A Yellowstone Christmas
It has been our tradition since making the move West to spend Christmas near Yellowstone National Park. With our children and grandchildren spread across the country, staying home doesn’t make much sense.
Visiting Yellowstone in Winter
Yellowstone Park keeps it’s north entrance, in Gardiner, Montana, open year round to provide access to Cooke City, Montana through the Lamar Valley.
Snow tires are required when driving this 56 mile section of the park. Maintained for travel, the road varies in elevation, which leads to a variety of road conditions. Plan on icy, snow covered roads and places of dry, clear pavement.
Lamar Valley on Christmas Eve 2017
Bison Grazing in Yellowstone in Winter
Gardiner to Mammoth Hot Springs
Every time I head for the park and drive through to Roosevelt Arch towards Yellowstone, I have a sense of deep gratitude to our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt. Without his vision and passion for nature, our trip to this special place may not have occurred.
We cross into Wyoming, drive past the 45th parallel, and begin the climb towards Mammoth Hot Springs. The curvy road follows the Gardiner River.
The road rises and the steam from the hot springs curls in the distance. Elk and pronghorn sheep are the main attraction along this stretch.
The town of Mammoth, Wyoming is a bustling hub in season, but on Christmas Day, it’s only a few lone adventurers like ourselves exploring the hot springs and park.
Coyote Walking Down the Road in Lamar Valley
Roosevelt Arch on Christmas Day
Mammoth Hot Springs to Cooke City
Take a left in downtown Mammoth towards Tower Junction, and the road winds down and away from the hot springs. Hundreds of elk tracks can be seen in the snow along the road.
The road then comes to a bridge spans the Gardiner River some 800 feet below. The road then again rises for miles as you enter wolf country. We have been lucky twice to come upon folks watching wolves with high-powered scopes. We hit the jackpot this year on the Blacktail Plateau. Kind, Christmas Day visitors shared their view of two wolves lying near an elk pack at the edge of a timber stand. What a thrill to see wolves!
Traveling on, bison were the main event as we neared Tower Juntion. Our phones beeped and buzzed as we entered cell range with Christmas wishes from family and friends. Groups of cross-country skiers set out on trails from Tower while photographers of all skill sets snapped photos of nearby bison.
The Lamar Valley in winter always takes my breath away. Vast, mountain rimmed, and snow covered, the valley lay cold before us. Much of the Lamar River was frozen solid with nothing more than a thin blue line of open water in places where the river runs fast.
The a distinct smell of sulfur filled the air as we rolled down the car windows to watch a coyote hunt small creatures under the snow.
Bighorn sheep grazed high on a steep hillside near a winding section of road. Soda Butte Creek comes into view as we leave the Lamar Valley behind.
On this trip we did not go all the way to Cooke City, a small gateway town at the northeast entrance to the Park. In winter, Cooke City is a snowmobiler’s paradise with abundant trails and backcountry riding.
Steep mountains follow the road while the small, Soda Butte Creek, bubbles along the road. The mountain scenery is just jaw-dropping when sunny. On this trip, however, clouds and snow showers were more common than blue skies.
Wildlife We Saw in Yellowstone On Christmas Day
We had a great trip for wildlife spotting. Here’s what we saw:
- Elk – Hundreds of them
- Bighorn Sheep
- A lone Coyote
- Mule Deer
Spending Christmas Day In Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone does not have many services open in winter, but on Christmas Day there is even less. Here are some things to think about before venturing into the park on Christmas.
- Fuel up. You’ll find 24 hour fuel pumps in Gardiner and Cooke City.
- Food and Water. There are no convience stores open in Gardiner on Christmas Day. Make a plan the day before and bring water and food for snacking along the way.
- Binoculars and Cameras. Absolutely bring spotting scopes, binoculars, cameras, tripods, and cell phones with cameras to document your tip and get a better view of the abundant wildlife.
- Bringing Pets? Be sure to bring water, snacks, and leashes, pets are not allowed to run free in the park.
Elk Grazing in Yellowstone on Christmas Day
Yellowstone Christmas Vacation 2019
Montana’s Paradise Valley is the path to the north entrance to Yellowstone. Stretching from Livingston to Gardiner, this 57 mile route follows the Yellowstone River and is bordered by the Absaroka and Gallatin Mountain Ranges.
Just driving through Paradise Valley is a treat. Peaks on the Absarokas reach nearly 11,000 feet. Mule deer and elk along with cattle graze in the meadows along the river.
Chico Hot Springs
Our favorite place to stay for Yellowstone Christmas is Chico Hot Springs, in Pray, Montana. Pet friendly, the resort features a fabulous restaurant, a saloon with music on the weekends, comfortable accommodations, and an outdoor hot springs pool.
Just 30 miles north of Gardiner, Chico is an easy choice. We stayed three nights. One day for hanging out in Livingston, a funky western town rich in history, artists, and writers. One day for Yellowstone.
Actually, you never even need to leave Chico. They offer a day spa, horseback riding, dog sledding, places to hike/cross country ski/snowshoe, and a gift shop.
Our dogs love it here for our morning walks, cool scents of mule deer and horses, and of course, the doggy bags from the restaurant.
Christmas with Friends on Yellowstone National Park
Chico Hot Springs For Christmas Vacation
Nearby Fly Fishing Waters
In season, Paradise Valley and Yellowstone National Park are an angler’s dream.
If the weather cooperates, one could get in a little fly fishing on a Yellowstone Christmas vacation. Temperatures above 32 degrees, actually higher than 40 is ideal, with a lack of high winds are perfect conditions to fish the local spring creeks or the Yellowstone. The Park is closed to all fishing in winter.
Here are some amazing places to fish nearby.
- Yellowstone River
- DePuys Spring Creek
- Armstrong Spring Creek
- Nelson’s Spring Creek
Yellowstone River at Mallard’s Rest Day After Christmas 2019
Bell and Pie Christmas Day 2019 in Paradise Valley
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