Yellowstone’s winter season starts

Bison move down the road in an early walk toward the relative warmth of Geyser Basin.
Bison move down the road in an early winter walk toward the relative warmth of Geyser Basin. (National Park Service photo.)

by YELL Public Affairs (All photos from the National Park Service archive)

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK —Yellowstone National Park will open to the public for motorized over-snow travel beginning Monday, December 15. Recent warm weather and limited snowfall has resulted in very little snowpack on many of the park’s interior roads.

Until more snowfall is received and conditions on the park’s groomed roads improve:

  • Visitors will be able to take commercially and non-commercially guided snowmobile trips or travel by commercial snow coach between the park’s South Entrance and Old Faithful.
  • Commercial snow coaches with rubber tracks or large over-snow tires or other high clearance commercial wheeled vehicles will be permitted to transport visitors between West Yellowstone and Old Faithful and road segments linking Mammoth Hot Springs, Norris, Madison, Canyon and the northern end of Hayden Valley.
Until there is substantially more snow the snow coach is the most common form of transportation in the park.
Until there is substantially more snow the snow coach will be the most common form of transportation in the park. (NPS photo)

Up to 110 total transportation events are authorized each day with no more than 50 to be snowmobiles. A transportation event equals one group of snowmobiles.

Snow travel is tough

The road from the northern end of Hayden Valley through Fishing Bridge Junction to West Thumb is not currently suitable for any type of guided visitor travel. Travel through the park’s East Entrance over Sylvan Pass to Fishing Bridge is scheduled to begin Sunday, December 22. Park staff members will continue to closely monitor conditions and weather forecasts.

Additional sections of the park will open to guided snowmobile and snow coach travel as soon as enough new snow permits. The road from the park’s North Entrance at Gardiner, Mont., through Mammoth Hot Springs and on to Cooke City, Mont., outside the park’s Northeast Entrance is open to automobile travel all year.

Steam rises from geysers in Yellowstone National Park in a deep and dark December.
Steam rises from geysers in Yellowstone National Park on bright, sun-shiny day.

Old Faithful

At Old Faithful, the Geyser Grill, the Bear Den Gift Shop and the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center open for the season on December 15. The Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins and the Obsidian Dining Room open on Thursday, December 18.

The Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, dining room, and gift shop will open for the season on Saturday, December 20. The Yellowstone General Store, the medical clinic, campground, post office, 24-hour gasoline pumps, and the Visitor Center at Mammoth Hot Springs are open all year.

Additional sections of the park will open to guided snowmobile and snowcoach travel as soon as enough new snow permits.
Additional sections of the park will open to guided snowmobile and snow coach travel as soon as enough new snow permits.

All communities around and on the way to Yellowstone are open year-round, with local businesses offering a wide range of winter recreation opportunities.

Last winter (December through March) the park had 16,754 snowmobiles with 22,858 riders and 2,600 snow coach trip with 22,327 snow coach riders. Park officials expect this winter’s numbers to be similar.

Through October, 31 the park had nearly three and a half million visitors. Extensive information and assistance for planning a visit to Yellowstone is available on the park web site at http://www.nps.gov/yell

Joe Evancho lives in Boise and is the author of FISHING IDAHO, An Angler’s Guide. He has written outdoor, construction and general interest articles for local, regional and national publications.