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Category: Yellowstone

What to Do in Yellowstone National Park in the Winter

Yellowstone in Winter
Photo credit: Jeff Gunn from Atlanta, USA

When most people think of Yellowstone National Park, they think of iconic geysers, vibrant hot springs, and the occasional foreign tourist becoming a cautionary tale about why getting close to bison is bad. But there’s a whole other side to this natural marvel that comes out in the winter. After all, there’s something really metal about fire and ice together. If you want to witness steaming geysers and bubbling hot springs framed by glistening snow and pretend you’re part of a Scandinavian rock band, you’re in luck. Let’s take a look at all there is to do in Yellowstone in winter. 

Snowshoeing and Cross-Country Skiing

If there’s one thing we dislike about Yellowstone in the summer, it’s the crowds. Nothing ruins a view like a giant tour bus parked in front of it. But imagine you’re snowshoeing or cross-country skiing through a pristine wintry glade, silent except for the crunch of your footwear against the top layer of snow. That’s Yellowstone in winter for you.

Looking for an easy route to start? Try Old Gardiner Trail, Lone Star Geyser Trail, or Black Sand Basin Trail. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing deserve a post of their own, so stay tuned. 

Wildlife Watching

While some animals migrate or hibernate during the winter, Yellowstone’s wildlife remains active. Spotting wolves, elk, bison, and other creatures against the snowy backdrop is a photographer’s dream—and indeed, Jackson’s art galleries are filled with that stuff. Here are a few places to try getting a glimpse of wintry wildlife: 

  • Lamar Valley: Grab a four-wheel drive vehicle and head northeast. This place is like the VIP section for Yellowstone’s wolf packs. But it’s not just wolves strutting their stuff here; you can also catch bison, mule deer, and coyotes.
  • Firehole River: You’ll need a guided tour crew, but check out the Firehole River between Madison Junction and Old Faithful, where the trumpeter swans munch on . . . whatever swans eat. (Our research ended there. Find out yourself.)
  • Mammoth Hot Springs: Check out a cold-air hotspot for viewing bison, coyotes, and eagles.
  • National Elk Refuge: We’re particular about this one, where thousands of elk winter every year. You can spy on these majestic creatures from lookout points, or you can hop on a guided sleigh ride through the refuge (check out our upcoming post on the topic! Or just book a room and Flat Creek Inn and bring binoculars. 

Snowcoach Tours

Don’t want to brave the elements? Yellowstone has you covered. Take a guided snowcoach tour—a hulking bus racing along on giant wheels or treads, like something from an oddly chill Mad Max movie. Taking one of these heated vehicles is a comfortable and scenic way to witness the park’s highlights.

Winter Lodging and Hospitality

While several park lodges close during winter, select accommodations remain open, offering a cozy retreat after a day of adventure. And may we suggest Flat Creek Inn . . .

Tips for Your Winter Adventure

  • Pack accordingly: Dress in layers and bring appropriate gear for snow activities.
  • Check for road closures: Some roads may be closed, but many areas remain accessible.
  • Book early: Lodging and tours often fill up quickly, so plan and reserve in advance.

Embrace the Unforgettable

Whether you’re seeking tranquility amidst snow-covered trails or looking forward to a hot meal after your snowcoach rumbles back to civilization, Yellowstone in winter promises an unforgettable experience for adventurers and nature lovers alike.

***
Ryan Kunz is a copywriter and freelance writer who writes on a variety of topics, including media, the outdoors, and whatever else strikes his fancy. He hates tour buses and all they stand for. 

Yellowstone Geysers that Aren’t Old Faithful

Admittedly, we’re on a bit of a Yellowstone kick lately. As one of the nation’s oldest and most popular national parks, not to mention the second largest in the continental United States, Yellowstone offers plenty to talk about. Over 4,000,000 visitors flock to the park each year and you can bet they’re all making a beeline to Old Faithful. And while Old Faithful is incredible, it’s also incredibly popular, welcoming approximately 2,000 guests per eruption. If you’d rather skip those crowds but still want to see some impressive hydrothermal activity, here are five Yellowstone geysers that aren’t Old Faithful.

Steamboat Geyser

Here’s a fun fact: Steamboat Geyser is the world’s tallest active geyser. While unpredictable and occasionally years apart, Steamboat’s major eruptions spew water up to 300 feet in the air. Minor phase eruptions are much smaller, reaching between 10 and 40 feet in height. Only Waimangu geyser in New Zealand has had larger eruptions, but not for over 100 years.

Riverside Geyser

Yellowstone Geysers that Aren't Old Faithful
Grand Geyser

The aptly named Riverside Geyser is unique in that it shoots water at a 60-degree angle across the Firehole River. Time your visit right and you might just see a rainbow amid the eruption (no promises you’ll find the pot of gold, though). As of a few years ago, the eruption interval was 6 hours and 20 minutes, give or take half an hour. If you’re super into marmots (the animal, not the gear), this is also a favorite summer hangout for the yellow-bellied variety.

Grand Geyser

Located near Old Faithful in the Upper Geyser Basin, this impressive geyser has blasts that reach between 150 and 200 feet in the air, making it the world’s tallest predictable geyser. Rather than a steady stream (like Old Faithful), Grand Geyser erupts in bursts, with 1 to 4 bursts per eruption.

Grotto Geyser

Grotto Geyser wins the award for the weirdest shaped cones and is worth a visit just for that alone. Sitting on the bank of the Firehole River, this geyser is one of the most picturesque and predictable geysers in Yellowstone. With 20-minute eruptions occurring about every 6 hours, this geyser shoots water to heights of 75 feet.

Yellowstone Geysers that Aren't Old Faithful
Grotto Geyser

Great Fountain Geyser/White Dome Geyser

This Yellowstone geyser is two for the price of one! Located in the Lower Geyser Basin, Great Fountain Geyser’s 45-60 minute eruptions display a pretty impressive series of bursts and “superbursts” that can reach up to 200 feet. While most geysers do experience some periods of irregularity, Great Fountain is fairly dependable. After an eruption, the pool slowly fills over 10-14 hours and then begins to overflow about an hour to an hour and a half before the next eruption. 

While you’re waiting for Great Fountain Geyser, watch for eruptions from White Dome Geyser. While it’s normally overshadowed by Great Fountain, White Dome’s 12-foot geyserite cone is the largest in the park. Eruptions could happen in intervals between 15 minutes and three hours, so it’s basically the same schedule as the person coming to fix your dishwasher.

There you have it, five Yellowstone geysers that aren’t Old Faithful! This list is literally 1% of the geysers Yellowstone has to offer. Find a complete list here and see if you can catch a rare eruption of the geysers off the beaten path.

This post was brought to you by Flat Creek Inn.

Breanne Kunz was raised in the Pacific Northwest but grew up spending summers in Idaho and frequently visiting Jackson Hole, Grand Teton National Park, and Yellowstone National Park. She is a wife and mom who likes to write. She occasionally travels (not as much as she’d like) and always eats. 


 

David L. Sifry, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Dirtsc, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

National Parks Service (n.d.). Hydrothermal Features. Yellowstone National Park. Retrieved March 5, 2023, from https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/hydrothermal-features.htm#geysers

 

Geysers Galore: Hydrothermal Features of Yellowstone

A geyser at Yellowstone National Park.
Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons / “Yellowstone National Park (WY, USA), Old Faithful Geyser — 2022 — 2619” / CC BY-SA 4.0

A visit to Yellowstone National Park is almost certain to involve thrilling landscapes and wildlife sightings, but what really sets Yellowstone apart from the pack is the geysers and other hydrothermal features. Of course, “hydrothermal features” sounds a bit boring, but that’s only because geologists can’t take each other seriously if they call these features “hot, occasionally explodey water that comes out of the ground.” But what’s the difference between a geyser and a hot spring? Are mud pots hydrothermal? And what on earth is a fumarole?

In today’s blog post, a continuation of our series on the national parks near Jackson Hole, we’ll explore all the different types of hydrothermal* features you’ll find in Yellowstone National Park. 

Hot springs 

Hot springs are the most common kind of hydrothermal feature in Yellowstone, probably because hot springs represent hydrothermal activity in its most basic form. It’s a pretty simple process: water seeps through the bedrock, where it comes in contact with heat below and then rises to the surface. This process of convection (hot water rising, cooling down, and then getting replaced by water from below) makes it so the water never gets hot enough to erupt. Which is good news for the people inevitably skinny dipping in the water. 

EXAMPLE: Grand Prismatic Springs may be the most photographed feature in Yellowstone. It’s a hot spring the size of a football field, glittering with rings of orange, yellow, green, and blue. It’s also deeper than a ten-story building. If you drop your keys into those superheated depths, please refrain from jumping after them. 

Fountain Paint Pot;
Diane Renkin;
January 2012;
Catalog #20444d

Mudpots

Still got your geology hat on? (We’re not sure what a geology hat looks like, but it’s probably pretty stylish, right?) Mudpots are a special type of hot spring. A gas called hydrogen sulfide (which is what gives mud pots their characteristic unpleasant smell) is usually present, giving tiny microorganisms something to feed on. These microbes help convert the gas to sulfuric acid, which in turn breaks down the surrounding rock into clay. The clay turns to mud, and voila! You get a gooey, gurgly sludge that smells like rotten eggs. Okay, we’re really not selling the experience very well, but it’s still worth a look. 

EXAMPLE: There are basically two notable locations of mud pots in Yellowstone. First, the Artist Paint Pots are about three miles south of Norris Geyser Basin. The Fountain Paint Pots can be found in the Lower Geyser Basin between Madison and Old Faithful. Both mud pots bubble various striking colors thanks to iron oxides in the goo. 

Fumaroles

A fumarole sounds like some sort of delicious pastry you might eat while on vacation in Europe, but we actually don’t recommend you put your mouth anywhere near one. A fumarole, or steam vent, happens when there’s heat and just a little bit of water below the surface. Most of the water boils away, leaving steam and other gases to hiss from the vents. 

EXAMPLE: Red Spouter is one of Yellowstone’s most famous fumaroles, so called because the earth around it is red-colored and it—if you can believe it—spouts steam.

Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone
© Frank Schulenburg / CC BY-SA 4.0 / WIkimedia Commons

Travertine terraces

Travertine terraces are step-like formations where formed when hot water carries dissolved limestone (calcium carbonate) through tiny fissures to the surface, where carbon dioxide is released and calcium carbonate is deposited. This process forms a chalky white mineral called travertine. Stunning instances of travertine terraces can be found all over the world, but we’re particular about the ones right around the corner.

EXAMPLE: Probably the most famous travertine terraces in the US are Mammoth Hot Springs, which you can view via 1.75 miles of boardwalk. (Travertine terraces like this one are technically hot springs, and “Mammoth Travertine Terraces” doesn’t really roll off the tongue as well.) 

Geysers

Like a lot of the items on this list, geysers are just another kind of hot spring. What makes them special, much like your dishwasher at any given time, is that their internal plumbing is clogged. The difference between a geyser and your dishwasher, other than the fact that a geyser is definitely not covered in your home warranty, is that the pressure builds up behind the clog until it finally erupts. 

EXAMPLE: Everyone’s heard of Old Faithful, right? But there’s also Riverside Geyser, Castle Geyser, Grand Geyser, and (the largest geyser in the world) Steamboat Geyser. (Fun fact: Americans pronounce the word “GUY-zer,” while the British, for some reason, say it “GEE-zer.”) 

Now you know . . .

You don’t have to memorize the inner geological workings of the geysers and other hydrothermal features in Yellowstone to enjoy them, but you can certainly impress (or possibly annoy) the other people in your party with your vast geological knowledge.

One more thing: it’s currently winter, which is of course not the best time to see all these features. However, there’s no better time to start planning your Yellowstone vacation. And if you’re looking for a place to say while you road trip across the West, consider Flat Creek Inn

* “Hydrothermal” comes from the Greek words for “water” and “heat.” Geologists are not known for their creativity.

Ryan Kunz is a copywriter and freelance writer who writes on a variety of topics, including media, the outdoors, and whether or not Darth Vader could beat Batman in a fight. (The answer is yes.) He visited Yellowstone about a thousand times in his youth. 

Yellowstone National Park

On March 1, 1872, Yellowstone became the world’s first national park, designating 2.2 million acres for visitors to experience the unique hydrothermal and geological features that put it on the map. In 2021, Yellowstone National Park hosted 4,860,537 recreational visits, making it the busiest travel season the park has ever seen. If you’re hoping to beat the crowds and get an early start on your planning this year, let us give you a brief introduction to the wonders of this national treasure.

Yellowstone National Park
Hot springs in Yellowstone National Park

What is the best time to visit?

While the park is technically open all year round, you really need to do your research and be prepared if you plan to go in the winter. Most park roads are closed to cars (over-snow vehicles allowed), and almost all amenities in the park are closed. That being said, winter does offer opportunities to see Yellowstone you would never get in summer. The National Parks Service offers a great resource to help you plan your winter recreation.

If you’re not interested in winter sightseeing (and you want to meet 3 million new friends), June, July, and August are the busiest months and host nearly half of the annual 4 million visitors. Be sure to book lodging early and expect long lines at the women’s restrooms. If you have a more flexible schedule, try visiting during the shoulder season. Again, the NPS provides an excellent month-by-month breakdown of the travel seasons.

What is the closest town?

Yellowstone National Park
Roosevelt Arch, Gardiner, MT

This very much depends on what entrance you’re using. Gardiner, Montana is about a 3-minute drive from the north entrance and West Yellowstone is about a 4-minute drive to the west entrance of the park. West Yellowstone is the most nostalgic little town (possibly because I visited it so many times as a child) and every time I even glimpse the word “huckleberry” I’m immediately transported back. Gardiner boasts the only year-round entrance to the park AND the iconic Roosevelt Arch, but West Yellowstone has literally any huckleberry-flavored item you could ever dream of. Take your pick.

Where should I stay?

Ooh, this is tricky. Normally I would say Flat Creek Inn (and still recommend it), but the drive might be a bit long. (But if you’re as big of a fan of us as we are of you, come stay anyway!) If you’re interested in staying in the park, Yellowstone National Park Lodges operates nine lodges totaling more than 2,000 rooms. All of them are open from late spring to early fall, except the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, which is open during winter, but be sure to check for precise opening and closing dates. 

There are also 12 campgrounds with over 2,000 established sites, all of which require reservations. And you’re competing with 4,860,536 others, so be sure to make your reservations as early as you can! As always, be sure to check opening seasons and dates.

There’s also an abundance of options in West Yellowstone, Island Park, and other towns close to the parks. 

What is there to see?

Yellowstone National Park
Grand Prismatic Hot Spring

Did you know there are more geysers in Yellowstone than just Old Faithful? I know, it’s crazy. In fact, half of the world’s geysers can be found in Yellowstone National Park. In 2011, it was determined that over 1200 geysers have been recorded as erupting in Yellowstone. Pretty wild considering the rest of the world has fewer than 500 combined. Besides geysers, you can also experience the geological wonders that are hot springs, mudpots (more aptly named stinkpots), and fumaroles.

While Yellowstone is primarily known for its thermal basins, remember that the park is approximately 2.2 million acres and has more than 900 miles of hiking trails. (My dad has probably dragged us on at least half. Just kidding. Or am I?) These trails range from short, family-friendly hikes to wild backcountry excursions, many of which are more than 7,000 feet above sea level. 

Similar to Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone also offers ranger-led programs. These programs are a great way to learn about what makes the park special. Yellowstone’s in-park ranger programs vary each season, so they suggest checking at any of the ten visitor centers throughout the park.

Last but certainly not least (people have written literal books on this subject), take a tour of the Old Faithful Inn to learn about the history, quirks, and charm of this fascinating hotel! We wrote about the history of this iconic inn a few months ago and it really is so cool. As always, be sure to check daily tour times. 

How long should I spend there?

This completely depends on what type of experience you’re hoping to have. Living relatively close to Yellowstone National Park gives us the luxury of being able to go for a day at a time. Theoretically, you could see the highlights in two days, but you’ll never regret giving yourself the extra time to really see and explore one of the most magnificent and historic national parks in the country. 

 

Let us know in the comments your favorite Yellowstone memory or experience! We’d love to hear your park stories and tell you more about our favorite things to do. See you soon!

Breanne Kunz was raised in the Pacific Northwest but grew up spending summers in Idaho and frequently visiting Jackson Hole, Grand Teton National Park, and Yellowstone National Park. She is a wife and mom who likes to write. She occasionally travels (not as much as she’d like) and always eats.


 

Acroterion, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Brigitte Werner (werner22brigitte), CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Frank Kovalchek from USA, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

U.S. Department of the Interior (n.d.). Yellowstone. National Parks Service. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from https://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm

Vardeman, K. (2022). Yellowstone National Park [Photograph]. https://www.flickr.com/photos/kimberlykv/52278305392

 

 

The Five Closest National Parks to Jackson Hole

Jackson Hole is a gateway to two of America’s greatest and most scenic national parks, Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Here, you can witness nature in its most eye-popping glory, from roaming bison and explosive geysers to jagged mountains that seem to slice open the sky. But those two national parks, treasures as they may be, are far from the only natural gems America has to offer. In fact, there are no fewer than ten national parks within a day’s drive of Jackson. 

For the purposes of this post, we’re defining a day’s drive as 500 miles, or about 8 or 9 hours. We’re aware that many people will manage to drive a lot further in the day, especially those who consider speed limits to be fun suggestions to be heeded when you’re in the mood. However, 500 miles, in addition to being half as far how far I’d be willing to walk just to fall down at your door, is a nice cutoff point. 

We’ll break this post into two parts, so here, in brief, are the closest five national parks to consider visiting while you’re vacationing in Jackson Hole (or if you live remotely close to these parts). The next five nearest parks (and a few bonus destinations) will follow in the next post. We’ll start with the two national parks we mentioned above, the ones most easily reached from Jackson Hole. 

Grand Teton, Wyoming

Distance from Jackson: About 5 miles (closer if you stay at Flat Creek Inn!)

Lonely Planet calls the Grand Teton “the birthplace of American mountaineering,” and it’s easy to see why the dramatic silhouette of the largest peak of the Teton mountain range makes for such a thrilling climb. However, if that’s not quite your speed, the national park is still a hiker’s paradise of waterfalls, wildflowers, and wonders. 

Yellowstone, Wyoming (and slices of Idaho and Montana)

Grand Prismatic Yellowstone
Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park

Distance from Jackson: 50 miles (note: this may not be true in winter, when many roads are closed)

Yellowstone is home to the world’s most famous geyser, Old Faithful, which erupts, well, faithfully every 90 minutes or so. The historic and scenic Old Faithful Inn is always worth a stay if you want to hang around after seeing the geyser from a few angles, or you can keep going through the park and see countless other hot pools and geysers. And don’t forget the bison, bears, and other wildlife that tolerate visitors’ presence in the park to varying degrees. Just keep a respectful distance unless you want a bison to introduce you to its horns. 

Wind Cave, South Dakota

Distance from Jackson: 474 miles via US-26 E and US-18 E)

At least 20 native tribes have ties to the cave that gives the national park its name. Lakota oral tradition, for instance, speaks of a passage to the spirit realm where you can hear the earth breathing. You’ll experience the caves through a guided tour, stepping through a narrow entrance into part of an extremely dense cave complex, with more passages per cubic mile than any cave in the world. If caves make you a little claustrophobic, there’s plenty above ground to see. 

Capitol Reef, Utah

Capitol Reef
Capitol Reef National Park

Distance from Jackson: 475 miles via US-89 S

Utah has a whopping five national parks. In any other state, a place with rugged desert scenery like Capitol Reef would be at the top of everyone’s list, but here it tends to get overshadowed by more well-known parks like Zion or Bryce Canyon. However, that’s great for you, because Capitol Reef is Utah’s second-largest and perhaps least crowded national park. Fruita Historic District is the most accessible part of Capitol Reef, full of scenic drives, petroglyphs carved into the red rock, and old Mormon homesteads. 

Grinnell Point and Swiftcurrent Lake, Glacier National Park

Glacier, Montana

Distance from Jackson: 476 miles via US-287 N)

The most famous part of Glacier National Park is the loftily named Going-to-the-Sun Road, a thoroughfare whose scenery can give the Alps in Europe a run for their money. (Before you go, check if any parts of the road are closed.) Glacier also has more than 700 miles of hikes, pristine mountain lakes, and historic chalets. 

What’s that? You’ve already road-tripped your way through these five parks? Stay tuned next week for the next five closest national parks to Jackson Hole. 

Disclaimer: Distances are distances, but routes may change according to conditions.

Ryan Kunz is a copywriter and freelance writer who writes on a variety of topics, including media, the outdoors, and whether or not Darth Vader could beat Batman in a fight. (The answer is yes.) He has been to about half the national parks on this list and can safely say that every one of them will make a good Instagram post.  


 

 1 The Travel Atlas, authors of Lonely Planet, 2018.

2 https://www.nps.gov/thingstodo/wind-cave-natural-entrance.htm

3 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_Cave_National_Park

Frank Kovalchek from USA, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

IIP Photo Archive, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Wolfgang Staudt, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

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