Yellowstone in winter is a study in silent beauty punctuated by moments of winter’s fury. Days are short and bitter cold, rivers turn to ice, and clear night skies are filled with stars uncompromised by city lights.
Large herds of bison congregate in the lower-elevation Lamar Valley on the north end of the park, while elk use their large antlers to dig through snow drifts searching for the grass beneath. Rocky mountain bighorn sheep inhabit the mountain ridges of Yellowstone, unfazed by snow or icy precipice.
Grizzly and black bears are in the deep sleep of hibernation through the winter months, but the wolf packs remain active. Wolves are one of Yellowstone’s prime attractions, and winter offers one of the best times to see them, as their dark fur makes them visible against the white snow.
The reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone is one of America’s most important natural history stories — and one that has been covered by KUED Producer John Howe extensively in his trilogy of documentaries, “Return of the Wolves,” “Snow Wolves,” and “Return of the Wolves: The Next Chapter.”
Yellowstone’s thermal features are also in their glory in winter. Home to half of the world’s thermal features, Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring, and Morning Glory Pool display a kaleidoscope of colors — while geyser areas such as the Basin Boiling River, Cascade, Lone Star, Steamboat, Great Fountain, and Castle Geysers, and the famous Mammoth Hot Springs shoot torrents of steam into the sky.
Snow-covered bison move in migratory patterns along the river sometimes seeking the warmth of thermal areas. Canada geese are their companions, sounding a shrill warning when bison get too close. This is the landscape that Native Americans viewed as spiritual and enthralled early explorers. It remains a special place for Americans and the world today.