Cross Country Skiing in Yellowstone

Sharing The Park With Snowmobiles

fYellowstone Park belongs to all of the people of this country. Snowmobiles at this time are the best way to see Yellowstone for those without much time or for those that aren't fit for skiing. Everyone should see Yellowstone in winter and when you are old and infirm you will be glad that you still have an expeditious way of seeing the Yellowstone Park unencumbered by fogged up snow coach windows.

There are plenty of places to get away from the snowmobiles as they are very limited as to where they can go. The snowmobile controversy is greatly exaggerated by opponents of snowmobiling who never learned to share as children.


Cross Country skier, Yellowstone

Most of Yellowstone is backcountry and managed as wilderness; many miles of trails are available for skiing. Track is set only on a few trails. All unplowed roads and trails are open to cross country skiing and showshoeing. When skiing on unplowed roadways used by snowmobiles, keep to the right to avoid accidents.

Yellowstone National Park has miles of ski trails for the adventurous skier or snowshoer. Most of Yellowstone is backcountry and managed as wilderness; many miles of trails are available for skiing. Track is set only on a few trails. All unplowed roads and trails are open to cross country skiing and snowshoeing. When skiing on unplowed roadways used by snowmobiles, keep to the right to avoid accidents.

Yellowstone Expeditions ( offers multi-day cross-country skiing excursions that explore Yellowstone backcountry from their skier’s “Yurt Camp,” located only one half mile from the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The camp is composed of private heated sleeping huts, a dining room Yurt, a kitchen Yurt, camp shower, sauna and a heated outhouse. Each day, guests tour with a naturalist/ski guides, exploring miles of wilderness trails throughout Yellowstone transported by snowcoach. 

The Yellowstone Association, one of the largest and most well respected field schools in the National Park System, teams up with Xanterra to provide knowledgeable naturalists for these programs. There are also a variety of classes held during the winter with niche experts in areas such as snow tracking, photography, wolves, and history.

Orange metal trail markers attached to trees may be difficult to find in winter. Even on a well-marked trail, you can become lost easily in a whiteout or blizzard. Only skiers thoroughly familiar with the area should attempt off-trail travel.

Cross Country skier and Moose, Yellowstone National Park

There are dangers inherent in wilderness: unpredictable wildlife, changing weather conditions, remote thermal areas, deep snow, open streams, and rugged mountains with extreme avalanche danger. When you choose to explore Yellowstone, you experience the land on its own terms; there is no guarantee of your safety. Be prepared for any situation. Carefully read all backcountry guidelines and regulations, and know the limit of your ability. Most trails are marked with orange metal markers attached to trees. Few streams have bridges. Parties venturing into the backcountry should carry a USGS topographic map and a compass and know how to use them. Even on a well-marked trail, it is easy to get lost in a "whiteout" or blizzard. Only skiers thoroughly familiar with the area should attempt off-trail travel. When planning your trip, get specific information on conditions from rangers at a ranger station or visitor center.

Park elevations with adequate skiable snow range from 7,000 to 10,000 feet (2133 - 3048 meters.) Skiers and snowshoers who live at lower elevations should take a short day or overnight trip to test their capabilities before attempting longer outings.

A Backcountry Use Permit is required for all overnight ski trips. Contact a park ranger at a ranger station or visitor center before you begin a ski trip-- whether for a few hours or several days. Some park areas could be open to skiing or snowshoeing on designated routes only during severe winter conditions to protect wildlife. Maps of these routes will be posted at trailheads, but check with a ranger before beginning your trip. Trip planning should include allowances for limited daylight, snow conditions, temperature extremes, and the number of people in the group, their experience and physical condition. Overnight ski and snowshoe trips during December and January are difficult due to short days, extreme temperatures, and soft snow. Learn as much as you can about winter survival. Talk with park rangers before you leave on any trip.

Choose skis and boots made for touring or mountaineering. Narrow racing skis won't provide enough surface area to break trail. 

Old Faithful Area Ski Trails

old faithful geyser elkLone Star Geyser Trail
7360’-7600 9 miles (round trip), easiest 240 feet elevation gain/loss - Beginning across from Old Faithful Snow Lodge, the trail follows the Mallard Lake Trail to the Firehole River crossing. The trail then follows an old road cut. After skiing over moderate hills, the trail crosses the snow road at Kepler cascades and continues along the east bank of the Firehole River. The trail follows an old service road to Lone Star Geyser. Novice skiers should return to Old Faithful by the same route. A much more difficult return route can be made on the Howard Eaton Trail. The section of trail that begins after crossing the road and continues to Lone Star Geyser is groomed. Otherwise, the trail between Old Faithful Snow Lodge and the road is skier tracked.

Howard Eaton Trail
7360’-8100 8 miles, more to most difficult 520 feet elevation gain/loss - This trail, a steep alternative to the Lone Star Geyser trail, follows the Fern Cascades trail from behind the Bear Den Ski Shop south through the cabin area and across the snow road. From there the trail starts a long steep climb followed by a rolling descent toward Lone Star Geyser. Just before the thermal area and geyser is a trail that cuts off to the Lone Star Geyser trail.

Spring Creek Trail
7360’-8100’ 8 miles, easiest to more difficult 740 feet elevation gain/loss - This one-way trip begins with a snowcoach drop-off at the Divide trailhead. The trail follows Spring Creek and consists mostly of gentle downhill runs with a few steep sections crossing back and forth over a series of bridges. After crossing the Firehole River Bridge, the trail joins the Lone Star Geyser Trail returning to Old Faithful.

Divide Trail
8044’-8590’ 2.6 miles up and back from Spring Creek Trail Junction (plus 8 miles returning to Old Faithful via Spring Creek), more difficult 546 elevation gain/loss - the route begins approximately 7 miles east of Old Faithful where a snowcoach can drop you off. The trail coincides with the Spring Creek Trail for a short distance and then branches left and continues its climb approximately 1.3 miles up to a pass on the Continental Divide with views of Shoshone Lake and Mount Sheridan to the south. Return to Old Faithful via Spring Creek Trail.

Fern Cascade Loop Trail
7360’-7600’ 3 miles, easiest to more difficult 240 feet elevation gain/loss - The one-way Fern Cascades trail begins next to the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. The trail goes along a power line and climbs approximately 250 feet. The trail continues through rolling woodlands to Fern Cascades.

Mallard Lake Trail
7360’-8120’ 6.8 miles (round trip), more difficult 760 feet elevation gain/loss - The Mallard Lake Trail begins across the road from the front of the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. The trail follows a service road toward the Old Faithful Lodge and then down two short hills to the Firehole River. After crossing the bridge, the trail divides. There is a long climb to Mallard Lake with some steep sections and some side hills.

Mallard Creek Trail
7320’-8120’ 12 miles round trip from Old Faithful, easiest to most difficult 800 feet elevation gain/loss This trail branches off the Mallard Lake Trail just before the lake itself. From there the trail climbs steeply at times up to the northwest overlooking the lake and then follows the ridge to the northwest. This section of the trail has numerous steep gully crossings and many challenging turns. The return to Old Faithful is another 4 miles of flat gently rolling terrain along a power line and then through the Geyser Basin.

Black Sand Basin Trail
7280’-7360’ 4 miles, easiest 80 feet elevation gain/loss The route begins in front of Old Faithful Visitor Center and travels through the Geyser Basin toward Morning Glory Pool. Take the turn-off to the Daisy Geyser Group and continue on this trail until you come to the snow vehicle road.

Biscuit Basin Loop Trail
7320’-7360’ 40 feet elevation gain/loss The route begins across the road from Old Faithful Snow Lodge and continues through the Geyser Basin. It goes east of Morning Glory Pool and on to Biscuit Basin. This trail passes by many thermal features with good possibilities of viewing wildlife. To complete the loop back to Old Faithful, follow the Mystic Falls Trail a few yards, then onto a trail which leads down to a footbridge across the Little Firehole River. From the bridge, the trail continues through the woods and meadows for about a mile, returning to the main trail through the Geyser Basin at Grotto Geyser.

Mystic Falls Trail
7320’-7400’ 7 miles, easiest to more difficult 80 feet elevation gain/loss Follow the Biscuit Basin Trail through the Geyser Basin to Morning Glory Pool and on to Biscuit Basin. You will find the trail to Mystic Falls at the far end of the basin boardwalk area. Ahead about 50 yards the trail branches off to Summit Lake. Continuing on, the Mystics Falls Trail approaches the falls. Return by the same route.

Fairy Falls Trail
11 miles, easiest 160 feet elevation gain/loss The route begins at the southern end of Fountain Flats Drive. The trail follows the drive for approximately 1.3 miles. From there to Fairy Falls it passes through flat terrain covered with lodgepole pine forest. To return to Old Faithful, ski back to the trailhead and cross the snow road to pick up the return trail. After ½ mile you will see Mallard Creek trail, follow along the power line for several miles back to the Geyser Basin and then several more miles back to Old Faithful.

.8 miles Flat our summertime entrance road into the Old Faithful area pulls double duty as a flat triple-wide skate ski approximately 8/10 mile around. Take in the geysers and hot springs of the Myriad Group, see the Old Faithful Inn in a picturesque setting amongst the lodgepole pines, and ski through an area of burned trees left from the fires of ’88. A machine set classic track on the outside of the oval allows classic skiers to explore as well. Access to this trail is via the main snow road or the employee ski path, and is just a short distance from the Snow Lodge.

Canyon Area Ski Trails

Lower Yellowstone Falls - WinterCascade Lake Trail
7850’ to 8000’ 3 Miles, Easiest 150 Feet elevations gain/loss The Cascade lake ski trail begins on the left (west) side of the Washburn Hot Springs Overlook road. The ski trail follows a service road then down a wide trail. The trail winds through a lodgepole forest opening into Cascade Meadows. You continue crossing Cascade Creek. The trail leads out across the meadow to ice covered Cascade Lake. The trail provides a good view of the Washburn Range.

Roller Coaster Trail
1.8 miles, more difficult 200 feet elevation gain/loss The trail begins at the Canyon Warming Hut going along the North Rim Drive and a service road. Ski down a short moderate slope into a meadow and up into the pine forest. From here the trail is a series of moderate to steep ups and downs. The trail merges with the Canyon Rim ski trail. The Roller Coaster is fast and fun.

Canyon Rim Trail
4.5 miles, easiest to more difficult 200 feet elevation gain/loss The groomed trail begins at Canyon Warming Hut and follows the North Rim Drive and continues down the Inspiration Point roadway. A moderately steep downhill section leads you to Inspiration Point where it makes a loop and returns back up the hill. The trail continues along the edge of the Canyon Rim for one mile providing excellent views of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The trail continues along the roadway past the cabins and up into the summer developed visitor area and back to the Warming Hut.

Washburn Hills
8200’-9700’ More difficult to most difficult, advanced skiers take the snowmobile road north from the Canyon Warming Hut towards Washburn Hot Springs Overlook for 2.5 miles. Advanced Nordic skiers will find unlimited moderate to steep slopes for downhill skiing. Avalanche danger can be high, increasing towards Dunraven Pass. Avalanche transmitters, climbing skins, and partners are highly recommended.

Old Canyon Bridge Trail
1 mile, easiest - the groomed trail begins at either the Chittenden Bridge or on the main road at the entrance to the Upper Falls. A very short easy ski with beautiful views of the Yellowstone River above the Upper Falls.

Northeast Area Ski Trails

Howling Wolf, Yellowstone National parkBannock Trail
7257’-7389’ 2 miles, easiest 132 feet elevation gain/loss The trail begins at Warm Creek picnic area. After crossing Soda Butte Creek the trail follows the old roadbed. The terrain is mostly flat and the trail transverses open meadows and mixed conifer forests. You will reach the North Absaroka Wilderness approximately one mile from the trailhead. At two miles you come to Silver Gate, Montana. From here the roadbed is used as a snowmobile route and is good skiing to Cooke City.

Barronette Trail
7011’-7200’ 3.5 miles, easiest 189 feet elevation gain/loss The Barronette Ski trail is a 3.5 mile section of the old Cooke City road. The trailheads are located at the upper and lower Soda Butte bridges on the Northeast Road. The trail lies mostly in conifer forests beneath Barronette Peak. The trail offers some spectacular mountain scenery and consistent snow conditions.

Pebble Creek Trail
13 miles, most difficult - this is a backcountry trail that is usually through unbroken snow. Although skied as a day trip in late winter early spring by experienced parties it normally requires a night out to complete. Check at a ranger station for current conditions.

Tower Area Ski Trails

Bison in snowstormLost Lake Trail
6800’-6440’ 4 miles, easiest to more difficult 120 elevation gain/loss This trail is best started at the Petrified Tree Road. The route travels the road to the Petrified Tree, then leads through a narrow, open valley to Lost Lake, then following the near shore (on the ice) the trail reaches the head of the lake. It then travels through intermittent forest and meadows.

Blacktail Plateau Trail
7571’-6600’ 8 miles. Easiest to more difficult. 312 feet elevation gain/loss This trail may be skied from either end. It begins 8 miles east of Mammoth Hot Springs at a parking area across the road from a self-guided trail, or at a service road approximately 1 mile farther east. The trail gradually climbs 900 feet in six miles through open meadows to “The Cut.” From The Cut the trail descends two miles down a moderate grade through a spruce-fir forest to rejoin the Mammoth-Tower Road. Broad vistas, elk, deer, coyotes, and occasionally bison may be seen.

Tower Falls Trail
6480’-6270 2.5 miles, easiest 190 feet elevation gain/loss This trail begins at the parking area just southeast of Tower Junction. It follows the Canyon road for 2.5 miles up a gradual slope past Calcite Springs Overlook to Tower Falls. Great views of the Yellowstone River Canyon, occasionally bison, bighorn sheep and bald eagles can be seen.

Chittenden Loop Trail
7250’-6480’ 5.3 miles, easiest to more difficult 900 feet elevation gain/loss The Chittenden Loop Trail begins at Tower Falls. The trail is easiest if skied to the right through the Tower Falls Campground, climbing the more difficult section at the beginning of the loop. The trail continues through dense lodgepole pine returning to the unplowed Tower-Canyon road. From here the route goes approximately 3 miles back to Tower Falls. Good views of Mt. Washburn are possible.

Mammoth Area Ski Trails

Bighorn Rams, Yellowstone winterSnow Pass Trail
6750’-7450’ 4.2 miles, easiest to most difficult 700 feet elevation gain/loss The Snow Pass Trail leaves the west side of Mammoth-Norris snow vehicle road south of the Upper Terrace parking area. The trail ascends 700 feet in 1.5 miles through a series of steep grades along an old wagon road to Snow Pass. Good views of the surrounding country are frequent. From Snow Pass the trail continues down over rolling terrain to a trail junction at which the ski route follows Glen Creek over fairly level terrain for 2.2 miles, returning to the snow vehicle road.

Bunsen Peak Trail
6240’-7360’ 6 miles, easiest to most difficult 1120 elevation gain/loss This groomed trail begins off the Mammoth- Norris snow vehicle road. The upper 3 miles are mostly level and suitable for all levels of skiing ability. On the northeast side of Bunsen Peak, the road becomes steep and winding, dropping 960 feet in 2.5 miles to Glen Creek. CAUTION: some curves have steep drop-offs and can be hazardous when icy. From Glen Creek the trail climbs 0.5 miles to a plowed road in an employee housing area 0.8 miles below the Upper Terrace parking area. This trail provides fine views of the Gallatin Mountains and the Gardner River Canyon.

Indian Creek Loop
7300’-7350 2.2 miles, easiest 50 feet elevation gain/loss This groomed trail begins at the Indian Creek warming hut and follows the campground road north to the campground registration cabin. It then makes a figure-eight loop through the campground. The groomed ski trail is inside the north half of the Indian Creek loop.

Bighorn Loop
7300’-7620’ 5.5 miles, easiest to more difficult 320 feet elevation gain/loss The trail begins at the Indian Creek Hut and coincides with the Indian Creek loop for the first mile. It then continues making a loop through rolling terrain with outstanding views of the Gallatin Mountains, Gardiners Hole and the surrounding country. After completing the loop, return to the Indian Creek Hut by the same route.

Sheepeater Trail
7260’-7320’ 5 miles, easiest 60 feet elevation gain/loss - Beginning at the Indian Creek warming hut, ski along the snow vehicle road north to Sheepeater Cliffs picnic area. The trail skirts the east side of Swan Lake Flats through interspersed forest and meadow with view of the Gallatin Range and Gardner River Canyon. The trail connects with the Bunsen Peak trail and continues approximately 1.6 miles west to the Mammoth-Norris snow vehicle road.

Upper Terrace Loop Trail
6570’-6780’ 1.5 miles, more difficult to easiest 200 feet elevation gain/loss This groomed loop begins at the Upper Terrace parking area. A moderate climb leads to views of hot springs, terraces, and the surrounding mountains. At the top of the climb, a trail veers off to the southwest which connects with the Snow Pass Trail. The Terrace Loop Trail descends past more hot springs before completing the circuit. Since snow depths here are less than in the mountains above, wintering elk and deer are occasionally sighted in the Terrace area.


Winter in Yellowstone - by Robert Lovik • If you’ve ever thought of visiting Yellowstone, the world’s first national park and the template for conservation efforts everywhere, this winter is the perfect time. Winter in Yellowstone is an entirely different ballgame than the summer months when hoards of tourists drive their doublewides through the park, clogging up the roads as traffic jams form with the sight of every elk, bison or coyote that wanders within eyeshot of their air conditioned cabs.

Get those thoughts out of your head though. Winter in Yellowstone is everything the park was meant to be.---------------------------------------------> More

A new book by Montana photographer Tom Murphy reveals a side of Yellowstone National Park that few people have seen, much less understood and appreciated.
Winter, the park’s longest and hardest season, is celebrated—“respected” may be a better word—in Murphy’s large format, hardcover book, Silence & Solitude: Yellowstone’s Winter Wilderness ($29.95, Riverbend Publishing). The book’s 130 photographs range from sweeping panoramas of backcountry landscapes to details of delicate ice crystals. Many of the photographs show wildlife trying to survive in near-arctic conditions: bison stoically standing in a geyser’s warm steam, hundreds of elk following one another single file through belly-deep snow, and a red fox leaping high in the air to come down hard on crusty snow and pin a mouse to the ground.

In his foreword to the book, popular author and Outside magazine editor-at-large Tim Cahill writes, "These are photos that mirror a man’s passion, and I know of nothing like them anywhere. Tom Murphy is an artist of major distinction. More often that not, the image itself tells a story. This is because Tom, who has been a guide in the park for two decades, knows the flora and fauna and the natural rhythms of the place in the way that he knows the beating of his own heart. Consequently, his photographs are not simply stunning or striking: they are also knowledgeable and even wise.”
Murphy, 51, was the first person licensed by the National Park Service to conduct photography workshops in Yellowstone. He spends 80 to 100 days within the park each year, and once he skied solo for 125 miles across the park. That trip, made during one of the worst winter storms of the decade, took 14 days.
“I seek out the winter here because I find things that are difficult or impossible to find anywhere else,” Murphy writes in the book’s introduction. “I make these photographs because I love the quiet beauty of this wilderness. I hope others feel, through my photographs, the wondrous elegance, symmetry, surprise and power of the place.”
Murphy also provided the film for a new video by Montana Public Television on winter in Yellowstone. The video and a CD of the video’s music are companion items to the book and share the same title, Silence & Solitude: Yellowstone’s Winter Wilderness.

Outside Magazine editor-at-large

“Don’t you think this idea is,” I asked gently, “oh, vaguely suicidal.” My thrifty photographer friend, Tom Murphy, wanted to ski across Yellowstone National Park: a two-week backcountry ski expedition where there would be little or no possibility of rescue in case of an accident or an unforeseen emergency. He wanted to slog through a country noted for 50 degree below zero temperatures and blinding blizzards and snow twenty feet deep in order to take pictures. Tom is not a high tech guy and owns none of the latest warmest gear. It seemed to me that his cameras would freeze up, along with his fingers, and hands and perhaps his entire body, and that it was possible he might very well die in the name of photography, which sounds noble enough from a distance, but moronic when the potential victim is a friend. It was an impossible trip. In order to navigate the country, for instance, one would be obliged to cross rivers fed by hot springs, rivers that consequently did not freeze and ran waist deep in the shallow sections so that it is necessary for a traveler to strip from the waist down, shoulder pack and skis, then ford the river, half naked, in the freezing cold, through the near-frozen water. Tom had just asked if I wanted to come with him—this was in back in 1985—I said, “uh, no.”
For the record, I need to say that Tom is also the world’s most “frugal” outdoorsman: his pack is 20 years old, as are his skis, and he wears thin red dress socks under his old leather boots, socks that, he is proud to say, cost him 50 cents a pair. But his gear does the job. He gets across the park in the winter, something few of us could accomplish. In the same way, his cameras are simple: he is concerned with composition and light and information that tell a story. That’s all. And that’s more than enough. Tom Murphy goes out in the winter in his silly red dress socks and he brings back these wondrous, these stupendous images. This book is the closest most of us will get to a backcountry ski trip through Yellowstone. It is a fine thing to have Tom Murphy as our guide. He a passionate naturalist, an artist of major distinction…and, as it turns out—red dress socks not withstanding—a man not nearly as suicidal as I once imagined. Sartorially challenged maybe, but not suicidal.


Teton Region Cross Country Ski Trails
  Here, you can submit information on temperature, humidity and snow granulation, and our system will make recommendations for the best Swix wax for the conditions. These recommendations are based on our published guides, along with the many years of World Cup race experience from our Swix wax technicians.
Grand Teton National Park
  • Flag Ranch Area
• Colter Bay Area
• Taggart Lake Area
• Moose Wilson Road Area
• Signal Mountain Area
Teton Valley

• Teton Canyon - Drive up Ski Hill Road out of Driggs. The road will change names a few times but I don't think it is noticeable, (I never did) just stay on the main drag until about a mile after you go through Alta there is a turn right on Teton Canyon Road. drive down this road until you get to the parking area. This is a beautiful ski at The Grand