Winter Opens Snowy National Parks To Hardy Adventurers – National Parks Traveler

Winter Opens Snowy National Parks To Hardy Adventurers  National Parks Traveler

Thanksgiving week brought a lot of snow to much of the country. I returned home to find 8-9 inches of the white stuff in the yard, and a decided chill (low teens) in the air. All of which naturally got me thinking about how to enjoy the winter months in the cold weather side of the National Park System. If you’re looking to enjoy parks chilled and blanketed by winter, here (with much help from park staff) are some destinations to consider.

Acadia National Park, Maine

At Acadia, you need a pretty good snowstorm to lay down a thick bed of snow for winter sports. Still, there are 45 miles of carriage roads in the park that offer the perfect setting for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Ski tracks are sometimes laid down by volunteers on sections of the carriage roads when snowfall exceeds four inches; nearly 32 miles are designated for grooming when conditions and time permit. Check the Friends of Acadia Winter Trails Association webpage for trail status and when grooming occurs. 

You may also cross-country ski on unplowed park roads. But be careful, as snowmobiles are permitted to use most of these unplowed park roads. Skiing on hiking trails is not recommended because of the uneven and steep nature of trails, ice falls blocking the path, and trail routes obscured by snow.

Tips:

  • Fat tire bicycles are not permitted on groomed carriage roads.
  • Ski equipment and rentals are available in surrounding towns.
  • Please do not snowshoe or allow dogs to walk in cross-country ski tracks.
  • Snowmobile travel is allowed on the 27-mile Park Loop Road system (including the road up Cadillac Mountain) and most fire roads. Maps of the east side and west side show snowmobile routes and parking.

Snowmobile regulations include: 

  • All Maine state snowmobile laws are enforced in the park. Maine registration is required. As a reminder, tracked side-by-side (ATVs) are not permitted in Acadia National Park.
  • Snowmobiles are not allowed on carriage roads, except for the east side of Eagle Lake to make the connection to the Park Loop Road at Bubble Road.
  • Snowmobiles are not permitted off-road or on any hiking trails.
  • Maximum speed is 35 mph (56 km/h) on Park Loop Road and 25 mph (40 km/h) on all unpaved roads.
  • Yield to anyone not on a snowmobile (skiers, snowshoers, and hikers).
  • Turn on your white headlight and red tailight 1/2 hour after sunset to 1/2 hour before sunrise, and whenever visibility is less than 500 feet (152 m).
  • Towing people on sleds or skis is prohibited.
  • It is illegal to operate snowmobiles while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Drivers must be an least 14 years old to operate snowmobiles in the park.
  • Anyone under 18 years old must wear approved protective headgear.

Snowmobilers are encouraged to utilize the Hulls Cove Visitor Center parking lot to access the winter snowmobile routes. Snowmobile rental is not available on Mount Desert Island.

Ice fishing is a popular activity in Acadia when weather conditions permit. See Fishing for more information.

Though it can be difficult to navigate in winter, Crater Lake rewards the hardy with spectacular views/NPS

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Crater Lake features a variety of marked and unmarked routes for cross-country skiing. Choose a route through forests, along West Rim Drive to lake overlooks, or to Vidae Falls along the East Rim Drive.

Maps and descriptions of the ski trails are available in the park newspaper. None of the routes are groomed, and they are sometimes deep and difficult to follow. Conditions may range from powder to slush or ice. Skiers may need to break trail. Snowshoers often use the same routes.

Keep in mind that skiing is prohibited inside the caldera, along Highway 62, and in parking lots. You also should not ski up or down the road to Rim Village, whether it is opened or closed. As with other parks, a permit is required for all overnight stays in the backcountry during winter and summer. Detailed information available at Winter Backcountry Camping.

Skis are not rented or sold in the park. A list of ski rental locations outside the park is available on the publications page under activities. Snowshoes are available for rent at the Rim Village Gift Shop when the road to Rim Village is open.

Strapping on a pair of snowshoes is a great way to experience the changes that winter brings to Crater Lake National Park. Mounds of snowy waves cover downed trees and saplings, and forest shadows stretch across the sparkling snow. Meadows become white wonderlands. Snowshoe for a short distance or plan a full day along an established trail. First time visitors are advised to follow one of the park’s ski routes. Maps are found in the park newspaper.

  • As a courtesy to skiers, please refrain from walking in ski tracks.
  • Snowshoeing is prohibited inside the caldera, and on all roads and parking lots where vehicles are allowed.

Wearing warm, waterproof clothing and footwear, staying hydrated, and having a plan increases your safety and enjoyment while snowshoeing. Snowshoe rentals per day and overnight are available at the Rim Village Gift Shop (unless the road to Rim Village is closed). Current cost and availability are listed the winter park newspaper.

Rangers lead 2-hour snowshoe walks through forests and snow-covered meadows in Rim Village. The walks are generally 1 to 2 miles across moderate-to-strenuous terrain. Snowshoes are provided at no cost. Previous snowshoeing experience is not necessary. All participants must be at least 8 years of age.

Circling the Lake in Winter

Each winter, approximately 80 skiers and 40 snowshoers travel all the way around Crater Lake. It’s a trip that can be exceptionally rewarding, with unforgettable views. It can also be physically and mentally demanding—a test of endurance and outdoor skills. A backcountry permit is required for entire tour.

March and April are the most popular months to complete the loop. Spring provides more hours of daylight than the winter months and longer periods of fair weather. When the weather is clear, the 31-mile loop takes an average of three days to complete. Storms, however, force many parties to turn back or to spend extra nights. The route is unmarked, difficult to follow in places, and crossed by a number of avalanche paths. Those attempting the trip should be experienced in winter camping, backcountry travel, and avalanche safety.

Glacier National Park, Montana

There are miles of skiing and snowshoeing possibilities in Glacier but, as with any other park setting, take into account your skiing ability and backcounry knowledge, and check with rangers for weather and snow conditions.

Familiarity with the park and good maps are great to have, as most ski routes are not marked. A topographic map will help. Plan to break trail on less popular routes.

The Middle and North forks of the Flathead River present major barriers to travel on the west side of the park. Skiing on frozen lakes is dangerous and not recommended. Skiers, snowshoers, and hikers are asked to maintain separate tracks and register at the trailhead registration boxes.

For a truly memorable ski in the park, head from Lake McDonald Lodge to Avalanche Lake and back.

Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana

Hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing are popular in the wintertime at Indiana Dunes. Visitors must bring their own snowshoes and cross-country skis, as there are no rentals available. A 4-6 inch snow base is recommended. Trails are not groomed. You can call the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center at 219-395-1882 for trail conditions. The best areas for cross-country skiing include:

Glenwood Dunes Trail System

This extensive trail system features interconnected loops through gently rolling wooded dunes ranging from less than a mile to nearly 15 miles. The trail system can be accessed from either the Glenwood Dunes parking lot or the Calumet Dunes parking lot.

Tolleston Dunes Trail System

This 2.9-mile trail winds amid varied habitats ranging from oak savanna to wetlands and is a good choice for advanced skiers. There are some difficult hills that can be tricky to navigate.

Hikers and visitors using snowshoes are asked to walk to the right of the cross-country ski tracks whenever possible. Sledding and snowmobiling are not permitted.

Another popular winter activity at Indiana Dunes is admiring the shelf ice that often forms along the edge of Lake Michigan during periods of cold weather. But don’t be fooled. Despite its appearance, the shelf ice is not solid. In fact, due to the way it is formed, the shelf ice has numerous air pockets. It can be difficult to tell where the ice ends and the beach begins.

Because of that, park staff urges you to stay off the shelf ice. They say that a person applying even a small amount of weight on the ice can easily fall through and into frigid water that can quickly kill. Enjoy the beautiful and unique ice formations from the safety of solid ground.

Mount Diller and the Sulphur Works at Lassen Volcanic National Park/NPS

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Backcountry skiers flock to Lassen because of its wide expanses of terrain on and around Lassen Peak. More than half of the year Lassen is blanketed in snow. Although the park highway closes to through traffic in the winter season, the Southwest and Manzanita Lake areas remain accessible year-round. Visit the park’s year-round Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center (see hours) and enjoy the steep slopes in the Southwest Area or explore the gentler terrain in the Manzanita Lake area.

You can find information for winter treks at the following pages:

Manzanita Lake Winter Routes Guide (pdf, 424KB)
Southwest Winter Routes Guide (pdf, 716KB)
Lassen Avalanche Awareness Guide (pdf, 511KB)
Lassen Avalanche Terrain Map (jpg, 3.3MB)
Complete Park Map
Directions around the Park (pdf, 96KB)

If you’re looking for sledding fun at Lassen, the steep slopes in the Southwest Area of the park, near the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, are popular with experienced sledders. Be sure to choose a slope that is right for your group and the conditions because sledding is the No. 1 cause of visitor injury in the winter season. Each winter rangers treat and evacuate sledders with head and spine injuries, lacerations, and broken bones. Icy snow creates very fast sledding conditions and trees and rocks abound in this area.

Snowshoers should come prepared with their own shoes. If you’re new to snowshoeing, consider joining a free ranger-led snowshoe walk offered on weekends in the winter; snowshoes are provided for the program only.

The Manzanita Lake Area and the snow-covered Park Highway Route offer gradual climbs with limited avalanche danger, however, avalanche terrain exists at the upper end of the Manzanita Creek Trail near Loomis Peak. Numerous routes out of the Southwest Area offer trails of greater difficulty, many with spectacular winter views. Most of the primary snowshoe routes in the Southwest Area pass through frequent avalanche terrain.

The Sulphur Works hydrothermal area is accessible via a two-mile roundtrip route along the snow-covered park highway. The hydrothermal features are visible year-round due to the high temperatures of steam vents, mudpots and boiling springs. Visitors are encouraged to visit these special areas during the winter season, but are reminded that traveling too close to these areas has resulted in serve injuries for previous visitors. The snow surrounding hydrothermal features can look solid but may actually be a weak snow layer hiding poles of acidic boiling water. Reduce your risk of injury by maintaining a safe distance.

The Southwest Walk-in Campground at Lassen is open year-round. Tents are allowed only in the campground area. Camping in a vehicle is permitted in the adjacent parking area with fee. Vehicles must park between the islands in the parking area to allow for snow plowing operations. Self-registration is located at the Southwest Entrance Station. Self-contained barbecues are allowed in the paved parking area. Please do not dump ashes onto the ground or on the snow, please take wet, cooled ashes back with you or dispose of properly. Fires and fire pans are not permitted.

Backcountry camping is recommended only for experience backcountry travelers. A free backcountry permit is required and is available outside the Loomis Ranger Station in the Manzanita Lake Area or inside the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center. Learn more about backcountry permits.

The snow-covered park highway is best for beginner to immediate cross-country skiers and can be accessed from the northwest or southwest entrances. 

Lassen’s backcountry is recommended only for experienced backcountry skiers and snowboarders. Backcountry travel at Lassen requires entering avalanche terrain. Backcountry users should be avalanche aware, carry avalanche gear, and know how to use it. Lassen does not provide an avalanche forecast for the park. Forecasts for neighboring areas are available from Mt. Shasta Avalanche Center and Sierra Avalanche Center (Lake Tahoe area).

Tips:

  • Be prepared for winter driving by carrying tire chains and keeping a full tank of gas (the nearest station is 30 miles away).
  • Self-contained barbeques are permitted in paved parking areas. Please dispose of cold ashes in trash receptacles. Open fires and fire pans are not allowed.
  • Use separate tracks for hikers/snowshoers and skiers to prevent injury. Please do not walk in ski tracks.
  • Yield to downhill traffic – it’s much easier to stop uphill!
  • Cell service is very limited in the park. Free WiFi is available inside the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center.
  • Please keep Lassen clean by disposing of waste in the trash and recycling receptacles provided.

Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, Vermont

Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are popular winter activities in the park. In Woodstock, the average winter snowfall is 80 inches. Winter is Vermont’s longest season, and temperatures in winter vary more than those in summer. It is common to experience freezing temperatures from November to March, with many locations observing sub-zero days on a regular basis, so come prepared for cold weather.

The Woodstock Resort Corporation holds an easement on all of the park’s carriage roads and trails for winter use. The nordic center typically maintains a groomed network of approximately 7 kilometers of trails starting at Prosper Parking Area as part of a larger trail network of 30 kilometers surrounding the village of Woodstock.

Contact the Woodstock Inn and Resort Nordic Center (802-457-6674) for trail passes and more information about trail conditions and winter use. Skiers must purchase tickets at the Woodstock Resort Nordic Center before using park’s groomed trails. Check the Nordic Center’s current conditions information.

The remaining 23 kilometers of trails on Mount Tom will be left in their natural state for backcountry skiing and snowshoeing. No fee will be charged for their use. Ski passes from the Nordic Center are only required to use groomed trails.

Dogs and walkers may use the ungroomed trails only. Dogs must be kept on a leash for the safety of wildlife and enjoyment of trails by all. Dog waste on trails accumulates through the winter months; please pick up after your dog to maintain an enjoyable walking experience for all visitors throughout the seasons.

The Pogue pond: Ice conditions on the Pogue can vary extensively and create hazardous conditions. Walking, skiing, snowshoeing, or skating on the Pogue is not advised. Those skiing or snowshoeing must be self-sufficient and confident in their abilities as there is no regular ski patrol in the park.

A bucolic winter setting in New England at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park/NPS, L. Shahi

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

If you head out into the park on snowshoes down an old road or logging trail, the only sound you may hear is the beating of your own heart and the wind in the pines.

Within the national lakeshore boundary the only places you cannot snowshoe are probably obvious – on roads open to vehicular traffic and on the park’s 20 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails. The entire remainder of the lakeshore is available for you to enjoy via snowshoeing or off-trail skiing.

The park does not mark any specific snowshoe trails. Snowshoes work well on the short walking trail to Munising Falls and the half-mile Sand Point Marsh Trail. Both trails are easy to access by car as those parking areas are plowed and remain open all winter. Other destinations within the national lakeshore may be a longer trek from where you are able to park your vehicle.

Also, you can pick up the North Country National Scenic Trail near the Munising Falls parking lot or the Grand Sable Visitor Center parking lot and follow the trail for many miles. One good thing about snowshoes is once you have gone as far as you wish, turn around and follow your tracks back to the car. Barring a blizzard, your record of tracks will be easy to follow.

Though wildlife is pretty scarce in winter, tracks of otter, red squirrel, American marten, fisher, deer, grouse, raven, and snowshoe hare are often seen.

As with any activity in a national park, head out prepared. An unexpected slip into a creek or a broken snowshoe binding can quickly spell disaster. The lakeshore staff encourages you to carefully plan your snowshoe excursion into the park and leave word with family or friends regarding your plans.

Pictured Rocks also has two groomed and tracked cross-country ski trails with multiple loops; one is located near Munising and the other is near Grand Marais. These trails wind more than 20 miles through a landscape of varied habitats and topography, including beech, maple, hemlock, and conifer forests, old gently rolling farm fields, and rugged hills created in the park’s glacial past. Since this region receives about 140+ inches of snow each year, skiing is one of the park’s most popular winter sports.

Each trail offers a variety of loop lengths for a leisurely day ski or quick workout at the end of the day. All lakeshore trails are designed for diagonal stride only – skating is not permitted. In addition, pets, winter camping, snowshoeing, and walking are not permitted on lakeshore ski trails.

Trails are marked with blue diamonds. Maps are located at trailheads and at trail intersections. Watch and listen for grooming equipment when you ski. Some Munising trail loops feature interpretive wayside exhibits along the route. Be sure to stop at these to learn about the interesting natural and human history of the area.

Skiing is free at the lakeshore; however, the park has installed donation boxes for those who wish to assist us in the cost of maintaining these beautiful trails.

On the Munising Trail, loops A and B cross a snowmobile trail at four locations – listen and watch for approaching snowmobiles before crossing. On the Grand Marais Trail, loops C and D cross a county road used by snowmobiles – listen and watch for approaching snowmobiles before crossing.

For more information about skiing within Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and nearby trails:

Grand Marais Cross-Country Ski Trails (pdf)
Munising Cross-Country Ski Trails (pdf)
Grand Marais School Forest Ski Trails
Valley Spur Ski Trails

Ice climbing is another popular sport at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. With cold temperatures and ample lake-effect snow, numerous waterfalls, porous sandstone cliffs, and water seeping out of the rock layers, curtains and columns of ice are common.

Snow and ice are generally present by the second or third week in December and remain until early April. While ice frequently forms along the Pictured Rocks cliffs above Lake Superior, these areas are not recommended for climbing due to hazardous exposure to the lake. The most accessible ice columns are found along the Pictured Rocks escarpment between Munising Falls and Sand Point along Sand Point Road. Sand Point columns and blue ice curtains are 20-50 feet high. Parking is located at Sand Point Beach or at Munising Falls. The Sand Point Road is narrow with no shoulder; therefore, parking is prohibited along Sand Point Road.

Additional columns are located at Miners Falls and on the east side of the Miners Basin. Miners Falls is a 40-foot column. Access requires a three-mile ski or snowshoe trek in from the end of the plowed road at the junction of Carmody and Miners Castle Roads. Miners basin falls is located 1.2 miles north of Miners Falls on the east side of the escarpment. Travel to this column is over land.

Ice Climbing Regulations

When setting belay points from above remember it is your responsibility to preserve and protect vegetation and other natural features. Secure belay ropes to trees with a diameter larger than 8 inches that are growing well back from the edge.

Winter blankets Rocky Mountain National Park/NPS

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Rocky Mountain is an incredible park to explore in winter. You can don snowshoes or cross-country skis, head out in your own party, or join a ranger-led activity.

Most park trails can be explored with snowshoes. A few pieces of equipment are essential: you will need a pair of snowshoes and waterproof boots. Poles are helpful for maintaining balance, but optional. Waterproof pants or gaiters help keep you warm and dry.

Cross-country skiers might want to focus on the west side of the park, as the terrain and generally deeper snows make for better for cross-country skiing, but you are welcome to strap on your skis throughout the park.

Hidden Valley is the one place in Rocky Mountain where sledding is allowed. No tows are provided, and you must provide your own plastic sled (sleds with metal runners are NOT allowed), saucer, or tube (if you don’t bring your own they may be rented in Estes Park at most any outdoor shop). You walk your sled/saucer/tube up the hill and slide down. It’s a pretty gentle hill, being the bottom of the bunny slope of the former Hidden Valley Ski Area.

Skiers, snow boarders, and snowshoers may pass but must use caution around sledders, and slow down to yield the right-of-way. A restroom (flush/running water) is at the bottom of the hill by the parking lot. On most weekends when there’s an attendant, a warming room is also available. Winter winds can scour the area, causing conditions to vary, so call the park Information Office for the latest information, 970-586-1206.

If you want to snowshoe with a ranger, check the Free Ranger-Led Programs for snowshoe opportunities with a ranger; reservations are required. Snowshoe walks are offered on both sides of the park from January through March, depending on conditions.

If you don’t have gear, the communities of Estes Park and Grand Lake have shops where winter recreation equipment, including snowshoes, cross-country skis, poles, boots, sleds, tubes, saucers, gaiters, stabilizers can be rented or purchased. For renting equipment in Estes Park see the Visit Estes Park website. For rentals in Grand Lake and the surrounding area, see the Visit Grand County website.

Another great winter activity in Rocky Mountain and many other national parks is wildlife watching. In Rocky Mountain, many park roads are open. Winter is an especially good time to look for elk, mule deer, moose, and other large mammals. Look for moose along the Colorado River on the park’s west side. Elk and mule deer are most active at dusk and dawn, and are usually seen in meadow areas.

Look for bighorn sheep along the Highway 34/Fall River corridor on the park’s east side. Coyotes may be seen any time of day. Members of the Jay family, including Steller’s jays, with their striking blue bodies and crested heads, gray jays, Clark’s nutcrackers, and the iridescent, long-tailed black-billed magpies are commonly seen in the park.

Winter is a great time to explore the Giant Forest at Sequoia National Park/Jean Bjerke

Sequoia National Park, California

You can walk among the big trees at Sequoia, either by yourself or on a ranger-led tour. If you opt for the tour, the park will provide the snowshoes, while you’re expected to come prepared with waterproof boots, gloves, hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, water, and a snack.

These walks are considered to be moderately strenuous. Participating children must be 10 years and up. Waterproof shoes, understandably, are required. The guided snowshoe walks begin as soon as there’s enough snow on the ground, and this past week’s snowstorms dropped at least 18 inches of snow on the park. Reservations are required and walks often fill up.

For ranger-guided snowshoe walks in Grant Grove, sign up at Kings Canyon Visitor Center or call (559) 565-4307. Reservations required. Limit of 20 participants. Walks last 1 ½ hours and are up to 1.5 miles in length.

For snowshoe walks in the Giant Forest, sign up at Giant Forest Museum or call (559) 565-4480. Reservations are required. There’s a limit of 20 participants. The walks last two hours and are up to two miles in length.

According to park staff, many trails are suitable for snowshoeing when there’s enough snow. You can rent snowshoes at Lodgepole Market, Grant Grove Gift Shop, or bring your own. Purchase a map of ski trails at any visitor center and look for reflective markers on trees that show popular paths. When snowshoeing, stay clear of ski tracks. Check the park newspaper’s winter safety tips.

If there is sufficient snow, many areas of the park may be accessed by skis. Both Giant Forest and Grant Grove offer ski trails through sequoia groves. Purchase a map of ski trails online or at any visitor center. Cross-country skis are available for rent at Wuksachi Lodge and may also be available at Grant Grove Gift Shop. Please avoid residential areas, plowed roads, and other areas as signed.

For well-prepared and skilled winter travelers, the challenges of exploring park wilderness lands in winter can lead to a rewarding experience. Be familiar with ways to stay safe in cold or snowy weather conditions; be prepared for emergencies, and remember that weather in these mountains can change suddenly. Wilderness permits are required for all overnight trips away from designated campgrounds. Whether you stay at Pear Lake Winter Hut or create your own campsite, enjoy your adventure and be safe.

Winter might not bring enough snow for snowshoeing at Shenandoah National Park, but the setting (here at Rose River Falls) still can be magical/NPS, Brett Raeburn

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia 

Shenandoah, like Acadia, can be hit or miss with heavy snows, so it’s not exactly good for travelers coming from afar if your heart is set on snowshoeing or cross-country skiing on roads where those activities are permitted.

Sections of the Skyline Drive that are closed to vehicular traffic for inclement weather are open to winter activities. But….these sections are subject to snow removal operations at any time and the road will not be left unplowed or closed to solely facilitate winter use.

If you find yourself in the Shenandoah area and there is not enough snow to don snowshoes or skis, the park is still fascinating to hike in as the lack of leaves on the trees allows you to see landscapes that normally are out of sight.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

When the conditions are right, Sleeping Bear Dunes offers outstanding cross country skiing and snowshoeing on a variety of trails and terrain. The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is groomed for both classic track and skate skiing. Other ski trails are not groomed but are usually well tracked by previous skiers.

Sleeping Bear also offers ranger-led snowshoe hikes when conditions are right. Typically, these adventures are offered every Saturday beginning the first weekend of January. All hikes begin at the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center on Highway M-72 at the edge of the village of Empire at 1 p.m. local time. Call the park’s visitor center at 231-326-4700, ext. 5010 to make a reservation. If you make a reservation but then need to cancel, please call the park staff and let them know so we can contact visitors who are on the waiting list.

Rangers will first provide basic snowshoeing instructions and then, everyone will travel by car to a specific trailhead. Along the trail, the ranger will share interesting facts about the park’s unique features. Be prepared and plan to be outside until about 3:30 p.m.

The ranger-led hikes are mildly strenuous, yet they proceed at a leisurely pace for approximately one-and-a-half miles. This allows you to look for signs of wildlife or evidence of ancient glaciers or to simply experience a winter wonderland.

Winter is the quiet season for exploring Theodore Roosevelt National Park/NPS, Laura Thomas

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

The Little Missouri Badlands receives about 30 inches of snow a year. Snow can arrive in October and stay until April. That said, the wind tends to blow the snow around quite a bit, leaving some areas bare and others drifted high.

The park does not groom any trails for cross-country skiing. Skiers blaze their own trails through the snow. The best places to cross-country ski are on the frozen Little Missouri River and on closed park roads.

Skiing on park trails can be somewhat difficult. The trails are narrow and many cross creek bottoms. These creek bottoms are like little canyons and may be too steep for safe skiing. They, and all coulees and draws, may also fill up with blowing snow hiding their true depth.

Also be aware of wildlife and keep a safe distance from bison (100 yards minimum).

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming/Montana/Idaho

Yellowstone has miles of trails for the adventurous skier and snowshoer. Though track is set only on a few trails, all unplowed roads and trails are open to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Whether you are skiing a groomed trail in a developed area or venturing into the backcountry, remember that you are traveling in wilderness with all its dangers: unpredictable wildlife, changing weather conditions, hydrothermal areas, deep snow, open streams, and avalanches. Your safety is not guaranteed. Be prepared for any situation and know the limits of your ability.

Resources:

Trail conditions and status are also available from the ski shops at Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful. Find trails on the west side of the park via this page.

Tips:  

  • Drink plenty of water. Yellowstone’s altitude and cold, dry winter air can cause dehydration. Carry water in insulated bottles so it doesn’t freeze.
  • Elevation: Consider the elevation when deciding on a ski trail. Park elevations with adequate skiable snow range from 7,000 to 10,000 feet, and may require you to move slowly when you are out of breath. If you are coming from lower elevations, acclimate yourself first.

Winter beauty might be closer than you think (here rime ice on a tree near Beryl Spring) at Yellowstone National Park/NPS, Jacob W. Frank

Yosemite National Park, California

The impact of snowstorms can be unpredictable at Yosemite, but when things are right, the landscape is gorgeous and captivating. For skiers and snowshoers, there are several marked winter trails available, generally from mid-December through March. But you’ll probably have to leave the valley to enjoy those activities, as the Yosemite Valley usually doesn’t have sufficient snow for skiing or snowshoeing.

You can find brochures and maps for skiing and snowshoeing in the park at these sites:

In addition, the National Park Service offers ranger-led snowshoe walks from mid-December through March (conditions permitting). See Yosemite Guide for a schedule of current programs.