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Why You Should Take a Winter Road Trip to Yellowstone.

Why You Should Take a Winter Road Trip to Yellowstone.

Posted by Outdoors Connected Staff Member on Jan 3rd 2018

Like many previous end of/first of year holiday breaks we again took a road trip to Yellowstone. Traveling from southeast Idaho we travel to West Yellowstone, MT then on to Big Sky (a great place to see bighorn sheep right off the side of the road as they come down to lick the salt from the road), Bozeman and Livingston, and then drop down to Gardiner and the north entrance to the park. While all other roads in the park are closed to vehicle travel after it closes in early November, the only road open to vehicle travel in the park during the winter months is the one from the north entrance to Mammoth Hot Springs and on through Lamar valley in the northern part of the park ending in Cooke City/Silver Gate, MT. But making a trip during this time of year is well worth it and here are some of the reasons why.

  • 1.The Paradise Valley experience. The road from Livingston, MT to Gardiner and the north entrance to the park (approx. 52 miles) takes you through scenic Paradise Valley. As with all previous years we literally saw several herds of 100+ elk and deer. We also saw a few bighorn sheep, who along with the elk and deer, have come there for wintering. Driving precaution is needed as often times the animals are crossing from one side of the road to the other. We were fortunate enough to also see several bald eagles perched atop trees overlooking the Yellowstone River. 
  • 2.The abundance of wildlife you will see in the park. From the North Entrance to Mammoth Hot Springs keep your eyes open for bighorn sheep as they will be found on both sides of the canyon. We especially enjoyed seeing this bighorn sheep providing his powerfully built silhouette atop the cliffs on the east part of the canyon. We also saw up close bighorn sheep that were hanging out along the road side near the bridge that crosses the Yellowstone shortly after the Tower-Roosevelt junction.

  • Right in Mammoth Hot Springs we saw elk who have chosen this location to spend the winter. They will be around the yards of the facilities and living quarters and on the surrounding hillsides. While they are seemingly concentrated in the Mammoth area, we also saw them throughout our trip as they often congregate in herds.
  • Also to be seen in abundance during the winter are Yellowstone’s mighty bison, especially when you enter Lamar Valley. Remember, Lamar Valley has been given the nickname of the Serengeti of North America because of its abundance and variety of animal life that live there. It’s fun to watch them move the snow around with their heads in the search for some vegetation. As in all seasons of the year, they will be found on the road creating their own little traffic jams. Of course, we don’t mind. In addition, a few coyotes also provided us with viewing entertainment as they moved across the ridge tops, threateningly moved ravens off of a carcass, or calmly sat watching across the valley. While we did not see any river otter this trip, you can often spot them in the Lamar river or on its banks, as it parallels the road as it runs through the valley. Look for otter slide paths on the banks of the river as obvious evidence of their presence.

  • During our trip we saw several moose, nine to be exact. Most of the moose we spotted were in the eastern part of Lamar Valley between the confluence of the Lamar and Soda Butte rivers and Ice Box Canyon. This count included four big bull moose in the meadows across from Pebble Creek Campground. A lone wolf, also found in this area, provided us and many onlookers with an ongoing concert of howling as he moved slowly across the valley. Viewing wolves is always a treat, and we rarely come to Yellowstone in the winter (or summer) without seeing at least one.

  • 3.No crowds, only a few friendly enthusiasts. Visitors who you will see in the park this time of the year are usually real outdoor wildlife adventurous type folks. As such, you will often find them congregated together with their powerful scopes and cameras aimed at wolves that have been spotted. As with previous years we found these folks to be helpful and friendly in assisting you to see what they are looking at. They are usually more than willing to invite you to look through their powerful scopes for a real up close view of the animals they are watching. However, we strongly recommend that you bring your own scope and nice cameras so you can spot, view, capture in film, and control your own animal watching. It truly is the highlight of this kind of a trip. There are small scopes that can be attached to your cell phones that can provide some descent magnification allowing you to snap some quick photos and with greater magnification than with your phone alone.
  • 4.Plenty low cost lodging available. During this “off season” the motel prices in Livingston, where we like to stay on during on winter trip, are significantly reduced. We have stayed at various motels during our trips over the years and find the folks to be hospital and helpful to you the customer. This year we stayed at the Travel Lodge at a room cost for 2 queen beds only $42. The only problem, we miss their continental breakfast as we are well on our way to the park to catch the sunrise experience as it first casts its light on the mountains near Baronette Peak. It’s quite a sight.

A Few Recommendations for Your Trip

Because you will want to thoroughly enjoy your winter experience in Yellowstone, be sure to come well prepared. This includes:

  • Warm clothing. The temperatures this time of year in the park can be very cold, and you didn’t come all this way to Yellowstone to just sit in your warm car. Rather, you want to be dressed so you can spend time outside viewing the animals. Layering of clothing is especially important as you move from your vehicle to the outside and back to your vehicle, experiencing a rather significant temperature change.
  • Head Covering. The greatest heat loss from the body occurs through the head. A good hat that provides both a covering for the head and ears will go a long way to help keep your experience more enjoyable.
  • Good foot gear. As you know, to get that perfect photograph often times will require that you walk through snow or tread slippery terrain. A good snow boot with proper tread will both keep your feet warm and protect you from unnecessary falls. As for socks, we have found that "Heat Warmer" long socks are very comfortable and contains the heat well for your feet.
  • Spotting Scope. Sometimes you are lucky to be able to see wolves and moose at fairly close range. However, often times they will be hundreds of yards away or farther, out in a meadow, on a mountain side, or across a valley. The right scope with the right power can allow you to see the animals up close and personal – their eyes and other facial features, the contour of their fur as it covers them various body parts, or maybe some other detail worth viewing. It’s fun to watch the animals far and close with your naked eye, but when they are far from you, it’s a wonderfully unique experience and even sensation to view them and their details up close. If you haven't already, be sure to check out the Optics we have available on out website.
  • Snacks. If your adventure to winter Yellowstone is like ours, then you will pretty much be in the park from before sunrise to sun set – always on the hunt for the next animal spotting or perfect landscape photo. So, having some tasty and nutritious snacks close at hand can help keep you going during your day long adventure.

If your planning a trip to Yellowstone, take time to visit