Snowshoeing in Greater Yellowstone

Snowshoeing has got to be the simplest and least controversial mode of transportation in Yellowstone. Of course, “slow shoes” as one friend of mine refers to them, are generally not embraced by adrenaline junkies, but if you like getting away from the “madding crowd,” snowshoes are a great way to go. If you can walk, you can snowshoe. It’s also less expensive to get geared up, and you don’t need a roof rack or trailer to transport them.

Outside the Park, local outdoor retailers in Livingston, West Yellowstone, Big Sky, and Bozeman have gear for rent. Inside the Park, Xanterra operates ski huts at Mammoth and Old Faithful that also rent snowshoes. On the west side, near West Yellowstone, there are great routes to the Madison River that take you to some remote landscapes, just outside town.

For big landscapes with big wildlife, enter Yellowstone from Gardiner and use the road from Mammoth to Cooke City. Being at a lower elevation than most of the Park, the snow may not be too good, but there are pockets of deep snow. The claw underneath most contemporary snowshoes can be helpful in icy conditions and the oversized shoe lends stability in areas pocked with ungulate postholes and feeding craters. Much of the rugged terrain in this area favors snowshoes for exploring.

The only logical way to access Old Faithful is via snowcoach or snowmobile from Mammoth or West Yellowstone. When you finally get there, you have access to the biggest geothermal area on the planet. But it’s not a landscape without some comforts. You can spend a night at Old Faithful Snow Lodge and enjoy a hot meal. The real treat is the snowshoeing along the Old Faithful trail system, or simply going to some backcountry thermal areas. Just be very careful if you go hot potting.

For those who desire more adventure, there are literally millions of acres of backcountry where no services are available, and I like it that way. Rely on yourself and forget the rest. Blaze your own trail. The northwest corner of Yellowstone, along Highway 191, provides a great jumping-off point to miles of good snow. If you do some research, you’ll find your own secret spots where you can quietly observe wildlife, hot springs, canyons, and serious winter.