grand Teton National Park, take you through the Park to the Old Faithful area and then to West Yellowstone, and then through Gardiner before returning to the South Entrance and Jackson. There are also tour operators who run one-day snowcoach tours between West Yellowstone and Old Faithful. Alas, most of the old-style Bombardiers have been retired from service, replaced by cleaner-running modern vehicles.
We’d recommend checking out the various offerings from authorized snowcoach and snowmobile tour companies at the Yellowstone National Park website. Many offer all-inclusive packages that include lodging in a gateway community like West Yellowstone and either snowmobile or snowcoach day trips through popular areas of the Park, such as the Norris Geyser Basin or the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Xanterra runs a variety of tours from both Old Faithful Snow Lodge or Mammoth, including shorter excursions from Old Faithful to Lone Star Geyser or a Norris Geyser Basin outing from Mammoth.
If motorized vehicles are not your bag, you can approach the Yellowstone National Park 2019-2020 winter season in a more active way, via cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. A popular visiting plan involves a stay at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge and includes day trips to popular winter areas, such as skiing or snowshoeing in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone area. Or, if you’re a more solitary soul, you can snowshoe or ski directly from the Old Faithful area, either with equipment you brought yourself or rented there. Or you can join up on a free Ranger-led excursion from Mammoth, Old Faithful or West Yellowstone: check out the offerings here.
How you get to the Park during the Yellowstone National Park 2019-2020 winter season depends on the decisions you make regarding your trip planning. One easy route to a Yellowstone stay involves flying into Bozeman International Airport and then using Xanterra transport to Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. From there Xanterra runs a shuttle between Mammoth and Old Faithful. Similarly, you can rent a car in Bozeman, stay the night in West Yellowstone and catch a morning snowcoach to Old Faithful Snow Lodge from a variety of vendors—a trip that usually involves a few stops along the way.
Because there are day trips into popular Yellowstone areas from both West Yellowstone and Mammoth, you don’t need to stay in the Park to take advantage of special access. Gardiner is a popular spot for Yellowstone visitors who don’t want to—or cannot—stay at Mammoth, and plenty of folks stay in West Yellowstone to take advantage of the more luxurious accommodations there (pools, cable TV, Internet access) over the nicely appointed, but limited rooms at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge.
You may want to use a Yellowstone winter trip as an excuse to get away from it all. During the day Old Faithful Snow Lodge can be a little on the busy side, what with all the day visitors making a stop passing through the Park. Mammoth tends to be a little quieter, and you can usually take refuge during part of the day in the Map Room. Come late afternoon, however, both lodges quiet down, and that’s the time to hit a bar for a drink before a nice, leisurely dinner and then some evening quiet time in front of a fireplace. Don’t feel like snowshoeing or skiing? No worries.
If communing with nature isn’t enough for you, concessionaire Xanterra is hosting plenty of special dining events at both Mammoth and Old Faithful. The Mammoth Hotel Dining Room is hosting an all-you-care-to-eat Christmas buffet on Dec. 25, a New Year’s Dinner, a Mountains Walking Brewery Brew Master’s Dinner on Jan. 17, and a Valentine’s Day Wine Tasting with Tapas. You’ll also find a New Year’s Eve Dinner at Old Faithful Snow Lodge, as well as a special Valentine’s Day Dinner. (Reservations are recommended for these events as well as general dining at both locations; call 307/344-7311.) Also worth noting at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel: A Bozeman Spirits Distillery tasting on Dec. 28 and a Glacier Distilling tasting on Feb. 12. There are also painting/jewelry/photography workshops and literary events on the calendar, including a book signing by Pam Houston, author of Cowboys Are My Weakness, at Old Faithful Snow Lodge on Jan. 23. You can see the full list of events here.
Any trip to Yellowstone requires patience and planning. This is true of a winter visit as well: you will certainly plan ahead when it comes to hotels and meals. But a Yellowstone National Park 2019-2020 winter excursion is a trip of a lifetime–and well worth the time spent mapping out the logistics.
Photo of bison along the Yellowstone River by Diane Renkin, courtesy National Park Service.