Bucket List Check #17 - Snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park

A big item I checked off my bucket list this year was snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park. Last summer, my husband, Mike and I rented an RV and traveled throughout Yellowstone and I kept wondering what the park would look like in the wintertime. I was enraptured by the park when we were there during the summer, but was also a little turned off by the sheer number of tourists. I started to dig around and learned that most of the roads are shut down in Yellowstone during the winter season, and in some areas, the only way to get into the park, is by snowmobile. After reading that, I was hooked. If snowmobiling is the only way in, then crowds are sure to be at a minimum. Sign me up, please!

So, we decided to go! We went late February 2019, and was extremely blessed by the snow gods during the entire trip (which turned out to be both good and bad!) We were driving from Park City, Utah, where we had just spent a few days skiing, and unfortunately, the tremendous amount of snowfall made what should have been a few hour trip turn into over a ten hours of driving!! Yikes. But come hell or highwater, Mike was committed to getting there, driving through blizzards and navigating around closed highways. Our destination was West Yellowstone, Montana, a cute town that happens to be the far west entrance to the park and where our snowmobile operator was located.

We arrived and ended up staying at a very nice VRBO home near the town. The next morning, after battling the monstrous blizzard, we came to learn that for the first time since 1974, the town of West Yellowstone had closed the schools due to all the snowfall from the previous day. Thank you, Mother Nature!! You couldn't ask for a better day to go snowmobiling!!

Me in West Yellowstone MT
I'm 5'9'' and you can see how high the snow was after this blizzard!

We loaded up towards town to our tour operator, Yellowstone Vacation Tours, where you could opt for either entering the park by snowmobile or in one of those buses with big-ass snow tires.

Yellowstone Vacation Tours

After checking in, Yellowstone Vacation Tours provides all the gear you need - which was a lot. To be honest, I don't think I've ever been so bundled up in my entire life. If visions of Ralphie's brother from a Christmas Story, all wrapped up in his snow suit come to mind, then you would be correct. You will wear over your already multiple layers of long underware, jeans, sweater AND winter coat - a snowsuit, multiple pairs of gloves and socks, snow boots, goggles, neck gator, head wrap, and a helmet. It definitely helped keep me warm, and to be honest, after spending all day out in the park, I only started to get chilled towards the very end of the tour.

Shelley and Corey Peterson on their snowmobile tour of Yellowstone National Park
Our friends, Shelley and Corey Peterson on their snowmobile. 
Check out how much gear you have to wear!

You must go through all the safety features of operating the snowmobile, which takes about 30 - 45 minutes and then you're off. They have a maximum speed of 30 mph in the park, which is still pretty fast, when travelling by snowmobile, especially when you hit a bump and are sitting behind the driver (which I was!).

One thing I will mention is that it helps (if you travel to many National Parks) to have an annual National Park pass that lets you and another adult and up to 2 children admitted for free in almost any National Park during an entire year, for only $80. Given daily park passes are over $20 per person, it can save you a lot of money.
Snowobiling Into Yellowstone National Park
Coming up at the entrance to Yellowstone National Park

Upon entering the park, you begin to notice how quiet and "dead" the park seems, with the only sounds being the water from the rivers and the engines of the snowmobiles. I noticed no birds or rabbits furrowing - everything just seemed like it was in total hibernation mode.

One really interesting thing of note were the trumpeter swans, who apparently come in from Canada and stay during the winter. I guess this is their idea of coming south for the winter. They were out for a swim that day. Due to the thermal activity of the entire Yellowstone area, the temperature of the river stays a consistent 60-80 degrees, even during the winter.

Trumpeter Swans in Yellowstone National Park
It didn't take long to start noticing some more life, the deeper we ventured into the park.
Coyote at Yellowstone National Park
I spied this beautiful coyote hunting for some breakfast.

Another amazing fact about Yellowstone is the sheer size of the Park. When we were there the previous summer, it would take hours to get to certain locations in the Park because it's just that big. There is no way you can ever see everything in the Park in one day. A week, maybe. But not one day. Plus with all the tourists, single lane roads and the frequent "moose", "bear" or "buffalo" traffic jam, visiting Yellowstone takes a lot of patience.

After snowmobiling for a good hour, we finally stopped to check out some geysers. I was hopeful that the same vibrant colors we saw in the geysers during the summertime would persist throughout the winter, and sure enough, I was not disappointed. 

Geyser at Yellowstone National Park in the wintertime
Geyser at Yellowstone National Park in the wintertime 
Believe it or not, there are bugs and algae that live in the thermal waters of these geysers.  The many species of algae gives each geyser its unique colors.
Geyser at Yellowstone National Park in the wintertime
Geyser at Yellowstone National Park in the wintertime

Fire and Ice at Yellowstone National Park
I love this image because it shows you how cold it is, with the ice covering the deadwood, and how warm the ground is. If you look closely, you can see buffalo prints in the far right corner. Apparently, buffalo in Yellowstone have a lifespan 5 years shorter than most other wild American buffalo, primarily because they walk in and drink the toxic water of the geysers, which contiain chemicals such as methane and arsenic, among others.

We continued on our snowmobiles, making our way towards Old Faithful, until our tour operator suddenly stopped and motioned for us all to stop. A wild buffalo (who I remembered from the previous summer, as a loner buffalo always hanging around the main road) strolled lazily past us, on the other side of the road...about five feet away!  Everyone was dead quiet as he passed by us, not wanting to make any sudden movements. I secretly thanked this buffalo, who I like to call Lewis, for allowing me to take this picture of him as he passed by.

Buffalo at Yellowstone National Park in the wintertime

Perhaps he was happy to see some humans, as I imagine it can get quite lonely in Yellowstone during the wintertime. A few weeks after we went, someone posted on YouTube a video of a bison charging some snowmobilers in Yellowstone, so we caught him on a good day. 

Towards the end of the tour, you make your way to see Old Faithful, who faithful as ever, shot up for us. Here you will stop for a lunch, provided by the tour company, and can go into the Visitor Center to warm up and use the bathroom.
Old Faithful Geyser at Yellowstone National Park in the wintertime
Taking photographs of Old Faithful during the wintertime is a challenge given no contrasting colors.

After having lunch, you will make your way back to towards the park exit and the town of West Yellowstone. It is a long trip back, with very few stops. Sitting in the back, I was grateful to have heated handlebars to hold on to, as this was when the temperatures seemed to drop and the chill was starting to seep past, into my snowsuit.

At the park entrance, we stopped and our tour guide took a picture of our group.
We Finished our Snowmobile Tour at Yellowstone National Park in the wintertime
Overall, an amazing experience that I would repeat in a heartbeat!! Is visitng Yellowstone National Park on a snowmobile next on your bucket list yet?

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published