Guest Blog by Erin Clark
U.S. Programs Director
Few people are as familiar and enamored with forest ecosystems as Erin Clark is. Having spent time studying forest systems in Montana, Oregon, Connecticut, Alabama, Newfoundland, Slovenia, Germany, and Croatia, Erin's vast knowledge only stokes her passion for Yellowstone - its history, geothermal features, fire ecology, and, most significantly, its various winter gifts. EPI is lucky to have Erin leading our Yellowstone Wildlife Ecology Program to new and exciting places, including a winter program tracking carnivores and ungulates in the park.
5 Reasons to Visit Yellowstone in Winter
1. Unbelievable gobs of wildlife
During the winter, snow accumulates at great depths everywhere in Yellowstone and a lot of the high elevation areas become inhospitable. That causes the wildlife to congregate in much larger groups than they do in the summer, generally in valleys—where the roads are. That means you can see wildlife more reliably and in greater numbers than you would expect in the summer. Minus the bears, of course, which are denned up for the winter and typically start to emerge in March or April - prime time for our Yellowstone Winter Ecology course groups.
2. Solitude abounds
Yellowstone is notorious for summer traffic jams, which can leave you bottled up in your car for hours. Over three million people visit Yellowstone every year. You can come to Yellowstone in July and experience it with approximately 750,000 people or you could visit in February and share the wildlife and sights with very few. The moment you get out of your car and put on snowshoes you’re almost guaranteed to have the trail to yourself!
4. Winter travel in Yellowstone is a unique adventure
For those who hope to have memorable wildlife encounters, we recommend cross-country skis or snowshoes. If you're on course with EPI Yellowstone in the winter, you'll not only travel over the landscape on snowshoes, you'll use them as you gather data along transects. They're the best way to explore the beauty and sights as well the best method for performing hands-on science. Snowcoaches are funny looking vehicles that allow you to travel through the frosty landscape comfortably and can take you to a drop off point where you can access incredible trails along the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone or within sight of the largest geyser basins. They’re Yellowstone’s version of the glass bottom boat. If you’d like to be out in the elements as you experience the landscape traveling into the park on snowmobiles is also an option.
3. The drama of the thermal features can’t be beat
When a geyser expels steam in the winter or a hot spring boils, you get to experience their true power, because the cold air makes it tremendously clear just how much moisture and gases are being released. When the temperature of the air is at or below freezing, standing near a thermal feature is like standing in an open-air sauna, and you’ll appreciate the warmth more than you ever would during the sticky and hot summer months.
5. Did we mention the wildlife?
This one is worth repeating. In Yellowstone in winter, you can watch a fox listen and pounce on its prey under a foot of snow. You'll see bison become four-legged snow plows, using their large heads to create passages for the herd. In the early mornings, you can glass for wolves and watch them play or hunt. And in early spring, the bears will be waking up. Pronghorn, elk, bighorn sheep, and mule deer will all be in the lower elevations searching for food. It's like nothing you've ever experienced before.
Want to experience Yellowstone with the experts?
Learn about our Yellowstone Winter Ecology Program.