Built around the iconic Yellowstone geyser, the Old Faithful area is home to wintering wildlife, a thermally heated river, three geyser basins (Upper, Middle and Lower), several hotels (one of which is open in the winter) and great skiing. And the launch into the center of this winter wonderland, is just a scenic hour’s drive from Livingston, Montana.
Yellowstone National Park is home to half the world’s geysers–others can be found in Iceland, New Zealand and Kamchatka, Siberia. Most of Yellowstone’s geysers are in the Old Faithful area. The beauty of visiting Old Faithful in the winter is the opportunity to observe the grand geyser erupting all alone, or with only a few other tourists, something that just doesn’t happen during the busy summer season.
Bison and elk live here year round, taking advantage of the warm ground and thin snow around the thermal features. Wolf and coyote tracks are often spotted just off the boardwalk. In spring the area is frequented by black and grizzly bears taking advantage of the carcasses of animals that did not survive Yellowstone’s harsh winter.
The experience of being in the middle of Yellowstone makes it worth the price to get and stay there. Mammoth Hot Springs, just an hour’s drive from Livingston, Montana, is a great stepping off place. You can also drive to West Yellowstone at the west entrance or Flagg Ranch near the south entrance. From these locations a snowcoach or snowmobile is takes you on an interpretive journey Old Faithful.
Several companies are permitted to take people into the Park by snowcoach or snowmobile. All over-snow vehicle travel must be with a permitted guide, so check the Park’s website for a list licensed operators.
The website also lists companies that are permitted to guide cross-country ski trips in Yellowstone National Park. Some simply guide day trips from ski trailheads that can be reached by automobile, others will arrange transportation and lodging in the Park’s interior.
The Snow Lodge is the only hotel open at Old Faithful during the winter. Visitors lounge by the fireside, play board games in the foyer, and sip hot cocoa in the lobby. The hotel is home to two restaurants, the Obsidian Dining Room and the Geyser Grill. The dining room is open for three meals a day (make dinner reservations when you make your hotel reservation!) and the Grill is open for lunch.
The Snow Lodge is also home to the Bear Den Ski Shop where you can rent cross-country skis and snowshoes, get expert advice on the best ski trails, purchase souvenirs and books, or stock up on essentials you left at home.
To stay at Snow Lodge at Old Faithful, log onto www.travelyellowstone.com or call 866. GEYSERLAND and make a reservation. They’ll want to know how you are getting there, so be sure to check into snowcoach reservations as well. If you plan on entering by a Xanterra coach, the lodging reservations folks should be able to help you.
Xanterra operates four ski shuttles a day leaving from the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. These shuttles depart hourly from 8am-11am and where they go depends on the first person to sign up. The shuttle either heads northwest to Fairy Falls or east to Spring Creek/Divide Trail.
Xanterra also runs day tours to Canyon from the Snow Lodge. These trips include a little skiing, an interpretive guide and lunch.
Insider Tip: Sign up for a ski shuttle when you make your hotel reservation. If you don?t care where the shuttle goes, you should still sign up as soon as possible to guarantee a seat. Call the Bear Den Ski Shop to sign up. 307.545.4825
There’s plenty to do at Old Faithful. In addition to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, visitors can sign up and take snow mobile tours around the Park. There is an ice skating rink just behind the lodge with plenty of (free) ice skates.
A couple minute walk from the lodge is a new visitor center. Watch a Yellowstone flick, shop in the gift shop and learn all about Old Faithful and the park’s other geysers. This is the place to find out when Old Faithful is expected to erupt.
You can even watch Old Faithful erupt through the huge windows, if you aren’t willing to brave the cold to walk out to the boardwalk.
Insider Tip: Traveling with kids. The Old Faithful Visitor Center has a great interactive exhibit just for young explorers. Kids can earn a patch, and learn about winter at Old Faithful, through the Winter Junior Ranger program.
The Yellowstone Institute Association is a non-profit serving Yellowstone and its visitors since 1933. Proceeds from your purchases directly benefit Yellowstone National Park. There are locations around the Park (including at Mammoth and Old Faithful) or you can browse books, CDs, DVDs, Trip Planners and more on the Yellowstone Association website.
Lodging and Learning Packages are adventures based at park hotels. During the day participants explore the park with an expert instructor from the Yellowstone Association Institute. Each night they return to historic park hotels for excellent meals, comfortable accommodations, and entertaining evening programs provided by Xanterra Parks and Resorts.
Winter packages are based at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Old Faithful Snow Lodge. For more information visit www.YellowstoneAssociation.org or call 307.344.5566.
Check in at the Bear Den Ski Shop for advice on the best trails to ski or snowshoe based on your interests, experience, and the weather. Here?s a few to get you started.
Insider Tip: Some of the trails in Yellowstone are machine groomed, while others are skier tracked. Check Xanterra’s website for up-to-date trail conditions.
Distance: 5 mile loop
Elevation Gain: 40 feet
Maps: USGS: Old Faithful
Trails Illustrated: Yellowstone National Park
Trail Report: An easy trail that winds past thermal features and through the trees to Biscuit Basin. There is a good chance you will see wildlife such as bison, elk and waterfowl. Maybe even a glimpse of a wolf print in the snow.
This trail is best taken in early morning when the boardwalks are less icy and they may still be covered with snow. There are small sections where you will need to take off your skis and walk as the heat and water from the thermal features melts the snow.
Getting There: Start at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. To shorten the tour without missing the sites, take the Fairy Falls shuttle and ask the driver to drop you off at Biscuit Basin. Then, ski back to the lodge.
Distance: 8 miles one way
Elevation Loss: 740 feet
Maps: USGS: Old Faithful, Craig Pass
Trails Illustrated: Yellowstone National Park
Trail Report: This lovely tour follows Spring Creek and then the Firehole River downhill from near the Continental Divide to the Old Faithful area.
Getting There: Start at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge and take the shuttle to the Spring Creek/Divide trailhead. If the distance intimidates you, ask the ski shuttle driver to drop you off early, cutting an hour or so off your skiing time.
Melynda Harrison is a writer, naturalist, wife, mom, cross-country ski enthusiast, hiker, reader, knitter, jungle gym, napkin, Malamute lover, kid hauler and head over heels about being outside with her family. To read more about Melynda?s outdoor adventures visit her blog, Your Wild Child or her web site.