Yellowstone’s frosty landscapes create the perfect white canvas for spotting wildlife of any shape and size or capturing the frosty steam from a wintry waterfall. The scene is ever changing. Some days bring brilliant blue skies with ‘snow dawgs’ silhouetted against the pines and diamond-studded reflections off snowy fields. Other days bring the steady, silent descent of powdery flakes from leaden skies covering everything with a soft downy blanket of new snow. No wonder so many refer to Yellowstone as a true ‘Winter Wonderland.’
Yellowstone’s unique thermal geography continually generates heat. Steam rises from thermal meadow areas reducing snow depth. Active hydro-thermals keep lakes and rivers from freezing over and ensure a steady source of fish throughout the winter. The open water and easier access to last summer’s grasses encourage large herds of elk and bison to migrate from the deeper snows found in the interior of the Park. And, with the ungulates comes their predators. Nowhere else in the world can you find such a concentrated and diverse range of winter wildlife.
Winter visitors to Yellowstone have an option to take an over snow experience into the heart of Yellowstone's wintry entry. The west entrance here in West Yellowstone, Montana opens on December 15th each year.
There are two different all-day snowcoach routes from West Yellowstone. One route goes to Madison Junction, then turns south and goes to the Old Faithful geyser area. This route winds along the Madison and Firehole Rivers where many wildlife are located. It also stops at other geyser and thermal areas such as Fountain Paint Pots or Midway Geyser Basin.
The other route turns north at Madison Junction to Norris and then east to the Canyon area and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. This route features incredible frozen waterfalls and scenic snowy vistas, as well as wildlife along the Gibbon River.
If you like to snowshoe or cross country ski, you can also combine a snowcoach tour with one of these activities. West Yellowstone businesses offer options for drop-offs, specialty ski tours, and even overnight accommodations in a yurt at Canyon.
Commercially guided snowcoaches travel over snow covered, groomed roads to popular destinations including Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. These vehicles travel on the same roads that you do in the summer over snow prepared by groomers. The groomers work to smooth and pack the snow ensuring that the roads are adequately covered and making for a much smoother ride for visitors.
Snowcoaches can be outfitted with either a rubber track or a ski system (replacing tires). Often called by the brand name, Mattracks, these rubber track systems can travel over thinner snow depths and even bare road patches without tearing up roadways. Metal-based ski systems can cause more damage or get stuck on traveling over snow-less patches. Subsequently, the park service may restrict certain roads to just Mattrack-equipped snowcoaches based on road conditions. Snowcoach tours stop along their routes for a chance to see winter wildlife, experience the smells and sounds of a rushing, icy river, or grab the perfect photo opportunity. Snowcoaches must be guided by an approved Yellowstone Park concessionaire. These guides not only ensure your safety, but enhance the overall experience.
The snowcoaches are heated, but we make frequent stops for sightseeing or short walks, so snow boots, hats & gloves and layered clothing are suggested. Bathrooms are available throughout the Park. Some are unheated outhouses but the longest distance between bathrooms is only 27 miles. Snowcoaches going to Old Faithful will stop and spend approximately 1½ to 2 hours at Old Faithful, where lunch is available in a sit down restaurant dinning or fast food.
Snowcoach tours to the Canyon waterfall area will stop at the warming hut in Canyon. The warming hut at Canyon has food to microwave or vending machines. You may also bring a sack lunch or order one the night before your trip thought the hotel restaurant.
All valuables including wallets and car keys be left in a safe place and not taken on tours. Camera equipment should be in a padded case or strapped around your neck during the tour. If it is extremely cold, you may want to check your film restrictions.
West Yellowstone, Montana is situated at an altitude of 6667 ft and our atmosphere is extremely thin and dry. If you live at a much lower altitude or different climate, we recommend that in the first 24 hours to drink at least 64 oz of water and get plenty of sleep. Most people adjust within the first day. If you plan any mountain trail or high altitude riding, make sure to bring plenty of water.. Also, even in winter, you can get sunburned.
Remember, even in winter to always give wildlife plenty of space. They have to preserve their own resources to survive winter. Even a small disturbance that causes them to run may deplete energy reserves critical for survival. Observe animals from a safe distance. Use binoculars, spotting scopes, and telephoto camera lenses.