The joy of Yellowstone in wintertime “may be the park’s best-kept secret,” Snowfall of about 12 feet transforms America’s first national park into “a winter wonderland” and a “playground for skiers and snowshoers.” Exploring the 2.2 million–acre wilderness between December and April does require more legwork, as most of the roads close for the season. Visitors use skis, snowshoes, snowmobiles, or snow coaches (passenger vans with tanklike treads) to get around. “But the reward is a trip you won’t soon forget.” You’ll have the park almost to yourself: Of the more than 4.8 million people who descended on Yellowstone last year, only 2 percent came during winter.
My visit last winter with Yellowstone Expeditions turned out to be everything I could have hoped for, The tour company’s cozy yurt camp sits right in the middle of the Canyon Village network of ski trails. I had a guide to myself, and for three days, we explored the park on cross-country skis, on and off trails. We cut through forests of lodgepole pine, crossing the tracks of wolves, bison, and snowshoe hares. My final day was “like something out of my wildest dreams.” After tromping through fresh snow, I soaked in a creek warmed by thermal runoff, then sighted a herd of grazing bison. Even though I’ve lived near Yellowstone for 25 years, this was “the first time I’ve felt the wonder of its wildness.”
“To see Old Faithful erupt in winter is otherworldly,” The geyser spews even more steam, and there’s nobody else around. The other must for the season is a wolf safari. Gray wolves were reintroduced into the park in 1995, and today, there are at least 95 wolves in eight packs. Get up early to spot them “gallivanting through the snow” at dawn, or watch at dusk as they approach a herd of bison, sizing up their huge prey to choose a target. Hearing wolves howling in Yellowstone “stops the clock,” said tour outfitter Taylor Phillips. “The rest of the world becomes insignificant.”