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Preparing for Over-the-Snow Travel

October 17th, 2018 by Park County Travel Council | Be the first to comment!

When I lived in the big city the worlds of my friends and neighbors would come crashing down
whenever a nearby road would be closed. Traffic would back up, and everyone would start comparing notes on the time it took to get to work, the time it took to get to the coffee shop, the time it took to listen to “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?

The cover of the Paula Cole album "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?"

There are plenty in Cody.

My city friends were very protective of their time and plotted courses accordingly while I tended to think in terms of distance and alternative routes that had the best views. We learned from each other and developed an appreciation for both perspectives.

A snow coach drives along a snow-covered road

Snow coaches take visitors throughout the park. (Photo courtesy of National Park Service.)

When I explained that most of the roads in Yellowstone National Park close down every winter except for over-the-snow vehicles like snowmobiles and snow coaches my friends thought I was telling some Tall Tale of the West. Some of them also had to be convinced of the existence of hot water shooting up out of the ground and bubbling pools of mud.

Snowmobiles travel along a winter path

Commercially guided snowmobile tours. (Photo courtesy of National Park Service.)

When October rolls around, we locals do know to check the road closures in and around the park. The only roads that get plowed inside the park are the routes from Gardner, Mont. to Mammoth Hot Springs and continuing to Cooke City, Mont.

I went to the National Park Service’s web site and here’s what I found:

Roads will close to public vehicles at 8:00 am on the following dates:

  • October 5: Beartooth Highway
  • October 15: Full closure of Fishing Bridge over the Yellowstone River due to a construction
    project.
  • November 5*: Tower Fall to Canyon (Dunraven Pass). *May close earlier if weather makes it
    impossible to maintain.
  • November 5: All roads close at 8 am except the road between the North Entrance and the
    Northeast Entrance.

These closures are all well-marked, but that hasn’t stopped some people from ignoring the signs and barriers because their noses were stuck in their smartphones. A nice couple tried to drive the Beartooth Highway a few winters ago and were rescued after a couple of days in their car. The snow coach drivers tell stories of people getting a whole 10 yards down the road near Mammoth Hot Springs before getting bogged down in about five feet of snow.

Roads will reopen to over-the-snow vehicles for the winter after the snow has built up. The NPS
schedule is:

  • December 15: West Entrance to Old Faithful, Mammoth to Old Faithful, Canyon to Norris,
    Canyon to Lake, Old Faithful to West Thumb, South Entrance to Lake, Lake to Lake Butte
    Overlook.
  • December 22: East Entrance to Lake Butte Overlook (Sylvan Pass)

Having spent many days exploring Yellowstone in winter, I know that it is like visiting a completely different park after it is covered in snow. A book author corrected me once and said it was more like visiting a different planet.

And while these road closures will demand your extra time, it is time well-spent. Sort of like spending three minutes and 46 seconds listening to Paula Cole sing about where the cowboys have gone.

Until next week, I am lovin’ life – and imagining myself in a snow coach – in Cody, Wyo.


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