Yellowstone National Park may be even more amazing during the winter than the summer! However, due to the rugged terrain, Yellowstone National Park roads are closed winters to motorized vehicle traffic, except state road 212 from the North Entrance to Mammoth Hot Springs to the Northeast Entrance (Silver Gate, Montana).
In order to allow visitors to enjoy Yellowstone year round, Snow Coach tours began providing easy access to park’s geological wonders in 1955. Snowcoach tours begin annually in mid-December and run until early March.
An ongoing debate about the damage snowmobile emissions caused in Yellowstone National Park resulted in a proposed removal of snowmobiles from the park in 2000. However, instead of a complete ban, park services implemented limited snowmobile access regulations and encouraged a change to the use of snowcoaches by park visitors. Despite the controversy, in 2004 ISMA (International Snowmobile Manufacturer’s Association) indicated that: Snowmobiles and snowcoaches account for less than 2 percent of all NOx emissions from vehicles in the Parks … and less than 6 percent of particulate matter emissions from mobile sources.
Beginning the Snow Coach tour
Tours into Yellowstone are guided, so winter visitors learn about the amazing geology from an expert. Our tour started right from our hotel in West Yellowstone with a pick-up by the snowcoach, then headed into the park entrance with our guide, Doug Kiel, who also spent his summers as an Educational Guide in Yellowstone National Park.
Yellowstone is the world’s first National Park, having been established in 1872. The area is on top of the Yellowstone Caldera, which is sometimes referred to as the Yellowstone Supervolcano due to its enormous size — 55 kilometers (34 mi) by 72 kilometers (45 mi). Winter visitors see evidence of this huge “hotspot” in the free flowing rivers that don’t freeze over, even when the temperatures drop to the -40 range.
Wildlife Viewing from the Snow Coach
The first wildlife we met in the early morning light along Riverside Road in Yellowstone was a Bald Eagle. This one (pictured) and its mate occupy a three-mile area of the park. In 2009, 24 Bald Eagle nests were known to be in the park.
While the Bald Eagle was listed as an endangered species in 1967, preservation efforts have upgraded the population to just threatened. Parks, like Yellowstone, where the birds are protected help maintain this healthy population.
Yellowstone’s open water over the winter is important to the Bald Eagle. These eagles can spot fish in the water while they’re soaring, gliding, or flapping as much as several hundred feet above the water. The average water temperature in Yellowstone never drops below the upper 30s in areas affected by the caldera.
More animals live in Yellowstone during the winter than other seasons, due to the availability of smaller prey, such as fish and small animals. Predators such as bobcats, lynx and mountain lions inhabit the park in relatively small numbers. Coyotes, wolves and red fox have plentiful populations, along with such large animals as bison, moose, deer and elk.
Geothermal Features of Yellowstone
Yellowstone is estimated to have around 10,000 geothermal features. Geysers, such as Old Faithful, are the most well-known, although you can also see mud pots, fumaroles (steam vents) and hot springs on your winter snowcoach tour of the park.
Snow Coach Tour Information
Yellowstone Snow Coach Tours listings — http://www.destinationyellowstone.com/play/snow-coach/
West Yellowstone Tourism Information — http://www.westyellowstonechamber.com/
Taylor, J.M. (March, 2004) Wyoming Court Rejects Snowmobile Ban. Environment & Climate News/The Heartland Institute.
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