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About Yellowstone in Winter

January 10, 2015

January 15 – 22, 2020

Since 2006, the Museum has offered a winter trek to Yellowstone National Park for educators. Snow blankets the landscape, steam fills the air in the geyser basins and wildlife struggles for survival. Yellowstone in the winter is a truly unique experience.

Applications for January, 2020 are available now! To request an application, email Melissa Dowland at

Follow our journey through Yellowstone’s winter landscape by reading our blog posts and visiting our photo gallery.

Heading Home

January 20, 2016

Our last day brought mixed emotions; sadness to leave Yellowstone and the excitement and enthusiasm of sharing our experience, inspiration, and all that we had learned.

Over the course of the trip, we learned and discovered so much! We honed our observation skills throughout the trip. Our list of wildlife sightings increased daily to include: bison, elk, gray wolves, coyotes, moose, ermine (weasels in their winter-white pelage), red fox, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, red squirrels, mule deer, pronghorn, the tracks of snowshoe hares, white-tailed jackrabbits, and pine martens, as well as golden eagles, bald eagles, ravens, magpies, American dippers, mallard, ring-necked and goldeneye ducks, Canada geese, trumpeter swans, gray and Stellar’s jays, hairy woodpeckers, and even the rarely seen black-backed woodpecker! We saw, experienced, and learned about, with many of our senses, the four types of thermal features found in Yellowstone: geysers, fumeroles, hot springs, and mudpots, as well as other geological features like the rhyolite Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the travertine terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs.  We layered-up our clothing every day and courageously braved the cold and snow. We hiked in snowshoes, traversed icy boardwalks, rode in snow coaches, and drove snow-plowed roads. In our treasured moments of silence, we absorbed Yellowstone, taking it all in — all of its splendor, all of its beauty, and the expansive overwhelming grandeur of this incredible, special place.

Ermine in snow

We were so excited to find an ermine on our snowshoe hike!

Snowy bison

Snowy bison

Prior to our mid-day departure today, we embarked upon our final Yellowstone sunrise walk along the boardwalks of Mammoth Hot Springs. There, Ranger Beth explained the formation of these dynamic, ever-changing travertine terraces.  This travertine rock has a unique and interesting biological component — bacteria — during its formation, resulting in coral-like characteristics.  The bacteria Thermodesulfovibrio yellowstonii  and others like it are responsible for the mixture of rusty, orange, and creamy hues that, coupled with the stair-step terraces, result in the majesty and lure of Mammoth Hot Springs.

Mammoth Terraces

Mammoth Terrace at daybreak

As we begin our journey home now, we all bring with us a little piece of Yellowstone in our hearts and minds. Perhaps each of us have grown and are changed for the better because of this experience.  And although we cannot return to our daily lives bringing all of our experiences with us, perhaps we can tap into and keep 10% within ourselves always, that we can bring back and share with others, as our snow coach guide and naturalist, Wim, described so eloquently.  Forever will we treasure this experience and share it with those around us — our students, our families, our coworkers and friends — our appreciation for the nature that can be found all around us and its infinite beauty.


By the Hot Springs team: Linda S, Danny, and Kevin

Keep it with you…

January 19, 2016

Today we headed back down into Lamar valley to meet with Kira from The Wolf Project of Yellowstone. As we watched the wolves from the Junction Butte pack make their way up the hill, we learned that the wolf pack is very much a family, taking care of, playing with and defending each other.

Continuing on through Lamar valley we spotted a bull moose resting in the willows, bighorn sheep on the side of the hill, a coyote making its way trotting across the field, coyotes under a tree barking and yipping, and a lone golden eagle perched in a tree.

Watching wildlife in Lamar Valley

Watching wildlife in Lamar Valley

Strapping on snowshoes at Lower Barronette Peak, we broke trail through deep snow and headed down by the creek. Fresh tracks! We followed and searched. Out of the deep snow came an ermine! We instantly became giddy children running back through our fresh paths just trying to grab one more glimpse of the curious little weasel. Then, just as quickly as it appeared, it was gone.


Our last full day at Yellowstone was packed full of everything we could fit in. It seemed as though each of us was desperate to capture each second, each moment, to hold in our hearts as we come back to our lives in North Carolina. We made one last stop on the way back to the hotel to admire the clear sky and bright moon– so bright that it cast shadows on the snow, and it gave us one more chance to embrace the wildness and the peacefulness we had been experiencing during our time here.

So, even if we only keep 10% of the new things we’ve discovered about ourselves and Yellowstone, I hope we keep a little wildness, a little peace, and wide-open hearts in every moment of our lives.

Kevin snowshoeing

Kevin snowshoeing

Chris, Mark, Megan & Miranda

Loving Life in the Lamar Valley 

January 17, 2016

We began our day in the cold dark early morning hours with a sunrise drive to find the amazing wildlife that is Yellowstone! Our first stop was a moment of silence in the gray morning light overlooking Hellroaring Creek. We spotted some elk grazing through the freshly fallen snow and even had time for Kevin to make a few snow angels.

Kevin making a snow angel

Kevin making a snow angel

We could smell the sulfur in the air as we traveled over the Lamar river and through a thermal area of sulfur springs. We continued through the sunrise on our way to Little America, where we took a moment to scan the mountains for any kind of wildlife we could find. Chris and the weather/wildlife team took their measurements and we were again on our way again after spotting a few herds of bison.

Despite our efforts to be out as early as possible and beat the herds of wolf trackers, we pulled up on Slough Creek where we were greeted by photographers, videographers, and wolf watchers. We were able to spot a gray wolf walking along the valley, and she would occasionally send us a loud howl. There is no better sound in the world than hearing the howl of a wolf who is walking along in the distance, right in your scope. When we began hearing additional howls and the response howls from our wolf, we realized that this lone wolf’s pack must have been closer than we thought. The wolves are beautiful and definitely cute, but these canines are better left to the wild.

Watching wolves

Watching wolves

Off and down the road a few minutes, Danny was able to spot two (6×6 and 6×7 – the number of times on each antler) bull elk resting and grazing in an open field on the side of a mountain. We quickly grabbed the scopes and ran out to see the magic. These animals are spectacular and magical, an animal we consider ourselves lucky to have been able to see so clearly.

Traveling on down the road we came to a surprisingly amazing detour. At the confluence of the Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek, we spotted a coyote, familiar to us all as we had seen many coyotes since we have been here. But we have been itching to see a kill. We slowly pulled over, watching as our furry canine friend followed the sound of a small subnivean creature (mouse or other small mammal) beneath the snow. He paused, cocked his tail, and we all went wild as he dug his face down into the snow and pulled out his head chomping on his lunch. We had witnessed the kill!



While we were out there watching the coyote hunting for more, we didn’t realize that there were 3 bighorn sheep watching us! We quickly adjusted our binoculars to see six lazy eyes peering over the ridge. While out on the road we also saw a raven overlooking the landscape, a dipper diving for larva in the stream, and a beautiful black and white magpie flying from tree to tree, showing off her wing patterns.

Bighorn sheep

Bighorn sheep

You know you are having a great time when you forget what day of the week it is. After lunch we had a special treat of hiking off the unbeaten path in snowshoes! It’s much easier than you think but in snow deeper than your thighs, if you fall down getting up is extremely difficult. Danny, Brady, and Kevin had no problem breaking trail up the hillside, but I don’t think they would want to do it again. In the words of Danny, “I thought my heart was going to burst.”

Snowshoeing up a steep hill is hard work!

Snowshoeing up a steep hill is hard work!

After a wonderful meeting with Dan Hartman, wildlife photographer and naturalist, we headed back on the road again where we went searching for more wildlife. We found mountain goats, bison, and the find of the day… One cow and one bull moose!! Talk about spectacular!

Bull moose

Bull moose

As the day comes to an end, we can safely say that Yellowstone delivered for us today. We look forward to the next few days and the connection this incredible place is allowing us to make to its vast magical winter landscapes and ecosystems.

We know one thing is certain, we are visitors here exploring this world that belongs to all of these amazing creatures, and we have cherished every second of this insightful day.

“When you walk across the fields with your mind pure and holy, then from all the stones, and all growing things, and all animals, the sparks of their soul come out and cling to you, and then they are purified and become a holy fire in you.”

Annie Dillard

By The Bighorn Sheep Team

The luckiest of days

January 16, 2016

The morning began with light snowfall and grey skies in Upper Geyer Basin. As we rounded the corner of the visitors center, there it was: Old Faithful. We weren’t certain if we’d timed it right, but Old Faithful geyser did not disappoint. Just as we finished talking about geology, three dull “thumps” could be heard, and then great clouds of steam and water started shooting into the sky. Thus began our lucky day!

Our hike through the Upper Geyser Basin gave us several other exciting and unexpected geyser eruptions in addition to Old Faithful: the little Anemone, Grand and Turban, and finally Riverside Geyser!

Riverside Geyser

Riverside Geyser

Throughout our journey north from the Old Faithful area back to Mammoth, we scored six coyote sightings, witnessed herds of bison “snow ploughing,” and experienced the rumbling of the Earth’s crust while lying around the Black Sand pool (a hot spring). The whole day we felt and witnessed the delicate balance of life in this beautiful, yet harsh environment.

group laying on the ground

We could feel the thumping of small steam explosions while laying on the ground at Black Sand Pool.


One of the six coyotes was listening for prey – small mammals moving beneath the snow.

Just north of Norris near the Ranger Museum our guide, Wim, made us aware there was a fresh kill of an old bison. Sure enough, surrounding the carcass were 4 wolves! Two gray, one white (the alpha female), and one black one (likely the alpha male, as he had a radio collar). We watched through the spotting scopes, across the snowy field, as the large black wolf tore into the flesh with his powerful teeth. We were witnessing the Canyon Pack in action. The overwhelming sentiment: “What a perfect way to end a perfect day!”

Yellowstone 101: A how-to guide on experiencing Yellowstone National Park in winter

January 15, 2016

First things first, you need a good breakfast and a snowcoach.

What’s a snowcoach you may ask? It’s a bus with treads. The roads are so snow covered that it would be impossible to drive a car. You also must have a guide to take you through the park in the winter. Then, make sure you have two full water bottles because even though it is cold and snowy, the air is very dry. You need layers, layers and more layers to keep you warm as you get on and off the snowcoach as well as the constantly changing weather, snow and wind chill. Make sure you have your binoculars and camera. You never know when you may spot something new and interesting.

Chris Brady with binoculars

Chris Brady looking for wildlife

Just like Yellowstone gets a clean slate of snow in winter, we started our day off with the quiet you can only experience by being in a place so remote and isolated.

people laying in snow

Having a moment of silence in a blanket of snow at Swan Lake Flats

With all of your senses awakened, you can begin your journey observing the many wonders of Yellowstone. You may see trumpeter swans, a coyote on the frozen Yellowstone River, a partially frozen waterfall in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, an American dipper in and out of the river, bison in Hayden Valley and a rarely seen black-backed woodpecker. You can hear the crunch of the snow, the bubbling of mudpots, the call of a raven and the roar of the snowcoach. You may feel the cold of the snow on your thighs when you unexpectedly step into a snow drift, and you’ll feel the difference between a friendly fir and a spiky spruce if you touch their branches.


Black-backed Woodpecker

Our guide told us about an interesting phenomenon that he called “atmospheric clarity” when we were visiting the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Yellowstone has such good atmospheric clarity because there is no air pollution or humidity that interferes with visibility. In Yellowstone you are able to make out the details of a tree miles away because there is nothing clouding your view.

canyon reflected in sunglasses

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone through Sarah’s eyes.

Today was a great first day in Yellowstone. We utilized all of our senses to experience the park and applied all of our “how-to” knowledge to be prepared to enjoy a winter day in Yellowstone. We can’t wait to see what the rest of our time in Yellowstone holds!

Sunset at West Thumb Geyser Basin

By the Coyote team: Miranda, Megan F., Mark and Chris C.

Planes, planes, and more planes…

January 15, 2016

Not all who wander are lost. ~JRR Tolkien

We are not lost, but we have definitely wandered. Due to some unforeseen airline complications, our group has set off on many different paths converging in the same place. Some of us have visited Chicago and Denver. Others stopped by Atlanta and Salt Lake City. Some of the group have had the chance to enjoy comfy seats in front of a stone fireplace in the Bozeman airport while they wait for the rest.

We have made some new friends along the way. We have certainly gotten to know each other well. And Danny has earned his first-flight wings (and then some).


We finally made it to Yellowstone after a long day of travel. We are excited for the real Yellowstone adventure to start!

The packing list

January 13, 2016


Megan's sock collection

How many wool socks is too many?

Warm socks and boots – check!
Long underwear – check!
Hats and gloves – check!
Excitement building – check!

Packing our boots and every scrap of cold weather gear we can muster. Reviewing travel plans and itineraries. Checking the weather….rechecking the weather…. Rechecking the weather. Excitement and nerves escalate as we anticipate bison, elk, wolves, geysers, and snow, beautiful snow!

By the look of today’s webcam at Old Faithful and the latest weather report, we should be greeted with all the magic and splendor that nature and Yellowstone have to offer. We have a 40% chance of snow to look forward to upon our arrival tomorrow with highs in the lower 20’s — not too bad, really… Just slightly chillier than our recent North Carolina mornings.

We’ll hit the airport bright and early tomorrow with a big day of travel ahead of us. So, stay tuned, blog readers, there’s much more to come!