As a National Park Foundation (NPF) team member for eight years, I’ve been fortunate to visit many of our national parks. And while each park is special and spectacular in its own way, one of my all-time favorite park adventures is Yellowstone in the winter. So when our Vice President of Development, Lauren Harnishfeger, asked me to help lead NPF’s Winter in Yellowstone donor expedition this past February, I immediately said yes and began counting down the days.
We began our Yellowstone expedition at Mammoth, arriving through the historic Roosevelt Arch at the North Entrance of the park. As if perfectly positioned for a photo shoot, bison gathered under the arch causing a temporary (but enjoyable) “bison jam.”
Once we passed the bison and were settled in at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, which is named after the steaming limestone terraces just above the hotel area, our group gathered for a reception at the home of Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk. At the reception, we met Superintendent Wenk and some of his park ranger staff, and learned about how NPF is working with the park. We also enjoyed a presentation from park wolf biologist Doug Smith, who has been part of the Yellowstone Wolf Project since its inception in 1994. Doug’s talk got the entire group energized for the next day’s wildlife safari!
Since many animals are most active in the early morning hours, we rose before dawn to head out with the Yellowstone Association to enjoy Yellowstone’s abundant wildlife. We were all hoping we’d get lucky and spot the elusive wolves. And it was a lucky day as we not only saw several groups of wolves, but also moose, bighorn sheep, elk, coyote, golden eagles, foxes and of course, hundreds of bison. Winter is a great time for wildlife watching because the animals come down to the low elevation valleys, where they are easier to spot against the bright snow.
On our second day, we boarded snowcoaches headed south to the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. The Snow Lodge is a cozy, modern inn situated next to the Old Faithful Geyser Basin. As soon as we arrived, we headed out to see Old Faithful erupt; erupting every 90 minutes or so, there were many opportunities to see the famous geyser go off. For me, the best part of visiting Yellowstone in the winter is the absence of crowds – watching Old Faithful without a soul around is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
We spent several days at Old Faithful, exploring the Geyser Basin area with park rangers and trying out different winter activities, including cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. We also spent a day touring the park’s more popular features; the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the Artist Paint Pots were my favorite. The number and variety of thermal features in Yellowstone is incredible – you see steam rising everywhere!
On our last day, we rode the historic yellow Bombardier snowcoaches to the park’s South Entrance. The roads in the park’s interior are not plowed, so travelling by snowcoach is a must. While the historic coaches aren’t as comfortable as the newer van-style coaches, they provide a memorable ride and view (if you pop out of the roof!). They are something to be experienced, at least for a few hours, if you come to Yellowstone in the winter.
It was a beautiful day as we journeyed out of the park and toward Jackson, Wyoming. We saw some more wildlife – can you spot them in the picture below?
And we were even treated to a clear view of my favorite national park mountain range, the Tetons. It was the perfect ending to our Winter in Yellowstone Expedition.
National Park Foundation Expeditions are multi-day excursions to some of our nation’s most beloved and sacred places – our national parks. Planned in detail with the National Park Service, each trip provides a unique experience for National Park Foundation donors to discover the history, legacy and challenges facing our national parks. For more information about how you can become a member of the Stewardship Circle and join us on a future expedition, contact Lauren Harnishfeger at [email protected].
*Roosevelt Arch and moose images by Harvey Barrison