For all you beach bums out there who want nothing more than an agenda that consists of double fisting a novel in one hand and a frozen cocktail in the other while your toes tickle the tide: this post isn’t for you (but this one is!).
This one’s channeling the mountain-lovers, and adventure-cravers, and also the ones that can layer like a mo-fo because apparently Yellowstone is latitudinally aligned with Antartica and WHO NEEDS FINGERS AND TOES. Frigid temperatures aside, Yellowstone is exquisite in the winter: the views, the seriously endless opportunity for adventure, the vastness, the beauty, the geysers, the food, all of it blanketed in quiet snow. In eight days I snowmobiled up mountains, snowboarded down them, hiked the Upper and Lower Falls, swam in hot springs, ran into more Bison than I did people, cross country skied through geyser country, and even mushed dogs in a sled, Iditarod style. There were planned moments like dinner reservations where I consumed my weight in Bison burgers, and there were memories we hadn’t scheduled like watching Old Faithful erupt beneath at least a gatrillion stars (I counted). So, if you’re looking for a winter escape, here’s all of my recommendations that you wanted, and probably some that you didn’t.
Where We Stayed
While there are plenty of ways to enter the park in the summer, logistically, it gets much more difficult in the winter. My family and I flew into Bozeman, MT, where we stayed for the first few days. Instead of the usual hotel, we booked this unbelievable snow lodge/ palace through VRBO that could have slept a country. Adorned with wood-everything, the place was cozy, and the decor was western perfection. It was a bit off the beaten path, but really no problem if you rent a car.
Upon arriving to Yellowstone, we stayed at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, which was the only option this winter (the other option at Mammoth Hot Springs was closed for construction). It was about a four and a half hour trek from the northern entrance of the park, and only accessible via official park transportation that requires booking far in advance.
What We Did
Snowmobiling: This was one of my favorite parts of the trip. While there are a great deal of snowmobile excursions offered in Yellowstone itself, all of the tours were regimented, teaming with people, and not the experience I would recommend. We rented ours through Big Boy Toys (LOL to the name, but the service and experience was unparalleled). They allow you to take them to a few nearby destinations, bring the snowmobiles to you, and then pick them up after you finish. The best part was that there wasn’t a tour guide, and the short of it is that I was going 60 mph, on a 10,000 ft. mountain. Disclaimer: don’t go on a path that’s too far off the beaten road. Your snowmobile will fall in four feet of snow, and it will take a couple of hours of people desperately hauling it out. Not that I know from experience…
Snowboarding/ Skiing: We had an incredible experience at Bridger’s Bowl- it’s apparently the better of the two possible ski resorts, according to the townies at least. It was less crowded (think less people to laugh at me falling on my butt), and less expensive, especially when you’re a first-timer and need a lesson.
Dog Sledding: Channel your inner Iditarod musher, and get pulled along on various expeditions the company offers. We did a 12-mile escapade, which included lunch, and all the petting of puppies my heart could desire. Tip: WEAR ALL OF THE LAYERS.
Swimming in Hot Springs: Post our dog-mushing adventures, my family and I warmed up in the Chico Hot Springs. -20 degrees outside? These pools are warmed by the volcanic plasma that surrounds the area to heat water between 98 – 106 degrees depending on the day. This one had a nearby changing area and was sidled up next to the bar (which I spared no time making good friends with).
Yellowstone Canyon Tour: Yellowstone spans some 3,471 square miles, so you can imagine there’s a lot to see. This tour was impeccable in that it offered HEATED TRANSPORTATION (TYSM), more information that you can process, and a quick way to see a lot of the park as well as the wild life that inhabits it.
Old Faithful Geyser: If you stay at Old Faithful Snow Lodge, you’ll be minutes away from this American favorite. We decided to go last minute after our Canyon Tour, despite it being late and dark. Watching Old Faithful erupt, blanketed by stars with no other people around was unbelievable and profound and magical and if you take my word for something, please let it be this.
Cross Country Skiing Through Geyser Territory: Ski rentals through the lodge were under $30 for a half day. If you only go a couple of miles, you’ll see a couple dozen of geysers along the way. Plus, the inner fitness enthusiast in me was elated to squeeze in a workout!
Painted Pots: While a lot of the hot springs in the park were difficult to see due to the contrast between the hot temperatures of the water and the freezing air, we ended having a great day for this site and were able to see a lot of these hot pools. There’s a boardwalk area with a couple miles of killer views, and definitely recommend hitting this HOT SPOT (get it?) on your way out of the park.
Where We Ate
While food in the park was pretty limited, here are a couple of recommendations in case you make your way to the North Entrance and stop in Bozeman:
The Nova Cafe: A quaint and delicious breakfast spot
McKenzie River Pizza Co.: Because it’s not a vacation until you pizza, and they had a Buffalo Chicken Pizza that changed my life
Copper Whiskey Bar & Grill: Just in case you want to experience the exquisite Bison Burger and shoot it back with whiskey like only Montana, and this little restaurant, can
While the rest of Midwest is clambering on airplanes to go somewhere cliche and tropical, book a flight to Middle-Of-Nowhere, MT. Fly on snowmobiles, try snowboarding for the first time, change up your regular run with an XC ski outing, get completely lost in the sites and wildlife, and have an adventure like you never will again.