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Plan Like a Park Ranger: Top 10 Tips for a Winter Visit to Yellowstone National Park

a snow-covered road that goes under a large stone archway at sunrise
Most park roads are closed to personal vehicles during the winter season except for the road between the North Entrance in Gardiner, Montana (pictured), and the Northeast Entrance to Silver Gate and Cooke City, Montana.

NPS / Jacob W. Frank

Learn how to #PlanLikeAParkRanger by following our top 10 tips for a winter visit to Yellowstone! Restricted vehicle access and limited services make winter visits far different than a summer experience. So, plan ahead, recreate responsibly, and help ensure this iconic landscape may be enjoyed by future generations.
a park ranger in uniform standing in snow beneath a large stone archway

1. Enjoy the Drive

If you want to drive in the park, you’ll need to come to the North Entrance in Gardiner, Montana — it’s the only road open in winter. From there, you can drive to places like Mammoth Hot Springs and Lamar Valley. Check our road status map and current conditions before you arrive, observe posted speed limits, and use plowed pullouts to watch wildlife, take pictures, and let other cars pass. Not a fan of winter driving? Book a guided road-based tour!

a park ranger and kids snowshoeing up a slope

2. Make the Most of Your Trip

If you want to see places like Old Faithful or the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, you’ll need to book a guided snowcoach or snowmobile tour or apply for a permit through our non-commercial snowmobile program. If you want to get away from the roads, authorized businesses also offer guided skiing and snowshoeing trips, or you can explore our ski and snowshoe trails on your own.

a park ranger standing behind a sign that reads "Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel"

3. Arrive with Accommodation Plans

Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel are open during winter. Make reservations as far in advance as possible. Lodging is also available in nearby communities. If you’re prepared for winter camping, Mammoth Campground has first-come, first-served sites available.

a park ranger with snow in his beard

4. Watch Out for Winter Conditions

Winter temperatures range from 0°F to 20°F (-18°C to -7°C) throughout the day. Sub-zero temperatures are common, especially at night and at higher elevations. Check current weather conditions, pack proper clothing and equipment, and review winter safety tips!

a park ranger with a spotting scope

5. Give Wildlife Room, Use a Zoom

The safest way to view wildlife is through a telephoto lens, a spotting scope, or a pair of binoculars. Park animals are wild and dangerous. Bison, bears, and elk have injured and killed people. Do not approach, encircle, follow, or feed any animal. Stay 100 yards (91 m) from bears and wolves and stay 25 yards (23 m) from all other animals. Learn how to watch wildlife safely.

a park ranger throwing trash away in a trashcan

6. Stash Your Trash

If a trash can happens to be full, find another. Animals that eat human food can become habituated and may need to be killed. Food scraps belong in the trash, not on the trail!

a park ranger on a boardwalk near thermal features with their arms stretched out

7. Follow the Beaten Path

In thermal areas, boardwalks take you to amazing places, protect the park, and keep you safe. People have been severely burned and killed after leaving the boardwalk or reaching into hot water. Geysers, mud pots, and hot springs are delicate. Don’t throw anything into any hydrothermal features, touch them, or change them in any way.

a park ranger carrying bear spray on his hip while out skiing in snow

8. Bring Bear Spray

While it’s possible to see a bear during any month of the year, it’s more likely that you’ll come across other wildlife while skiing or snowshoeing. Bison, elk, coyotes, and mountain lions are all active in winter, so carry bear spray and know how to use it. Be alert, make noise, and travel in groups.

a park ranger holding up a phone with the Yellowstone app on the screen

9. Expect Limited Services

Connectivity in the park is minimal, so download the free National Park Service app (and offline content) before you arrive for great information at your fingertips! Food and fuel options in the park are limited. Always fill up on fuel and pack extra food and water in case something goes wrong. Check operating hours before you arrive.

a park ranger wearing a mask inside a visitor center

10. Protect Yourself and Others

In areas CDC identifies as high COVID-19 community level, masks are required for everyone indoors, regardless of vaccination status. Indoor areas include, but are not limited to, park visitor centers, administrative offices, gift shops, and restaurants. In areas CDC identifies as low and medium COVID-19 community level, masks are optional indoors. Visit current conditions to view the current COVID-19 community level of Yellowstone National Park before you arrive. Masks are still required for everyone on snowcoach and road-based tours.

Yellowstone National Park

Last updated: March 7, 2022