Yellowstone in winter is a snowscape hushed under drifts, with lively geothermal activity and winter wildlife. When most park roads close to normal vehicles, snowmobiling, snowcoach rides, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing starts. And snowshoeing is one of the most peaceful ways to see the park, with the lowest barrier to entry. You only need an inexpensive snowshoe rental if you don’t have your own, plus a little winter gear. All unplowed roads and trails in the park are open to snowshoers unless otherwise posted.
If you’ve never snowshoed, don’t panic. If you can walk, you can snowshoe. It’s also typically a lot easier to get the hang of than other winter sports, like skiing. And for those looking to minimize their impact, snowshoeing is an eco-friendly way to explore the park. Here’s everything you need to know to prepare for a snowshoeing adventure in Yellowstone.
Going with a guide is a solid way to stay safe as temperatures drop and the terrain can get interesting if you're not used to outdoor recreation in winter. But if you have the skills to set out on your own, be sure to plan properly.
See below and on the NPS website for popular trails, how long they are, and what terrain to prepare for. If you’re traveling in avalanche country, it’s a good idea to check the snow report, have some knowledge of avalanche safety, and carry a beacon, shovel, and probe.
Talk to park rangers ahead of time about routes, and they can give you an idea of what to expect and whether there are any closures to be aware of. You should also check the weather and have a backup plan since conditions can change quickly in winter. Travel with a buddy, and always let someone at home know where you’re going and when you’ll be back.
When you set out, be sure to stay to the edge of groomed ski trails and avoid walking in ski tracks along the way.
Of course, bringing snowshoes along on a snowshoeing trip is a no-brainer. But you might also want poles, whether telescoping trekking poles or fixed ski poles.
Be sure to pack the ten essentials, and take extra care with warm layers. You want to be comfortable while sitting still for a snack break, but you also want to be able to unlayer enough that you’re warm but not sweating when you’re moving. If you’re unsure of what will work best, talk to the folks at the shop where you gear up. They can give you some recommendations.
If you don’t have everything you need for a winter adventure in Yellowstone, don’t worry. You can pick up rentals and cozy layers at shops in the gateway communities around the park. Freeheel and Wheel in West Yellowstone, Parks’ Fly Shop in Gardiner, or Round House Ski and Sports Center, and Chalet Sports in Bozeman all offer rentals, among others.
There are plenty of trails, both short and long, from vehicle-accessible parts of the park. You can also take a snowcoach ride to reach places you wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Here are a few top choices.
In the Mammoth Hot Springs area, try the Terrace Loop, a 1.5-mile trail that gives you big views of the hydrothermal features and surrounding scenery. If you take a trip to Old Faithful on the snowcoach, opt for an alternate view of the eruption and take the Observation Point Loop Snowshoe Trail for a 2-mile jaunt through the snowy geyser country. And if you traverse the Lamar Valley towards Cooke City, you can enjoy the easy flow of the 3.5-mile Baronette Trail, an old mining road that takes you through a conifer forest.
Regenerative travel doesn’t need to begin and end with your day trip. Pick lodging that helps give back to the planet with a stay at a Starry Night property. Book your stay, and gear up to explore Yellowstone in winter.