Taking the Kids: How to visit Yellowstone (and other national parks) in winter
Miguel couldn’t have cared less about the spectacular show that Old Faithful performed that sunny winter afternoon.
That’s because Miguel, so named by my two daughters, was an 1,800-pound Bison cavorting in the snow in Yellowstone National Park. Miguel was oblivious to Old Faithful or us as we snowshoed around the famous geyser so named because historically it has erupted regularly – around 20 times per day.
Though it was 15 years ago, that encounter was one of those I-can’t-believe-I’m-here travel moments — and one we will always remember.
Bison certainly won’t be the only animals you will see on a winter visit to Yellowstone, the nation’s first national park celebrating its 150th birthday MARCH 1. Starting in March, the park will host and participate in a wide range of special activities, including with Multiple Trible Nations. Follow #Yellowstone150 frequently in 2022 to stay current on commemoration information.
Yellowstone is home to the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48, including elk, grizzly bears and wolves, restored to Yellowstone in 1995. All 67 mammal species known to inhabit Yellowstone in the 1700s live wild in the park today, including nearly 5,000 bison, the country’s oldest and largest bison herd. (Just remember to stay at least 100 yards from bears and wolves and at least 25 yards from other large animals.)
Did you know Yellowstone has more thermal features than anywhere in the world – some 10,000 geysers, bubbling mud pots, hot springs and more. That’s half of the world’s hydrothermal features in the northwest corner of Wyoming and extending into Montana and Idaho.
It is also huge — an area of 3,468.4 square miles comprising lakes, canyons, rivers, and mountain ranges — bigger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined and including Yellowstone Lake, not only the largest high elevation lake in North America (20 miles long and 14 miles wide) but sitting atop an active volcano, though scientists don’t expect it to erupt anytime soon, even in the next 1,000 years.
Visiting Yellowstone in winter isn’t necessarily easy but it is certainly rewarding with some of the best wildlife and geyser viewing, far less crowds than during the summer (nearly a million people visited just last August, the most visited August on record.)
“I work summers so I can work winters,” said Karoline Sleichter, a guide for Xanterra Parks & Resorts, which manages Yellowstone’s lodges and concessions. “I don’t think you can match the beauty. This is why they call it a wonderland.”
Yellowstone also isn’t the only national park worth a winter visit when you might have a trail nearly to yourself, like at Arches National Park (see the snow against the famous red rocks). Stargaze at Bryce Canyon; snowshoe or fish at Yosemite or enjoy the Grand Canyon without the summer heat or crowds. At Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, back country ski through the continental divide.