At Yellowstone, wintertime is synonymous with fewer crowds, freezing temperatures, and hot geyser basins. Every year in early November, most roads leading to the park close to regular traffic as the winter season approaches. Snowmobiles, snowshoes, skis, and snowcoaches, become the primary means of transportation as roads are closed, lakes and rivers freeze, and snowstorms transform the park into a winter wonderland. Limited services and restrictions to vehicle access makes a winter visit a challenging one. Most stores, restaurants, campgrounds, and lodges are closed during the winter season, which also contributes to this challenge.
The only exception to restricted vehicular movement is the road between Mammoth Hot Springs and the northeast entrance, which is open to regular traffic all year. Once enough snow accumulates (usually by mid-December), roads open to “over-snow” travel only. This means the only way to visit Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and other popular destinations during winter is by guided snowmobile or snowcoach, or through the non-commercially guided snowmobile access program. Over-snow travel usually ends in mid-March, when the plowing crews begin clearing a winter’s worth of snow. Roads start re-opening to normal cars in mid-April. Visitors can also indulge in the ranger-led programs offered at Old Faithful and Mammoth Hot Springs. The park has a tour bus system, nine visitor centers, and over 2,000 campsites. Park partners and other businesses are also known to offer a variety of guided activities and trips during winter.
Yellowstone is also home to more than 199 species of exotic plants, 1,150 species of native plants and a countless number of fires including the biggest fires in America. Much of the Yellowstone's landscape has been shaped by the fires. In the large forest fires of 1988, nearly one third of the national park was burnt. After the fires of 1988, scientists learned that even though much was burned down, due to the minerals in the ashes and the sunlight that was able to reach the forest floors after decades, the soil was enriched, therefore allowing new plants to be born, which allowed more food for animals. Although the fires were reported as horrifying and life threatening to the park, the fires rejuvenated Yellowstone's wildlife and ecosystem.