Yellowstone National Park is the second most visited national park in the United States. Over four million people a year visit it, with 4.8 million visiting in 2021. Most of those visitors go in summer or early fall. Only 5% of visitors go in winter. As I rode in on a snow machine I quickly learned winter is my favorite time of year to visit Yellowstone. Here are three reasons why you should visit Cody Yellowstone in winter.
Season of Snow and Steam
Yellowstone has more than 10,000 hydrothermal sites and is home to half of the world’s active geysers. Watching steam billow above a snowy landscape is mesmerizing. So are the icy falls. From Steamboat Geyser to Old Faithful, the steam plumbs seemed wider and higher than what I had seen during two previous summer visits. The snow adds a layer of drama to the landscape, especially the ice ridges in Yellowstone Lake and the snow on the colorful landscape of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The national park is part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, one of the last and largest nearly intact natural ecosystems on the planet. The snow blanket of winter makes it extra magical.
No Crowds and Limited Cars
Much of the park is inaccessible to cars in winter. There are only two ways you can get around the park. You can ride in a snow coach or do it the way I did. I went on a snowmobile tour with Gary Fales Outfitting out of Cody. My guide Dean and I rode in on our snow machines from the East Entrance. The first day we covered 84 miles stopping at many of the popular spots like Grand View, which we had to ourselves. We also stopped at a lot of other places I hadn’t been to before like Norris Geyser Basin, Fountain Paint Pot and several waterfalls. Our busiest area was we near the turn-off for West Entrance. That’s where we shared the road with some snow coaches and several snowmobile tour groups. For a big portion of our ride we had no one around, especially as we rode 70-miles back to the East Entrance the next morning. We overnighted at Old Faithful Snow Lodge. One of my biggest highlights was watching Old Faithful erupt shortly after we arrived at the Lodge around 4:30pm. There were only 9 other people with me and one of those was Dean.
Easier to See Wildlife
In a snow-covered landscape, it’s easier to spot wildlife. It was really easy to spot our first wildlife encounter. There were two bison coming down the road as we were descending down towards Yellowstone Lake. Dean had prepped me before we rode into the park with what to do if we encounter bison on the road. These were coming towards us so I pulled up close behind Dean on the opposite side of road as the bison and we shut off our snow machines. As they got close Dean started calmly talking to them. My heart was racing the entire time but they walked up a hill and continued on their way as they didn’t feel threatened by us. We also saw a coyote on a several days old bison kill and a beautiful red fox sitting on a hill. Along our ride we saw multiple herds of bison in picturesque valleys and meadows. We even came up on a coyote hunting for dinner by listening to movement in the snow. Once again we pulled off to the side and shut off our snow machines giving the coyote plenty of roam and just watched for a good ten minutes or so. It was fascinating!
Jennifer loves exploring Wyoming. For where to stay in Cody, read Chamberlin Inn is Where to Stay in Cody, Wyoming and for an off-the-beaten path place, read Solo in Fossil Butte National Monument in Southwest Wyoming. For more national parks tips, check out post 5 Tips to Visiting Popular National Parks and Avoiding Crowds and 5 Lesser Known National Park Gems.