What -38 degrees looks like! A very cold Yellowstone National Park and West Yellowstone (Part II of III installments)

After a scenic 1100 mile drive to Whitefish, MT to ski with old friends and a side trip to explore Glacier National Park, it was time to head south to West Yellowstone and Yellowstone National Park.  We had visited West Yellowstone and gone into the Old Faithful area of the park five years earlier in January, and we wanted to recreate that glorious trip.

Our car's dashboard readout shows -38 degrees one morning in West Yellowstone!

Leave hot coffee in your car for 20 minutes, at -38 degrees, it is quickly transformed into "iced coffee"!

Travelers in Montana are treated to stunning views, like this mountain range across Flathead Lake.

Another mountain range framed in clouds, north of Missoula, MT.

Grand staircase in Stagecoach Inn in West Yellowstone is framed by many of the animals that can be found in the park and surrounding forests. Shown below, a snowcoach in West Yellowstone awaits temperatures warming to a balmy -25 degrees before transporting visitors into the national park!

Headed south from Whitefish, Hwy 93 takes one along the western shore of Flathead Lake, stunning in winter, with snowy peaks framing the lake at every vantage point.  South of Flathead Lake, the mountainous scenery continues impressive.  We considered ourselves fortunate that, even though the temperature was dipping into the -15 degree range at night, we were avoiding winter blizzards and experiencing sunny, clear days.  It seemed that every 10 miles we were stopping to capture fabulous winter photos!

Near Missoula, my spouse checked the Weather Channel app on her iPhone, and noted that West Yellowstone was forecast to reach -25 degrees by the next morning.  Hmmm!  We continued east on Interstate 90 to near Bozeman, then headed south on Hwy 191 and made a quick stop at the mega-ski resort, Big Sky.  The temps were at -15 and dropping.  Double hmmm!

We made West Yellowstone just before dark, and spent the night at the Stagecoach Inn, a lovely place.  In February, but for snowmobilers, not a lot is going on (only a handful of restaurants and motels are open), so we had pizza across from the Stagecoach, turned in fairly early and waited for the coming cold morning.

At 7 AM the next day, we ventured down to the continental breakfast area, where an attendant noted the temperature had reached -40 degrees overnight.  Sure…he must be exaggerating, we thought!   Shortly, I went out into the sunny morning to start my car – it would barely crank – as I noted the dashboard display was registering -38 degrees.  After running down my battery, I called AAA.  Twenty minutes later, awaiting AAA, I returned to the car to get my hot cup of coffee, only to discover it frozen solid!

More than an hour later, AAA was able to start my car.  We learned that the Park Service was halting all entrants into the park (via snow coach or snowmobile, only) until the day warmed up to -25 degrees!  This was not a climate for the faint-of-heart!

Coming later in the week: The most unforgettable visit to Yellowstone Park’s Old Faithful Snow Lodge!

How to get there: We took the scenic route from Whitefish, south on Hwy 93  past Flathead Lake, then went east on Interstate 90, almost to Bozeman.  We then turned south on Hwy 191 to West Yellowstone.  Big Ski Resort is between Bozeman and West Yellowstone on 191.

What to take: Binoculars and camera, of course, lots of winter clothing, and skis or showshoes if you are into that.  And, chains for your vehicle, even if you have a 4-wheel drive; jumper cables also might be wise if you see predictions of temperatures down to -20 or lower!  We managed to avoid heavy snows, until our return to California when we had to chain up to get over Donner Pass on Interstate 80.

Where to stay: In West Yellowstone, we have enjoyed the Stagecoach Inn (http://yellowstoneinn.com/) several times; in Yellowstone Park itself, the Old Faithful Snow Lodge is the only winter choice (http://www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/).

For more information on Yellowstone National Park: http://www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/.

Tim Viall is a local travel writer and writes a weekly travel blog for the Record; he can be reached at tviall@msn.com.

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