Yellowstone in pictures: 2011

yellowstone

Yellowstone is a wild place of fire and ice. The first son of the United States national parks system, and the first national park in the entire world, is a rich ecosystem of wild creatures and geothermal wonders. With snow capped peaks and alien-looking hot springs, Yellowstone’s diversity prompts millions to visit the high altitude Serengeti yearly.

While Old Faithful performs on schedule every hour or so, much of the park changes year over year. Hotbeds of geothermal activity spread and recede. The animals behave unpredictably, taking cues from weather, water level, and crowds. In one year a visitor may see only a handful of bison, but the next year, thousands may come into view at the same location on the same day. And the holy grail of Yellowstone, a bear sighting, is likely in some years and near impossible in others. (Check out these tips to safely exist among bears in the wild) This dynamism provides a unique experience even for repeat visitors.

From stopping at Bison traffic jams to kneeling quietly at a shady brook to watch a mossy antlered moose cooling off, Yellowstone provides a glimpse into what the United States looked like before being settled from coast to coast. Every American should feel obligated to visit two places in their lifetime: Yellowstone Park and New York City. One shows what we are, the other, what we were. Check out this gallery of Yellowstone beauty.


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All photography by Justin Delaney

Yellowstone offers unique multi-day tours this summer

Three great tours offer unique experiences in Yellowstone this summer.Today marks the final day of National Parks Week, during which time visitors received free entry into each of the parks in the U.S. system. But if you found that the week went by way too fast, and you didn’t have time to visit one of parks to celebrate, than perhaps it is time to start planning your own vacation to one of the iconic destinations for the summer ahead. With that idea in mind, Xanterra Parks & Resorts is hoping that they can lure you to Yellowstone with a trio of multi-day tours designed to entice travelers of all types.

All three of the tours include four or five nights stay in the park, meals, transportation through Yellowstone, complete with an experienced and knowledgeable guide, and a variety of adventurous activities to help visitors to get the most out of their stay.

The three tours include the Couples Adventure Package which offers five nights at the Old Faithful Inn, and a host of guided hikes throughout the park. The Classic Yellowstone offering is four nights in length, with stays at a variety of inns, and features a scenic cruise on Lake Yellowstone along with comprehensive driving tours of the diverse regions of the park, including the wildlife rich Lamar Valley. And the Total Yellowstone Tour, which gives visitors the whole experience, includes a cruise on the lake, a tour of the Mammoth Terraces on horseback, a ride on a stagecoach, and a visit to some of the more unique regions of the world’s first national park. That tour is spread out over five days and stays in a variety of inns as well.

Each of these tours is available beginning in June and running weekly through October. The itineraries are specially designed to give visitors a thorough look at one of the most spectacular wilderness settings in the world, complete with snow capped peaks, abundant wildlife, and unique geological wonders that are unlike anything else on Earth.

Personally, I’m a huge fan of Yellowstone, and think that it offers the quintessential national park experience. The scenery there is breathtaking and the diversity of the animals that live in the park is unmatched anywhere else in the lower 48 states. It is a perfect setting for hikers, backpackers, families, and nearly every other type of traveler as well. It is simply a magical place for anyone who enjoys the outdoors.

Ten great things to do in Yellowstone during the winter

Winter in Yellowstone National ParkAs many travelers know, Yellowstone National Park is one of the most spectacular natural wonders in the entire world. It deftly blends beautiful landscapes, fascinating geothermal activity, and an amazing abundance of wildlife to give a unique experience that has to be seen to be believed. During the summer months, the park is warm, lush, and green but overrun with tourists. Last year the park set a number of attendance records, which can, at times, bring traffic jams and crowded accommodations to Yellowstone. But in winter, the park is a whole different place, and for those adventurous enough to visit, it delivers a whole new level of adventure and fun. Here are ten great things to do in Yellowstone in the winter.

Enjoy the Wide Open Spaces
Yellowstone averages about 3 million visitors per year, but most of them arrive during the summer months. In fact, the winter only sees about 100,000 visitors in total, which means it is far easier to find a place to stay and you won’t have to battle long lines while taking in the sights. The place is so quiet that you might set out on a trail and not see anyone else all day long, which is likely to only happen during the quiet days of winter.

Go Snowshoeing in the Geyser Basin
in terms of winter sports, snowshoeing is one of the easiest to pick up. If you can walk, you can probably snowshoe. Strap a pair of snowshoes to your feet and head out for a hike through Yellowstone’s famous Upper Geyser Basin, where you’ll not only be treated to eruptions by Old Faithful, but a number of other fantastic geothermal anomalies. This region of the park has the highest concentration of geysers and hotsprings, and even during the winter they spew steam and water from the ground. Besides Old Faithful, you’ll also find the Castle, Daisy, Grand, and Riverside Geysers, all of which have fairly predictable intervals to their eruptions. Snowshoes help you to navigate through the deep winter powder and allow you to get up close and personal to these amazing hot spots.Witness a Winter Eruption of Old Faithful
You don’t have to go snowshoeing to enjoy Old Faithful in the winter. It is an easy walk from the new visitor center that opened late last year. The building is an excellent place to stay warm, and learn about the geysers, while you wait for the next eruption, which occurs every 91 minutes, give or take ten. During the summer, it is not uncommon to have huge crowds gathered around the boardwalk to witness the old girl go off, but in the winter, the crowds are sparse at best. For a truly isolated Old Faithful experience, wander out after dark. I did this on a recent trip, and there were just eight of us on hand to watch.

Spend the Night at the Snow Lodge
Yellowstone’s Snow Lodge, located near Old Faithful, is one of just two hotels that are open for the winter months. What makes the Snow Lodge unique however is that it can only be reached aboard a snow mobile or a snowcoach, which is a touring van converted to tank treads that enable it to travel through deep snow. Completed in 1999, the Snow Lodge is a modern, comfortable inn that pays homage to the old school “park-itecture” that is prevalent around Yellowstone, while creating its own identity at the same time. The Snow Lodge is a perfect base of operations for visitors who want to spend a few days in the park enjoying the snowy playground to its fullest.

Winter in Yellowstone National ParkGo Wildlife Spotting in Lamar Valley
Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley is often called North America’s Serengeti thanks to the large numbers of wildlife that inhabit the region. While many of those creatures are on display during the summer, it is far easier to spot them in the winter, thanks to the copious amounts of snow on the ground. Additionally, many of the creatures that inhabit the mountainous regions of the park move to lower altitudes during the winter in search of food. That means you’re more likely to see elk and big horn sheep in the colder months along with the usual large numbers of bison. Additionally, sharp-eyed travelers may also catch a glimpse of fox, coyotes, and even wolves on the prowl in Lamar Valley. Don’t expect bears however, as most are spending the winter months in a peaceful slumber.

Visit Lower Yellowstone Falls by Snow Mobile
The Lower Yellowstone Falls are truly one of the most beautiful and iconic landmarks in the entire park. During the winter months, the Falls succumb to the cold weather, freezing solid for weeks on end. But even in their frozen state, the Falls are breathtaking to see and worth a visit. One of the best ways to do just that is aboard a snow mobile, which can be rented at both the Snow Lodge and the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. Travel on snow mobiles in Yellowstone is highly regulated and a guide is required at all times, but it also allows you to visit places that are not normally accessible in the winter months. Once hired, the guide will take you through the snowy backcountry, which will reveal a number of spectacular sights along the way to the Falls, which are of course the ultimate prize.

Go Ice Skating!
Visitors to Yellowstone in the winter can take part in some traditional seasonal activities as well. For instance, both the Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel have skating rinks on the premises, which means you can hit the ice without having to wander far from the toasty confines of your lodge. Simply drop by the front desk at either location to pick up your skates. You’ll be pulling triple axles before you know it.

Winter in Yellowstone National ParkLearn to Cross Country Ski
Cross country skiing is one of the best winter activities that a traveler can ever experience, especially when visiting a setting as breathtaking as Yellowstone. There is something extremely sublime about gliding along through a fine, powdery snow with the Rocky Mountains looming high over head. It also happens to be a fantastic workout, but one that can require a little instruction and experience first. Fortunately, you can take a lesson at both the Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hotel, and then jump on a groomed trail not far from either location. After a little practice, you’ll be zipping along effortlessly in no time.

Soak in a Hot Spring
After spending a full day of playing in the snow, why not warm up with a dip in a natural hot spring? Yellowstone’s Boiling River, located not far from Mammoth, is one of the few places in the park where you can actually do just that, and while it can be quite crowded at other times of the year, during the winter it is easy to relax in the warm waters. The river is warm enough to keep you comfortable even in the the coldest conditions, just be sure to keep warm, dry clothes on hand for when you climb out. Brrrr!

Enjoy a Warm Drink by a Warm Fire
What’s the best way to cap an active day in the park? Easy! Pull up a comfortable chair and relax by the fire with a good book and a warm drink. Both the Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel have wonderful fire places inside the building, and whether you prefer a hot chocolate or a hot buttered rum, you’ll find sitting by the fire to be a perfect ending to a perfect day in Yellowstone.

If you do visit the park in winter, be sure to pack your cold weather gear and your adventurous spirit. You’ll need both.

Yellowstone opens for winter season

Yellowstone in WinterOne of America’s premiere national parks, Yellowstone opened for the winter season yesterday, with the South Entrance granting visitors access to the pristine backcountry that already seen plenty of snow this year. The East Entrance and Sylvan Pass will both December 22nd, offering even more access to this winter wonderland.

In recent years, it has become increasingly popular to explore Yellowstone’s stunning landscapes during the winter months, with many visitors taking in such sites as Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone with a fresh blanket of snow on the ground. But with so much snow in the region, travel by car is out of the question, which means that most will climb aboard a snowmobile to make the journey to those iconic places. The park puts strict limits on the number of such vehicles that are allowed in the park each day, and all riders must be accompanied by a commerical guide.

In preparation for the winter opening, Yellowstone employees have been very busy grooming roads and trails for winter travel. The park is already covered in various amounts of snow this season, with some areas remaining lightly covered for now, while others have experienced heavy snowfall already. Considering winter doesn’t officially begin for a few days yet, there is already plenty of the white stuff to play in.

For those that would prefer a more eco-friendly approach to visiting Yellowstone in the winter, there are other options besides snowmobiles and coaches. Snowshoeing and cross country skiing are not only great ways to explore the wilderness area, they are an excellent workout as well. The local park rangers also lead a number of great winter programs, which can be found by clicking here.

If you’re planning a winter escape to Yellowstone and would like to travel by snowmobile or snowcoach, you’ll find a complete list of authorized operators in the various regions of the park by clicking here.

Just because winter is about to set in doesn’t mean we have to give up on our outdoor adventures. Check out Gadling’s cold weather gift guide for plenty of winter gear to keep you warm all season long.

New visitor center opens at Yellowstone’s Old Faithful

On August 24th, the National Park Service opened a new $27 million dollar visitor center near Old Faithful in Yellowstone. The high tech and environmentally friendly building replaces an older visitor center that originally opened in 1972 and struggled to keep up with traffic in recent years, which have seen record numbers of visitors to the park.

Officially dubbed the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center, the new building was built in conjunction with the Yellowstone Park Foundation, a non-profit organization that raised more than $15 million to help fund the project. The OFVEC is expected to host 2.6 million annual visitors, who will be treated to a host of interactive displays including one that demonstrates the hydrothermal process that leads to the eventual eruption of a geyser. That one is particularly helpful while you’re waiting for the real Old Faithful to erupt just a hundred yards away.

The new building follows a number of strict guidelines for sustainability and energy efficiency, including the use of mostly recycled and bio-based materials. Additionally, the visitor center uses approximately 1/3 less energy than other buildings of its size, while sitting on a shallow foundation designed to protect the hydrothermal systems at play underneath. Furthermore, over 99% of the construction waste from the old building was crushed on site and used as backfill, aiding the carbon footprint even further. As a result, the OFVEC has earned a Gold level rating on the LEED scale, the first structure in the park to gain this distinction.

In addition to the interactive displays housed inside the “Young Scientist” exhibit area, the new visitor center also boasts a comfortable theater, a classroom for use by local schools and other organizations, a library, gift shop, and a resource room. The spacious lobby also features an information and orientation desk, and a nearby sign keeps everyone aware of when the next eruption of Old Faithful will occur. They geyser erupts every 90 minutes, give or take a few, and the new visitor center will give you something to do while you wait for that next spectacular display.

I visited the new center a few weeks back, and found it educational and fascinating. The new science displays are aimed at kids, but are also informative and interesting for us big kids too. You’ll definitely want to checkout the artificial geyser that “erupts” every 7 or 8 minutes, showing you how the entire process works both above and below the ground. I also applaud the efforts by the Park Service to take a more environmentally friendly approach, as the building looks spectacular and is good for the planet too.