GRANITE PEAK PUBLICATIONS: Accompanying travelers to the national park since 2002

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Traveling to Yellowstone in the winter

Categories: Trip planning, Winter
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Silex Spring in winter

An island of rime-coated grass in Silex Spring’s runoff


For most of the winter, the West, East and South park entrances are closed to cars and trucks but open to skiers, snowshoers, snowcoaches, and snowmobiles. These winter activities are possible until early to mid March. Then most of the park is closed to everyone until various roads open between April 18 and 23. Call the Yellowstone National Park information office (307-344-2117) for current road information.

The one park road that is kept open all winter takes you from the North Entrance to the Northeast Entrance via Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower-Roosevelt. See the Park Map.

Only two park lodgings are open in winter—the Snow Lodge at Old Faithful and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. Go to Xanterra’s Yellowstone site for more information and reservations.

Also, be sure to read Janet’s report about her Tauck tour of the park in 2012. The many photos give you an idea of what it is like this time of year.

Happy New Year!

Have a good journey,
Beth Chapple, Editor

Updated Jan. 2, 2014

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Recommended walks in Yellowstone Park

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Until the park reopens fully next April, we won’t be able to follow any of its wonderful trails except for those open to skiing and snowshoeing. But I have happy memories—as well as anticipation for my own future use—of walking wonderful Yellowstone trails in the summer season.

Yellowstone Treasures’ first edition (2002) listed 59 trails that I recommend, having walked all of them myself, most of them several times. But now in the fourth edition we’re down to 56, and here’s my chance to explain what happened to those three lost trails!

First, in the Canyon area, the trail from Artists’ Point east along the canyon’s south rim, where I’ve written (on page 182 in the new edition) that you can see “some of the most awe-inspiring sunset colors you will see anywhere, with the sky and canyon rivaling each other on a beautiful evening.” This trail is not maintained for casual walkers. The National Park Service warns hikers of uneven footing and steep drop-offs; it’s also narrow and sometimes slippery.

Next, the trail to the base of Tower Fall has proven so difficult to maintain over the years that it disappeared from my table of walks (pages 366 to 368) as early as the second edition of Yellowstone Treasures, which came out in 2005. The picture below shows Tower Fall from the easily accessible viewing platform.
Tower Fall

Most recently, I’ve had to remove a quiet, little-used, level road with many wildflowers and lovely mountain views that was formerly open to biking and walking, This was a two mile (in and out) route leaving the main road south of Swan Lake in the northwestern part of the park. It has been closed for public use for a year or two now and is only a service road.

For your information: The park will not reopen until December 15; from then on until early March there will be relatively limited access. Only snow coaches and snowmobiles may use the groomed roads. The one road that is plowed for cars and trucks goes from the North Entrance at Gardiner to the Northeast Entrance and on to Cooke City. Of course, winter is the best time to see wolves along that road, especially in the Lamar Valley.

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Holiday Bells will soon be ringing in Yellowstone, too!

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The winter season opens December 15th in Yellowstone Park. It’s a wonderful time to see the park in its coat of ice and snow. Reservations for snowcoach travel and for rooms in Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and in Old Faithful Snow Lodge can be made through the concessionaire Xanterra at: 307-344-7311. This year they are also running a shuttle from the airport in Bozeman, Montana, to Mammoth, so you will not need to drive at all.

For your winter or summer trips, treat yourself and friends to copies of Yellowstone Treasures: The Traveler’s Companion to the National Park. This year’s Updated Fourth Edition is available from our website at a 20% discount from now through January 20, 2014. Just go to the Guidebook page for the print version, and use “Holidays” as the discount code.

You can buy the Kindle, Nook, and iPad versions at online vendors—sorry, we do not sell e-books from our website.

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Winter use plan for Yellowstone, 2013

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If you are thinking of a winter trip to the park, you may be concerned about what the access will be like this winter by snowmobile or snowcoach. Plans that have been tossed about and changed repeatedly in the past decade or more have now been revised once again. The new plan will take effect in the 2014–15 season. During this coming season there will be no change in the daily quotas for the two types of oversnow vehicles.

Having enjoyed four winter trips to the park over the years, I would like to see fewer snowmobiles, but the technology for them has been much improved between my first winter visit in 1988—when West Entrance rangers wore gas masks to protect themselves from the snowmobile exhaust—and my most recent visit in 2012: http://www.yellowstonetreasures.com/nuggets/winter-in-yellowstone-part-1

I disagree with opening the dangerous East Entrance over Sylvan Pass to any access in the winter months, since the expense of keeping it open is unreasonable considering the relatively few people who take advantage of that access.

A complete discussion of the new winter plan can be found at the excellent National Parks Traveler website:
http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2013/08/yellowstone-national-parks-winter-use-plan-gains-approval23795

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Only in America: Business comes to the rescue in Yellowstone

Categories: Transportation, Winter
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Every spring Yellowstone is faced with a big job: plowing the hundreds of miles of roads that have been closed since November while many feet of snow piles up. The goal is to open the entrance roads gradually, starting in mid April, so the park spends more than a month and hundreds of thousands of dollars to get the roads ready.

However, this year’s sequestration budget cuts [2013] threaten to disrupt this pattern, and Superintendent Dan Wenk of Yellowstone decided that opening two weeks later than usual would be one of his needed cutbacks. But business owners and their organizations in the Wyoming gateway towns of Jackson and Cody are not going to sit back and let this happen. By yesterday, Jackson groups had raised the funds to pay for plowing near the south gate, while those in Cody, Wyoming, have met almost half their goal to open the east gate. The state of Wyoming is providing equipment and personnel to help plow park roads, and business groups will pay back the transportation department for whatever it costs the agency to use its own workers on the federal roads.

There is no word yet as to just when the roads will be ready for auto traffic, but we’ll no doubt be learning about that soon.

Hooray for private business looking out for not just their own interests but those of the many folks who have planned early spring vacations in America’s first and greatest national park!

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Wolves in winter

Categories: Wildlife, Winter
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Working most of my waking hours to prepare the next edition of Yellowstone Treasures for the printer, I have neglected my blog [February 2013]. But I never neglect looking at interesting tidbits written by other Yellowstone enthusiasts. Here’s a quote I particularly love from an article by Josh Eells about the wolves. It is just appearing in Mens’ Journal—which I don’t read routinely! I highlighted my favorite sentence:

With the Lamars out of sight, finding wolves was tougher than expected. On the other hand: If you’re not going to see wolves, there’s no better place to not see them than Yellowstone in winter. The park is majestically empty, devoid of the theme-park masses who crowd it in the warmer seasons. The bears had already gone into hibernation, but we saw loads of other wildlife: bison, elk, pronghorn, coyotes, ravens, and eagles. One day, a friend and I hiked up a trail called Specimen Ridge, where a snow-peaked Mount Washburn towered in the distance and the ice-cold Yellowstone River wound its way through steaming geothermal vents in the canyon below. We saw a set of fresh mountain lion prints in the snow, atop some also-fresh deer tracks – a real-time picture of nature at work.

Takes me back to last winter, when I got to visit the park for a week. See my trip report, Winter in Yellowstone, Part I and Part II.

Read more: http://www.mensjournal.com/magazine/yellowstones-wild-gray-wolves-20130214#ixzz2KzJrWh5h

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Winter plans when it’s still early summer

Categories: News, On the Web, Transportation, Trip planning, Winter
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My deadline with the copyeditor of Yellowstone, Land of Wonders having been met, I am free to catch up on all the current Yellowstone news.

Unlike other western areas this month [June 2012], no fires threaten the park yet, but it is still early, and if drought and heat continue there will certainly be danger.

While we watch the summer scene, some people are thinking about the winter one, and a long and excellent article appeared this week about the still-unsettled plan for snowmobile and snowcoach access next winter. You can find all the details at: http://www.yellowstonegate.com/2012/06/yellowstone-draft-winteruse-plan-allows-110-transportation-events-daily-keeps-sylvan-pass-open.

Scroll down on that site for a list of all the documents on winter use since discussion began in 2000.
In brief: a plan preferred by the park service has been put forth that states that there may be “a maximum of 480 snowmobiles in the park” but “the average maximum use would be 342 snowmobiles per day.” It gets more complicated from there on and now calls what were “sound events,” “transportation events.” An improvement in language?

Some groups of snowmobiles led by unpaid guides would be allowed in each day, in addition to professionally guided tours. The East Entrance over Sylvan Pass (always a controversial subject) would remain open in winter.

Public meetings on the subject will be held in mid July, and comments from the public will be received for 45 days.

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A thank-you to the Tauck tour leaders

Categories: Bio, Winter
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Not having the time quite yet to post my pictures and reactions to the wonderful winter tour I took last week [mid January 2012], today I’ll just essentially quote what I wrote to Brenda and Randy, the leaders of my Tauck tour.

What I liked about the Tauck Winter in Yellowstone Event

1. Being treated like royalty. All the Tauck leaders had no other thought than to make our trip enjoyable, comfortable, informative, and memorable.

Schullery and Karle

Paul Schullery and Marsha Karle

2. Meeting—or almost meeting—fabulous specialists in Yellowstone and the national parks, people who share my engrossment with and possessiveness of that unique place, but most of whom express it much better than I can:

  • Paul Schullery and Marsha Karle (Yellowstone author and artist, respectively)
  • Chico Hot Springs Resort convention center manager Andrew Doolittle
  • Bob Landis (foremost wildlife cinematographer)
  • Jim Halfpenny—who taught us about cold, although his specialty is wildlife ecology
  • Ken Burns (in his short but very moving video of apology for not being there—he is suffering from kidney stones)
  • Dayton Duncan—“Mr. Waterworks” (his children call him this, because he tears up so readily)
  • Chuck Tauck—who escorted me on his arm across the icy path to the Snow Lodge
  • Superintendent Dan Wenk—who graciously listened and agreed with my spiel about the need for shuttle service on Yellowstone’s west side
  • George Bumann, an outstanding Yellowstone Institute instructor and artist, who was our Lamar Valley guide
  • Gerard Baker—whose incredible talents both as speaker and as spokesperson for the rights of Native American Indians had me in tears throughout his talk
  • The young and enthusiastic directors at the Murie Center, Jon Mobeck and Crista Valentino, whom I met in Jackson’s Wildlife Museum.

I could not have arranged to meet all these interesting people on my own.

3. Spending a glorious winter week in “my” park, with all logistics and expenses taken care of in advance.

What I did not like

Leaving.

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Winter Wonderland Trip

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The eight-day countdown has started for my winter trip to Yellowstone [2012], and my excitement is building! For a devoted fan like me, each trip is as fulfilling as the last, but it’s been six years since I got to go in winter.

I was getting a little worried that the snowpack would not be sufficient for snowcoaches, but now it is. The Tauck tour—actually two separate groups—I’ll be participating in will require something like twenty snowcoaches, which will make a significant impact on the roads and facilities this time of year.

This is the first time I’ve had the luxury of going along on a tour instead of planning everything myself for a Yellowstone trip. I wouldn’t have thought of doing it, except that it’s a unique opportunity to listen to and meet such Yellowstone authorities as Paul Schullery, Jim Halfpenny , and (the star attractions) Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan. Right now I’m even going back over the first two DVDs of their 2009 National Parks TV series to be ready. My company, Granite Peak Publications, is also supplying free copies of Yellowstone Treasures to all the tour guests, which I see as a super promotional opportunity.

We’re going to the best facilities, from Chico Hot Springs north of the park to Spring Creek Ranch near Jackson, and Mammoth and Old Faithful hotels will provide the bulk of our seven-night stay. The pre-trip descriptions make me smile in remembrance of favorite places: Chico has a “turn-of-the-20th-century Victorian main lodge . . . offering travelers access to the area’s natural mineral hot springs since 1900.” (When it was quite new my paternal grandfather died there while seeking medical treatment.) Most summers I get a dip in the pools and a superb dinner there. At the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center “the keynote address is by Ken Burns, who will share stories and insights on Yellowstone and other national parks gathered throughout his years of work on The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” One day we’ll go to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, where “the Lower Falls freeze and an ice bridge forms across the canyon.”
. . . .
Have a look at the trip report I wrote when I got back.

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Wolf count up this year

Categories: News, Wildlife, Winter
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I’ve just learned [12/14/2011] that a study being completed this week by wolf experts and volunteers has found that the number of wolves living in Yellowstone is up this year to about 120 as opposed to 97 counted last year. This is good news for the many eager wolf-watchers, who have always found it easier to see them in winter.

And tomorrow is the day the park opens again after the annual early-winter hiatus, when snow accumulates, roads are not plowed for cars or groomed for over-snow vehicles, and the park is left very nearly in its natural state for about six weeks.

Coincidentally, I haven’t posted anything in that time, but it’s not because I have forgotten about Yellowstone. I’m turning over a new leaf as the park reopens and have resolved to write at least once a week. And I’m delighted to say—I get to visit again this January! Soon I’ll write more about that and what’s occupied me so fully in recent weeks.

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