Four Season Guide to Travel in the Park
Most of the three million people who visit Yellowstone each year come during summer. However, more people are discovering the pleasure of exploring Yellowstone in the "off seasons"--spring, fall and winter. Yellowstone is a year round park, but travel should be planned with consideration of the conditions you will likely encounter.
The winter use season of snowmobile and snowcoach travel begins in mid-December and ends in mid-March. Actual opening or closing dates for oversnow travel varies by entrance and will be determined by adequate snowpack and plowing schedules. See Operating Hours and Seasons for the current schedule.
All roads and entrances, with one exception, are closed to motor vehicle travel and many are groomed for oversnow vehicles. The exception is the North Entrance and the road from Gardiner, MT, through the Northeast Entrance to Cooke City, MT, which is plowed and open only to wheeled vehicles. Plowing stops at Cooke City (travel beyond that point is possible by snowmobile), so you must return to the North Entrance to exit the park by car.
Visitors wishing to visit the park on a snowmobile or in a snowcoach must either travel by commercial snowcoach or accompany a commercial guide on snowmobiles (private, unguided snowmobiles or snowcoaches are not allowed). Best Available Technology snowmobiles are required, and there is a daily limit on snowmobile and snowcoach entries. Off-road use of snowmobiles and snowcoaches is prohibited. For more information, go to Winter Activities and Winter Use Planning.
Plowing begins in early March. Depending on weather, the first stretches of road to open to motor vehicles include Mammoth-Norris, Norris-Madison, and West Yellowstone-Old Faithful; these roads open in mid-April. Roads on the east and south sides of the park, including East and South Entrances, typically open in early May. The Sunlight Basin Road, between Cooke City, MT and Cody, WY and Craig Pass, between Old Faithful and West Thumb, open by early May as conditions allow. Dunraven Pass, between Tower and Canyon Junctions, and the Beartooth Highway, connecting Cooke City to Red Lodge, MT generally open by Memorial Day weekend. Weather can especially affect road openings over the higher passes. Spring storms may cause restrictions or temporary closures on some roads.
Did You Know?
The 1988 fires affected 793,880 acres or 36 percent of the park. Five fires burned into the park that year from adjacent public lands. The largest, the North Fork Fire, started from a discarded cigarette. It burned more than 410,000 acres.