Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone in winter: Cold faithful

December 2, 2009, 8:16 am

It was still nearly two hours before daylight when the alarm clock jangled me from dreamland into cold reality. Groggily, I went to the window, only to find that sometime earlier that night, Mother Nature carefully painted the windowpane with a delicate and intricate pattern of light blue frost.

Well, at least it wasn't snowing. But I couldn't be too certain. With no lights outside, it was as dark as a cave. At home, I'd still have a few hours of nod to rely on. I quickly showered and piled on layer after layer of warm clothing, packed a heavy dose of foot warmers into my boots, loaded up cameras, lenses, binoculars and tripods and headed down to the lobby to start my day. By sunup, we'd be out in the Lamar Valley, waiting for the wolves to awaken and begin their own day.

This is Yellowstone National Park. In my opinion, winter is the most glorious time to visit. You share the experience of seeing our first national park just as Jim Bridger and the early mountain men and trappers saw it - well, almost. Though it's a far cry from the summer visitation numbers, nearly 100,000 hardy folks are expected visit Yellowstone this winter. You'll be glad to know grizzlies and black bears are snoozing until the spring thaw.

Since only the north entrance to the park is accessible by private vehicle in the winter, it's much more practical to fly into the area and take a shuttle from Bozeman, Mont., to the town of West Yellowstone.

At this first stopping-off point, plan to spend a day or so in West Yellowstone. It's a fun and lively town, especially if you'd like to do some scenic snowmobiling, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. There are numerous outdoor-oriented motels in the area. Most sites, shops and restaurants in town are in easy walking distance of one another. The Bar N Ranch is a rustic and romantic B&B and restaurant with cozy cabins just outside of town that also turns out wonderful, hearty food.

Though there are folks who prefer to schlep their own sports equipment along with them, unless you're driving, it's much more convenient to rent cross-country skis and snowshoes at the reasonable rates you'll find here. There are several small outfitters in West Yellowstone for that very purpose. The Rendezvous Ski Trails at the edge of town are well-groomed and perfect for novices and Olympians alike. The extensive trails are quiet and offer a nice variety of skill levels. As you pass alongside the Madison River, you might catch a glimpse of elk, bison or moose grazing contentedly.