Is winter a good time to visit Yellowstone?
You may be wondering, is it worth visiting Yellowstone in winter? The answer is yes! With stunning scenery, plentiful wildlife and fun winter activities, Yellowstone is a GREAT destination.
A common question is “Can you go to Yellowstone in the winter?” or “Does Yellowstone Park close in the winter?”. Again the answer is yes. You can definitely visit Yellowstone during winter; however, your Yellowstone winter trip will not be as straight forward as your summer one. Many facilities, accommodations and roads aren’t open, so visiting Yellowstone National Park in winter does take some extra planning.
This is why I have created this guide to visiting Yellowstone in the winter. Read on for all you need to know to have an amazing Yellowstone Park winter vacation.
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Top Vacation Rentals Near Yellowstone National Park
I have listed more Yellowstone Park winter lodging options below, but if you are looking for a last-minute vacation rental in West Yellowstone or Gardener, check my list of the best vacation rentals near Yellowstone for availability.
When is it winter in Yellowstone?
Winter can be broken into three separate periods – two ‘shoulder’ seasons and winter proper.
Winter at Yellowstone officially starts mid-December and goes through early to mid-March. This is when roads are open for snow travel and you can take a snowcoach or a snow mobile to Old Faithful or Yellowstone Canyon. This is also when all of the park’s winter activities are in full swing.
It can start snowing as early as the beginning of September in Yellowstone and some facilities close down that early; however, winter really starts in November when most of the roads close to vehicular traffic (see roads section below).
The second shoulder season is from early to mid-March, when the park closes to snow travel, until mid-April when the roads are plowed and open to regular vehicular traffic.
These ‘shoulder’ winter seasons, when the park is not fully open for winter activities and snow travel, are not the best time to go. However, the winter months from mid-December to mid-March are great!
The Best Yellowstone Winter tours
Although you can use this guide to plan your own winter trip to Yellowstone National Park, winter tours are another option. There are couple of different kinds of Yellowstone tours.
Winter travel can be tricky, and a tour takes away the difficulty of driving yourself, so a multi-day tour that also includes Grand Teton National Park, is one option. The other is to take a day tour into the park and arrange the rest yourself.
This day tour of the northern section of Yellowstone starts in nearby Bozeman. It includes a short stop at the Gardener Visitor Center and there are good chances of seeing bison, elk, wolves, and bighorn sheep.
You visit the Mammoth Springs area and see these incredible travertine terraces surrounded by snow. The day ends with a soak in natural outdoor hot springs. Nothing quite beats soaking in hot mineral spring water when it’s freezing cold outside the water!
This 4-day winter tour includes Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. It starts in Grand Teton and the National Elk Refuge just north of Jackson, and includes a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the elk refuge.
The Yellowstone portion is via West Yellowstone. Winter tours into the park are in a snow coach to see Old Faithful erupting and other geysers and colored pools in the area, plus the Fountain Paint Pots.
How much does it cost to get into Yellowstone?
The entrance fee to Yellowstone is $35/ week for vehicles, $30/ week for motorbikes or snow mobiles and $20/ week for individuals (hikers/ cyclists/ skiers). When traveling by snowcoach or shuttle, passes admit a signer and up to three additional persons (16 and older) for a total of four people.
However, if you plan to visit more than a couple of parks in a year (or the same park more than twice), then look at getting the America the Beautiful Pass.
It gives you unlimited access for a year (from date of purchase) to over 2,000 federal recreation sites including all U.S. national parks plus national forest and BLM lands. It includes admission for one vehicle or four people (for places that charge per person).
Yellowstone Winter Weather
It is not only cold, but is also snows a lot in Yellowstone in winter, especially at the higher elevations.
How cold does Yellowstone get in the winter?
Yellowstone winter temperatures typically range from 0°F to 20°F (-20°C to -5°C) during the day. Night time and higher elevations temperatures are much colder and the record low temperature is -66°F (-54°C)!
What is the coldest month in Yellowstone?
December is the coldest month, and January is the snowiest.
The average temperatures and average snowfalls are:
- November: Average temperature 36°F | 15°C. Average snowfall 12.05 inches
- December: Average temperature 26°F | 7°C. Average snowfall 18.55 inches
- January: Average temperature 27°F | 7° C. Average snowfall 20.05 inches
- February: Average temperature 31°F | 8°C. Average snowfall 14.44 inches
- March: Average temperature 40°F | 16°C. Average snowfall 12.2 inches
- April: Average temperature 47°F | 22°C. Average snowfall 8.27 inches
Yellowstone Visitor Center Winter Options
Yellowstone National Park winter hours vary, though most of them are closed in winter.
- West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center (Chamber of Commerce) is open year-round. From November 2 to April 16, it’s open Monday – Friday: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm.
- West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center (NPS Desk) is open from December 15 to March 15 Monday to Friday from 8:00 am – 4:00 pm. However, it’s closed November 2 – December 14 and March 16 – June 5.
All of the other visitor centers are closed in winter:
- Canyon Village Visitor Education Center is closed from early November to early March
- Fishing Bridge Visitor Center is closed October 11 – May 22
- Madison Information Station is closed October 4 – June 6
- Albright Visitor Center (Mammoth Hot Springs) is closed January 1 – June 5, 2021 due to staffing
- Grant Visitor Center is closed October 11 – May 22
- Museum of the National Park Ranger is closed for 2021
- Norris Geyser Basin Museum is closed October 11 – May 29
- Old Faithful Visitor Education Center is closed November 2 – April 15
- West Thumb Information Station is closed October 11 – May 20
Yellowstone Winter Road Closures / Openings
Is Yellowstone open in winter?
Many people ask “Can you visit Yellowstone in the winter?” Yes, it is, but Yellowstone winter access is definitely more limited.
First up, in early November, most roads are closed completely. However, the northern road from the North Gate near Gardner through the park via Lamar Valley to the Northeast Gate is open to regular traffic year-round. So, can you drive through Yellowstone in the winter? Yes, on this route.
So, you can visit Mammoth Hot Springs and the Lamar Valley by yourself in a regular vehicle every month of the year.
Keep in mind, though, that the Beartooth Highway which leads to the East Entrance is closed in winter, so the only way to access the park (unless you live in Cooke City) is the North Entrance.
For November and the first half of December, this is the only section of Yellowstone that is open.
Starting in mid-December, when enough snow has accumulated, the rest of the park opens to over snow travel. This lasts until early-mid-March.
Which Yellowstone entrances are open in winter?
All of them. Dates can vary slightly each year, but in 2020, roads opened for over-snow travel (snowmobiles and snow coaches):
- December 15, 2020:
- West Entrance to Old Faithful
- Mammoth to Old Faithful
- Old Faithful to West Thumb
- South Entrance to Lake
- Lake to Canyon
- Canyon to Norris
- Lake to Lake Butte Overlook
- December 22, 2020:
- East Entrance to Lake Butte Overlook (Sylvan Pass)
Roads closed to over-snow travel at 9:00pm:
- March 1, 2021: East Entrance to Lake Butte Overlook (Sylvan Pass)
- March 7, 2021: Mammoth to Norris
- March 9, 2021: Norris to Madison; Norris to Canyon
- March 14, 2021: Canyon to Fishing Bridge
- March 15, 2021: All remaining groomed roads
The park is then closed again (other than the northern corridor) for all traffic while roads are plowed. The roads then open back up for regular vehicular traffic in mid-April.
Over Snow Travel
What’s Over Snow Travel?
There are four options for over snow travel in Yellowstone.
1. Snowmobile Tours (day tours)
|Operator / Website||Phone Number||Gate Operates from||Tour Options|
|Backcountry Adventures||800-924-7669||West||Old Faithful |
|Yellowstone Expeditions *||800-728-9333||West||Old Faithful |
|See Yellowstone Alpen Guides||800-221-1151||West||Old Faithful |
|Yellowstone Vacation Tours||800-426-7669||West and North||Old Faithful |
|Gary Fales Outfitting||307-587-3970||East|
|Old Faithful Snowmobile Tours||800-253-7130||South||Old Faithful|
|Scenic Safaris||307-734-8898||South||Old Faithful |
* Also operates the Yellowstone Yurt Camp near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River (see Yellowstone National Park winter lodging below)
2. Snowcoach Tours (day tours)
|Operator / Website||Phone Number||Gate Operates from||Tour Options|
|Backcountry Adventures||800-924-7669||West||Old Faithful |
|See Yellowstone Alpen Guides||800-221-1151||West||Old Faithful |
|Yellowstone Vacation Tours||800-426-7669||West||Old Faithful |
|Scenic Safaris||307-734-8898||South||Old Faithful|
3. Old Faithful Snowcoach Shuttle
|Operator / Website||Phone Number||Gate Operates from|
|Yellowstone Expeditions *||800-728-9333||West|
|Yellowstone National Park Lodges||307-344-7311||North|
4. Your own snowmobile
You can do this as part of the non-commercially guided snowmobile program.
Winter travel hours are 7:00 am to 9:00 pm except for the East Entrance Road and South Entrance Road which open at 8:00 am.
Getting to Yellowstone in Winter
There are a few options for driving to Yellowstone in winter.
If you’re trying to decide how to get to Yellowstone in winter, the two main access points are Gardener in the northwest and West Yellowstone in the West. Although the Northeast Entrance is open, you can’t get there from further points east. The other option is to head up from Jackson in the south and take an over snow tour from the south entrance.
Some common questions are:
“Can you drive to Old Faithful in the winter?”
No, but you can take a snow coach shuttle if you’re staying there, or a day tour by snow coach or snow mobile.
“Can you drive to Mammoth Hot Springs in the winter?”
Yes, you can drive down from Bozeman via Gardner. The road is open to regular vehicles all year. The rangers do sometimes close roads temporarily after heavy snow until the road is plowed, so be prepared to be a little flexible with your plans.
“Can you drive from Jackson Hole to Yellowstone in winter?”
You can only drive to the South Entrance or West Entrance. From there, you will need to take an over snow tour.
“Can You Drive to the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone in winter?”
Yes, you can drive from Cooke City through this entrance and into the park. The road is plowed all the way through the Lamar Valley to Mammoth Hot Springs and through the North Entrance to Gardner and beyond. However, access is blocked east of Cooke City, since the Beartooth Pass is closed. So, you can’t actually access the park form this direction unless you are only coming from Cooke City.
“Can You Drive to the Southeast Entrance of Yellowstone in winter?”
Yes, but this requires going over the Sylvan Pass. This is closed if there is a danger of an avalanche, so always check current conditions. The road into the park from this entrance is closed, however, so you need to take over the snow transport from the entrance into the park.
Where to Stay in Yellowstone in Winter
Where should I stay for Yellowstone in winter? When visiting Yellowstone in winter, lodging is more limited, but there are a couple of options inside the park as well as accommodations in Gardner just outside the north entrance and West Yellowstone just outside the west gate. West Yellowstone is the most popular Yellowstone winter lodging option.
Is it better to stay in Yellowstone or outside?
Both have pros and cons, as with most things in life. There is nothing quite like being inside the park, and it gives you a chance to more fully explore the area. However, it is not cheap to stay inside the park and there are areas in the park, notably the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone area, that has only very limited accommodations options and is mostly commonly visited as a day trip.
Where to stay inside Yellowstone National Park in winter
There are four Yellowstone winter lodging options. There are two Yellowstone lodges/ hotels open in winter and two camping options.
Note that when staying in Yellowstone in winter, you’ll also need to make sure that you have your transportation sorted out.
Yellowstone Winter Lodge / Hotel Options
There are two lodges open inside the park in winter. Both are open from mid-December to the beginning of March.
Because options are limited and extremely popular, I strongly recommend booking as far in advance as possible. If everything inside the park is booked out, there are still options outside the park (see below).
Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel & Cabins
Located in the north region of the park that you can drive to, the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel along with its dining room, gift shop, ski shop, and day tour operations, is open in winter. They have deluxe hotel rooms, suites and four cabins with private hot tubs inside each of them.
Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins
Located near the Old Faithful geyser and the Upper Geyser Basin, the Old Faithful Snow Lodge and cabins and its restaurant the Geyser Grill and Bear Den Gift Shop are open through winter.
You can rent skis in the Bear Den Ski Shop and there is an outdoor skating rink with free skate rentals. The lodge is super cozy, with large fireplaces throughout. They offer deluxe lodge rooms, spacious Western Cabins and more basic Frontier Cabins.
The only way to get there is by over snow travel. For information on how to get to Old Faithful Snow Lodge in winter, see the Over Snow Travel section above.
Yellowstone Winter Camping Options
There are also two camping options, including one that is available even in the shoulder season.
This NPS campground is the only campground in the national park that is open all year. From mid-October to the beginning of May, there are fewer sites available and there are no reservations taken. The campground is open to RVs and tents.
Nights in winter are almost always below zero (Fahrenheit!), so if you plan to camp in winter, you will need to be prepared. Check my Guide to the Best Tent Heaters and Guide to the Best Generator for Tent Camping and Best Generators for RVs. You will need them!
Canyon Yurt Camp
The yurt camp is the only place to stay on the Canyon region of the park. Located just half a mile from the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the Yellowstone Falls, it is ideal for cross-country skiers and snowshoers. Read my Guide to the Best Snowshoes if you want to buy some before you go.
The camp has two large heated yurts that are communal areas for dining and gathering. There are also small individual cabin huts with propane heaters for sleeping, as well as shower facilities and even a sauna!
The yurt camp is operated by Yellowstone Expeditions and you can check availability and prices.
Where to stay near Yellowstone National Park in winter
There are also plenty of accommodations available outside the park, but nearby. These include Bozeman and Gardner in the north and West Yellowstone, which is just outside the park’s west entrance.
West Yellowstone Winter Lodging Options
Luxury Option: 1872 Inn
This adults-only boutique hotel is stylish and comfortable. Each room has a gas fireplace and is decorated with simple wood finishes. There is a sauna and fitness center and a continental breakfast is included.
Mid-Range Option: Clubhouse Inn
This comfortable mid-range hotel has an indoor pool and hot tub. Each room has a private bathroom, fridge, microwave and coffee-making facilities. Continental breakfast is included.
Budget Option: Al’s Westward Ho Motel
Located right next to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, this motel has basic but comfortable rooms with private bathrooms.
Vacation Rentals/ Airbnbs in West Yellowstone
My top pick is this awesome four-bedroom cabin in the woods. With stunning mountain views, modern luxury and cozy comfort, this is an ideal place to stay in winter.
Check out my Guide to the Best Vacation Rentals Near Yellowstone for more options.
Dining Options in Yellowstone in Winter
In the Mammoth area, your dining options are the Mammoth General Store and the Mammoth Terrace Grill
In the Old Faithful area, your dining options are the Old Faithful Snow Lodge Geyser Grill and the Old Faithful Snow Lodge Dining Room.
In the Canyon area, the yurt camp has a dining room for guests.
What to Wear in Yellowstone National Park in Winter
The most important thing to keep in mind when packing for Yellowstone National Park during winter is layers – and lots of them. Winters are COLD and you will need to dress appropriately. Some essential items are:
A jacket for extreme cold weather
A really good jacket is essential in Grand Teton in winter because it can get very cold. Check out my Guide To The Best Winter Jackets For Extreme Cold for detailed information on exactly what to look for, as well as reviews and recommendations.
You will definitely need a really good pair of warm winter gloves for your winter trip to the Tetons. For men’s gloves for extreme cold, check out these Kingsbom unisex gloves
For women’s winter gloves for extreme cold weather, take a look at these Tough unisex gloves.
Good winter boots
Nothing can make you more miserable than cold feet in winter! So much so, that I have written detailed guides to help you choose the best ones.
A warm hat
I love this soft Botack beanie that is ideal for skiing, hiking or just being outside in the area in winter. Check out the color options on Amazon.
Read my Guide to Packing for Winter Travel with Essential Packing List for Winter Vacation Trips to make sure you have everything you need.
Although the days are short in winter, the sun is low in the sky all day, which makes nice for photos. Here are some tips for photography in the snow.
Cold weather can drain your batteries very quickly, so take some extra batteries for your camera with you. Try to keep them warm by putting them in a pocket rather than leaving them in a camera bag.
Winter Safety in Yellowstone National Park
Winter is cold, snowy and slippery, so you will need to be prepared. Pay careful attention to the What to Wear section above.
Because Yellowstone is actually at a high elevation, and this is exacerbated by cold temperatures, it is easy to get dehydrated. So, be sure you take extra drinking water (and keep it warm enough so that it doesn’t freeze).
Because it can be so cold outside, you will need to take some measures to prevent your water from freezing. Two tricks are
- keep it inside your jacket; and
- have an insulated water bottle or tumbler.
You can get a Yeti insulated tumbler here if you need one.
When driving either on the northern road inside the park or on roads nearby, make sure you have winter tires and/ or chains on your tires and always check current conditions daily. If you want to pull over to view wildlife, make sure that you only use plowed pullouts, or you may find yourself stranded in a drift of snow.
Winter Hiking/ Walking Tips
When hiking/ walking on boardwalks and trails, always have traction on your feet. The best way to do this is to wear Microspikes. These are spiked chains that slip over the bottom of your hiking boots. I LOVE these – they really do make a huge difference when hiking in winter.
If you’re going to be doing any hiking, check out my Winter Day Hike Essentials list to make sure you have everything you need. If you head out off the main groomed trails, be very mindful of winter weather and conditions.
Avalanches do occur in and around Yellowstone. Always check current conditions and practice basic avalanche safety if you are heading out alone anywhere.
Finally, winter is not the time to skip travel insurance. With icy and snowy conditions, there’s an increased chance of accidents, flight cancellations, etc., so I strongly recommend making sure you have some form of travel insurance for all Yellowstone winter trips.
A great insurance option is World Nomads, because they cover many adventure activities. You can book it here or get a quote right here:
Yellowstone Winter Activities
What is there to do in Yellowstone in the winter? Turns out, plenty. Read my Guide to The Best Things to Do in Yellowstone in Winter for all the details.
Have an amazing Yellowstone winter vacation!
Do you have any other tips for visiting Yellowstone Park in winter? I’d love to hear them. Join my private Facebook group National Parks Collectors and comment and let me know.
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James Ian has traveled to 82 countries and all 7 continents. He has visited all of the main national parks in the United States, as well as many national monuments and state parks.
He has rafted through the Grand Canyon; rappelled down slot canyons near Zion and Arches; hiked among the hoodoos in Bryce and the enormous trees in Sequoia; admired the waterfalls in Yosemite and the colored hot springs in Yellowstone; seen moose in Grand Tetons and seals in the Channel Islands, and much more.
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