A Winter Wonderland
Make a trip to West Yellowstone this season
By Marguerite Cleveland
When the winter snows blanket the town of West Yellowstone and Yellowstone National Park, the summer crowds dissipate, making this the ideal time of year to visit. West Yellowstone makes the perfect base for exploring all the area has to offer in the winter months and is the closest park entrance to the Old Faithful Geyser. Surrounded by three National Forests, plenty of trout streams and lakes, it makes getting back to nature easy. There is a surprising number of things to do from snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing to winter fly fishing. The town of West Yellowstone is right outside the West Entrance to the park and, although it is closed to cars in the winter, it is open for licensed tour operators for snowmobile and snowcoach tours.
Where to Stay
The Yellowstone Lodge has a great location for your base during your time in the area. It is only one block away from popular attractions, restaurants and shopping, and just three blocks away from the West Entrance to Yellowstone National Park. The hotel is one of the newer properties in West Yellowstone. It has decent sized modern rooms, and there is even a family suite option if you need more space. Amenities on the property include an indoor heated pool and hot tub. The included continental breakfast is substantial with a nice variety. The staff is very friendly and helpful.
Where to Eat
Most restaurants in the area are heavy on the Western theme. Think hearty steaks, burgers and comfort food. While in town make sure to try an elk or bison dish. Madison Crossing Lounge is in an old school. The first West Yellowstone school was built in 1918 and now houses commercial businesses including the restaurant. This is a wonderful place to dine. They work hard to source locally as much as possible to support the local economy and offer a very well-rounded menu with nightly specials and several elk and bison options; think delicious bison meatloaf or elk tenderloin medallions with a blueberry-tarragon reduction.
The Slippery Otter Pub is a rowdy, casual pub with good service and tasty food. Try a bison burger or jalapeno wontons with huckleberry sauce. The Book Peddler is a coffee shop tucked in the back of a store. This is where the locals grab coffee. The baked goods are house made, and the blueberry scone is light and delicate, and pairs perfectly with a cup of coffee.
What to Do
No trip to the area is complete without a trip to Yellowstone National Park. Always stunning, it will blow you away with its beauty during the winter months. Mounds of snow contrast with steaming geysers, and wildlife viewing is at its peak. If you are going to splurge on anything during your trip, make it hiring Yellowstone Guide Amy Beegel, Easy Tours Yellowstone, LLC to guide your snowmobile trip into the park. Certified guides are required in the winter months, and Amy is a pro. Super fun and so knowledgeable about the park, she will curate your tour to fit the interests of your group. A great guide makes or breaks a trip, so contact Amy first and she will help you arrange the snowmobile rentals. Plan for a full-day adventure. Local outfitters also have snowsuits, gloves and boots available for rent. Be aware when making any kind of reservations that there is no cell phone service outside of town, so many outfitters will get back to you in the evening after they have returned from day tours.
You won’t be able to spot a bear in Yellowstone National Park in the winter because they hibernate, but the bears that live at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center don’t hibernate. The center gives you the opportunity to explore the world of grizzly bears and gray wolves as well as the new River Otter Exhibit. Each exhibit has warm buildings so you can observe the animals both inside and outside. The center has also acquired a world-class exhibit BEARS once it completed its tour of the country. It is interactive and explores the ways bears have captured our attention through myth, art, literature, history and folklore. It is well worth a visit. The animals that live at the center can no longer return to the wild for a variety of reasons including being orphaned, a nuisance animal or suffered injuries. This is not a typical tourist attraction but an education center, and you will learn so much about the wildlife in the area. Your ticket is good for two days, so don’t be surprised if the kids ask to go back again.
The Yellowstone Giant Screen and Trading Post makes a nice stop if the weather is not cooperating. It opens in the afternoon for shopping, and movies start at 3:30pm. The Yellowstone Movie shows every day and provides a good overview of the history of Yellowstone National Park. A current movie is also shown each day. Check with the theater for current listings and times.
You’ll want to schedule in time to explore West Yellowstone by foot. It is a cute walkable town with a “Wild West” feel about it.
If you want a special adventure, head out to Big Sky for a dogsled adventure with Spirit of the North. Unlike many companies, with Spirit of the North you will receive hands-on instruction and have the thrill of driving a sled dog team. If you’ve never been around an Alaskan huskies dog team, you are in for a treat. The dogs are high energy and love to run. They are friendly and enjoy receiving lots of petting. The trips take place 1 mile about the Mountain Village at the ski resort in what is known as Moonlight Basin. You’ll enjoy breathtaking scenery along the trail including views of Lone Mountain and the Spanish Peaks.
Located around 30 miles outside of West Yellowstone, the historic 320 Guest Ranch offers evening sleigh rides. This magical ride takes you along the Gallatin River on a sleigh pulled by draft horses. On a clear night, being so far out of town, the stars are so bright in the night sky. The sleigh ride takes you to Mountain Man Campsite where you will enjoy wild game chili, a variety of snacks and hot beverages, with the option of adult beverages. Listen to ranch stories by the bonfire before heading back. The trip lasts about an hour. You can also arrange for a private sleigh ride.
West Yellowstone is truly special during the wintertime. When planning for your trip, prepare for extreme weather and pack layers and warm clothing. Before heading out each day, check the weather forecast so you don’t get caught in an unexpected storm. For more information, visit DestinationYellowstone.com and YellowstoneDestination.com.
Where to Stay
Yellowstone Lodge - YellowstoneLodge.com
Where to Eat
Madison Crossing Lounge - MadisonCrossingLounge.com
Slippery Otter Pub - Facebook.com/Slippery-Otter-Pub-147231008691618
What to Do
Easy Tours Yellowstone - EasyToursYellowstone.com
Spirit of the North Sled dog Adventures - HuskyPower.com
Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center - GrizzlyDiscoveryCtr.org
Yellowstone Giant Screen - YellowstoneGiantScreen.com
320 Guest Ranch Sleigh Rides - 320Ranch.com