Winter in Yellowstone, hells bells Loretta, where do I start???  A winter visit to Yellowstone National Park was one of my bucket list items and I can now cross that one off the list.  I was looking for peace, quiet and renewal (and a bit of adventure and exhilaration), and I was not disappointed.

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YNP Snow Coach

I took a snow coach to the Old Faithful Village, a 4 hour snow coach ride through the park on roads that are closed for the winter. I stayed 2 nights and 3 days in a “frontier” cabin (frontier meaning limited amenities, not the middle of no where).  The cabin was about 100 yards from the Snow Lodge which had all the amenities you might need.  The Lodge had food, drink, a gift shop, a roaring fire and comfy chairs to lounge in.

I spent most of my time outside, skiing, snowshoeing and watching Old Faithful erupt.  The best part about the trip was the peace and quiet you can only experience in winter, with a combination of reduced crowds and the way the blanket of snow seems to muffle all sound.   During summer, an estimated 25,000 people watch Old Faithful erupt each day.  Yes, I said EACH DAY!!! I’ve been here in the summer and it’s a zoo.

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Old Faithful – Yellowstone National Park

The first eruption I saw on my winter visit was at 8:42am, and there were a total of 7 people  watching.  Not only are there fewer people, but it takes an effort to get to Old Faithful in the winter, and to brave the weather, so the people that do come, really want to be there.

The part of each day that I liked most was early morning.  I would get up while it was still dark, and walk the boardwalk around Old Faithful, and I’d be the only one out there.  I’d watch the sky and land change as the sun came up. I took a million pictures, because each moment was even more beautiful than the last.    It was an amazing opportunity for reflection and appreciation of this beautiful place.

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YNP sunrise in Old Faithful Village

I think that part of wanting to do this trip was that I was looking for the “it’s all good” feeling, to capture it and to try to hold on to it.

The “it’s all good” feeling for me is when it suddenly becomes perfectly clear that the key to peace is to let go of “the struggle” and suddenly life becomes effortless, and with it comes amazing clarity, even if only for a moment. I guess it’s the feeling of God for me.

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YNP Cross Country Skiing

Another cool thing was that we were all kind of “stranded” in the village each night.  You couldn’t really go anywhere, and it made for a very social atmosphere.  People reached out to each other and talked, or invited you to dinner or to go skiing.  Also the lodge had a bon fire each night, even when it was very cold. I so enjoyed sitting outside, around the fire enjoying a bourbon old fashioned and seeing a million stars in the night sky.

What I learned about the Park:

It is a whole different experience in winter.  And even though its cold and the weather is unpredictable, unlike in summer, you will spend the time with fun people who are as adventurous as you are, even if their adventure means they braved the roads and the cold to get there.

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Old Faithful Area – Yellowstone National Park

What I learned about myself:

I’m not sure if it’s because I’m getting old or what, but there were some scary parts about this trip that gave me pause.  On the drive down from town, there were 70 mile an hour winds whipping down Paradise Valley, and the roads were terrible (icy and white out conditions).  I was pretty afraid of the drive, and the little voice in my head kept making a huge deal of it, trying to convince me to cancel the trip.  It felt harder than it should have to shut that voice up and talk myself into sucking it up and making the drive.   I was very relieved to reach Mammoth Hot Springs.

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PK snowshoeing in YNP

Once in the park, the little voice also tried to gain traction by freaking me out about hiking and skiing alone.  It was talking about avalanches, losing the trail or getting lost and bison attacks.  It all sounds pretty lame when I’m back home safe and sound, but I felt like I did have to push myself to overcome some of my fears.  I am so glad I didn’t give in to my fear or let it stop me from enjoying this trip.  It made me feel kind of brave.

Sometimes I’m not sure if the “little voice” is old age or wisdom.  I think the goal for me  is to recognize the difference between when I am just scared and when there is truly something to be scared about.  What I did learn was that each time I was afraid of something (fear) and I took all the right precautions (wisdom) what I thought was going to be so scary was ALWAYS a much bigger deal in my head than in reality (not one bison tried to attacked me).

Some thoughts for you:

With age comes wisdom, we all know that.  We know when to be cautious and how to make sure we don’t put ourselves in danger.  I encourage you to try not to mistake the voice in your head for wisdom when it is really fear (or vice versa).  I truly believe that a good healthy dose of overcoming our fear is necessary for our growth.  I encourage you to push your boundaries (but don’t break a hip or anything).

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Old Faithful Sunrise

Tips about the trip:

The park services does a pretty good job of keeping the walk ways clear around Old Faithful Village, however the weather is very unpredictable, and you never really know what the conditions will be.  It was sometimes icy or snowing or there were drifts when the winds came up.   I wore my ice walkers almost every time I went outside.  They provided great traction, and I had no problem getting around.  There were a lot of folks (even older than me) from all over the country that did not have experience with winter weather and they seemed to do fine too.

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Old Faithful Lodge, Yellowstone National Park

As you know, in winter dressing in layers is best.  The weather was around 5 degrees in the morning, and would warm up to around 15 or 20 (one day was 25, a heat wave).  I was constantly adding or removing layers and my activity increased/decreased or the temperature did.   Layers made sure I was never too hot or too cold.

I always check trail conditions and get recommendations from the visitor center.  Even in winter, the visitor center was well staffed and provided good information on trail conditions and helping identify the best trails based on my skill level.  They even had a solution for hiking alone.  They have you check in when you leave, and let them know your itinerary and your expected time of return, and if you don’t check back in, they send out a rescue party.  It added a lot of comfort to me knowing that someone knew where I was and when I’d be back.

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What are some of the adventures on your bucket list?

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