Greater Yellowstone has so many wild lands that during the peak summer season, I generally choose to wander away from the parks and their crowds. But when the snows come, there is no place I would rather be than the geyser basins of Yellowstone National Park.
Yellowstone is a cold, snowy world in winter. The land is blanketed in white. The animals struggle to survive. The geyser basins offer warmer ground, a better chance to paw beneath the snow for a morsel of grass or open water. The buffalo and elk congregate in these areas. Predators and scavengers follow them in, coyotes and ravens. Trumpeter swans swim in the running streams.
Yellowstone is always a wildlife spectacle, but at no time is it more enjoyable than gliding over the snow on cross-country skis. The Old Faithful and Mammoth Hot Springs basins have extensive trail systems. Mammoth is accessible by car or bus from Bozeman, Montana. Old Faithful is a four-hour snowcat ride from Mammoth in the heart of the park. Snowcats also leave from the park's southern gateway outside Jackson
Fairy Falls is a favorite trail around Old Faithful, about 11 miles with a snowcat drop at the trailhead a couple of miles from the Visitor Center. In winter, the falls are a wall of ice. Mallard Lake sits three miles above Old Faithful, a challenging ski through lodgepole pines. The Divide Lookout involves a snowcat dropoff and ten mile ski back to the Visitor Center, after a visit to a Fire Lookout Tower from which the Tetons appear through the winter haze.
The Tetons also have their share of cross-country skiing. Thermal pools around Flagg Ranch attract wildlife much like the Yellowstone geysers. A ski around the ranch's trails may turn up moose, elk, bald eagles, trumpeter swans and smaller animals from pine marten to beaver. Trails at Jenny and Taggert Lakes climb glacial moraines for Teton vistas.
Snowmobiling is another spectacular winter activity at Yellowstone. Many of the park's roads are groomed routes. Mammoth, West Yellowstone, Flagg Ranch, and Pahaska Tepee are all gateways to a 96 mile loop that circles the center of the park. Highlights along the way include Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication