Winter Use

A line of five snowmobiles on a groomed road stop and look at a bison walking in the opposite direction with steam rising from the ground
The enjoyment of Yellowstone and its unique resources during the wintertime has drawn deep and passionate interest in the park since the 1930s.

NPS / Diane Renkin


The National Park Service (NPS) mission is a dual mandate: preserve Yellowstone’s resources, and make the park available and accessible for enjoyment and appreciation. The ways in which visitors access Yellowstone in winter can affect the park’s plants, animals, and wild character in ways more profound—and potentially more damaging – than at other times of the year. To meet its mission, the NPS has worked carefully to develop a long-term plan for winter use in Yellowstone that both protects the park’s resources and provides outstanding opportunities “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

For years, the National Park Service managed the park in winter with interim management plans in the face of repeated courtroom challenges over snowmobiles and other winter operations. The final rule, published in October 2013, established long-term management of winter use in Yellowstone and concluded more than 15 years of planning efforts and litigation. Continue: History of the Debate


Quick Facts

The Issue

National Park Service Regulation 36 CFR 2.18 prohibits snowmobile use in national parks when there is no specific rule authorizing their use. This is known as the "closed unless open rule"—without a specific rule, oversnow vehicles would be prohibited from entering Yellowstone.

Winter Use Management Goals

  • Provide a high quality, safe and educational winter experience.
  • Provide for visitor and employee health and safety
  • Protect wilderness character and values
  • Preserve pristine air quality
  • Preserve natural soundscapes
  • Mitigate impacts to wildlife
  • Coordinate with partners and gateway communities

Concerns Raised by the Public

  • Overcrowding
  • Visitor impacts on natural resources
  • Noise and air pollution
  • Availability of facilities and services
  • Restricting snowmobiles, including requiring guides
  • Importance of winter visitation to the local and regional economy
  • Wildlife using groomed roads
  • Displacing wildlife
  • Health and human safety

Last updated: July 8, 2016

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 168
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0168


(307) 344-7381

Contact Us