“Snow provokes responses that reach right back to childhood.”Andy Goldsworthy, Photographer & Environmentalist
Don’t just “get through” winter – embrace it! While many people curse the winter and snow, here in Montana snow is a reason to celebrate. As we like to say of winter, “Bears do hibernation. We do recreation.” On our Yellowstone Winter Vacation, we snow-hike or cross country ski under the clear blue “Big Sky” on gorgeous trails through open valleys and narrow gorges, along frozen creeks, among groves of Aspens, next to herds of bison, and near the steamy fumaroles and geysers of Yellowstone National Park.
If you can hike, you can snowshoe! We welcome all ability levels including those who have never tried snowshoeing before—it is a blast and easy to learn. With the “all-terrain vehicles” strapped to our feet we can follow a trail or make a trail of our own anywhere there is snow. This itinerary is also available as a cross country skiing trip—or mix it up and do both!
We spend all four nights in the small town of Gardiner at the north entrance to Yellowstone, just steps away from the Roosevelt Arch that signifies the official entrance to the world’s first national park. President Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone of this icon in 1903 and the top of the arch is inscribed “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People”.
Yellowstone is the ultimate tourist destination in the summer with millions of visitors, but in the winter it hosts only the hearty (like us!) and is truly magical. The Park’s 2.2 million acres offer some of the best snowshoeing and cross country skiing terrain you’ll find anywhere.
With a group of four or more travelers, you could also consider adding a private Yellowstone Winter Wolf Watching Adventure. This Yellowstone Winter Adventure includes some time in the Lamar Valley for wolf spotting but it is more about the snowshoeing or cross country skiing and includes much more time viewing the amazing geothermal features of the park. The wolf tour is focused on viewing and learning about the wolves of Yellowstone, a fascinating subject and a reason to consider doing both!
Exploring Yellowstone in winter is truly an unforgettable vacation with steamy geothermal features, abundant wildlife, and miles of trails to explore. Don’t miss our posts on why Yellowstone is the best national park in the world and winter is the best time to visit the park!
ZEPHYR ADVENTURES IS AN AUTHORIZED PERMITTEE OF YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
Private Tour Info
Want to make this trip even more memorable? Grab your friends and pick a date. Private tours can be arranged for groups as small as four people.Start planning your private tour
- Cost Per Person: $2,600
- Single Supplement: $700
- Private Tour Minimum: 4
- Activities: Snowshoeing or XC Skiing
- Difficulty: All Ability Levels
- Guides: Kris Lucky Keys
Other Info: > $275 - $365 additional private Snowcoach Transportation for Day 3
> $150 optional snowshoe or XC skiing rental (or you can bring your own)
> This trip is limited to 10 participants
- Experience a national treasure – Yellowstone National Park – in a season where there are few other visitors
- See wildlife such as bison, elk, wolves, fox, coyote, bighorn sheep, antelope, bald eagles and more
- Take a private snowcoach into the park's interior and snowshoe along the rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
- Experience Yellowstone's amazing thermal features at Mammoth Hot Springs and Norris Geyser Basin
- Stay in the cute small town of Gardiner at the north entrance of Yellowstone
We reserve the right to alter our listed itinerary based on current snow conditions, to maximize your enjoyment!
Your guides will meet you around lunchtime in Bozeman, Montana, where we begin and end our adventure. We’ll transfer from there through the Paradise Valley to Wonderland Lodge, our basecamp in the small town of Gardiner for the week, about 90 minutes away. We’ll have a brief orientation, pack some energy food, and dress for the weather before heading out for our first afternoon of snowshoeing at Mammoth Hot Springs (Yellowstone’s headquarters). After a short instructional snowshoeing clinic (probably the easiest sport in the world to learn!) we’ll set off to explore the groomed 1.5-mile loop around the upper terraces.
The terraces are unique from other thermal areas of the park. As hot water rises through the limestone from below it interacts with hot gases and forms an acidic solution that dissolves the rock and ultimately deposits a white chalky material known as travertine, which forms beautiful terraces on the side of the hill that we can walk among. Because we are at a lower elevation than most of the Park, the snow depths here entice wintering elk and deer to stick around and you’ll probably see many of them at Mammoth.
Tonight your guides will host a happy hour and casual dinner in their lodge room in front of a roaring fire.
Snowshoe Mileage: 1.5 miles (with the option for an extra mileage for those who want it)
After breakfast in our lodge, we'll pack our trail lunches and return to Mammoth Hot Springs, giving you time to explore the visitors center, the historic Mammoth Hotel, and perhaps walk the terraces below yesterday’s snowshoe trail. Our snowcoach (a van fitted with either gigantic snow tires or special treads similar to a snowmobile instead of wheels so it can easily cross the snow-covered roads) will take us out to Indian Creek before dropping us off at the start of the trail that wraps around Bunsen Peak (Yes, that Bunsen! - named for German chemist Robert Bunsen who studied geysers and invented the Bunsen Burner). We’ll strap on our snowshoes and walk on a gentle trail through rolling timbered terrain with panoramic views of the glorious peaks of the Gallatin Range, before reaching an overlook of Osprey Falls and continuing downhill back into Mammoth.
We’ll have dinner at the excellent Wonderland cafe before lights out. Another exciting day awaits us tomorrow!
Snowshoe Mileage: 6 miles
Today we head straight into the Park’s interior via the Grand Loop Road, closed to traffic for the winter! We’ll have a private snowcoach transport* us for the day. Our first stop is Norris Geyser Basin, the hottest, oldest, and most dynamic of Yellowstone's thermal areas and home to Steamboat Geyser, the tallest geyser in the world -- when it erupts it can go up to 400 feet in the air (more than twice the height of Old Faithful)! There are over two miles of boardwalks and trails here to experience the hundreds of densely packed geothermal features in one of the most extreme environments on earth: geysers, pungent odors, hot springs with all the colors of the rainbow, microscopic life, and hissing steam.
From there, our snowcoach trundles along, likely experiencing a few “buffalo jams” (Yellowstone’s version of traffic jams) before arriving at our next destination: the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. This 20-mile long canyon carved by the gorgeous Yellowstone River features a colorful stone interior (including the “yellow” stone for which the park was named) and a couple of waterfalls that will knock your socks off. We’ll get out and snowshoe along the rim overlooking the falls before returning to Mammoth the same way we came.
After dinner, we’ll don our warm clothes and walk guided by starlight, moonlight (or headlamp) to the iconic Roosevelt Arch to toast the world’s first national park.
Snowshoe Mileage: approximately 5 miles
*NOTE: Private vehicles are not able to travel to the interior of the Park in the winter. However it is very much worth the high price to rent a private snowcoach to take us in to see more geothermal features, wildlife and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Equally as important, we will have these areas almost all to ourselves! The cost for a private snowcoach will be split among your group members and added to the tour price. So, for instance, if your group size is 6, this cost is $365 per person and if your group size is 8, this cost is $275.
This morning a hearty breakfast is in order, as we’ll be out -- and very active -- all day. We’ll tuck our lunches into our packs and head toward the park’s northeast entrance and the Lamar Valley. Our first hike takes us on a wide trail to the end of the Yellowstone Canyon and the Tower Fall overlook, where Tower Creek drops 132-foot into the Yellowstone River. The steep, columnar basalt cliffs on the opposite side of the river from the overlook are remnants of an ancient lava flow and will wow even those who are not into geology.
Our next hike starts at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch and follows Rose Creek up to one of three wolf acclimation pens built for the controversial reintroduction of wolves in the park in 1995. Three wolves transported from Canada were housed in this historic pen until they would acclimatize and not run back north. The pen was opened after several months and the three wolves began their new life in Yellowstone.
We’ll continue to drive further into the Lamar Valley, keeping our eyes open for bison, bighorn sheep and bald eagles as we venture further into the park. Wildlife in the valley is abundant in the winter. You may see bison, elk, deer, moose, coyotes, fox, bald eagles, wolves, and an occasional river otter along the way today. In fact, the Lamar Valley is now famous among wildlife observers as probably the best place in the world to view wild wolves, specifically in winter when they follow the ungulates (elk, deer, etc) down from higher terrain.
If there is enough time today, you'll have the option this afternoon or evening to soak in the natural mineral waters of Yellowstone Hot Springs. Relaxing in the outdoor pools is the perfect way to soak up the natural beauty of Yellowstone surrounding us.
Tonight's dinner is again downstairs at the Wonderland Cafe. You’ll be happy to relax with a glass of wine or hot chocolate next to the fire and regale one another with stories from the day. Your well-used muscles will appreciate how comfy and warm your bed feels tonight!
Snowshoe Mileage: up to 8 miles
This may be our last morning, but there is still fun to be had for those who want it! We'll get up early to enjoy one last snowshoe down the old stagecoach road from Mammoth all the way back down to our hotel in Gardiner, with beautiful vistas of towering snow-covered peaks, herds of bison and elk, and the glittering waters of the Yellowstone and Gardiner Rivers below us. You’ll have time to shower and pack up before we check out and return to Bozeman, where you can choose to extend your vacation (we think a couple days of downhill skiing in Big Sky is a great idea!) or return home.
Snowshoe Mileage: 4 milesBook this Tour
NIGHTS 1 - 4 >> WONDERLAND LODGE / GARDINER, MONTANA Wonderland is brand new, beautiful and small -- only 6 super cozy rooms -- and conveniently has a great restaurant on the main floor. It is in the heart of the tiny downtown of Gardiner, right next to the entrance of Yellowstone National Park. From our snowy haven, we can set out on a variety of adventures.
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Arrival & Departure
Your guides meet you in the cool mountain town of Bozeman, Montana around lunchtime of the first day of the trip. If it’s possible for you to fly and arrive that morning, we can meet you at the airport. Otherwise, you can arrive any time the day before the trip begins. We’ll return to Bozeman’s airport the last afternoon of the trip, allowing you to fly out that afternoon. We can also leave you in downtown Bozeman so you can extend your stay, or visit nearby Big Sky Ski Resort. Bozeman (airport code BZN) is served by many major airlines: Alaska Air, Allegiant, Delta, Frontier, and United.
- A local Zephyr guide (or guides, if the group size dictates).
- Double occupancy lodging is included. If you are traveling solo, we will match you with another traveler of the same gender. However, you may pay a single supplement to have your own room.
- All of your meals and snacks are included, starting with dinner on Day 1 and ending with breakfast on Day 5. Gratuity for these meals is also included.
- All your transportation is included once you meet your guides on the first day except for the cost of our private snowcoach into and out of Yellowstone National Park, but we will book this for you and add this cost to your invoice.
- Trail passes and park entrance fees are included.
- NOT INCLUDED: Snowshoe rental, snowcoach (see above), beverages, desserts, optional gratuities to your guides, personal expenses, and travel to and from the destination.
When To Travel
Gardiner is over 5,000 feet and Mammoth Hot Springs is over 6,000 feet in elevation, so winter in Yellowstone can be cold and snowy. The key for a snowshoeing vacation is to pick the time period when there is plenty of snow on the ground and yet temperatures are moderate. In the early winter, in December and January, daytime highs average only 27 degrees and the snowpack is not yet full. So we prefer late January through early March when there is usually more snow on the ground, temperatures are warmer, and we have more daylight hours. Keep in mind it is still cold and snowy in these months but that is what we expect with a winter tour! Note snowcoaches stop running in early March.
Weather is always unpredictable and winter in Yellowstone is no exception! It is possible that there may be no snow, but don’t fret, as we will simply replace snowshoeing with alternate activities if there isn't enough snow.
While in Yellowstone, we’ll be taking the snowcoach to get to the interior of the park one day. These fun and funky snow vehicles move rather slowly but are definitely a part of the experience that allow us to do and see things that wouldn’t be possible without them, as private vehicles are not allowed (or able) to travel into the park's interior in the winter.
Changes to Your Itinerary
While everything under “What is Included” will remain the same, the actual restaurants, hotels, and activities listed in our itineraries are subject to modifications. Changes that are out of our control are common – a restaurant closes or loses its awesome chef, a winery changes its visiting hours, a hotel gets remodeled, a road or trail undergoes construction. You are entrusting us to create an outstanding vacation for you and so it is possible we may take the liberty of making necessary changes (even at the last minute, during the guides’ scout trip) to the itinerary that will improve your overall trip experience. If there is any one experience that is going to make or break your trip, please discuss this with us in advance! We attempt to keep our website itinerary as current as possible and communicate any major changes with you in the weeks prior to the tour.
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