YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK IN THE WINTER

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK IN THE WINTER

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK IN THE WINTER

📅27 September 2023, 22:53

Yellowstone National Park typically gets 3-4 million visitors a year, 95 percent of whom visit from May through October. Visitation in the winter drops off to a fraction of what it was even in the early weeks of spring or the waning weeks of fall, and while you certainly won’t have the park all to yourself, you will see it as very few people in the world have or will ever see it. A winter visit to Yellowstone is truly a trip of a lifetime, but it all comes at a cost…and in this case, a pretty steep one.

I’m not going to beat around the bush about just how expensive it is to visit Yellowstone in the winter. Visitation isn’t low just because there’s a lot of snow in the area and the park is out in the middle of nowhere. The fact is, there’s simply not a lot to see and do unless you want to spend A LOT of money. The only place you can go on your own—assuming you drive your own 4-Wheel Drive vehicle or rent one—is the Mammoth Hot Springs area and the road between it and the Northeast Entrance to the park. That’s the only road open year-round, and you have a day’s worth of activities if you see the thermal features at Mammoth Hot Springs and make the round-trip drive to the Northeast Entrance. If you are into cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, sticking to places near Mammoth Hot Springs that you can get to in your own vehicle costs next to nothing, but if that’s all you do, you’ll be missing the majority of the park. You won’t be seeing Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and the many thermal features south of Mammoth Hot Springs. To get to these places you are at the mercy of the snowmobile and snow coach tour companies, and that’s where the money starts adding up.

Lone pine tree along the snow-covered Yellowstone Lake at Yellowstone National Park

Lone pine tree along the snow-covered Yellowstone Lake at Yellowstone National Park

For my family of three, I spent $11,000 for five days of actually being in Yellowstone. We drove from Atlanta on back roads only—a three-day trip—so that my daughter could see part of America, though I don’t know if she ever looked up from her phone. My wife and daughter did fly back (I drove). So I did have the expense of gas and four extra nights at a hotel, which cost around $1,200, but we didn’t have a third airline ticket ($600) and $600 in transportation fees to and from the Bozeman, Montana, airport and Yellowstone National Park ($100 per person each way). Like anyone else who schedules tours, we arrived the day before, staying the night in West Yellowstone, and left the day after our last tour. That’s two travel days and five days of vacation. Eleven thousand dollars.

Now, we did do one of the coolest and most unique things that you can do at Yellowstone National Park in the winter, and that is to stay inside the park but not at one of the two winter lodges (Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel or the Old Faithful Snow Lodge) or the park’s only year-round frontcountry campground at Mammoth Hot Springs. There’s nothing unique about any of that. If you really want a unique winter experience at Yellowstone, you’ve got to stay where you won’t run into a couple dozen people if you walked around the area all day long, and there’s only two ways to do that. One is to backcountry tent camp in sub-zero degree weather as you snowmobile, cross-country ski, or snowshoe across the park (which is only for the most adventurous of outdoorsmen), and the other is to stay in Yellowstone Expeditions Yurt Camp near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

You can backcountry tent camp for next nothing, and about 250 people do so each year. For most visitors to Yellowstone, that’s not a possibility. That leaves the Yurt Camp where you have a heated yurt (a fancy tent) and dining area with home cooked meals. You still have to be a person who is open to camping amenities, including a pit toilet, but the Yurt Camp is the Plaza Hotel compared to tent camping in the backcountry. However, it is expensive. Three nights and four days at the Yurt Camp, including $1,200 in tips for the guides, was $7,000. Yes, that’s a lot. It’s about $6,800 more than backcountry tent camping (if you ski or snowshoe), but it’s only $2,000 more than what three people would spend on four days at a hotel in West Yellowstone and snowmobile and snow coach tours every day just like the typical tourist. To me and my family, the Yurt Camp was a trip of a lifetime and well worth the extra money.

Lena at her yurt at the Yellowstone Expeditions Yurt Camp near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Lena at her yurt at the Yellowstone Expeditions Yurt Camp near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

The $11,000 did include one snowmobile tour, which, for your information, runs close to $1,000 for two snowmobiles, the minimum needed for three people. Overall, I don’t see spending less than $1,000 / day for three people no matter what you do at Yellowstone, and I think $1,500 / day is more realistic (plus airfare and transportation). Thus, had I not stayed at the Yurt Camp and had a truly unique experience, I still would have spent $9,000 on the trip.

I’m going to get to the details of the Yurt Camp and the snowmobile tours, but let’s first take a look at what you can do on your own at Yellowstone National Park in the winter if you drive your own 4-Wheel Drive vehicle.

MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS AREA IN THE WINTER

As mentioned, the only road open year-round in Yellowstone National Park is the road between Mammoth Hot Springs and the Northeast Entrance to the park, which passes through the Tower-Roosevelt Area. All other roads close on November 1st, and this is to all types of traffic. Starting in mid-December, these roads reopen for snowmobiles and snow coaches. Thus, from November 1st until mid-December, Mammoth Hot Springs is the only area of the park open to vehicle traffic. Because of this, November is the least visited month. In October 2022, visitation to Yellowstone was approximately 240,000. It dropped to 18,000 in November. Visitation doubled in December and reached nearly 50,000 per month in January and February. Snowmobile and snow coach traffic typically ends mid-March, and once again, Mammoth Hot Springs is the only area of the park open to vehicles until the roads begin reopening in late April, depending on the weather.

Mammoth Hot Springs is its own little village with hotel, restaurant, campground, visitor center, gas station, post office, and even an outdoor ice skating rink. Visitors are welcome to stay inside the park at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel or outside the park in the closest town, Gardiner. Hotel rates in Gardiner are as much as $150 a night cheaper.

Winter view of Mammoth Hot Springs Village at Yellowstone National Park

Winter view of Mammoth Hot Springs Village at Yellowstone National Park

The main attraction at Mammoth Hot Springs is the thermal features, which are accessible via a boardwalk system. There are some short-but-steep sections that follow earthen trails, not to mention that the boardwalks themselves will be covered with snow in the winter, so hiking poles and boots are highly recommended. I walked the entire area in the snow in about two hours.

Boardwalks take visitors to the thermal features at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park

Boardwalks take visitors to the thermal features at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park

Wintertime view of Palette Spring at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park

Wintertime view of Palette Spring at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park

Snow-covered Cupid Spring at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park

Snow-covered Cupid Spring at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park

Snow-covered thermal features at Yellowstone National Park's Mammoth Hot Springs

Snow-covered thermal features at Yellowstone National Park’s Mammoth Hot Springs

There are hiking trails that begin at or near Mammoth Hot Springs, so there are plenty of opportunities to cross-country ski or snowshoe. Equipment rentals are available at the village’s ski shop. If you have your own vehicle, you can drive to the trailheads and make out-and-back ski trips, or you can take the shuttle services available between the village and the popular ski areas (for a fee). The concessionaire that operates the hotel also runs numerous snow coach tours to other parts of Yellowstone, including Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

If you have your own 4-wheel drive vehicle, you can make the round-trip journey to the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone National Park. There are no thermal features worth mentioning along the road, so there is nothing to stop at unless you are driving to one of the trails that begin along the road or are just looking for wildlife and pretty scenery.

I did see plenty of wildlife on my drive, particularly elk. I traveled the majority of the other roads in the park either by snow coach or snowmobile, not to mention many miles covered while country-skiing in the backcountry, and I never saw an elk (saw plenty of bison). On the drive to the Northeast Entrance they were as common as stray dogs. I don’t know if it was just my lucky day or if elk are always in this area, so I can’t promise that you will see them on your drive.

Elk near Mammoth Hot Springs at Yellowstone National Park

Elk near Mammoth Hot Springs at Yellowstone National Park

Elk on a snow-covered hill on the drive from Mammoth Hot Springs to the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone National Park

Elk on a snow-covered hill on the drive from Mammoth Hot Springs to the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone National Park

A bison forages through the snow near the Tower-Roosevelt area of Yellowstone National Park

A bison forages through the snow near the Tower-Roosevelt area of Yellowstone National Park

If you run out of things to do in the immediate area of the Mammoth Hot Springs village during the winter, you can always join a snow coach or cross-country skiing tour. I am not aware of any snowmobile tours that depart from Mammoth Hot Springs. If that’s what you want to do, you’ll have to drive 225 miles to West Yellowstone, a 4-hour drive under normal conditions. Remember, the park roads are closed, so you must drive to Bozeman and come down Hwy 191 to reach West Yellowstone. Thus, snowmobile tours are pretty much out of the question for those staying at Mammoth Hot Springs.

While all-day snowmobile tours are double the cost of all-day snow coach tours ($200/person vs. $400/person, on average with tip for the guide), snowmobile tours are way more fun and really shouldn’t be missed. You can, however, get to all the same places in a snow coach as you can on a snowmobile. All tours head to either Old Faithful or the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, with stops at various places in between.

SNOWMOBILING AND SNOW COACH TOURS

Snowmobiling at Yellowstone National Park

Snowmobiling at Yellowstone National Park

If you are heading to Yellowstone in the winter, you have to spend a day in the park on a snowmobile. It’s just damn fun. While it is possible to tour the park on your own snowmobile, the National Park Service makes it very difficult to do so. Thus, most people attend a concessionaire-run tour. These depart from the west, east, and south entrances, so be sure to pick a company that operates close to where you will be staying. A list of current approved concessionaires is provided on the National Park Service’s Ride a Snowmobile or Snowcoach web page for Yellowstone National Park.

I’m not going to recommend any particular outfitter, as I assume that if they are still in business, they are doing a good job. Every guide in Yellowstone is hoping for tips, so service is most likely going to be great no matter which company you go with. Thus, choose based on price and availability, not online reviews.

As mentioned, snowmobile tours are not cheap. On average, a guided tour utilizing a single seat snowmobile runs $200, while a double seat snowmobile for two people runs $400. These are average prices–I’ve seen double seat snowmobiles for two people that cost as much as $700. I needed two snowmobiles for my family of three, and the cost was $900 (January 2023 prices), which included tip, park entrance fee, and snowmobile clothing. All these companies rent a clothing package, so unless you are an expert snowmobiler and have your own guaranteed-to-keep-you-warm clothing, rent the clothing package. This includes a helmet, gloves, and a snow suit. Also be sure to bring a pair of sunglasses and your own balaclava or ski mask if you have one.

Snowmobile clothing rented from the snowmobile tour operator

Snowmobile clothing rented from the snowmobile tour operator

When it comes to one-day tours, there are only two destinations available regardless of which outfitter you use: one to Old Faithful and one to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Some of the tour companies offer multi-day tours that cover more ground. A typical three-day tour runs $3,000 to $4,000 per person and includes hotel stays and meals. The snow coaches, which are essentially tour buses or vans with huge tires like you see on earthmoving construction vehicles or what amounts to tank tracks, go to these two destinations as well.

Snow coach at Yellowstone National Park

Snow coach at Yellowstone National Park

I took a snowmobile tour to Old Faithful. The tour also stopped at various places along the way including Firehole Falls near Madison, Lower Geyser Basin, and Black Sand Basin. Each tour company may have different stops, but you will see more than just Old Faithful (or the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone if that’s your destination). The following are some photos of these locations.

Wintertime view of Yellowstone National Park's Firehole Falls near Madison

Wintertime view of Yellowstone National Park’s Firehole Falls near Madison

Wintertime view of Silex Spring at the Fountain Paint Pots in Yellowstone National Park

Wintertime view of Silex Spring at the Fountain Paint Pots in Yellowstone National Park

Fountain Paint Pot in the winter, Yellowstone National Park

Fountain Paint Pot in the winter, Yellowstone National Park

Bison in the snow along Iron Spring Creek at Black Sand Basin in Yellowstone National Park

Bison in the snow along Iron Spring Creek at Black Sand Basin in Yellowstone National Park

Rainbow Pool at Black Sand Basin in Yellowstone National Park

Rainbow Pool at Black Sand Basin in Yellowstone National Park

Tourists at Black Sand Basin in Yellowstone National Park

Tourists at Black Sand Basin in Yellowstone National Park

The final destination was Old Faithful. The tour stopped long enough to see it erupt and to have lunch at the Old Faithful Lodge cafeteria and bake shop.

Old Faithful in the winter, Yellowstone National Park

Old Faithful in the winter, Yellowstone National Park

Wintertime eruption of Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park

Wintertime eruption of Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park

The highlight of the snowmobile tour came right near the start along the Madison River. A herd of bison came marching down the road. Everyone had to pull over and remain calm, for the distance between us and the bison was much closer than the safe distance specified by the National Park Service. Bison and other animals aren’t dumb. They know the snow-packed roads are much easier to travel on than the earth. Coming upon them when driving down the road, in winter or summer, is not uncommon.

Herd of Bison follow the road along the Madison River near West Yellowstone

Herd of Bison follow the road along the Madison River near West Yellowstone

Bison in Yellowstone National Park

Bison in Yellowstone National Park

Coyote utilizes the snow-covered road in Yellowstone National Park

Coyote utilizes the snow-covered road in Yellowstone National Park

It is possible to snowmobile on your own within Yellowstone National Park, but as I said earlier, the National Park Service tries to make it hard to do so because it prefers tourists to join guided tours in order to cut down on driving off a cliff, charging into a herd of bison, crashing through thin ice and into freezing water, and other idiotic behaviors. These things tend not to happen as frequently on guided tours.

First off, you must enter a lottery system for a permit via Recreation.gov sometime between August 1st and 31st (one entry per person). Single day and multi-day permits are available. Permits are awarded in September. While you do get to pick up to eight entrance dates and departing locations, you still need to be somewhat flexible with your vacation plans. Permit winners are generally announced the first week of September, and you must claim the permit by the end of September.

There are four permits issued for each day, one for departure from each of the four entrances to the park: north, south, east, and west. Each permit is good for one group of up to five snowmobiles. The permit holder cannot be charging a fee, so in most cases the groups are made up of families and friends.

If any permits are not claimed or are cancelled, they become available on a first come, first served basis. These are listed as they become available on Recreation.gov. There is no waiting list, so if you want such a permit, check the website frequently starting in November. If you won a permit in the lottery, you can still get one more from the first come, first served permits.

In addition to single-day permits, there are multi-day permits for two nights and three days. Nights are typically spent either within Yellowstone National Park at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, Mammoth Campground, or the Old Faithful Lodge, or at a hotel outside of the park. You can also get a backcountry camping permit for tent camping. Snowmobiles must remain on the roads, but there are plenty of designated roadside camping areas.

Only snowmobiles that meet strict noise and pollution guidelines are allowed in the park. See the National Park Service’s Best Available Technology Snowmobiles web page for a list of approved models. If you don’t have such a snowmobile, you can rent one. Fees are around $200/day.

For those who want to see Yellowstone in the winter but prefer to do so in the comfort of a warm vehicle, you can take a snow coach tour. As mentioned, these go to all the same places as the snowmobile tours and typically cost half the price. Many of the same companies that operate snowmobile tours also have snow coach tours.

YELLOWSTONE EXPEDITIONS YURT CAMP

Yellowstone Expeditions Yurt Camp near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone Expeditions Yurt Camp near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone in Yellowstone National Park

While it is possible to stay within Yellowstone National Park during the winter, most people do so at either the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel or the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, and to a lesser extent, the Mammoth Campground, the only frontcountry campground open year-round. Over the course of the winter, approximately 25,000 people will stay in the lodges and 1,500 will camp at Mammoth.

For those looking for an off-grid winter experience within the park, you have a choice of backcountry tent camping or, for those who don’t want to freeze to death in a tent, staying at the Yellowstone Expeditions Yurt Camp. To put into perspective just how unique either of these two experiences is, only about 250 people a year take a stab at backcountry tent camping, and if the Yurt Camp were booked solid for the entire season, I don’t think it could accommodate more than 250 people. That’s only 500 people a year. It would take roughly 50 years of backcountry and yurt campers to reach the number of visitors who stay in a Yellowstone lodge during the winter in one year. In your lifetime, you most likely will never run into anyone else who has camped in the backcountry or stayed at the Yurt Camp at Yellowstone in the winter, and that makes doing so pretty unique.

The Yurt Camp was started in 1983 by Arden Baily, and he still runs it today. The camp is only open when snow vehicles are allowed on the road, which makes the season mid-December through early March. The National Park Service does not allow the camp to stay in place year-round, so other than a few permanent structures, the entire camp has to be assembled and disassembled each year. The camp features nine sleeping yurts, a bathroom, kitchen, sauna, and dining area.

Most of the people staying at the Yurt Camp are cross-country skiers. My daughter and I had never cross-country skied, and my wife had done some back as a kid in the Soviet Union where she had to ski and shoot Kalashnikov machine guns at targets in preparation for the American invasion, but that was thirty-five years ago. I had downhill skied in my early 20s (forty years ago) and my daughter had done no skiing at all. We actually came to the Yurt Camp just to see snow but were certainly willing to give cross-country skiing and snowshoeing a try. It turned out to be a lot of fun, and we went on ski trips every day. Unless you are physically unable to ski, in which case staying in a remote location with limited modern amenities is probably the last place you’ll be in the winter, don’t be afraid to give it a try. The guides take beginners to easy trails and experienced skiers to much tougher trails. And if all you want to do is see the nature of Yellowstone while sleeping in a remote location, you can do that as well. Just let Yellowstone Expeditions know what you are looking for and they will work it out.

Cross-country skiing in the backcountry of Yellowstone National Park

Cross-country skiing in the backcountry of Yellowstone National Park

Now, before you run off to buy a new evening dress or suit and get your hair and nails done for your trip to the Yurt Camp, do realize that it is not a resort. It is basically camping, but instead of sleeping in a tent you get a yurt with a really warm heater. The yurt does have beds and blankets, so it’s more like a cabin than a tent. The restroom is a pit toilet, which is what I call a fancy outhouse—a portable toilet in a permanent building. Yeah, it stinks a little, but if you’ve been camping and had to use pit toilets, you know what to expect. If you haven’t used one, unless you have led a really sheltered and pampered life, you’ll get used to it. Furthermore, there is a shower, but it’s one where you fill up a bag or pan with hot water and have it drain down on you by pulling a handle. We stayed for four days and three nights and nobody took a shower. The guides told me that rarely does anyone take a shower no matter how long they stay, and they do have eight day / seven night trips.

If you aren’t in your yurt sleeping or out skiing or seeing Yellowstone, you’ll most likely be in the dining yurt, which is also heated. This is the common area where people can sit around talking, eating, and playing games. There are nine sleeping yurts in all, so there could be up to 18 guests at one time.

Lena and Sasha relaxing by the fire in the dining yurt at Yellowstone Expeditions Yurt Camp in Yellowstone National Park

Lena and Sasha relaxing by the fire in the dining yurt at Yellowstone Expeditions Yurt Camp in Yellowstone National Park

The price of the stay includes meals. The guides cook breakfast and dinner, and you get to make your own sandwich to take with you during the day (chips, cookies, and other snacks as well as drinks are included). You typically won’t be coming back for a break once you leave, and for the price you’re paying, you probably won’t want to sit around doing nothing (keep in mind that during the winter it is dark by 5 PM, so a day in the park amounts to 6 to 8 hours). As for the food, the guides aren’t professional cooks, but I can tell you that all meals were excellent.

We stayed at the Yurt Camp over New Years, and we were the only guests. Another family had to cancel due to sickness, so in a way we were lucky that we had the place to ourselves, but having more people to socialize with would have been fun as well. It turned out that we had four guides for the three of us. Needless to say, we got to go wherever we liked, and we saw much of Yellowstone in the process. Each destination was chosen for access to easy cross-country skiing trails.

Yellowstone Expeditions operates out of West Yellowstone, so you’ll need a hotel in that town at least for the night before the Yurt Camp begins and the night it ends. You can either be picked up at your hotel or drive and park your own vehicle at the town hall. From there, we departed for the camp around 9 AM and stopped at a couple of sites along the way, one being the Norris Geyser Basin. The boardwalks that lead through the thermal features are packed with snow, but you can still walk on them. We spent about an hour touring the area.

Lena and Sasha on the snow-covered boardwalk at the Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park

Lena and Sasha on the snow-covered boardwalk at the Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park

Congress Pool in the winter at the Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park

Congress Pool in the winter at the Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park

Thermal pool surrounded by snow at the Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park

Thermal pool surrounded by snow at the Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park

Upon arriving at the Yurt Camp, we unpacked our gear, got outfitted with cross-country skis and boots, and headed out on a trip to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which is just a half mile from the camp and accessed on a trail suited for beginners. By the way, the Yellowstone Expeditions website states that skis and boots must be rented unless you bring your own. We weren’t charged anything, so I don’t know what the actual policy is. In my opinion, for the amount of money paid, equipment should be included. I suspect most people coming to the camp have their own skis since cross-country skiing is the main attraction.

Yellowstone Expeditions guide shows Sasha how to cross-country ski

Yellowstone Expeditions guide shows Sasha how to cross-country ski

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone in the winter, Yellowstone National Park

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone in the winter, Yellowstone National Park

Wintertime view of the Upper Falls at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Wintertime view of the Upper Falls at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

I’m not that great of a cross-country skier, but I can walk just fine. So snowshoeing sounded right up my ally. The guides tried to discourage it, claiming that it all but sucked, but I insisted on giving it a try so that I could make my own comparison. They were right. It sucked. The snow was up to my mid-thigh, roughly two feet deep, and when I sunk in with snowshoes on I was only about three inches from the ground. I could have gone out walking in my boots and only been three inches worse off. The guide led the way on skis, which packed the fresh powdered snow down a little, and despite the fact that I followed my wife’s and daughter’s tracks, I still sunk deeper. As a result, lifting my feet out of the hole was extremely demanding. My daughter was about to cry, and even though the temperature was -10° F, everyone was sweeting up a storm. So, yeah. Stick to cross-country skiing.

Setting off on a snowshoeing trip at Yellowstone National Park

Setting off on a snowshoeing trip at Yellowstone National Park

My favorite ski trip was along the shore of Yellowstone Lake. We started at the Lake Yellowstone Lodge area and skied to the Fishing Bridge where the Yellowstone Expedition’s snow coach picked us up. We did have to cross a small stream, which was an adventure and the only difficult part of the trip (excluding the many times I fell and struggled to get up).

Yellowstone Lake covered in snow, Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone Lake covered in snow, Yellowstone National Park

Cross-country skiing along the shore of Yellowstone Lake, Yellowstone National Park

Cross-country skiing along the shore of Yellowstone Lake, Yellowstone National Park

Snow-covered cabin near the shore of Yellowstone Lake at Yellowstone National Park

Snow-covered cabin near the shore of Yellowstone Lake at Yellowstone National Park

Crossing a small creek on a cross-country ski trip along the shore of Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park

Crossing a small creek on a cross-country ski trip along the shore of Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park

Approaching Fishing Bridge on a cross-country ski trip along the shore of Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park

Approaching Fishing Bridge on a cross-country ski trip along the shore of Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park

Wintertime view of Fishing Bridge at Yellowstone Lake

Wintertime view of Fishing Bridge at Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone River near Fishing Bridge in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone River near Fishing Bridge in Yellowstone National Park

On the final day of our stay at the Yurt Camp, we stopped for one last ski trip on the way back to West Yellowstone. From the main park road we skied down a side road to the start of the Artist’s Paint Pots Trail and then skied the trail to the namesake thermal features. Once at the site, we took off our skis and walked the boardwalk around the Artists’ Paintpots. There was a tree down halfway, and nobody had gone beyond that point, but that didn’t stop us. The snow on the boardwalk prior to the tree was packed down, but not the snow beyond it. That was a tough hike, similar to what we did earlier in snowshoes, only now we just had on our cross-country ski boots.

Cross-country skiing on the Artists' Paint Pot Trail in Yellowstone National Park

Cross-country skiing on the Artists’ Paint Pot Trail in Yellowstone National Park

Artists' Paint Pots thermal features in the winter, Yellowstone National Park

Artists’ Paint Pots thermal features in the winter, Yellowstone National Park

Artists' Paint Pots thermal features in the winter, Yellowstone National Park

Artists’ Paint Pots thermal features in the winter, Yellowstone National Park

I would certainly consider my visit to Yellowstone in the winter, and particularly my stay at Yellowstone Expedition’s Yurt Camp, a vacation of a lifetime. My wife and daughter will tell you the same. But as I said at the beginning, it isn’t cheap. I certainly could have saved a couple thousand dollars by staying in a hotel on the outskirts of the park and doing what every other tourist does at Yellowstone in the winter. And that certainly would have been a vacation of a lifetime as well. But I wouldn’t have the same unique stories to tell. The same unique memories. If you have the money, I highly recommend the four-day stay at the Yurt Camp and one day of snowmobiling, and even more days at the camp if you are really into cross-country skiing.

Markos Family and Yellowstone Expeditions guides at the Yurt Camp in Yellowstone National Park

Markos Family and Yellowstone Expeditions guides at the Yurt Camp in Yellowstone National Park

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