By USA Specialist Alex
The USA’s snow-capped Rockies region abounds in ski resorts, but there’s more to do than just hit the slopes. From geyser-watching with no one else around to spotting wolves with an expert tracker, there’s a wealth of other activities to enjoy if frosty thrills are what you’re after.
I recommend focusing your winter Rockies adventure on two national parks: Grand Teton and Yellowstone. That way, if you do want to add on a couple of days of skiing, you’re just a short hop away from Jackson Hole’s world-class resort.
Snowshoeing in Grand Teton National Park
Azure skies and crisp air that nips at your nose, jagged, snow-draped mountains, and once-verdant plains now painted in stark white. Grand Teton National Park is truly a winter wonderland, and one of the best ways to explore it is by donning your snowshoes and heading out with an expert guide.
Together, you’ll hike into the park’s tranquil depths, kicking up flecks of crystal-like snow as you go. Snowshoeing can be quite a tiring affair, but the views of Grand Teton’s peaks sprinkled in snow make it well worth the effort — and your guide can tailor the trail to your fitness level, too.
For me, one of the best parts of this experience is uncovering wintry clues left by local wildlife, such as delicate wolf tracks in the snow.
Seeing steam-engulfed geysers with few others around
I’ve visited Yellowstone’s Old Faithful in summer, and while the world-renowned geyser was magnificent, I had to share the experience with around 600 other people. However, on an icy winter’s morning, just a few minutes’ walk from our hotel, my three colleagues and I were treated to an almighty eruption of billowing steam and water with absolutely no one else around.
And the experience was much the same all around Yellowstone. If you’re willing to get up early, you often can have many of the geysers all to yourself. Timing your visit is key, though, because some only erupt every few hours.
One morning, after carefully checking the eruption timetable, my colleagues and I strapped on our snowshoes and trudged through the woods to Lone Star Geyser. As soon as we arrived — again, with no one else but us — I could hear the water bubbling away, little spurts of steam escaping like a kettle poised to boil. Then, all at once a fire hose of scalding water shot high into the air, turning into little ice crystals on its descent. I felt very lucky to witness nature at its most wild and powerful while basking in the winter solitude.
Wolf tracking with an expert private guide
Wolves are the king of the park in winter, and easier to spot in the snowy landscapes. One of the best places for sightings is in Lamar Valley in the north of Yellowstone National Park.
That said, wolves aren’t easy to locate if you don’t have a keen eye, which is why I always recommend going with an expert wolf tracker. When I visited, I was fortunate enough to be accompanied by Nathan, an experienced naturalist who’s contributed to a wealth of research on the region’s wildlife. His knowledge paid off almost immediately when he pointed out a black speck in the distance, something I would have never spotted on my own.
We bundled into the car and drove towards the distant dot and, lo and behold, there they were: a pack of 15 or so wolves lolling about on a snowy ridge, the young cubs playfighting. We kept our distance so as not to disturb them, but my guide helped me capture crystal-clear photos of these elusive creatures by aligning my phone camera perfectly through a telescope.
Along the way, we also saw a coyote on the prowl and a very bushy-tailed fox darting across a snowy plain. In Yellowstone, they call that trifecta a ‘three dog day’ — a rare treat.
Winter photography safari
I’ve always taken travel photos on my phone, but the epic landscapes of Yellowstone in winter just beg to be captured in a more professional manner. So, if you’re an avid photographer (no matter your experience level), be sure to bring your camera and tripod for a winter wilderness photo safari.
You’ll go with a small group of fellow photography enthusiasts and an expert guide who’ll help you hone your skills and train your eye as you stroll along the geothermally active western edge of the park. Perhaps you’ll frame a snowy-banked bend in the still-running river, unfrozen and steeped in swirls of steam. Or maybe a bison plunging through a snowbank head-first in search of winter forage.
Whether you want to focus on the park’s scenery or its wildlife, this tour is all about taking it slow, setting up the perfect shot, and capturing your little slice of Yellowstone to cherish long after you return home.
Tour of Yellowstone National Park in a snowcoach
If you’d like to witness the park’s geological treasures with a warm refuge to hop onto along the way, I recommend taking a snowcoach. They look almost like yellow school buses kitted out with monster truck wheels to tackle the tricky terrain. You can also go by snowmobile, but that experience is a little too chilly for me.
Aboard the toasty-warm snowcoach, you’ll navigate around the whole lower loop of the park, passing by the frozen waters of Yellowstone Lake, the steamy geysers and mud pools of the Lower Geyser Basin, and the gush of Yellowstone’s largest waterfall attempting to overcome an ever-increasing wall of ice.
Luxury ranch relaxation
Forgive me for including a fairly non-active activity as my final recommendation, but after several days of icy adventure, I can’t imagine anything better than retreating to my log cabin in the woods and sipping wine in front of a glowing fire.
Tucked away in Montana’s snowy countryside, Lone Mountain Ranch offers a blissful wilderness escape with creature comforts aplenty, including your very own record player for soul-soothing tunes to enjoy during the frosty evenings. I love ending a winter Rockies trip here because the in-park lodges, while comfortable, are far from luxury, making a stay at the ranch even more idyllic.
And if you do get a pang for more adventure, don’t fret. From cross-country skiing to horse-drawn sleigh rides under a star-lit sky, there’s plenty to keep you exploring the great outdoors before you settle in for a carefully curated farm-to-table dinner in the evening.
Get me there: I can help craft a winter trip to Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and beyond filled with snowy activities. To get there, I suggest flying into Denver with United Airlines and then hopping on a short connecting flight onto Jackson or Bozeman, depending on where you want to begin your journey.
With direct flights from London to a host of US cities, including Los Angeles and Denver, and hundreds of connections, United Airlines can whisk you to some of the best destinations across the USA, so you can explore the Rockies and beyond.
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