Yellowstone: Winter trip of a lifetime | News

During the five decades the two of us have traveled through much of the country and visited most of America’s national parks. Viewing the Grand Canyon, exploring Yosemite Valley, and road trips along the Blue Ridge Parkway never get old no matter how many times they have been experienced. Of all our many national park visits, one taken several years ago continues to stand out as the most memorable.

The majority of travelers, including the two of us, choose to visit national parks during the summer months when days are warm and daylight arrives early to linger deep into the evening. This is when most national parks are at their busiest with heavy vehicle traffic, crowded visitor centers and fully occupied lodging facilities.

We often travel in December, but typically to warm locations such as Key West or the desert Southwest. However, one January we enjoyed a grand time in Yellowstone, a national park noted for its frigid winters. We have enjoyed numerous summer trips to Yellowstone both before and after that winter, but it was the January experience that continues to offer the most vivid memories of Yellowstone or any of the other national parks we have visited.
Upon our arrival Yellowstone was deep in snow, and with crowds long gone, the park experienced a magical silence. During four days in the park we observed more wildlife than in all of our other Yellowstone visits combined. Following breakfast one cold morning we were the only two individuals to watch the iconic Old Faithful Geyser erupt in a curtain of steam.

For experienced travelers and national park visitors from South Georgia the January visit proved an otherworldly experience.

Only two of Yellowstone’s nine lodges are open during the winter months. Each offers guest rooms and food service for the 2022-23 winter season from Dec. 16 through March 5. Recently renovated Mammoth Hotel and Cabins ($280 to $340 hotel rooms; $350 to $380 hot tub cabins) near the park’s north entrance is a 90-mile drive from Bozeman, Montana, location of the nearest airport with rental cars. Public transportation to Mammoth ($92.50 adult, $46.25 child) is also available from the airport. Only the north entrance is open to private vehicles during winter. The more modern Old Faithful Snow Lodge ($250 to $400 lodge rooms; $200 to $300 cabins) in the Old Faithful area is open during winter, although accessible only via snowmobile or snowcoach.

Our own winter visit began with a flight to Bozeman followed by a commercial bus ride to West Yellowstone where we enjoyed a guided snowmobile excursion during a two-night stay. The mother of all snow storms during the second night in West Yellowstone temporarily closed the park and delayed our snowcoach trip to Old Faithful Snow Lodge where we after dark for a one-night stay. At mid-morning it was another snowcoach ride, this time from Old Faithful to Mammoth for a two-night stay that included a guided tour to the Lamar Valley where we watched as wolves stalked a herd of elk. From Mammoth we headed back to Bozeman for a night’s stay before flying back home to South Georgia.

A variety of options are available for a winter Yellowstone visit depending upon how long you wish to stay, the parts of the park you intend to visit, and your budget.

The most trouble-free option is a package that includes hotels, meals, guided tours, and park transportation with Xanterra, the private concessionaire that operates Yellowstone lodging, food service and tours. The firm’s Couple’s Winter Package ($2,439/person) includes three nights at Mammoth Hotel, two nights at Snow Lodge, all meals, transportation, guided tours, and more. Other packages are available. Visit Xanterra’s website or call (307) 344-7311 for reservations and information about lodging and packages. The website is excellent and we have found the firm’s phone representatives to be quite knowledgeable.

While guest rooms at the two lodges can be booked directly with Xanterra, tours and shuttles into Yellowstone are also available from firms based in Jackson and West Yellowstone. Some travelers might find it preferable to fly to Bozeman, take a bus to West Yellowstone for a day or two of snowmobiling, and travel to Yellowstone via a Backcountry Adventure-operated shuttle ($99, call 1-800-924-7669) to Old Faithful Snow Lodge.

The same firm offers snowcoach tours of both Old Faithful and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone ($139). Another possibility is to drive or fly to Jackson and take a shuttle operated by Scenic Safari ($169, call 1-307-734-8898) to Old Faithful Snow Lodge. The same firm offers snowmobile and snowcoach tours of Yellowstone and snowmobile tours and van tours of Grand Teton National Park. Various types of Yellowstone snowmobile tours can be booked with Old Faithful Snowmobile Tours (1-307-733-9767) out of Jackson and Gary Fales Outfitting (1-307-587-3970) located outside the park’s east entrance in Cody.

Regardless of the type and length of the Yellowstone winter trip you decide upon, we are confident it will be one to remember.

It is not too early to begin planning and reservations should be made as soon as possible.

David and Kay Scott are the authors of “Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges” (Globe Pequot). They live in Valdosta, Georgia. Visit them at