You may very well be traveling to Jackson Hole for its world-renowned skiing, yet the Teton area isn’t exclusively a destination for downhill snowy adventures. If you aren’t a skier—or if you’d simply like to experience Jackson Hole from a different perspective while you’re here, consider a day (or two) exploring Yellowstone National Park.
We've got the inside scoop on all the activities you can enjoy in the park in wintertime.
Getting Around the Park in Winter
Winter in Yellowstone means fewer crowds, frigid temperatures and steaming geyser basins. The rivers and lakes freeze and snowstorms transform the park. While it’s true that the park roads are closed to automobiles during the winter months, the snow packed thoroughfares are still accessible via snowcoach, snowmobile, skis and snowshoes.
Restricted vehicle access and limited services make winter visits to Yellowstone challenging—but not impossible. With roads open to “oversnow” travel only, the only way to visit Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and other popular destinations during winter is by guided snowmobile or snowcoach. Over snow travel ends in mid-March, when plowing crews begin clearing a winter’s worth of snow. Roads start re-opening to cars in mid-April.
All authorized Yellowstone National Park snowmobile tour operators offer trips through the park from December 15th through March 15th. There is a limit to how many snowmobiles can be in the park each day—no more than 500—so unlike summer, you’ll often have moments while zipping along the snow-covered roads when it feels like you’re the only one out there in the pristine wilderness. The early morning and early evening hours present some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities while you make your way to and from our country’s oldest national park.
The two companies offering snowmobile tours from the park’s South Entrance (the one nearest to Jackson Hole) are Scenic Safaris and Old Faithful Snowmobile Tours. Each outfitter supplies participants with snowmobile gear: boots, one-piece suit, helmet and gloves.
- Scenic Safaris offers two full-day tours, one to Old Faithful and the other to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Both are roughly 12-hour round-trip adventures.
- Old Faithful Snowmobile offers one- and three-day tours of the park. The one-day trip is to Old Faithful, while the three-day adventure takes you throughout Yellowstone, including overnight stays in West Yellowstone, and Gardiner, Montana.
The full-day rates with both companies range from $275 to $450 (per driver) and $175 to $325 (per passenger), depending upon trip dates and passenger ages. For more information, call Scenic Safaris at 307-734-8898/ 888-734-8898; or Old Faithful Snowmobile at 307-733-9767/ 800-253-7130.
Transportation into the park: By snowmobile or snowcoach only, between Dec. 15, 2017-March 15, 2018
Traveler Tip: Self-guided snowmobile tours are not permitted in Yellowstone National Park. If you're interested in a Yellowstone snowmobile tour, check out the park's list of approved vendors.
Average length of a snowmobile or snowcoach tour: 12 hours
Lodging and services open in winter:
- Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins - Dec.16, 2017-March 4, 2018
- Old Faithful Geyser Grill - Dec. 15, 2017-March 15, 2018
- Old Faithful Education Center - Dec. 15, 2017-March 15, 2018; 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
More information: nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/visiting-yellowstone-in-winter
Take a Snowcoach Through Yellowstone
Hopping into a snowcoach is certainly not something you get to do every day—nor is climbing aboard one to explore Yellowstone National Park during your visit to Jackson Hole! Snowcoach tours provide a warmer, more social and relaxing alternative to snowmobiling. They also offer guided interpretations of the wildlife, history and geological features of the world’s first national park. Tours are offered from December 15th through March 15th. Scenic Safaris and Teton Science Schools’ Wildlife Expeditions are the only two outfitters making snowcoach journeys available to you from Jackson Hole.
Scenic Safaris: A full-day (12-hour) Old Faithful Tour will take you to the famous grand, old geyser, making several stops along the way to learn about the park's history and winter wildlife (think lots of bison!), view thermal features, and, of course, take pictures. You'll see Old Faithful erupt and have lunch before continuing on your adventure. Cost: $265-$425 per adult and $150-$275 per child; pricing depends on date.
Teton Science Schools’ Wildlife Expeditions: A full-day Old Faithful Expedition is offered daily. Cost: $299. Their 12- to 13-hour Grand Canyon of Yellowstone Trip brings you to the dramatic Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River and its crowning Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls. The white snow covering the colorful canyon walls provides a sight not found during the summer season. Trips will be offered March 2nd and 7th, 2018. Cost: Call for pricing.
Wildlife Expeditions also offers two multi-day snowcoach excursions:
- See & Ski Winter Expedition is a three-day and two-night trip that combines the opportunity to ski or snowshoe in the park’s unique winter environment.
- Winter Wolves of Yellowstone Expedition: This seven-day tour in a customized, safari-style vehicle with roof hatches that allow for easy wildlife observations, is the premier wolf-viewing safari in the Rockies and Yellowstone.
Jackson Hole-based AlpenGlow Tours—owned and operated by professional photographer Brad Schwarm—conducts multiple-day photo tours that feature a day in the Tetons and then continue on to Yellowstone via snowcoach from the West Yellowstone, Montana entrance to the park. In addition to traveling to Old Faithful and other thermal feature spots, the tour takes you to the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone, one of the best areas in the Lower 48 to observe wolves. While there you will spend time photographing the wolves, coyotes, bighorn sheep, bison and moose that winter in this beautiful location.
These tours are suitable for amateur and professional photographers alike! Call 307-733-1914 or visit alpenglowtours.com.
Where To Stay in the Park
The only lodging open in Yellowstone is the Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins. Because of its location within the park’s interior, the lodge is only accessible by commercially-operated snowcoaches. From this snowy haven elevated at approximately 7,300 feet, you can set out on a variety of explorations, either on your own or with a knowledgeable guide. Just outside the door of the lodge is a great trail and boardwalk system through the Upper Geyser Basin, home to Old Faithful Geyser and many others. Cross country ski trails, snowshoe opportunities and a world class National Park Service Visitor Education Center are also available for you to explore.
For more information, visit yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/lodging/winter-lodges/old-faithful-snow-lodge-cabins/ or call 307-344-7311.
The Last Word
Visiting Yellowstone National Park in winter is a true bucket list item. The chance to see the park’s majestic snowy scenery and frolicking wildlife is an easily doable experience from your base in Jackson Hole and one we highly recommend to augment your visit to our very special corner of Wyoming.