Many readers have visited Yellowstone National Park during the summer months and faced a daunting sea of visitors from around the world. Often the attractions like Old Faithful Geyser and the many animals are overrun with, or spooked by, the huge crowds. Consider a winter visit, when crowds are almost nil, animals come down to the thermal basins and Old Faithful keeps up its almost-hourly eruptions.
Real adventure greets visitors to the park when several feet of snow offers a special backdrop. The park can be entered in winter via three entrances, but only by snow coach or snowmobile. Choices are from West Yellowstone (the west entrance), Mammoth Hot Springs (north) or from Jackson Hole/Flagg Ranch (south).
Our destination was the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, a quarter mile from Old Faithful Geyser. It’s a four-star hotel, with 150 rooms and a cozy, full-service restaurant. We chose the Frontier Cabin option, vintage cabins a block out back, for only $99/night and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
We spent 2 1/2 days at Old Faithful; we brought cross-country skis, but used them only sparingly. While several feet of snow was on the ground, plenty of walkers/snowshoers had packed the snow-covered miles of boardwalk so that we were able to hike the thermal basins and up to the Old Faithful overlook shod only in winter footgear.
During our stay we saw stunning Trumpeter Swans on the Firehole River and shaggy bison throughout the park, including a huge bull just 20 feet off the boardwalk on one of our walking tours (they come down to the geyser basins for warmth in winter). Of course, Old Faithful Geyser, only a short walk from our cabin, and the park’s many thermal features, warmed our hearts during several brisk hikes.
We marveled at elk by the hundreds; in winter, they prefer to wander the park roads rather than wade through deep snow, and sleep there overnight. The morning of our departure, a coyote followed us out the morning we left, seeking a handout. Just outside Old Faithful area, our snowcoach had to honk to get the elk off the road so we could return to the park’s west entrance!
We were fortunate our first trip in the fact that, while nighttime temperatures were dropping into the –10 degree range, sunny and clear days moved the daytime temps to about 20 degrees. Our last trip, a few weeks ago, it reached –38 in West Yellowstone our first night and the park halted all traffic in until it “warmed up” to –25! On this second trip we were content to hang out in a nice West Yellowstone motel, the Stagecoach Inn, and enjoy the quiet of this cute old west town.
How to get there: We arrived at the West Yellowstone park entrance by car, Other options include the park’s north and south entrances (both served, via snowcoach, by the park concessionaire, Zanterra). Private snowcoach operators provide service in from the West Yellowstone entrance.
Where to stay: We spent the nights in West Yellowstone at the Stage Coach Inn, which offers a good continental breakfast and snowcoach pickup. Another choice, on a different visit, the Three Bears Lodge. The park concessionaire, Zanterra, offers snowcoach service, and lodging, from the north and south park entrances, as well as running the Old Faithful Snow Lodge.
What to bring: Plenty of warm clothing, gloves and footwear, and cross-country skis or snowshoes if one wants to get off the “beaten path” of the park’s boardwalks. Binoculars and your camera, of course!
For more information: W. Yellowstone’s Stage Coach Inn, http://yellowstoneinn.com/; (406) 646.7381; for snowcoach service into the park, the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce can offer choices of private snowcoach providers, (406) 646.7701. North park entrance (Mammoth Hot Springs) and south park entrance (Flagg Ranch/Teton Park) lodging and snow coach service, and Old Faithful Snow Lodge stays, contact Zanterra, www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com, (307) 344.7901.