Yellowstone By Snowmobile

Sixty-six below zero.

That’s the coldest temperature ever recorded in Yellowstone: -66ºF at Madison, near the park’s west entrance at West Yellowstone, Montana. How cold is that? Cold enough to break the thermometer that made the measurement back in 1933.

It was fitting then, that we should stop at this momentous site for a break at the warming hut in Madison. Luckily, on this sunny January day, the air was much, much warmer—a toasty 16º F (-8º C) that swelled to nearly 24º F (-4ºC) by midday.

Riding snowmobiles makes you much more aware of the cold, and although I was bundled up fiercely, I felt the cold burn on my cheeks as I sped across the wintry landscape of the park. It’s just 30 miles from West Yellowstone to Old Faithful, but I didn’t rush the journey, stopping along the way to enjoy the immense wildlife of America’s first national park. Within the first hour I saw bison, elk, deer, fox, coyote, a bobcat, three bald eagles, and several trumpeter swans. Perhaps the white backdrop makes it easier to see the wildlife, or perhaps with fewer people, the animals are less shy, but my January safari was indeed action-packed.

Just last summer, I visited Yellowstone in the height of its busiest season, and though I enjoyed the wildlife, visiting in the dead of winter offered a far more intimate experience. I truly loved the lack of crowds and traffic. I loved the way I could pull aside and stare across a snow-filled landscape and watch a buffalo herd grazing before a line of geysers steaming skyward.

Though snowcoach tours can take you into the park with relative warmth and comfort, a guided snowmobile tour drops you right into the vast nature of the place, almost brushing shoulders with the bison. They also move much more quickly: we made it to Old Faithful by lunch, then spent the afternoon exploring the colorful geysers, steam vents and bubbling mud of Fountain Paint Pots.

Yellowstone in winter is a different planet, practically devoid of tourists and so remarkable in the colder light. I have always been a firm believer in traveling during the off-season, but I would go so far as to say that Yellowstone is actually better in January, on a snowmobile . . . as long as it stays above sixty below.


  1. Erin
    January 30, 2013, 2:00 pm

    Wonderful blog! Yellowstone is such a beautiful place and sounds like it’s amazing in the winter. I’ve been there a few times but never in the winter. I’ll be adding this to my list of places to go in the off-season!

  2. Ron Fowler
    Knoxville Tn Area
    January 30, 2013, 5:31 pm

    Did this a few years ago with my wife and two daughters. Beautiful, and the vegetable soup at the warming hut was tasty…

  3. Meagan
    Boise, ID
    February 2, 2013, 1:17 am

    Sadly, it’s devoid of tourists in the winter because it’s so expensive. Even when I was a year-round resident (and teacher) in West Yellowstone, a winter tour was out of my budget (check out Montana teacher salaries…). It’s out of character that a national park should cost so much to visit any season of the year.

    That said, thanks for your visit to this eclectic and fine little town that I was proud to call home for a few years. It’s a beautiful place and I miss it dearly.

    • Andrew Evans
      February 2, 2013, 12:24 pm

      Meagan, thanks so much for your perspective. Honestly (and I’m a cheap skate), I did not find Yellowstone so expensive in winter. In fact, I think you can get some better deals given the off-season prices. I know that hotels and food are definitely cheaper than in summertime, when I have paid double what I paid in January.

      I do hope that you have a chance to visit the park in winter some day. It’s totally worth it! Thanks so much for reading my blog–best, Andrew.

  4. Judy Wolfe
    Western Australia
    February 7, 2013, 9:25 am

    I have recently returned from my 2nd visit to Yellowstone in winter, loved it both times, I went with a tour group, we travelled in the OSVs, which was something different for me and my friend, (no snow in Western Australia!) we were so excited to see the wildlife, several coyotes, wolves, lots of elk and bison, bald eagles, an ermine, moose too. We enjoyed snowshoeing and dogsledding in Jackson Hole at the end of the trip, the winter scenery was wonderful, snow laden trees, frozen waterfalls and lakes, Old Faithful, loved it all, would go again in a heartbeat!

  5. David
    February 7, 2013, 11:18 am

    What kind of snowmachines were used in the video?

  6. letsmotor
    February 7, 2013, 3:25 pm

    It’s sad to be promoting visiting such glorious scenery via a snowmobile. Snowmobile lobbies have bullied their way into national parks. Noise and carbon pollution…. what a shame. Nat Geo I expect better from you.

    • Andrew Evans
      February 7, 2013, 3:45 pm

      To each his own. I realize there is much controversy about having snowmobiles in the park, with strong pro- and con- advocates. I am merely a traveler who wanted to see the park. Though I firmly agree that some places in the world should be off limits to all motor vehicles, I believe Yellowstone is big enough for all of us to share.

      National park regulations allow only guided single-file snowmobile tours on a few designated paths. This is the kind of trip I participated in and in no ways did I feel that we were disturbing the peace. On the contrary, a few hundred riders a day, all visiting the park by snowmobile offers a significantly lower impact than the hundreds of thousands of motor vehicles in summer. It is also (in my opinion) much less disruptive to animals. I was grateful for my experience snowmobiling in Yellowstone and I would recommend it to other travelers in a heartbeat.

      Thanks for reading my blog and for sharing your opinion.

  7. J.K.Herren
    United States
    February 7, 2013, 3:26 pm

    Yellowstone is beautiful…the bison are from another world. Learn to ski and soak up the real essence of this place.

  8. Sabina
    February 8, 2013, 4:40 am

    It was amazing. I have never been there, but I always want it. Your trip just gives me a hope that one day I will go to this NP, in spite of that it’s too far from my country. But I will. Specially after this video!!! Thank you for my dream!!!

  9. Alan Reimert
    United States
    February 8, 2013, 8:58 pm

    Regarding letsmotor and his comment on noise and carbon pollution. I live and work in Yellowstone National Park 10 months out of the year. New technology with snowmobiles has lessened the carbon and noise pollution you had when 2-stroke machines were allowed in the Park..
    Just imagine the noise and carbon pollution from all of the vehicles that are in the Park during the summer season. Not to mention pollution caused by vehicles leaking oil, coolant or other fluids. Check the numbers on vehicles in the Park during the summer season and their environmental impact on the Park. You may be less likely to scold Andrew for experiencing this winter wonderland that I live in.

  10. […] Yellowstone By Snowmobile. […]

  11. Girija
    Richmond CA
    February 21, 2013, 8:02 am

    I was in Yellowstone in May and it was glorious. We had the great fortune to see wolves hunt Elk, bison with little calves, coyote, and there was still snow in places. We also got to see the beauty and growth that spring brings. Yellowstone remains forever etched in my memory. My dream is to visit Yellowstone in winter and stay for a photography trip. Nature is so raw yet so powerful and beautiful at yellowstone.

  12. Angel
    United States
    March 4, 2013, 10:51 am

    We just got back from a snowmobile trip to Yellowstone (February 2013) and I want to echo Andrew’s sentiments: It was absolutely stunning. We took our 17 year old son and his friend and they both agreed it was the best trip they have ever taken (and we’ve done some pretty cool stuff over the years). I HIGHLY recommend going in the winter. We stayed in West Yellowstone and did a package deal that included the snowmobiles, the tour of Yellowstone, an additional day of snowmobiling in the National Forest outside of Yellowstone and hotel. We had an incredible tour guide in the park who shared a lot of knowledge of the park. Had we gone in the summer and just “done our own thing”, we never would have gained some really cool insight or had hiding animals pointed out to us.

    The tour companies have to be approved, you have to go in with a guide and a limited number of snowmobiles and you have to drive a 4-stroke snowmobile. Our snowmobiles were equipped with hand and seat warmers which when added to the appropriate clothing, gives you a comfortable ride in which to experience Yellowstone from a perspective other than a car.

  13. Zauberei
    March 8, 2013, 6:06 am

    This can be specifically what I was seeking for, thanks

  14. nellie
    March 23, 2013, 9:36 pm

    Hi,Andrew,your blog is so nice! I plan to travel in Yellowstone at the end of May this year.I wonder if it’s OK to be encamped in the tents in May…then I will decide whether I should go to buy the equipments. Is it too cold to live in the open air? Thanks!

    • Andrew Evans
      March 24, 2013, 11:19 am

      Yellowstone is still cold in May (Remember it’s very high altitude) but I think that camping in May is alright, as long as you bring really warm clothing). Good luck & have fun! AE

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    April 10, 2013, 11:30 am

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  16. Alan
    May 6, 2013, 11:27 am

    Awesome video! I’ve always wanted to snowmobile in Yellowstone. Such a beautiful place!

  17. […] Even when the temperature is subzero, you can find fun and beauty in Yellowstone – especially if visiting Yellowstone via snowmobile. […]

  18. Jason Blair
    October 26, 2017, 12:57 pm

    Andrew, would you be interested in a guided snowmobile tour in Colorado? We’re looking to host a few writers. Contact me via email for more information.