A visit to Yellowstone National Park should be on every traveler’s bucket list. The natural beauty and wonder of this place welcomes millions of visitors every year (over 4 million in 2017). During the high season, you can expect to share the park with hundreds-of-thousands of tourists. For some of us, heavy crowds can diminish the overall experience. As an avid traveler and nature lover, I have to agree with this sentiment.
I believe beautiful scenery is best experienced when it’s silent enough to hear and vacant enough to be present without bumping shoulders with a stranger. This is probably why I’ve never visited Yellowstone National Park, that is, until now. Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to tour Yellowstone on the back of a snowmobile, courtesy of the Wyoming Office of Tourism. The best part was that I would be visiting the park during winter, which is the low-season for tourists.
Visiting Yellowstone National Park in Winter
Winter is a glorious time to visit Yellowstone National Park. Fresh layers of snow and ice add an element of beauty and mystery to the already gorgeous landscape. Rarely seen animals come out to play, and winter visitors can enjoy all of this without fighting a crowd. And, for the adventurous traveler, a snowmobile tour allows for a more private, adrenaline-fueled experience!
My “Wild West” Snowmobile Tour of the Park
Being a gal from the midwest, where we are no strangers to winter, you’d assume that I would have ridden on a snowmobile at some point in my life, but you’d be wrong. This adventure involved me not only riding on a machine but also driving one! Admittedly, I was pretty nervous.
This particular snowmobile tour was run by Gary Fales Outfitting. All of the gear was provided – helmet, suit, gloves, boots, and (of course) the snowmobile itself. Our group of five tourists was led by an experienced guide, Terry, who gave us a quick rundown of the machine, which seemed simple enough to operate.
Bravery? Er… um… I’m working up to it.
Knowing that I was the least experienced, Terry placed my sled second in line – right behind him. Our home base was Cody, Wyoming, so we entered through the east entrance of the park. Off we went, six little ducks in the row, slicing through the snow in one of the wildest places in the world.
“How am I a doing? I asked Terry after about a mile.
“Well, you’re going really slow…” he replied with a smile.
“Oh…” I said, tightening my already white-knuckled grip and swallowing hard. “I’ll speed up.”
After a few more miles, I was beginning to feel more comfortable behind the wheel. I finally relaxed and started to enjoy the ride, as we ventured farther and farther into the white abyss ahead of us. Maybe I’m actually good at this, I thought, and then…
We happened upon a barricade of bison!
A small herd of bison stood in front of us, with two enormous bulls proudly blocking the road. It was an incredible sight; The two bulls posed back to back, creating the illusion of a two-headed beast! After a while, it appeared they had no intention of moving. This meant we needed to go around, through deep, fresh snow.
When it was my turn to mount the snowy hill, I tried to follow Terry’s example, but I failed miserably. My sled tipped sideways and my fellow travelers, who were waiting and watching behind me, yelled for me to “stop!” If I went any farther, I was going to tip the sled over, possibly on top of my leg. Meanwhile, the two bulls were watching me curiously. I couldn’t move, for fear of tipping over and/or getting mauled. So I stayed put, contemplating what to do next.
A moment (eternity) later, I was yanked out of my predicament by a fellow few tourists in my group. With my snowmobile level once again, I had a second attempt at mounting the snow bank. I gripped the accelerator and plowed up and over the bank and through fresh snow, widely weaving around the bison. I made it! I laughed out loud… what a thrill!
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Aside from my adrenaline-filled bison encounter, the highlight of the snowmoblie trip was seeing the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone in winter. I imagine it’s quite a different sight during the summertime, but we had the view all to ourselves. It was peaceful and, of course, breathtakingly beautiful. The snow sparkled whenever the sun would peek out of the clouds, as a waterfall cascaded in the distance and ravens flew overhead.
Snowmobiling for Newbies
If you’re afraid of driving a snowmobile in Yellowstone National Park, don’t be. By the time we turned around and headed back to the east entrance, I was completely comfortable maneuvering the machine. And, I was having a lot of fun! If I can do it, anyone can.
Recommendations for Cody, Wyoming
Cody, Wyoming, is only 52 miles from the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park. It is an excellent choice for your home base when visiting the park. Buffalo Bill’s small western town offers an authentic and local experience, and it less crowded (so I hear) than Jackson.
- Accommodation: The Holiday Inn is very nice and centrally located.
- Eating Out: For an amazing Wyoming steak experience, try the Rib and Chop House. Seriously, the meat will melt in your mouth! For breakfast, visit Irma’s in the Buffalo Bill Hotel for classic western atmosphere. The ornate bar was a gift to Buffalo Bill from Queen Victoria.
- Other Activities in Cody: Make sure you visit the Buffalo Bill Center of West for a chance to explore five world-class museums all in one enormous, divided building. I came in with mild expectations and was completely blown away! These museums offer such a high-quality experience, they rival the incredible museums I visited in Washington DC.
Nearby Attractions in Thermopolis, Wyoming
During my 4 day trip to Wyoming, I had the opportunity to do an overnight trip to Thermopolis. The small town is famous for its natural hot springs, but there are plenty of other attractions to keep you busy.
- Accommodation: The Best Western Plus Plaza is centrally located, charming, and has a natural hot spring fed hot tub.
- Hot Springs: There are several soaking options, including the family-friendly Star Plunge, which features a water slide, and the picturesque Hot Springs State Park Bath House offering a view of the Rainbow Terraces.
- Wyoming Dinosaur Center: This museum has an impressive collection of fossils and gems.
- Merlin’s Hideout: Vist this family-owned shop creating North American fur and leather products. Recently they made a Buffalo coat for Arnold Schwarzenegger as well as Kurt Russell’s character in the film “The Hateful Eight.”
- Wind River Canyon: Drive through and stop for photos along this scenic area. In the summer, enjoy guided fishing and rafting tours.
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*This trip was sponsored by Travel Wyoming. As always, everything written on my blog is my own opinion.*