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

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Winter 2019 trip report

Categories: Trip Reports, Winter
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Having returned from my 2019 winter trip to Yellowstone about a week ago, I’m still visualizing the beautiful snow-covered landscapes I was recently privileged to pass through. And for a present-day Californian (but raised in Montana), it was a particular delight to watch it snow.

I realize that now, in my mid eighties, it is unlikely that I’ll go again in winter. As it happened, we were in the middle of the government shut-down, but, thanks to the concessionaire Xanterra, which covered the cost of grooming the roads as well as furnishing their usual pleasant rooms and good meals, we had no trouble getting around.

For potential visitors a little or a lot younger, I would still highly recommend that you go! The friends who joined me were able to handle the snowy trails around Upper Geyser Basin and Fountain Paint Pots.

Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel with snowcoaches in winter

This was my fifth trip there in winter. Incidentally, I’ve been asked how many times I’ve been to Yellowstone altogether, and it must be in the dozens of times by now.

You need to leave your car in Mammoth. That’s where you cease to encounter plowed roads, since the park has a policy of simply grooming the other snowy roads, making them suitable only for snowcoaches, snowmobiles, and a few cross-country skiers. If you don’t know what a snowcoach is, take a look at this picture from 2012. Rather than the triangular tracks we used to ride on, the coaches now have very large, low pressure tires. The ride is quite smooth.

Phone numbers for Xanterra are (866) 439-7375 and (307) 344-7311. You would have to be extra lucky to find available rooms between now and winter closure, this year on March 3rd, but think about planning way ahead for next winter.
Keep in mind that you can’t see all the park in winter—except maybe on skis. The groomed roads are limited to Mammoth to Old Faithful, Norris to Canyon, and West Yellowstone to Norris. They do try to keep the road from Mammoth out the Northeast Entrance to Cooke City plowed. Here is the link to the map showing what roads are plowed, groomed, and closed: https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/parkroads.htm.

I can’t resist crowing a bit: the snowcoach drivers and other Xanterra personnel were quick to let me know that they use and treasure my guidebook, Yellowstone Treasures, now in its fifth edition. In fact, when I sat behind the driver in one coach, he admitted to being a little nervous that he might get something wrong in his commentary. (He was superbly capable.) At the end of our trip, but before I left the snowcoach, he asked a colleague to pass the bound copy of the book (the one that Xanterra drivers share and use regularly), through the driver’s window for me to sign. I had never before seen a copy with a library-type binding!

—Author Janet Chapple

Photo credit: Jim Peaco, National Park Service, December 12, 2012.

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Late fall travel in Yellowstone

Categories: Transportation
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Cyclist enters Yellowstone National Park All roads close to public motorized vehicles at 8 am on November 5, 2018, except the road between the North Entrance and the Northeast Entrance. Outside the park to the northeast, the Beartooth Highway is closed, but the Chief Joseph Highway remains open.

This is when the fall bicycling shoulder season begins. However, the weather forecasters are predicting wind and snow for this weekend, so conditions will not be ideal. See the National Park Service’s Spring & Fall Bicycling for more. The shoulder season lasts until about the third week of November, when plowing operations stop so that enough snow can accumulate on the roads to support oversnow travel.

Then the Grand Loop Road will open to snowcoaches and snowmobiles on December 15, ending the fall season officially.

Photo credit: NPS photo from the Yellowstone National Park Flickr album, Jacob W. Frank, June 13, 2018.

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An unlikely place for an article: “An Unlikely Look at Yellowstone’s Geysers”—and Fall Closure begins soon

Categories: News, On the Web, Thermal features, Trip planning
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The website Weather.com just came up with this beautiful collection of close-ups of the amazing variety of colors found around Yellowstone’s hot springs:

http://www.weather.com/news/science/unlikely-look-yellowstones-geysers-photos-20131030

Just now you have only through this coming Sunday, November 3, to take in all the treasures of the park, since all but the Gardiner to Northeast Entrance road will be closed as of Monday for the annual fall-into-winter break. This is when the park’s natural features and the animals, including two-legged ones who work there, get a break from the pressures of visitors.

Reopening to snowcoaches, snowmobiles, and skiers begins on December 15 this year (snow accumulation permitting), except for the East Entrance Road, which will open on December 22. The winter season continues until mid March. Then there’s another break for road plowing until late April 2014.

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Winter use plan for Yellowstone, 2013

Categories: News, Winter
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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.org/2013/08/yellowstone-national-parks-winter-use-plan-gains-approval23795

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