It is the last full week of 2021! Hopefully, if you aren’t heading to the park this week that you have a trip planned in 2022. If you do, please let me know and I can help make the trip one for the ages!
This Week in Yellowstone, I take a look at the wolf hunt, share a new link for snowpack information in the park, remind everyone to wave at fellow park visitors, and even share a trail to wander. If you are headed to the park this week expect snow and frigid temperatures, and be sure to check out the awesome trail I recommend that reaches a frozen lake and waterfall. I think this is yet another good one!
If you know someone who loves Yellowstone and is considering a trip or has one planned, please share this with them and help them get ready for everything awesome that the park has to offer. If you enjoy this and want to support it, please consider picking up one of my guidebooks!
BIGGEST NEWS OF THE WEEK
15 Wolves Slaughtered Directly North of Yellowstone in 2021
Seeing a wolf in Yellowstone National Park may prove to be a little more difficult this coming year. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks announced earlier this week that 15 wolves in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem were legally killed outside of the park’s boundary in Montana. As reported by the Bozeman Daily Chronicle “Wolf hunting and trapping regulations were eased by the commission in accordance with new laws that passed the state Legislative session and were signed by Gov. Greg Gianforte this spring.”
The wolves that were killed are from the Junction Butte and Phantom Lake packs and more than likely were wolves that visitors to the park delighted in seeing over the summer. Wolves of the Rockies said on Dec. 9 that at least 13 wolves from Yellowstone’s packs had been killed in outside states at the time, including 11 in Montana. With the trapping seasons scheduled to start in the New Year, the number of dead wolves around Yellowstone is sure to increase.
The Bozeman Daily Chronicle’s article on this wolf hunt states that “A total of 124 wolves have been killed in the state since wolf hunting seasons opened in September, including 56 in southwest Montana’s Region 3, as of Saturday. In total, just under 300 wolves were killed by hunters and trappers in the state in 2019 and 2018, according to FWP’s annual harvest reports. If 82 wolves are taken in Region 3 this season, the commission can review the numbers and may consider rapid in-season adjustments. It can also review the numbers if 450 wolves are killed statewide.”
The wolf population in and around Yellowstone is under constant threat from the neighboring states, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, where legislation tends to be less concerned about a balanced ecosystem and more interested in protecting a handful of cows.
My two cents: I have zero issue with hunting and with helping to create a balanced ecosystem. I understand the need for it and respect a lot of hunters. However, I question the methods and reason behind this wolf kill. Trapping and snaring is lazy hunting. Period. I also do not understand the bloodlust around wolves, when the data shows they do way more good for the region than harm. Currently, the ranching community has more say than the tourism community in the area, helping the aforementioned states have regressive and antiquated hunting rules and regulations. The state of Idaho went against Fish and Wildlife experts and opened hunting on 90% of the wolves in the state. A fun fact that not many in the ranching community of Montana will want you to know is that more livestock die each year from accidental poisoning than from wolf predation. There is currently no legislation to help prevent these poisonings.
Snow Pack Update
In my search for better data, I have stumbled on another website that helps give snowpack depth in and around Yellowstone. Titled “Yellowstone Climate at a Glance,” this page show the current temperatures in numerous spots around the park, as well as a color coordinated map of snow depths from around the region. As of 12/22, the deepest sections of snow in the park at the SW corner of Yellowstone and the areas west of the route between Mammoth and Norris. Snow depths between Cooke City and Mammoth are currently only a few inches. Snow in the forecast will definitely help.
And now, to the snowpack map with percentages based on normal amounts of snow for this time of the year:
WEATHER FOR THE COMING WEEK
The weather for this coming week is going to be cold and snowy. Over the weekend, a Winter Storm Warning will be winding down and temperatures will be plummeting. At Mammoth, the high temperature for Tuesday and Wednesday is 4 degrees. The low Tuesday night is going to be -12. Be ready for this, as the temperature will only be colder the further east you go in the park. In Cooke City, the high temperature on Wednesday is supposed to be 1 degree and after sunset on Monday, the temperature may not climb above 10 degrees until next Friday.
This is the weather.com forecast for the three closest towns to the park- Gardiner, West Yellowstone and Cooke City. While they don’t specifically cover the entire region, these forecasts give a great idea of what to expect all around the region As always, weather can and does change fast in the park, so always be prepared for anything.
This weekend, wildlife watching could be difficult because the snow and wind will make visibility limited in some locations. Bison will be spotted all over, hunkering down. Elk will also be visible around the park. Currently, the otters are putting on a show near the Confluence of the Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek, while the bighorn sheep have been hanging out just north of the park, across the river from Corwin Springs. I was hoping to have a more detailed report this week, but I only drove to the Blacktail Plateau Road on Thursday. Despite the short amount of miles I went in, I was the lone participant in a Bison jam, saw 20+ bighorn sheep, a handful of bald eagles, and a couple of dozen elk.
The best part of wildlife watching this coming week is that the heavy snow will blanket all the hillsides, giving you easy glimpses at wildlife when they are on the move. You best wildlife watching days will probably be after Sunday, but you never know. If the road conditions are good, drive to Pebble Creek and back and I am sure you will see quite a bit of wildlife, once visibility is good.
ROADS AND CAMPGROUNDS
Snow, wind and cold weather are going to be rolling through Yellowstone this week, making for potentially difficult travel. Snowplows do run through the park during daylight hours, but the roads will not be clear of snow and ice. On Thursday the 23rd of December, I saw multiple cars off the road due to drifting snow and unsafe speeds. The weather and road conditions will only be worse this weekend. They will not be better until Tuesday at the earliest. If you are visiting this week, drive slow and safe and keep plenty of distance between you and other cars. Stopping speeds, even with great traction may be two to three times longer.
For up-to-date information consult the map above, call (307) 344-2117 for recorded information, or sign up to receive Yellowstone road alerts on your mobile phone by texting “82190” to 888-777 (an automatic text reply will confirm receipt and provide instructions). Anticipate possible road closures due to inclement weather and dangerous driving conditions.
Planning on camping in the park this week?
Good luck! Actually, camping right now is an amazing experience and if you have the gear or an RV, you’ll have a great story. As always in the winter, the only front country campground open is at Mammoth. It has not been filling up and I would be shocked if it does. If you are worried, you can check the status of campgrounds in the park online here.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
Lost Lake and Lost Creek Falls
In the winter, most people who hope to experience the snow around Tower Junction will park and hike, snowshoe or cross country ski up the road to Calcite Springs and Tower Falls. This is an amazing five mile round trip trek and one I highly recommend. Some of my best park days have been in this area. However, those looking for a les traveled route when at Roosevelt should check out the Lost Lake and Lost Creek Falls trails.
You can start this trek in one of two places- either the pullout near the turn for the Petrified Tree or at the parking area by the bathrooms and gas station at Roosevelt. My personal preference is the latter. Finding the trail to get started here can be a little tricky, but the main thing to do is to head toward the backside of the horse corrals. From there, a hard to find path will climb a small hill before darting left for a bit. Around a half mile, the trail switches back sharply, leading you up the hill and into an open area.
Be aware that this trail is not commonly traveled and there are times that you may have to use route finding skills to locate the proper path. From there, the path works its way through a forest and next to a canyon, which occasionally offers some pretty rad views. You’ll cross a bridge, walk along the top of the other side of the canyon and then work your way through another forest before reaching a junction. This junction will lead back down to the Roosevelt Ranger Station and the trail to the waterfall. Keep this in mind, as you will be returning here.
After the junction, the path will get a little easier to find as it heads toward the lake. I suggest walking to the far end of the lake and turning around. If you want a longer adventure, follow the route all the way to the Petrified Tree. Once back at the junction, head down the switchbacks for a little over a half mile. You’ll eventually run into signage and infrastructure. Go to the lodge area and you’ll see the trail that will lead into the canyon you were just hiking above. At the end of this trail is a frozen waterfall, hidden from nearly all who visit the park. The route I described is about five miles round trip with a little over 500 feet of elevation gain.
TIP OF THE WEEK
Wave at Passing Cars.
One of the unspoken rules of visiting Yellowstone in the Winter is to acknowledge the cars coming your direction. A quick wave, a flash of a hand off the steering wheel, a smile and a nod are all things that are not just common, but part of the off-season culture in the park. While there is nothing about this in any park newspaper, it is something you should be doing.
My experience so far this off-season with friendly drivers is a little frustrating. The current wave to no wave percentage is about 50%, down from around 80% or 90% over the last 20+ years I have been visiting the park in the winter. I know this seems incredibly unimportant to some of you, but the culture of the park has always been one of celebrating others in the area and being friendly and I would like to see that continue.
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
Curious about something not mentioned in the post?
Send me an email or message on social media and let me know how I can help.