Yellowstone National Park is a go-to travel destination in the summer months for scores of visitors, but in the winter, closed off to all motorized traffic, the park slows down. It doesn’t get any less mesmerizing. With the crowds gone and a blanket of snow coating the landscape, the wildlife come to life amidst the burbling thermal features.
It’s a scene few get to experience, but those who do will never forget it. “Winter provides an entirely different experience of Yellowstone,” said Teton Science School biologist Paul Brown. “Without the crowds it really becomes the wildlife’s world. Bison often gather around Yellowstone’s thermal features like Old Faithful Geyser to forage and conserve energy, and winter offers a special opportunity for possible sightings of wolves, whose breeding season is in February with pair bonding starting in December.”
These magical landscapes are only accessible via snowcoach or snowmobile—and the snowcoach winter safaris hosted by Wildlife Expeditions of Teton Science Schools are far, far warmer. “You still see all the beauty and majesty of Yellowstone, but from the comfort of one of our Mercedes snowcoaches,” said Paul Cherry, director at Wildlife Expeditions. “You can poke your head out and get a feel for the cold, but then you can slip back in and get sip of hot cocoa and coffee.”
The two day-long winter safari options take guests to either Old Faithful or the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. They run Dec. 15, 2015 through Mar. 15, 2016.
Creature Comforts in the Wild
Both winter safaris offer a chance to see Yellowstone’s rugged thermal features as well as the animals that call the park home. “Seeing the thermals in the winter is just brilliant. The contrast of the hot geothermal features and that crisp, cold pristine air is really beautiful,” Cherry said. “And you get a chance to see wolves, bison, elk, deer, coyotes and foxes. We’ve even seen mountain lions and bobcats. They really just stand out when they’re on that snowy white backdrop.”
Thanks to the expeditions’ affiliation with Teton Science Schools, guides are all biologists by trade. Each has a degree in natural sciences related to the Yellowstone ecosystem. “All of the Old Faithful and Grand Canyon winter tours are first and foremost an educational excursion,” Cherry added. “We’re focusing on sharing everything we can about the ecology with our guests. It’s almost a classroom experience, but taken outdoors.”
Indeed, it’s a pretty cushy classroom experience. Throughout the day, guests get breakfast, lunch, warm drinks and snacks. They can borrow high quality binoculars and spotting scopes to get a better look at grazing bison. And there’s no need to worry about getting a good view of whatever wonder lies outside the window. Tours are limited to seven guests to ensure everyone a window seat.
The full-day Old Faithful Winter Expedition visits the thermal features of Old Faithful, Upper Geyser Basin and West Thumb Geyser Basin. Pricing: $375/participant or the expedition can be privately arranged for $2,625.
The full-day Grand Canyon Winter Expedition visits the dramatic Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River and its massive Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls, as well as the Hayden Valley, Mud Volcano and West Thumb Geyser Basin. $400/participant, or privately arranged for $2,800.
For more information, visit tetonscience.org/wildlife-expeditions/home.