Yellowstone: A Winter Wonderland

DON’T MISS THE SHORT VIDEO AT THE END OF THE TEXT!

This two million-acre National Park is a must see stop any time of year, but in winter Yellowstone becomes an epic immersive experience. I came to photograph the animals known to mass in lower elevations during cold weathers. I left with the awareness that there is so much more to see, to savor, and to photograph than I had ever imagined. 

Home to the greatest collection of otherworldly geothermal features found anywhere on the planet, gushing geysers, hissing fumaroles, bubbling mud pots, frozen waterfalls, and steaming gem-colored mineral pools, when surrounded by snow, appear even more brilliant than the rest of the year.

Although the bears hibernate, bison, elk, mule deer, moose, wolves, and coyotes roam the park. While tougher to spot during summer months, against the snowy backdrop, they become far easier to see. The contrasts of clear blue skies, snow-blanketed fields, steamy geysers, and woolly animals make for memorable images. In your mind and on camera.

Yellowstone’s herds of iconic bison swipe snow away from buried grass with their giant heads, a vision very few people are lucky enough to enjoy.  The snow on their shaggy coats make these formidable animals look even more impressive than they already are.

Not many people visit Yellowstone during winter so there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the natural beauty away from everyone else and to savor the solitude. At no other time of the year is it possible that you may find the most popular trails so empty. Old Faithful continues to perform just outside the Snow Lodge, where crowds are non-existent compared to the summer months. You may be the only person, as I often was, watching the display.

One of the most unique features about Yellowstone in the winter is that travel within the park is very limited. Most roads are groomed for over-snow vehicles only. Equipped with tracks, sometimes with front skis or four oversized low-pressure tires, these vehicles provide an easy escape from sub-zero temperatures. As opposed to life at home, traffic jams don’t involve cars in the winter.

If you can brave the cold, you’re in for an exceptionally memorable trip.  Winter weather in Yellowstone can be severe, but when you’ve dressed appropriately (lots of layers with heated boot and glove warmers) it’s fun to brave the cold.  On more than one day, early morning temperatures were far below zero. And we all survived with great stories and photos.

Combine the abundance of wildlife, a lack of human visitors along with a fresh blanket of snow, and you’ll begin to get a sense why Yellowstone is such a magical place, even in the dead of winter. 

This was another JVO photo adventure with Jeff Vanuga and John Shaw. Count me in on another trip with these two!

Photography: Lois Anderson / Video Production: Mariya Anderson