Ironically, one of the most accessible and affordable winter activities to do in Yellowstone comes via the Vikings. Also known as Nordic skiing (the Vikings invented the sport), cross-country skiing is a great calorie-burner, and with abundant snow and miles of scenic trails, Yellowstone is the perfect place to whip out the poles. Park at one of Yellowstone’s trailheads and go solo, or sign up for a guided tour and ski with a group. Ski rentals are available for about $15 per day at Parks’ Fly Shop in Gardiner.
Boasting a cedar sauna, heated outhouse, and private yurtlets—heated huts for two—the Yellowstone Expeditions Yurt Camp offers a unique experience for the overnight visitor. Getting to Yurt Camp is half the fun. To reach the secluded camp, which is at an elevation of 8,000 feet, you’ll take a forty-mile trip in a snow coach shuttle that leaves from the nearest town of West Yellowstone. Delicious camp meals are made in the Kitchen Yurt and served family style in the Dining Room Yurt.
If Yellowstone had a royal family, they’d probably travel by snowcoach. These impressive vehicles, specifically designed to travel over deep snow and ice, are the coolest and most comfortable option for visitors looking to go off the beaten path and explore beyond the few roads in Yellowstone that are plowed during the winter. Family-owned and operated, Backcountry Adventures offers regular Old Faithful and Canyon tours as well as private snowcoach tours for groups.
An oft-overlooked winter activity, snowshoeing can be a wonderfully surprising workout and is the perfect way to experience Yellowstone’s back country by foot. For those looking to log many miles, the Yellowstone Snowshoe Traverse offered by Wildland Trekking covers 17 miles and includes lodging, local transportation, gear, and experienced guides.
After a long day of snowshoeing in Yellowstone, nothing makes more sense than a soak in the park’s natural hot springs. Famous for its hydrothermal activity, Yellowstone is a hot potter’s paradise, and on any given day, even the overflow parking lot at the Boiling River is full. Note—for wading to find your ideal soaking temperature in the river, you’ll want water shoes or sandals because the rocks can be sharp and slippery.
Serious speed demons and snow enthusiasts already know of Yellowstone as a mecca for snowmobiling, but every day a new boondocker is born. Since 1971, See Yellowstone Tours have been renting snowmobiles and offering packages that make the most of the park’s fresh powder and endless groomed trails. For those who are determined to see Old Faithful in the winter when many of the park’s roads are closed, a guided snowmobile tour is a great option.
Winter hiking is one of the best ways to get a close-up look at the wildlife that hang out at Yellowstone’s highest altitudes. Mountain goats and Bighorn sheep are fond of the windswept southern-facing peaks in the park, and for those who have the stamina and appropriate gear (think Yaktrax), Yellowstone’s most rewarding vistas await. The best part about winter hiking vs. summer hiking in Yellowstone? The bears are hibernating.
The best souvenirs are those you have to work for, and those you don’t have to worry about breaking in transit. For the most impressive photos of Yellowstone, it pays to go with a pro like Tom Murphy who was the first person licensed to lead photography tours in the park. Murphy’s wilderness photography expeditions are designed around seasonal colors, weather patterns, wildlife migrations, and other factors that most amateur photographers don’t take into consideration. They’re also physically demanding. Murphy recommends some preconditioning.
Although it’s technically not in Yellowstone, the town of West Yellowstone is famous for its ice fishing. In the winter, the town hosts a world-class competition, an ice fishing camp for kids, and Friday night seminars with local nationally-ranked fisherman. Several outfitters offer guided ice fishing trips, or if you pack your own gear, try taking your chances and head to nearby Hebgen Lake.
West Yellowstone is also an excellent spot for the exhilarating sport of dog sled racing. Schedule your Yellowstone vacation to coincide with team racing events like the American Dog Derby, the Fun Run, and the Rodeo Run Sled Dog Races which all take place in the winter. Even if you’re not in town on race day, nearby racing kennel Klondike Dreams offers two-hour dog sled rides where amateurs get to play the role of musher and drive a team of Alaskan Huskies.