Many photographers travel to Yellowstone National Park in the spring / early summer for wildlife photography. The big attraction in the spring is the babies and the bears – which is awesome!
But, there are also advantages to photograph Yellowstone for wildlife in the winter. Here are some of the biggest advantages and a few disadvantages of photographing wildlife in Yellowstone in the winter.
• Many animals move down into the valleys from the mountains and are closer to the road. Moose, Big Horn Sheep, Coyote, Red Fox, and Wolves are easier photograph.
• Many types of wildlife are easier to spot in the winter due to the contrast with the white snow.
• Less crowds! Anyone who has been to Yellowstone in the late spring and summer will appreciate this. Yellowstone attracts a lot of visitors in the prime seasons.
• Ice covered roads and unforgiving ditches. It doesn’t take much to slide off the road and into the ditch and if you slide into the the ditch in the wrong place, it could cost you over 2 hours and $300 for a tow truck to pull you out.
• Access to a much smaller part of the park. Only the road from Mammoth to Cooke City is open in the winter. However, this road is 50 miles long so there is plenty of ground to cover. You can also purchase a seat on a snow coach which leaves from both West Yellowstone and Mammoth. These will cost around $100-200 / day and will give you access to additional areas of the park.
• The cold. It can get cold in the mountains. Sometimes down to zero or below in Lamar Valley. Make sure you dress in layers including gloves and insulated boots. Hand and foot warmers also help. You are not normally out of your car for too long unless you find animals on a carcass.
• Pullouts. There are less pullouts available and you are not supposed to stop on the road. If you have two people in the car, the driver can drop the other person off while they look for a pull out or drive around and then pick the photographer up. You can also stop quickly for a shot but the rangers will tell you to move along or they can even ticket you.
Tips for Photographing Yellowstone in the Winter
• Where to Stay: Gardiner, Montana is right outside the North Entrance by the famous Roosevelt Arch. It is about an hour to Lamar Valley from Gardiner. You can also stay in Cooke City which is closer to Lamar Valley but it typically overrun with snowmobile enthusiasts and has no cellular coverage.
• Where to Fly In: Bozeman, MT it’s a 1.5 hour drive to Gardiner through some scenic country. Airline fares are also fairly reasonable flying into Bozeman. But, book early as a lot of skiers fly into Bozeman in the winter.
• When to Come: January or February are good times when there is ample snow to bring the animals down into the valleys.
• Old Yellowstone Trail: The old North Entrance Road to the park. Old Yellowstone Trail is about 13 miles long. It is a great place to photograph pronghorn, elk, and mule deer grazing in the late afternoon.
• Lap Camera: Make sure to keep a camera with a medium long lens (100-400mm & 1.4 extender) handy when driving through Yellowstone. You never know what you are going to see or when you will see it. It also helps with those quick shots you can take from the road.
Written by Martin Belan