The first full week of 2022 is here and it is looking like an awesome time to visit Yellowstone. Not only has the area received a lot of snow, but it also actually feels like winter out in the park. Bison and slogging through drifts, rivers are frozen and waterfalls are coblvred in an icy shell. If you are lucky enough to be heading to the park this week, you are in luck!
This Week in Yellowstone, I look at the shocking number of wolves killed just outside the park, take a peek at the summer’s filling campgrounds, let you know where you can see some awesome winter wildlife watching, and even give some tips to stay warm and happy during your winter visit. Don’t forget to check out the hidden canyon with the cave!
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BIGGEST NEWS OF THE WEEK
20 Yellowstone Wolves Legally Killed After Leaving the Park
The chances of seeing a wolf in 2022 keep on getting lower. After dazzling the millions who visited Yellowstone this summer, the world-renowned gray wolves left the park and were shot by hunters this hunting season. The 20 wolves harvested are the most killed by hunting in a single season since the predators were reintroduced to the region more than 25 years ago, according to park officials. Fifteen of the now deceased wolves were shot after roaming across the park’s northern border into Montana.
According to ABC News, “One pack — the Phantom Lake Pack — is now considered “eliminated” after most or all of its members were killed over a two-month span beginning in October, according to the park. An estimated 94 wolves remain in Yellowstone. But with months to go in Montana’s wolf hunting season … park officials said they expect more wolves will die after roaming from Yellowstone, where hunting is prohibited.”
ABC News continues by saying that “Park Superintendent Cam Sholly first raised concerns about wolves dying last September near the park’s border and more recently urged Republican Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte to shut down hunting and trapping in the area. Sholly cited ‘the extraordinary number of Yellowstone wolves already killed this hunting season,’ in a Dec. 16 letter to Gianforte that was released to AP under a freedom of information request.”
You can read the full article here.
Yellowstone Campgrounds are Filling for the Summer
Thinking of camping at a front country campground in Yellowstone this summer? You already may be too late. While much of the country is digging out from the first big winter storm, Yellowstone enthusiasts are looking ahead to summer. Most park campsites are available to reserve through recreation.gov six months in advance and so far, it looks like everyone is once again returning to Yellowstone this coming summer.
The Park operates a handful of campgrounds that accept reservations. Slough Creek is booked solid through June. So is Pebble Creek. Mammoth has plenty of openings in May, but only has four available days to reserve a campsite in June. As of publishing this week’s post, only the July 4th weekend was full for Mammoth. To stay on top of this, keep the recreation.gov campgrounds around Yellowstone tab somewhere useful and easily accessible. If you want a campsite in a campground, this link will help. Again, the window for sites usually opens six months from today’s date and can fill quickly through mid-September.
The campgrounds in Yellowstone operated by recreational conglomerate Xanterra are also filling up for June, but not as fast. Canyon Campground has 17 days in June with openings. Bridge Bay Campground has 30 days of openings, while Fishing Bridge RV Park has nine days open. Grant has 21 days of openings and Madison currently has openings every day of June. The Old Faithful Inn is booked through June, the Old Faithful Snow Lodge has one opening at the end of the month, while the Old Faithful Lodge has just four days of openings for the month. Roosevelt has two days of availabilities, and the Mammoth Hotel has just seven days of opening left for June. Canyon Lodge is less booked out right now, with 17 days of availabilities. Grant Village is also looking like less of a draw, with 10 openings still online. For July options, head over to the Yellowstone National Park Lodges website.
If you are planning to visit Yellowstone, book a room or campsite now. Do not wait. In a month or two, these will all be mostly full and finding a spot, any spot, to sleep at night will prove to be either very difficult to find or outrageously overpriced.
Thanks to the snowstorms of the last few weeks, the snowpack in and around Yellowstone is looking much better. The snowpack, which was abysmal a month ago, is now just below average in much of the park. The western mountains of the park are slightly above average, and most of the surrounding area is within the range of normal too. This coming week won’t do anything to add to the snow, so we shall see if the numbers stay healthy or if we start dropping down. The main issue in the lower areas, below the snowpack sensors, is still the snow depth. In places like Lamar Valley, you can still see the sage sticking up, something that indicates a lower than ideal snowpack. Without any more delay, here is the forecast.
WEATHER FOR THE COMING WEEK
This week’s weather in Yellowstone will be pretty great. After the last bits of the current winter storm blows through on Friday and Saturday, mostly sunny skies return. Temperatures hover at or above freezing during the day, while dipping to the teens or single digits for many of the nights. Overall though, this coming week will be incredible for all sorts of activities. More extreme winter recreationists need to be very aware of avalanche conditions if you are heading into the mountains. They will be rough.
This is the weather.com forecast for the three closest weather stations in the north section of the park- Gardiner, Mammoth Hot Springs 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.
With the change in the weather comes a change in wildlife watching. Your best bet for seeing wildlife will probably be on Saturday or Sunday, when the snow is still fresh and all the animals will be active in the sun. The rest of the week will be great too, but the super fresh snow and first sunny days seem to give a boost of energy and movement to the animals. The ungulates have been blasted by heavy snow and brutal temperatures and need to take advantage of the nicer weather to eat. The carnivores will be using the hardening snow pack to search for the weakened elk, deer and bison, bringing them down for a meal to sustain them for another few days and weeks.
Bison will more than likely be near the road after Lava Creek, near the Roosevelt Junction, and then all the way to Pebble Creek. Moose are becoming more commonly seen from Pebble Creek out to Silver Gate. Coyotes will be roaming and spotted with ease in the deeper snow, as will foxes. The otters should be in and around Lamar Valley. Wolves will probably be on the north side of the roads, especially around the overlook near Hellroaring and the mountains near Slough Creek. Sighting may occur anywhere else, but typically these are the two best spots after a heavy snow to see them. Especially since this is where I last saw them. The best way to see a wolf this week is the same way it is always easiest to see wolves. Drive the roads and look for cars with huge antennas, and/or people looking through spotting scopes and binoculars. While it may not be a wolf, you can be sure they are looking at something interesting.
Huge elk herds are now hanging out in Paradise Valley, north of the park. Mostly near the southern end of the valley and then north of Gardiner, expect to see anywhere between 20 and 200 elk. Plenty of deer will also be easily seen near the road, especially in the morning and evening hours. You’ll also see golden and bald eagles in the valley, often perched on trees or feating along the roadside on an elk or deer that was hit by a car.
ROADS AND CAMPGROUNDS
After the weekend, expect the roads to be much better than they have been in previous weeks. The road between Mammoth and Cooke City will be closed on Friday due to bad weather, but should open up early Saturday morning. Park crews have done an incredible job keeping them drivable and deserve a bit of a break. The lack of snow will help most sections of pavement clear up, but be aware of ice and snow still impacting travel in areas that don’t receive much sunlight or warmth. Also know that as soon as the sun drops below the horizon, any wet areas of pavement can quickly ice over. Most of these areas are marked by signs warning of ice, but take each section of ice and snow carefully. Cars will still be off the road more than they should.
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?
Only Mammoth is open this time of the year and it is a ghost town. A few days ago I saw one RV and one tent camper. It may get a little more visited this coming week, but even so, you may share the entire place with a dozen others. You can check the status of campgrounds in the park online here.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
Pebble Creek Canyon Snow Walk
Now that the cold temperatures have settled in the region, freezing waterways and dumping snow, I have to suggest going to one of my favorite leg stretching spots. Located behind the Pebble Creek Campground, the half mile or so jaunt up to the canyon of Pebble Creek is an easy and memorable adventure.
This short hike is mostly flat and pretty easy, often doable without snowshoes. However, the snowshoes are an added bonus, giving less post-holing and an easier walk into the winter wonderland of the canyon. The trail starts at the closed gate at the campground and is frequented often. This corner of the park receives around 190 inches of snow a year, making it an excellent spot to experience the snowy season. On the hike, you’ll have views of towering cliffs, a cool cave, and glimpses of a flowing waterway covered with ice. I have seen foxes, moose, bison and coyotes in the area and even right by the creek, so be alert!
Also be aware that snowstorms can quickly also conceal the route to the cave and canyon, so pay attention. When in doubt, stay on the left (west side of the creek) until you reach the cave. If the ice is strong open the frozen creek, cross here to access the geologically awesome cave.
As you hike toward the canyon and cave, the canyon walls tower to the sky, giving you an appreciation for the geology and natural beauty of this hidden spot. I typically walk here until the route becomes too difficult, usually at the end of the canyon where the path narrows and cliffs start to fade away. Call it a day here and walk back, enjoying the animal tracks, the views, the cave and the impressive views of Round Valley when you emerge back at the campground.
TIP OF THE WEEK
This week, you may experience highs in the 30s and lows in the single digits. This temperature change can make staying the right temperature a challenge when out and about. This is when layering is super important. Too dressed and you’ll sweat with any movement. Too underdressed and you’ll become frozen to the bone.
While I will say what I usually wear, REI has an excellent blog post about properly layering, with clothing options. While I recommend shopping at local outdoor stores and secondhand outdoor shops before heading to REI, they are a good resource. Bozeman has a few local outdoor stores, as well as a second change outdoors store that will give you what you need to stay warm and happy.
What you’ll want to do is have a base layer, be it tights or long underwear. Thick socks always help, but are only needed if you don’t have insulated or waterproof shoes. Over the tights and long underwear, I recommend throwing on a wool or fleece, as this retains heat and is lightweight. Typically, I use a puffy coat with synthetic down for this layer, but that is merely preference. Over that, I break out the big synthetic down coat, which some say makes me look like the Michelin Man. Throw on a beanie and gloves and I am good to go.
We all have different styles of layering, but having a base layer, a mid-layer and an outer layer is the way to go. Also, always, always, always cover your head, feet and hands.