Four Seasons of Adventure in West Yellowstone
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West Yellowstone, Montana, the small town near the western entrance to America's first national park, undergoes dramatic changes throughout the year. Summer season draws in large crowds looking to enjoy the beautiful weather in one of the most famous National Parks in the country. Fall and Spring usher in fewer crowds of people and more crowds of wildlife grazing through the vibrant colors of nature. Wintertime turns West Yellowstone into a popular outdoor recreation area with hundreds of miles of trails for snowmobile riders and cross-country skiers. With all the amazing opportunities to explore the park, plenty of comfortable lodging, and fun activities, there’s every reason (and every season) to visit West Yellowstone. So pick a season and plan a visit:
Winter in West Yellowstone
West Yellowstone experiences more than 150 inches of snow annually. This, along with its scenic beauty, makes it one of the top winter towns to visit in America. The dead of winter comes alive with so many fun activities.
Wintertime in West Yellowstone is full of heart pumping adventures. The area is well-known as the host of the World Snowmobile Expo, where all the big names in snowmobiling gather together to show off their toys, compete in races and enjoy the gorgeous scenery.
Over 400-miles of well-maintained trails spread across the southern reaches of Montana and into Idaho through dense forests of pine trees. There are trails for all experience levels, and the best way to ride them is with a West Yellowstone snowmobile guide. If you choose not to take a guide snowmobile tour, you will need a permit to ride alone. Applications are taken starting August 1st and are chosen through a lottery system.
- Cross-Country Skiing
Another fun winter activity in West Yellowstone is cross-country skiing. Riverside trail offers a chance to get a glimpse of wild elk or bison and is the ideal place to begin a skiing adventure, as well as ski into the park. For a dog-friendly trail, try Boundary Ski and Snowshoe Trail, an out-and-back 7-mile stretch along Yellowstone’s boundary. Rendezvous Trail offers over 18 miles of undulating terrain that ranges from easy to most difficult. If you’re visiting during Thanksgiving week, check out the Yellowstone Ski Festival which, for over 20 years, has offered clinics, an indoor expo, races, and lots of family fun.
- Ice Fishing
If neither skiing nor snowmobiling sound enticing to you, Hebgen Lake becomes an ice fishing haven in the winter. Every January the NAIFC Ice Fishing Tournament takes place, offering ice fishing clinics, kid’s activities, and much more.
- Dog Sledding
For one of the most unique and memorable experiences in West Yellowstone, take a dog sled tour with a trained musher. If you don’t want to ride, you can experience the excitement of dog sledding at the Rodeo Run Sled Dog Race held every December.
- Snowcoach Tours
An important thing to note about winter in West Yellowstone is that you can’t enter the park by private vehicle. So why not experience the opportunity of traveling by snow coach! These mammoth vehicles are outfitted with super large tires that glide over the unplowed roads and allow you to view nature and wildlife up close, thanks to their large windows. A variety of tours are available and can last up to 7 hours.
Spring in West Yellowstone
Spring is a magical time in Yellowstone; the air is cool, monkeyflowers appear, snow lingers in the mountains, high rivers meander gently through meadows and baby animals graze the land. Spring is the season West Yellowstone wakes up, and it’s an ideal time to enjoy the region without the pressure of summer crowds.
One of the more exciting aspects of this time is that the west entrance is only open to bicyclists. This allows you to take your bike and cruise through open roads where you may be greeted by bison trudging along the roadside or elk feeding near the rivers. If you’d rather be on foot you could hike Beaver Ponds Trail. This 5-mile loop is located in the Mammoth Hot Springs area and travels through thick forests, large meadows, and past plenty of ponds where you’ll see and smell the blooming wildflowers.
Summer in West Yellowstone
Summer is without a doubt the most popular time of the year to visit this scenic town. The area is overflowing with people from all over the world looking to explore the vast wonders that Yellowstone holds.
One of the best ways to see the park is by lacing up your boots and going for a hike on one of many incredible trails. North Rim Trail, a moderate 6.4-mile hike, travels above the Yellowstone River and offers plenty of gorgeous vantage points. You’ll also want to explore Fairy Falls Trail, an easy 4.8-mile hike that takes you past two geysers and a vibrant spring until finally reaching the tallest waterfall in the park.
- Whitewater Rafting
One of the best ways to escape the summer heat in West Yellowstone is by going whitewater rafting. The waters surrounding Yellowstone National Park provide rafters with everything from lazy floating to intense, heart-pounding rapids. No wonder it's considered one of the top whitewater rafting spots in the US.
- Horseback Riding
A real way to get back to nature and feel the true history of the West is by horseback riding. In fact, horseback riding is one of the most popular activities in Yellowstone National Park. Rides can vary from 2 hours to multi-day backcountry excursions. Several outfitters also offer trips in the national forest land that surrounds the park. The National Park Service only allows authorized private, licensed outfitters to guide trips in the park.
West Yellowstone, considered the trout capital of the U.S., is an anglers paradise. Best known for its fly fishing, the surrounding rivers and lakes provide plenty of space to catch a trophy trout. Several local outfitters and guides can provide you with everything you need for a successful day of angling. Hebgen Lake, with its miles of shoreline, offers up some of the best stillwater fishing in Montana. Several local outfitters and guides can provide you with everything you need for a successful day of angling.
Don’t forget to explore the town of West Yellowstone! There are a plethora of boutiques, restaurants, theaters, ice cream shops and museums. There are also several summer activities like local rodeos and Cowboy Mounted Shooting Competitions that will show you what real western hospitality feels like.
Autumn in West Yellowstone
Autumn is truly a special time to be in West Yellowstone. Not only are the fall colors blazing with bright reds, yellows and shades of gold, but the Elk are in their mating season, or otherwise known as the rut. This time of the year is a spectacular opportunity for photographers to capture Yellowstone in all its glory.
Autumn is also the best time for fishing as the big brown trout travel out of Hebgen Lake and up the Madison River. The rivers are full of fish and you’ll be sure to catch a few. Another fun activity that’s great for the whole family is visiting the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center for an up-close and educational look into Yellowstone’s wild animals. And, of course, you shouldn’t miss the beautifully scenic drive to Quake Lake.
Lodging in West Yellowstone
Besides the over 70 available RV Parks and campgrounds available, West Yellowstone offers a huge array of lodging options, from personal cabins and family-owned motels to large, full-service hotels. With so many options, you are certain to find the perfect home away from home any season of the year in West Yellowstone. If you'd like to find out more, take a look at our guide on Yellowstone camping.
It’s Always the Right Season in West Yellowstone
There are so many things to do and so much to see that any time of the year is the perfect season to visit West Yellowstone. The area is your gateway to snowmobiling, with endless trails for hiking, great opportunities for fishing, and boundless spaces to explore. With the entrance to Yellowstone National Park right in town, you are a stone’s throw away from the iconic hot springs, mud pots, and Old Faithful geyser. So, pick a season and plan your adventure!
Featured image by: Patrick Jennings.