White fluffy clouds poured out of Old Faithful almost as if some giant below ground was checking whether or not he could see his breath–but these were steam clouds from boiling water shooting around 145 feet into the cold air in Yellowstone National Park.
The landscape, all but the last dozen yards or so to the geyser, was shrouded in snow. Nearer the geyser the snow gave way to melt water ice and then to ground. Nothing–certainly not winter–stops the world’s most predictable geyser.
From where I stood, it seemed that the below zero temperatures made Old Faithful’s eruption even more spectacular, if that’s possible.
While Yellowstone National Park is one of the top five visited parks in the United States, few people get to see it during the winter. Like a number of other parks that don’t have full operation all year round, the majority of it closes to vehicular traffic once fall ends. While Yellowstone was once known as the “snowmobile capital of the world,” after a long and heated debate over the past two decades, it is now accessible by approved snowmobiles and snowcoaches only.
- Yellowstone has limited access during the winter to protect the environment, one of the mandates of the national park service.
- The road between Gardiner, Mammoth Hot Springs, and the Northeast Entrance/Cooke City is plowed year-round and open to the public.
- Snowmobiles and snowcoaches have access to more of the park than the Gardiner/Mammoth Hot Springs road.
- Only approved types of snowmobiles that meet specific standards are allowed into the park in the winter–snowmobilers must be with a registered/approved guide service and stay on specific trails.
- Multiple-passenger approved guided snowcoach tours provide access to Yellowstone.
Yellowstone is the world’s first national park, established in 1872. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.
The park sits on top of a “supervolcano,” which accounts for some of the geothermal activity and the rivers that flow without freezing over throughout the winter. In total, there are around 10,000 geothermal features. While only a limited number of them can be reached through winter travel in the park, it’s still a pretty amazing experience to view geysers, paint pots, waterfalls, and hotsprings with a snowy background.
One of the things I find amazing is that Yellowstone is home to over half of the earth’s known geothermal features. Of these, the geysers are considered the most important, as 2/3 of all those in the world are here. In addition to geographical features, Yellowstone also has many types of wildlife, a number of which you can still see in the winter.
I’ve put together a slideshare, below, to take you through the park with me.
And how did this adventure end up on my review of amazing places I’ve already visited, as I take my 2012 summer staycation? A few reasons, the main one being that my husband, David, and I, share a love of winter and winter activities. Our first visit to Yellowstone was the year we celebrated our first wedding anniversary–and that was 35 years before this winter trip, which helped make it even more of a celebration. Then, with Yellowstone’s 10,000 amazing geothermal features, I think it’s a park everyone should see at least once in a lifetime.
Just in case you can’t visit in the winter, here’s a great YouTube video that will get you excited to visit in the summer when it’s readily accessible!
- Yellowstone National Park official park service website – http://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm
- List of approved winter service providers from the national park service – http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/wintbusn.htm
- Winter tours from Yellowstone Vacations – the tour guides we traveled with – http://www.yellowstonevacations.com/tours/yellowstone-national-park-winter-tours.aspx
- Winter use in Yellowstone National Park – the latest rules and updates – http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/winteruse.htm