Photo Journal: Yellowstone In Winter

February 2021  |  Yellowstone National Park, Montana

I spent a week in February 2021 photographing in Yellowstone National Park. What a wonderful adventure! I landed in Bozeman, spent one night in a hotel, and then had a long, lonely, and very snowy drive to West Yellowstone, which was to be my base for the rest of the week. Yellowstone National Park itself is such a special place in winter!! The visit followed a few days of significant snowfall, blanketing the park in fluffy power, and leaving a pristine canvas to facilitate tracking of wildlife. It was crisp and cold, with temperatures around -15 for most of the week –- this only increased the mist rising from the warm rivers (50+ degrees) that weave their way through the park, and intensified the steam from the park’s hydrothermal features. With very few visitors in the park (roads are generally closed, except to snow coaches and snowmobiles), we were essentially alone to admire and photograph the abundant wildlife battling to survive a harsh winter (herds of bison, numerous coyotes, trumpeter swans, bald eagles (no wolves or fox on this visit) and to explore the varied landscape (the thermal features along the Madison River, the travertine terraces at Mammoth, and the open meadows of the Hayden Valley). We are so blessed, in this time of Covid, to have the natural beauty of our National Parks!

Coffee shop in Bozeman Montana, early morning in February.

Wild Joe's

Coffee shop in Bozeman Montana, early morning in February.

I arrived in Bozeman, MT to find a charming western town -- but cold, snowy and windy.

Early morning outside the Rockford Coffee shop, after an overnight snowfall in Bozeman.

Rockford Coffee & Bicycle

Early morning outside the Rockford Coffee shop, after an overnight snowfall in Bozeman.

On my first morning, before leaving for Yellowstone, I ventured out on the main streets of Bozeman. It was early, there had been significant snow accumulation overnight, and many of the roads to Bozeman had not yet been plowed, so the streets were quiet.

Early morning, downtown Bozeman, MT, after a snowstorm.

Downtown Bozeman

Early morning, downtown Bozeman, MT, after a snowstorm.

Sign signaling the entrance to Yellowstone National Park en route from Bozeman, MT, in white-out conditions.

Yellowstone Entrance

Sign signaling the entrance to Yellowstone National Park en route from Bozeman, MT, in white-out conditions.

I set off in late morning (in the hopes the plows would have cleared the roads) on my drive past Big Sky to West Yellowstone on the Gallatin Gateway. I expected plenty of company on the roads from workers and skiers commuting between Bozeman and Big Sky, and given that significant snowfall is a normal event in February in Montana, I was hoping for clear roads. Unfortunately, for much of my journey, it was the opposite. The roads were generally not plowed, there was almost no car traffic, it continued to snow at a furious pace, and the wind had picked up. It was almost impossible to see the side of the highway, and several times I veered into snow that was more than 12" deep (but escaped, thanks to a wonderful Jeep Wrangler, rented from Rocky Mountain Expeditions). Needless to say, what I hoped would be a short 1 h 45 minute drive turned out to take over 4 hours, and the lack of traffic and plows was even worse south of Big Sky. I was thrilled to see the sign announcing the entrance to Yellowstone National Park -- even though I was still quite a distance from my destination of West Yellowstone!

Farm outside West Yellowstone as a winter snowstorm begins to clear.

Yellowstone Clearing Storm

Farm outside West Yellowstone as a winter snowstorm begins to clear.

Finally, as I approach West Yellowstone, the snow storm that had accompanied me since Bozeman began to clear! Such a welcome change!!

Farm outside West Yellowstone, as the sun starts to break through and the snow departs.

Yellowstone Farm

Farm outside West Yellowstone, as the sun starts to break through and the snow departs.

Snowmobiles parade down one of the main streets in West Yellowstone, MT in mid-winter.

Snowmobiles in West Yellowstone

Snowmobiles parade down one of the main streets in West Yellowstone, MT in mid-winter.

I finally arrived in West Yellowstone in mid-afternoon. Again, the streets were largely deserted, except for a few trucks, and snowmobiles that had the run of the road. West Yellowstone is right next to the entrance to the park itself, and it is one of the few ways to enter the park in winter. Although a very sleepy town at this time of year, I was thrilled to have made it without incident from Bozeman!

Mobile homes and trucks buried in snow -- consistent with the relative isolation of West Yellowstone in February.

Closed for Winter

Mobile homes and trucks buried in snow -- consistent with the relative isolation of West Yellowstone in February.

A herd of bison make their way through the trees near the west entrance to Yellowstone.

Bison Parade

A herd of bison make their way through the trees near the west entrance to Yellowstone.

I traveled in Yellowstone with two other photographers, in a snowcoach that was essentially a converted Suburban with treads ... the perfect mode of transportation to access the snow covered roads of the park and provide us with plenty of space for equipment. Our guide was David Schultz-- a wonderful wildlife and nature photographer who had been leading winter tours in the park for years (and for at least six weeks in a row this winter). We entered the park each day before sunrise (around 7:30 am), and left after sunset -- long, but exciting days of exploring and photography!!


My first introduction to Yellowstone National Park itself was a herd of bison along the Madison River ... the herd parading through a stand of trees, meandering along the river’s edge, crossing the river, displaying classic snow faces, and images of large bison on the move. Incredible creatures!!

A lone bison with its face covered in snow.

Snow Face

A lone bison with its face covered in snow.

A large bison on the move through the deep snow in Yellowstone.

On the Move

A large bison on the move through the deep snow in Yellowstone.

NATIONAL PARKS, Yellowstone

Two Bison

A single bison approach head-on through the deep snow.

Head-on

A single bison approach head-on through the deep snow.

Herd of bison along the Madison River, Yellowstone NP, in the early morning light

Bison Herd

Herd of bison along the Madison River, Yellowstone NP, in the early morning light

Abstract of colored rocks at Mammoth Hot Springs.

Mammoth Rocks

Abstract of colored rocks at Mammoth Hot Springs.

Throughout our visit, I was searching for unique images of often-photographed scenes. The rather abstract image above was made at Mammoth Hot Springs.

Reflection of trees in Winter in a nearby river.

Winter Trees

Reflection of trees in Winter in a nearby river.

Eruption of the Clepsydra geyser in the Lower Geyer Basin of Yellowstone.

Clepsydra

Eruption of the Clepsydra geyser in the Lower Geyer Basin of Yellowstone.

This image was a fun surprise. We were wandering by a number of thermal features in the Lower Geyer Basin of the park. I came upon this one pool with yellow mounds and a dark background … intriguing but nothing extraordinary. The rest of our group of 3 photographers kept walking. I paused to take a shot … and then the Clepsydra geyser erupted, shooting high into the air, in brilliant white against the backdrop of the dark sky … such power and grace … reminding me a little of angel’s wings. Now I had an image that spoke to me … one that’s more than just ordinary. What a treat! I continued searching for images that day that focused on the more intimate landscape scenes.

NATIONAL PARKS, Yellowstone

Yellowstone Trees 1

Trees were a constant focus during my few days in Yellowstone National Park. From frosted pines in blue light shortly before sunrise, to dead trees surrounding some of the park’s hydrothermal features, to snow covered trees clouded in mist, this collection of images showcases some of the distinguishing characteristics of Yellowstone, while serving as a reminder of the ever-changing nature of our landscape –- and of its beauty.

NATIONAL PARKS, Yellowstone

Yellowstone Trees 2

NATIONAL PARKS, Yellowstone

Yellowstone Trees 3

NATIONAL PARKS, Yellowstone

Yellowstone Trees 4

NATIONAL PARKS, Yellowstone

Yellowstone Trees 5

NATIONAL PARKS, Yellowstone

Yellowstone Trees 6

NATIONAL PARKS, Yellowstone

Yellowstone Trees 7

NATIONAL PARKS, Yellowstone

Trees at Dawn


A single tree grows from a rock in the middle of a river in Yellowstone, backlit by mist illuminated by the rising sun.

Tree in the River

A single tree grows from a rock in the middle of a river in Yellowstone, backlit by mist illuminated by the rising sun.

Cascade, Mammoth Hot Springs, Yosemite

Winter Cascade

Cascade, Mammoth Hot Springs, Yosemite

Here are two images from Mammoth Hot Springs -- another almost mystical place covered in snow and clouded with steam. The second image is of steam rising from the numerous fumaroles on Roaring Mountain – although less active than years ago, it’s an impressive site to see – even better when the steam is enhanced by air temperatures of -20!

Roaring Mountain, Yellowstone NP

Roaring Mountain

Roaring Mountain, Yellowstone NP

Black & white image of a lone tree standing among the rolling, snow-covered hills of the Hayden Valley in Winter.

Lone Tree, Hayden Valley

Black & white image of a lone tree standing among the rolling, snow-covered hills of the Hayden Valley in Winter.

For our first two days of our visit, the snowfall from earlier in the week had closed several areas of the park. On the third day, we were finally able to visit Hayden Valley, about 50 miles east of West Yellowstone. In winter, this area, bounded by the Yellowstone River, is a vast, open, hilly meadow of snow. When we arrived in the valley, we discovered virgin snow, and fewer trees and thermal features than some other areas of the park. Very different, but stunningly beautiful!! My photography was more focused on minimalist and abstract landscape scenes, and the resulting images seemed better rendered in black & white.

Hayden Valley, Yellowstone NP

Snow Dunes

Hayden Valley, Yellowstone NP

A coyote in Yellowstone in late-day sun.

Coyote on th Prowl

A coyote in Yellowstone in late-day sun.

Coyotes are abundant in Yellowstone and we were fortunate to see a few during our 4 day visit. They can be found meandering or hunting in the meadows and valleys of the park, but we also saw them crossing the snow-covered roads, and even walking through the parking areas of some of the thermal features.

The lower falls of the Grand Canyon area of Yellowstone National Park, at 308 feet high, are almost twice as high as Niagara...

Yellowstone Grand Canyon

The lower falls of the Grand Canyon area of Yellowstone National Park, at 308 feet high, are almost twice as high as Niagara Falls. In winter, frozen mist and new snowfall accumulates, eventually building a mound or bridge across the river below.

This is an image of Lower Yellowstone Falls, in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. The top of the frame shows the falls themselves, which drop some 300 feet (almost twice that of Niagara Falls), and flows throughout the year. In winter, the sustained sub-zero temperatures cause mist from the falls to freeze. That, together with regular snowfall, causes a giant bridge to build out from the canyon walls, until it crosses over the entire width of the Yellowstone River. This is the “peak” of snow in the middle of the frame, which probably stands more than 100 feet above the river below. It’s another example of the wonders of nature – a powerful waterfall, forming a gigantic ice/snow bridge across the mighty Yellowstone River below. A fitting reminder of the beauty and majesty of Yellowstone National Park.

Posted in Travel and tagged National Park.