While many head to Yellowstone National Park in winter to explore by snowmobile, many visitors also like to get out on foot -- either with snowshoes or cross-country skis -- to move about the park.
Here's the rundown on how to safely enjoy those activities in the park this winter. The following information comes from Yellowstone Today, the park's official newspaper.
Yellowstone has miles of trails for the adventurous skier and snowshoer. Whether you are skiing a groomed trail in a developed area or venturing into the backcountry, remember that you are traveling in wilderness with all its potential dangers: unpredictable wildlife, changing weather conditions, hydrothermal areas, deep snow, open streams, and avalanches. You have chosen to explore and experience the land on its terms, and your safety is not guaranteed. Be prepared for any situation. Carefully read the safety information, understand all backcountry guidelines and regulations, and know the limits of your ability.
You have a choice of ski trails throughout the park—a few are described here. Maps and trail brochures are available for trails in the Mammoth, Tower, Northeast, and West Yellowstone/Gallatin areas. These trails range from easy to difficult. Please take a map.
* A permit is required for all overnight trips in the Yellowstone backcountry. Inquire about backcountry permits at visitor centers or ranger stations.
* Pack it in—Pack it out: No matter what trail you are on or its length, you must pack out all refuse.
* You can rent skis and snowshoes in the Bear Den Ski Shops at Mammoth and Old Faithful.
Ski Trails In Yellowstone
Skiing opportunities abound along the plowed road between Mammoth and the Northeast
In winter, Upper Terrace Drive becomes a groomed 1.5-mile loop ski trail. You’ll have views
of the steaming lower terraces and historic Fort Yellowstone. This is a hydrothermal area; please stay on the trail.
This 6-mile trail (one-way) follows the old Bunsen Peak road; in places it is steep and has
sharp turns. Along the trail, you will have views of the Gallatin Mountains and the Gardner River Canyon. For trail conditions, suggested starting points, and shuttles, ask at the Bear Den Ski Shop next to the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.
This trail begins 8 miles east of Mammoth and follows an unplowed 8-mile road (one-way). Enjoy vistas of meadows surrounded by mountain peaks, and look for elk, deer, coyotes, and bison scattered throughout their winter range.
This trail begins at Tower Junction and follows the unplowed Tower–Canyon road for 2.5 miles past the Calcite Springs Overlook to Tower Fall (minimum 5 miles round-trip). You’ll have views of the Yellowstone River Canyon and you might see bison, bighorn sheep, or bald eagles. Continue on the 5.5-mile Chittenden Loop Trail or return to Tower Junction.
This 3.5-mile trail (one-way) follows Soda Butte Creek along an old roadway that parallels the Northeast Entrance Road at the base of Barronette Peak. It travels through a forest and
offers spectacular scenery and consistently good snow conditions.
Old Faithful Area
Lone Star Geyser
This moderate 9-mile trail (round-trip) begins at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge and takes you to Kepler Cascades. From there, you follow a groomed service road alongside the Firehole River to Lone Star Geyser. The geyser erupts about every three hours from a 12-foot high cone. Beginning skiers should return the same way; more advanced skiers might like to return via the Howard Eaton Trail, which is steep and requires caution.
Catch a snowcoach shuttle at Old Faithful Snow Lodge to the southern end of the Fairy Falls trailhead at the steel bridge. From here you can ski to one of the most spectacular ice-encrusted falls in the park. You will be skiing on a snowcoach route then through areas of burned forest so be alert for falling trees. You can ski back to Old Faithful by following the trail next to the snow vehicle road until you reach the Biscuit Basin Trail, which takes you through the Upper Geyser Basin past Morning Glory Pool and Geyser Hill. The entire trip is about 11 easy miles round-trip.
This trail begins on Boundary Street and heads one mile through forest to the upriver and downriver loops. Both loops provide scenic views of the Gallatin Range and Madison River. Total distance varies from 2 to 7 miles, depending on your route.
Round-trip mileages from trailhead: Upriver loop 3.5 miles, downriver loop (short) 6.6 miles, downriver loop (long) 9 miles.
Some safety pointers to keep in mind for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing:
* Most of the park is above 7,500 feet. If you are coming from lower elevations, acclimate yourself and test your capabilities by taking short day trips before considering longer excursions.
* Evaluate your party’s capabilities. Plan your outing so that everyone will enjoy it.
* Know your equipment’s capabilities and weaknesses and be prepared to make repairs.
* Let someone know where you are going.
* Never go close to geysers, hot springs, or mudpots. You may fall through overhanging snow ledges or thin crust. Do not leave designated trails in hydrothermal areas.
* Beware of icy conditions on downhill grades leading into hydrothermal areas. Side-step or walk down the hill rather than risk skiing out of control into a boiling pool.
* When crossing frozen lakes, use extreme caution and check ice thickness by prodding with a ski pole. Ice, snow-covered or not, may be thin, especially near inlets, outlets, and waters warmed by hydrothermal activity. Crossing rivers may be dangerous; some have bridges and some do not. Ask a ranger about local crossings.
* Do not approach wildlife. Wild animals are unpredictable; if they charge, you can’t outrun them, especially in deep snow. If they run, you are forcing them to use energy they need to survive.
* When passing through areas of dead trees (snags), stay on established trails and be alert. Snags can fall with little warning.
* Exertion in dry mountain air can dehydrate you. Drink two quarts of water a day. Carry gear to melt water from snow or dip it out of a stream from a safe distance with a ski pole. Boil water from lakes or streams to reduce the chance of infection from water-borne diseases.
* Learn as much as you can about winter survival. Talk with park rangers before you leave on any trip. Many good books are also available on this topic.
* Follow basic ski etiquette: skiers going uphill yield to those going downhill; never walk or snowshoe in ski tracks.
* Orange trail markers attached to trees may be difficult to find in winter. Even on a well-marked trail, you can become lost easily in a whiteout or blizzard.
* If you venture into the backcountry, carry a USGS topographic map and a compass—and know how to use them.
* Attempt off-trail travel only if you are completely familiar with the specific area where you will be skiing.
* Obtain specific information on conditions at the area’s ranger station, backcountry office, warming hut, or visitor center.
Trail maps for Mammoth area, Canyon area, Old Faithful area, and the park's Northeastern area are attached as pdfs.