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Visit the Yellowstone Region in the Winter: Things To Do in Yellowstone National Park, Big Sky Montana and Jackson Hole Wyoming
Breathe in the crisp mountain air with a ski trip to either Big Sky, Montana and/or Jackson Hole, Wyoming. These winter wonderlands feature dramatic peaks, breathtaking alpine scenery, rugged wilderness, abundant wildlife, national parks, and exciting recreational activities. In addition to skiing and snowboarding, stay active at either destination with cross-country skiing, tubing, sleigh rides, dog sledding, snowcoach tours, snowmobiling, ice skating, snowshoeing, sno-go biking, hunting, and/or winter fly fishing. Both are great ski trips to base a wintry snowmobile adventure into Yellowstone National Park to explore Old Faithful and/or the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
Travel Practicalities & Tips
Big Sky, Montana is ~75 minutes from Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN). The Teton Mountain Village in Wyoming is ~45 minutes from the Jackson Hole Airport (JAC). You can get updates on flight deals into either of these airports here as they arise. On your drive to Teton Mountain Village from the airport, keep your eyes out for the National Elk Refuge. With the abundant elk sprinkled over the white snow, it would be hard to miss. Either ski resort is a day trip from Yellowstone. Big Sky is only about ~1 hour from Yellowstone’s West Entrance, and Jackson Hole is ~75 minutes from the South Entrance.
4WD Rental Car. Renting a car provides ease in getting to and from the airport and to Yellowstone. Depending on the snow conditions, you may need a vehicle with 4WD. It’s often wise to go ahead and get the 4WD when planning a winter trip.
Buy Tickets/Lessons in Advance. Skiing looks a bit different this year. Due to limited availability and capacity restrictions, buy your lift tickets/lessons as far in advance as practicable. As has become customary nearly everywhere, safety protocols such as face coverings and social distancing requirements have been implemented by ski resorts in efforts to prioritize the health and safety of skiers and staff.
Pick Up Rental Gear the Day Before. Renting gear (such as skis, snowboards, boots, helmets, etc.) can be a hassle, especially for those traveling with young children. Skip the busy morning rush and long lines by getting your gear in the afternoon the day before skiing/snowboarding. At Big Sky Sports Rentals, you may pick up the rentals as early as 2 pm the day before. At JH Sports, Teton Village Sports and Hoback Sports in Jackson Hole, you may be able to pick up your gear as early as 1 pm the day before. Call ahead to confirm times.
Colors on Ski Maps. For those new to skiing, generally, when reading a ski map, green circles indicate the easiest runs, blue squares for the intermediary level, and black diamonds for the most difficult. There are often varying degrees of difficulty for each color, such as double black diamonds.
Big Sky, Montana
Big Sky, located in southwest Montana surrounded by the Gallatin National Forest, is about equidistance between Bozeman and the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park. With 5,850 skiable acres, 38 lifts, and 4,350 vertical ft., Big Sky boasts itself as being the home of the “Biggest Skiing in America.” The mountain village is at 7,510 ft., and the iconic Lone Mountain rises to 11,166 ft. The average annual snowfall is over 400 inches.
With 300 named runs on 4 connected mountains, there are plentiful trails here for every ski/snowboard skill level. The longest run, from Liberty Bowl (from the top of Lone Mountain) to Mountain Village, is 6 miles. 18% of the runs are expert level (double black diamond), 42% advanced (black diamond), 25% intermediate (blue), and 15% beginner (green). Review Big Sky’s resort maps here.
Ride up the tram to the top of Lone Mountain for 360 degrees views of mountains that appear to go on forever. On a clear day, in addition to views of forever mountains, you may be able to see across three states and two national parks. Those capable of skiing/boarding down difficult and expert trails, bring your gear for an exhilarating ride down.
For those traveling with little children hoping to get them into winter sports, Big Sky offers introductory ski/snowboard lessons for littles as young as 2-4 years old.
Where to Stay
Stunning views of a magnificent snow-capped mountain are revealed in the vaulted Great Room Lounge at The Lodge at Big Sky. After an exciting day on the slopes, snuggle up by the fireplace in the lounge. The hotel is conveniently located within walking distance from the chairlifts. For those who prefer not to walk through the snow, no worries, there is a shuttle service that will transport you.
Big Sky Resort Village Center and Shoshone Condominium Hotel are located in Big Sky Resort’s Mountain Village. Search TripAdvisor for additional hotel deals. There are gorgeous cabins and mountain homes located nearby that you can search on Vrbo. Some provide ski-in-ski-out access.
Dine, shop, and rent gear right at the Mountain Village.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Jackson Hole, adjacent to Grand Teton National Park, is both an expert skier/snowboarder paradise, as well as a dream spot to base a family ski vacation. The ski resort has 2,500 skiable acres with 4,139 vertical ft. The base elevation is 6,311 ft. and the summit elevation is 10,450 ft. The average annual snowfall over the last handful of years is 459 inches.
50% of the named trails are expert level runs, 40% intermediate, and only 10% at the beginner level. More specifically, Jackson Hole presently has 24 double black diamond runs, 53 black diamond runs, 21 double blue runs, 31 blue runs, but only 5 green runs. Check the Jackson Hole ski map before your visit to see which trails are open. There are 13 lifts, including the two gondolas and the Aerial Tramway.
Skiers and non-skiers (with a lift ticket) can ride the Jackson Hole Aerial Tramway that takes you to the top of the mountain at 10,450 ft. The cable length is 4.85 miles and the tram ride takes about 9 minutes. While up there, warm yourself up with a cup of hot chocolate and a waffle (as discussed more below). Only those realistically confident in their ski/snowboard abilities should attempt to ski/snowboard down from here. The operator on the tram will likely remind you of this. Rendezvous Bowl is a black diamond run down. Corbet’s Couloir is a double black diamond. As described on Jackson Hole Tram’s website, “Corbet’s Couloir is widely considered the most famous and steepest run in North America.” The drop to start the run is essentially just that, a drop. If you’re not sure if you want to ride down (via skis/snowboards) either of these runs, bring up your gear and take a look at the edge of the cliff and decide for yourself once you’re up there. If it’s too intimidating, ride the tramway back down, and maybe come back again another season if/when your skills improve sufficiently.
For families, right in Teton Village, there are generally small snow forts and a small sledding hill that your littles may enjoy. There is ice skating on the Teton Village Commons, tubing at Snow King Resort, and you can snowshoe in Grand Teton National Park. Jackson Hole offers ski and snowboard lessons for children as young as 3 (so long as they are fully potty-trained).
Where to Stay
Teton Mountain Lodge is located slopeside in Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. The lobby with vaulted ceilings has two large stone fireplaces providing a rustic cabin feel. There are many more great options in the ski village and nearby. Search TripAdvisor for additional hotel choices.
Dine, Shop, Eat
Everything you need is right in the village. You can shop, dine, and rent gear.
Try a waffle at Corbet’s Cabin at the top of Rendezvous Peak. The sugary smells emanate from the small cabin when you get off the tramway. Their flavored waffles include Gateway with peanut butter and bacon; Italian with Nutella; Englishman with lemon glaze, powdered sugar and whipped cream; and Traditional with brown sugar butter. Even if you don’t get a waffle or ski, make it to the top of the mountain for the views.
If you’re looking for a fun place to eat, walk over to the Mangy Moose Saloon after a day on the slopes. The walls and ceilings are decorated with different types of memorabilia, such as planes, tubs, taxidermy, flags, signs, old sporting and fishing equipment, and much more.
For a fancier meal, dine at the award-winning restaurant, Spur. For those staying at the Teton Mountain Lodge, it’s located on-site. The meals look like a piece of art and taste just as good as they look.
At Handle Bar Restaurant, grab a seat along the outdoor patio overlooking the slopes for a delicious meal with great views.
Winetraveler Tip: If you’re there for New Years’, the Handle Bar Restaurant is a prime spot to be. Traditionally, on New Years’, ski instructors and ski patrol ski down the mountain in an orderly formation while holding flares. It looks like lava flowing down the mountain.
Head over to the George Washington Memorial Park a/k/a Town Square at Jackson for additional dining options, and to stroll around the park. At the entrances to the park are large elk-antler arches. Each year, elk shed and drop their antlers and the Boy Scouts collect them and the arches are rebuilt as needed. At night, the elk antlers may be illuminated with lights.
The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar is Wyoming’s “landmark watering hole.” It is a fun place to go for drinks and entertainment. They have food too. If you’re at Town Square, you won’t miss it.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park, largely recognized as being the world’s very first national park established in 1872, is located primarily in the state of Wyoming (~96%) with ~3% extending in Montana, and the remaining ~1% into Idaho. The size of the park spans roughly 3,500 square miles. It is truly majestic in the winter. While the temperatures are frigid during the winter season, the crowds are minimal, and witnessing the steam rising out of the frozen land from the geysers is pure magic. It looks like the snow is on fire. The numerous hydrothermal and geological areas are wondrous. Wildlife is plentiful. Bison, elk, swans, and bald eagles are commonly seen.
With most roads in the park being closed from around early November through mid-April, expect to explore the park via snowmobiles, skis, snowshoes, or snowcoach. The National Park Service (NPS) site lists ski and snowshoe trails here. Visiting the popular Old Faithful and/or the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone are reachable by either snowmobile or snowcoach generally from mid-December through mid-March.
Old Faithful’s fame is due in large part to its predictable eruptions. Each eruption lasts between 1.5 to 5 minutes and can shoot up between 3,700 to 8,400 gallons of boiling water reaching an average height of ~130 ft., but can be as high as 184 ft.
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is incredible in the winter. The waterfall that drops 308 feet is frozen in the distance amid a canyon surrounded by yellow-colored rocks and green pine trees.
Reserve your tour with an authorized snowmobile and snowcoach tour company here. Those coming from Big Sky will most likely be driving to the West Entrance, as those coming from Jackson Hole, the South Entrance. For those coming to the South Entrance, Scenic Safaris offers memorable winter tours with high-quality equipment. Their Grand Canyon tour covers 120-miles round trip via snowmobile. Dressing warm with waterproof outer clothing is essential as the temperatures frequently drop below freezing. Bring your warm weather gear and then layer up with their rental snowmobile gear, which includes a full-body blizzard suit.
Winetraveler Tips: While the geysers and thermal hotspots appear majestic, they are extremely dangerous and caution should be exercised, especially for those traveling with young kids. Stay on the boardwalks. Another word of caution, don’t approach too close to bison (or any wildlife for that matter) for a selfie. While bison are vegetarians and may appear harmless, they are extremely dangerous to humans.
Book or Plan a Trip
Interested in booking or mapping out a trip similar to the one we described above? We’ve already mapped out your entire itinerary to the region with this template in mind. Book or follow along with this itinerary through Winetraveler or share it with your friends! Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below.