Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Cross-Country Skiing in Yellowstone National Park

          Blissful solitude in Yellowstone National Park.  “Impossible!” you say?   Not if you’re willing to brave the cold and visit the park’s northern tier in winter, a magical time of year.
        Tim and I stayed in Gardiner, Montana while visiting the park in February of 2009.  One morning we donned cross-country ski gear for a day trip to Indian Creek Trailhead.  At the Mammoth Terraces ski area we transferred our skis and poles onto a Chevy Van outfitted for snow travel.  The van is elevated and sits on four “mat tracks”, wide snow-grabbing chains that convert the van into a snowmobile-like machine.

Can your van do this?  This Chevy van—
converted into a mean, snow-traversing machine—is ready to take on
Yellowstone's winter weather.

         Our van driver, Dave, lived and worked in Yellowstone for 17 years as a teacher and principal of Mammoth Hot Springs Elementary School.  Also a naturalist, Dave conducted tours of Yellowstone during the busy summer season.  Dave dropped us off by a warming hut near Indian Creek Campground, started a fire in the hut, then drove off in his snow machine.  Tim and I stood alone with our skis in this section of Yellowstone National Park, 12 miles from Mammoth Hot Springs.  Our own private slice of Yellowstone.  Can you imagine? 

We're all alone in Indian Creek.  The trails await.

          We skied the groomed trails around the closed campground, then ventured onto two-track trails through the woods.   The sky was azure, the air still, the park hushed on this pristine day.  The quiet was interrupted by coyotes howling, their voices echoing across the valley.  Returning to the warming hut we noticed a huge male bison relaxing in the snow and were careful not to disturb him.

Trail to the warming hut on a pristine winter's day.
(The bison—not shown—is off to the right of the hut.)

Waiting for our ride back to civilization.

         We enjoyed the balmy 23 degree temperature while relaxing on the picnic table outside the warming hut and waiting for our ride.  Dave appeared at the scheduled time and drove us back to Mammoth Terraces where we skied the 1.5 mile Travertine Terraces trail.

Ready to ski the Travertine Terraces loop.

        Travertine—a form of limestone deposited by hot springs—often has a fibrous or concentric appearance and exists in white, tan, and cream-colored varieties.  Isn't it spectacular?

A fabulous place to spend a February day.

Skiing by the terraces.

         During today’s drive Dave asked: “Why don’t you two visit Yellowstone during the summer?”
“Oh, it’s much too crowded for us.”  
“Well then”, said Dave, “you can simply walk 100 yards from the main roads and leave the crowds behind.”   According to Dave—and he should know—most of the people who come to the park spend their time frequenting the bathrooms and gift shops.  
          Perhaps we’ll take Dave’s advice and return one summer’s day—venturing off the roads to disappear into the magic that is Yellowstone National Park.


Have you ever been to Yellowstone N.P. in the off-season?  Ready to give it a try?


  1. And I thought we had tricked-out cars in Los Angeles! Love the hopped-up Chevy van. And that photo of the travertine is very cool, as well.

    You guys manage to find the most amazing places - thanks for forging ahead and bringing back these insights and beautiful images!

  2. Wow! The travertine is indeed something quite spectacular! Learn something new every day . . . was completely unaware of this.

    Thanks Rita for sharing another of your delightful adventures!


  3. Vickie and John,
    Skiing alongside the bubbling hot pots and terraces was indeed an incredible experience.
    Thank YOU for reading about it!

  4. I've been enjoying your blog and photos. I want to contact you to ask permission to use (with credit) one or more of your photos. I am webmaster for npsretirees.org, of the Coalition of NPS Retirees. Would you be amenable to such use and borrowing? If so, can we exchange email addresses to discuss? (rather than engage in discussion as a post.) My address is maria_abonnel@npsretirees.org. Thank you very much for your blog.

    Maria Abonnel