Yellowstone National Park
Located in adjoining states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, Yellowstone National Park boasts over 3,400 square miles of pristine natural habitat comprised of lakes, canyon, rivers, mountains, waterfalls, and more.
While the park is open year round, winter is certainly the least busy, yet arguably one of the most beautiful times of the year. Although winter access is typically limited due to road closures, the crowds are way less prevalent.
Those willing enough to brave the cold to experience Yellowstone by snowmobile, shall be greatly rewarded with a magical winter wonderland filled with curious and active wildlife.
Also wildly prominent, is a predator-prey complex of large game, which we actually got to witness!
A plethora of top of the line snowmobiles awaited our arrival at our snowmobile outfitter (Two Top Snowmobile Rentals). We checked in and geared up with rental boots, gloves, snowsuits, and helmets. Ready for the cold, we went outside to meet up with the rest of the tour group to receive an orientation on operating the snowmobiles. The controls turned out to be very intuitive and quite similar to an atv or jet ski… with the most important being the hand-warmer grips to keep your fingers from becoming ice cubes!
When everybody was ready, we rode through town towards the west entrance of Yellowstone Park in a convoy of snowmobiles. As a national holiday that day (MLK Day), entrance to the park was actually free (normally $25/sled)!
Cruising for Critters
We cruised down the road a little while, getting used to controlling the sleds. It was not long until we came upon our first big game spotting of the trip. Needless to say, nearly every other snow tour company was already there watching the action. Across the river, less than 100 yards away we noticed a small herd of bison entering the freezing cold river. Our tour guide informs us that the bison are most likely being pushed by a pack of wolves! Sure enough, somebody spotted a single wolf standing watch, halfway up the hillside, with his buddies’ surely hiding nearby.
We watched as the group of bison crossed the river to escape the confrontation. Then they climbed up the embankment and on to the road right in front of us. It was a little unnerving at first watching these enormous 1000lb+ wild animals eyeing us and nonchalantly stroll by. We stood behind our snowmobiles for “cover”. Bison can be dangerous if they decide to charge, but our guide reassures us that they have never done so towards snowmobiles.
It was interesting, yet saddening to watch the herd study the carcass of their lost comrade, which was picked clean by wolves and other scavengers. The herd was certainly aware of the predators in the area and quite upset about the event. A couple of the larger bulls trampled through the deep snow and chased off scavenging ravens. We watched for about 15 minutes as each herd member walked single file past the carcass, paying their respects.
Once the herd cleared out, they got back up on the road and headed in the same direction as us. We managed to make it past them, jockeying back and forth across the road, probably annoyed at the snowmobiles. Along the way, we spotted a nice sized bull elk, two bald eagles, and a couple trumpeter swans.
We made a couple more stops along our morning jaunt, one of which was to check out a series of geothermal sites. A boardwalk encircled a group of geysers, hot springs, and paint-pots all gurgling and bubbling away. The tour guide was very informative and passionate about Yellowstone’s ecosystem and history and told us stories and facts along the way. After that, we headed up the road to check out one last waterfall.
Old Faithful: The Main Event
We arrived at Old Faithful Visitor Center just in time for a well-deserved break and a bit of warming up. Considering we brought our own sack lunch, we headed inside to check out the gift shop first. Then we made our way to grab a seat and eat our lunch as we waited for Old Faithful. We caught a glimpse of multiple other geysers erupting down through the valley known as Geyser Basin. The scattered geysers created a series of steam clouds and rainbows, all back-dropped by a glistening winter landscape.
More people eventually gathered and we finally got a glimpse of Old Faithful in full effect. We watched the geyser spew 1000’s of gallons of boiling water and steam up in the air for close to 10 minutes. What surprised us was that most of the audience seemed to disappear only after a few minutes of initial eruption. Crazy to think people would come all this way to see Yellowstone by snowmobile, only to watch part of the main event. Regardless, it is fully satisfying watching one of nature’s finest spectacles until the end.
Long Road Home
After lunch, the snowmobile tour headed up the road to see one last waterfall before making the 30mi trek back. On the way back, we made a couple stops to check out some more wildlife and take a few pictures. We caught a glimpse of a coyote prowling through the woods and more elk having a drink in the river.
Let me tell you, 8 hours driving through Yellowstone by snowmobile is no joke! I drove the entire time and Nichole was on the back constantly taking pictures with her new camera. The snowmobiles weren’t difficult to drive, but more like driving a boat or jet ski, than an atv. Kind of just point it where you want to go and hold on. Luckily it wasn’t too cold (~25F), but apparently normal temperatures for winter in the area are well into the negatives. The snowsuits we rented did the job for the most part. However, I’m not sure if we would have been warm enough if it were any colder.
We highly recommend experiencing Yellowstone during any season, for its breathtaking beauty and abundant wildlife. However, we especially recommend seeing Yellowstone by snowmobile! Just be sure to dress warm and bring lots of layers!