In winter, Yellowstone Lake seems as far from civilization as any place I can imagine. Cody, Wyoming is 80 miles east. Jackson, Wyoming is 97 miles south. And everyplace else is just a long way away. Visiting this frozen landscape is still worth the planning and effort it takes to get here.
For you to visit, you will need to arrange a trip with one of the many concession companies that operate during the winter. Check the, “Plan Your Visit,” page on our website for a list of those companies. Winter visitation is limited, so make your reservations early. (http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/index.htm)
With a surface area of 131.7 square miles, Yellowstone Lake is considered the largest alpine lake in North America. Most years, it freezes over by mid-December and remains frozen until late May or early June. The ice can be from a few inches to nearly three feet thick with several feet of snow covering the ice.
Even though you will be with a guide, come prepared. Extra clothes, food, and any supplies you need for survival should be part of your planning. Here in the lake area, this small warming-hut and a few pit-style restrooms are the only escapes from the elements.
The popular Lake Yellowstone Hotel is boarded-up and frozen in the snow. A few winter keepers and maintenance workers are working here to maintain the buildings. And a limited number of both interpretive and protection rangers also spend the winter here.
While the snow covered landscape gives the impression that everything here is frozen, nature often reminds us that is not true. Just a few weeks ago, between Dec 26, 2008 and January 1, 2009 nearly 500 earthquakes occurred along the floor of Yellowstone Lake. The largest was a magnitude 3.9.
This earthquake swarm started just southeast of Stevenson Island and migrated north toward Fishing Bridge. Much of Yellowstone Lake sits inside the Yellowstone caldera. This disturbance was near the eastern edge of the caldera floor.
Earthquakes are not rare in the park; we average nearly 2,000 a year. I was woken-up by a magnitude 3.5 here at Yellowstone Lake back in 1992. Yellowstone is a land of mystery and adventure, especially in winter.