Snow, Steam and Bison

Yellowstone National Park in the winter is a different world from summer trips, where throngs of people crowd around Old Faithful and traffic comes to a standstill at the first sight of an elk. Our inaugural snowshoe tour to Yellowstone National Park in January was a hit! We experienced true winter with fresh snow falling every day and plenty of opportunity to create new trails in the deep snow. Yellowstone roads are not plowed in the winter, so entrance into the Old Faithful area is only accessible by snowcoach, from either Flagg Ranch in the south, or Mammoth Hot Springs in the north. Lucky for us the concessionaires have upgraded from the old snowcat bombadeers that lurched and crawled across the snow in a metal box. Our ride was in a luxurious, heated vehicle with massive tires sporting only about 4 PSI to gently float us over the snow. We arrived at the Snow Lodge at Old Faithful just in time to see the geyser blow its top, and watch the steam turn to ice crystals in the frigid air.

We had three full days inside the park, and took advantage of it all. Our first day included a shuttle to the Biscuit Basin area, full of steaming holes, bubbling mud pots, and colorful ponds. After crossing the area on a boardwalk, we ventured west into the forest and up a valley. Our destination was Mystic Falls – an icy fountain cascading down the frozen rock – the perfect place for a snack. Back from the Basin, our return route was on the Artemisia Trail, past a string of geysers and hot pools. The last stretch was through the Upper Geyser Basin, giving us a perfect vantage point over the small herd of bison burrowing into the snow looking for edibles.

Each evening we had time to relax in our private cabins before meeting again at the Snow Lodge for an elegant meal in the Obsidian Dining Room. Considering the limited access to the outside world, we were impressed by the fresh and varied meals the chefs prepared. A cozy fire and live music in the lobby distracted us from our warm and comfy beds.

The next day we awoke to a foot of fresh snow, and ended up being the first ones to venture out to Lone Star Geyser. Those up for the challenge got to experience trail breaking in the fluffy white stuff, while others at the back of the line were treated with a packed trail, giving them time to enjoy the scene of animal tracks weaving around snow covered pine trees next to a meandering, heated river. The steaming geyser teased us with spurts, but the crisp air forced us to turn back before an eruption (spaced about every 3 hours) occurred.

On our fourth day, our guides took us to a little known loop trail behind the employees’ lodge. The employees use the loop for a quick ski when they can get the time off. We took a more leisurely tour, breaking a trail for snowshoes, and feeling like we were the only ones in the park!

We turned a hiccup on the last day into our advantage with a change of plans. Too much snow created some avalanche danger on the exit road, and the park closed the route. So instead of a return to Jackson, we took a different shuttle north out to Mammoth Hot Springs for a departure from Bozeman, Montana. It was our first bluebell day, and not only was the scenery spectacular, but we got to film a large herd of bison playing follow the leader across the Firehole River valley. What a perfect conclusion to our unique Yellowstone experience.