Yellowstone Geo Blogs

What could be a more common topic of discussion other than the weather?  Throughout the Greater Yellowstone it's been a warm winter.  What started out as a great snowpack has been melting and flowing into the streams and rivers.  It's tough to complain when the sun is shining and the air is warm, but with a declining snowpack we may lack streamflows later in the summer.  In recent years "runoff" has been occurring early.  So I begin to wonder, what else happens earlier?  Will the elk lose their antlers earlier or will migratory birds return sooner? 

It's important to keep in mind that different things inlfuence these "springtime" events.

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.

 

Editor's Note: Ken Sinay created Northern Rockies Natural History in 1991 to share his love of our wildland heritage with others. He changed the company name to Yellowstone Safari Company (YSC) in 2001. Ken's Bachelor of Science and graduate studies focused on Wildlife Biology and Natural Resource Management. His professional and technical environmental career includes: Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife & Parks, US National Forest Service, Montana Nature Conservancy, Museum of the Rockies (Montana State University), AMAX Coal Co., US Fish & Wildlife Service, and private wilderness outfitters. Ken's knowledge, enthusiasm and experience are evident in the quality of his tours and presentations. A devoted conservationist, his personal goal is to provide guests with the most rewarding experience possible, resulting in lifetime memories of the wildlife diversity and rich history of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem.