Retired Austin Travelers

Jackie & Steve Visit Yellowstone in Winter

Local Retired Austin Travelers Jackie and Steve Kraal took a journey in January 2022 to Yellowstone National Park. One of the greatest advantages of this time of year is the lack of cars and people and the opportunity to feel as though the park really belongs to you.

This trip was on Steve's bucket list, not so much Jackie's but she was willing to go along for the ride. Steve spent several hours on the phone in September with Xanterra booking most of the trip. There are other organizations you can go through (i.e. Yellowstone Forever, private photography tours) and we met a couple who made their own arrangements. Through Xanterra we booked the bus shuttle to and from Bozeman to Mammoth Hotel, travel to and from Mammoth Hotel to Old Faithful Snow Lodge,  six days of lodging in Yellowstone, and five excursions.

Later on we also were notified to make dinner reservations. We did have a Snowlodge Frosty Fun Package that provided some amount of discounts, including 10% off dining and the gift shop. The pricing and information sent from Xanterra was not always easy to follow and we did have a couple of hiccups once we arrived, so be sure to thoroughly go through each and every detail to make sure it is what you expected. The front desk at Old Faithful Snow Lodge was helpful and explained and answered all questions.

We signed up for the following tours:  Lonestar Tour (snowshoeing), Great Divide, Steam and Stars (evening), Wake Up to Wildlife (very early in the morning), and Norris Basin. Our favorites were Lonestar and Norris Basin, although all were interesting and led by enthusiastic drivers/guides.

Even though Mammoth Hotel and Old Faithful Snow Lodge were at capacity, if you go in winter you will have the park essentially to yourselves. The snow coaches hold a maximum of 12 people, yet there was only one time it was completely full during our excursions. When we went out to view Old Faithful erupting we had a total of about 20 people in the entire area.

Tips for a wonderful stay:
  • We sandwiched the Yellowstone trip with an overnight stay in Bozeman. We were at the Best Western Plus and they provided a shuttle from the airport and into town. They sort of had centralized drop off points, but really you could call and say where you were and they'd pick you up. Just like Uber or Lyft. That was very nice. In addition, they have a good bar/restaurant and you get 10% off breakfast. For dinner, consider getting appetizers or sharing a meal as the portions are large.
  • If you get a chance, make a trip to the Museum of the Rockies. We spent four hours here the first day we arrived. Excellent museum.
  • Be sure to look at the packing list provided for you (or from the park website.) We took everything they recommended.
  • Rather than buy cold weather gear, put a call out to friends and neighbors to see if they have items you might borrow. We had neighbors who had gone to Antarctica so we were able to get a jacket, hat and scarf, gloves, long sleeved tops, and even a pair of boots. We saved a ton of money and returned them cleaned with a bouquet of flowers.
  • We were there when Omicron was making its way through the staff, so dining was limited for a few days. We had brought all kinds of "treats" for snacking and picnics and they came in handy. We had at least three lunches using these.
  • Bring cash to tip drivers/guides.
  • Be sure to ask the guide/driver if they have toe/hand warmers or Yak Trax [strap-on traction cleats]. Oftentimes, they were available and you didn't have to provide your own. We took advantage of this and ended up returning almost all of our warmers to REI.
  • If you have to rent snowshoes, plan it so you can get at least two opportunities in the 24 hours. We picked ours up right before our tour at 11:45 and then were able to get up the next morning and go for about two hours before having to turn them back in. Honestly, they probably would have been fine whenever we turned them in and the staff member actually gave us ours for free, since he thought they should be included in the tour. :-)  
  • Hook up with other people for meals. We met a couple from Colorado and had a great time in the bar and dining together many evenings.  
  • Be sure to have the huckleberry scones. Amazing. We brought back packages from the gift shop so we can remember our trip.
  • Final tip, be sure to bring your Senior Pass for the National Parks. The shuttle driver will ask if you have it as you have to pay an entrance fee if not.