Winter Wonderland for Adventurers: Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park

by  Blane Bachelor | Mar 1, 2012
Snowshoe walker in the snow
Snowshoe walker in the snow / Jag_cz/iStock

Looking to squeeze in one last winter adventure before temperatures start to climb in the spring? Consider Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and the nearby Grand Teton National Park, both of which offer breathtaking, snow-swept landscapes, an abundance of winter sports, and a welcome absence of the fanny-pack-wearing masses of tourists who descend in warmer months.

Exploring these stunning national parks – Yellowstone is the country’s first, designated as such in 1872 by the Western explorers who were dazzled by its beauty – is a perfect respite for  shredded quads after skiing in nearby Jackson, or a stand-alone trip for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or traveling by snow coach or snowmobile.

Plus, it's supremely affordable: An entrance fee of $25 per car for 7-day period covers admittance to Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park.

Old_Faithful_Yellowstone_in_Winter / Blane Bachelor

Yellowstone National Park officially closes until the summer season on March 15 , but that still means plenty of opportunities for day trips to explore its 3,472 square miles, which span Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. One must-do while you're there: Watching the spectacular eruptions of the world’s most famous geyser, Old Faithful. Roughly every 90 minutes, this geyser, one of more than 300 in Yellowstone, shoots steaming water up to 130 feet in the air for about a minute. Several sets of bleachers sit on a boardwalk around the geyser, but in the winter months, they're blissfully empty during eruptions. (Photography buffs will no doubt delight in the soft, snowy backdrop as well as not having to fight the crowds for their shot.)

Yellowstone is also teeming with wildlife, including 67 species of mammals and 322 species of birds. During the winter, you're likely to spot bison, red foxes, coyotes, and even swans. Watching the bison endlessly forage for vegetation, disrupting the deep snow with their massive heads in search of a few frozen blades of grass, is mesmerizing (and makes it impossible not to have a new sense of appreciation for your otherwise-ordinary sack lunch).

Commissioned operators for winter activities in Yellowstone will continue to offer services until the park closes. If your excursion piques your interest for a return trip in the spring or summer, it's advisable to make reservations pronto, as on-site lodging (which closes after this weekend and reopens on May 4) fills up quickly (lodging is managed by Xanterra Parks & Resorts; you can book through their website).

Bison_Winter_in_Yellowstone / Blane Bachelor

Grand Teton National Park, however, is open year-round and an easy, 45-minute drive from the town of Jackson. Vistas of majestic peaks and unmarred snow along Highway 191 virtually beckon for exploration, and there are trail heads for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. If you have a rental car, you can simply park, strap in, and go.

For general trip-planning information, see our Wyoming destination guide.

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