Ice Fog, Ghost Trees, Wildflowers – Weird and Wonderful Things to Experience in Yellowstone’s Winter Wonderland

For Immediate Release
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YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, December 16, 2013 – When Yellowstone National Park is covered in a blanket of snow, things can get a little weird. Throughout the winter season, the park becomes a 2.2-million acre visual smorgasbord, full of strange sights and sounds that delight the park’s visitors and residents alike.

“Even those of us who have lived here for years still can still feel like a kid in a candy store when we experience the wonders of the park in the winter,” said Rick Hoeninghausen, director of sales and marketing for Xanterra Parks & Resorts in Yellowstone. “When you combine the park’s geothermal stew of geysers, hot springs, fumeroles and mud pots, a dizzying array of wildlife from survival-focused bison to feisty wolves; an average of 150 inches of snowfall and a vast and diverse landscape, visitors are rewarded with an experience like few other places on Earth.”

Here are just a few of the strange experiences visitors can expect during a winter visit to the park:

Ice Fog. When the conditions are just right, visitors will see light-reflecting ice crystals floating in the air, giving the illusion of a fog. As the crystals drift through the air and they become natural – and breathtaking – sun catchers as they reflect the sun’s rays.

Snowshoe Hares. These common mammals weighing up to four pounds and found throughout the park’s forests and willows have a not-so-common characteristic – they turn white in the winter. These docile creatures tap the ground with their hind feet, leap into the air and occasionally fight. They can be found in coniferous forests and low areas with spruce-fir cover.

Monkey flowers. Only a few inches tall, these strange yellow wildflowers grow exclusively around hot springs. They are able to survive because of their short stature as well as the heat of the springs. There’s a summer-season monkey flower too, but it is much taller, and it grows around streams and springs.

Ice sheet. In the winter Yellowstone Lake can have 136 square miles of winter ice, making it one of the largest ice sheets in the lower 48 states. Ice can be two feet thick on the surface but some spots on the bottom of the lake might still be boiling because of the park’s thermal activity. Yellowstone Lake can be viewed from several vantage points during snowcoach tours offered by Xanterra.

Ghost trees. During periods of extreme cold, rime from hydrothermal mist accumulates on the branches of trees. When combined with falling snow, trees take on an eerie appearance and are known as “ghost trees.” These much-photographed trees are stunning to behold, but they can eventually cause tree limbs to break.

Snow beards. Bison have it pretty rough in the winter. These massive creatures spend their winters foraging for food beneath the snow, and they can sometimes be seen with large clumps of snow and ice dangling from their chins by their hair. These oddly shaped “beards” dangle precariously from a bison’s jaw until the weight forces them to break off, sometimes taking fur with them.

Snow sculptures. The park’s powerful winter wind blows snow around like dust, and the resulting drifts, patterns and formations, some strikingly and eerily symmetrical, are breathtaking.

But no Frosty. Even though the park receives an average of 150 inches of snow annually, visitors with a penchant for creating their own snowmen will be disappointed when they find they can’t build a snowman using Yellowstone snow. The snow in the park is so dry that it doesn’t stick together like wetter snow found in more humid areas. The exception is during the spring and fall when there are very early or late snowfalls and the snow tends to be wetter.

Snow mirrors. Shiny, icy patches of snow form when the snow melts slightly and then refreezes, creating a smooth, reflective surface. When conditions are right, entire fields and mountains can appear shiny and reflective from a distance.

Rivers that never freeze. The Madison River and many other rivers in the park never freeze despite the park’s cold temperatures because the rivers’ flows come from geothermal sources.

Bison and elk with a thing for the Old Faithful Inn. Most winter nights, visitors will find clusters of elk and bison gathering near the Old Faithful Inn, as if waiting for accommodations in the historic lodge. The region is an especially popular bedding area because the geothermal radiation emanating nearby geysers creates a cozy hot spot. For the animals, at least.

Geyser rain. When the near-boiling-temperature water from a geyser shoots into frigid air the resulting “geyser rain” looks like frozen ice pellets floating back to Earth.

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Special packages add value to the winter experience. Yellowstone National Park Lodges offers an array of winter-season multi-day “Lodging & Learning,” “Adventure” and “Getaway” packages with discounts of as much as 15 percent off what rates would be for ala carte purchases of lodge rooms, tours and meals.

Interpretive tours enhance the experience. There are also a variety of half- and full-day tours, including several new tours for this winter season. Included are snowcoach tours as well as snowcoach transportation within the park, shuttles to cross country ski trailheads and themed tours like the Winter Photography Adventure from Old Faithful and the Madison Wildlife Excursion.

Packages, tours and adventures can be booked by calling the reservations number or using the online reservation request form.

The park’s winter season begins with the opening of Old Faithful Snow Lodge Dec. 18 and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel Dec. 20. The lodges provide the only wintertime accommodations in the park. Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel closes for the season March 3, 2014, and Old Faithful Snow Lodge closes March 2, 2014.

Reservations for accommodations and information about packages and tours can be found by calling (1) 307-344-7311 or toll-free 866-GEYSERLAND (866-439-7375), or visiting the web site www.YellowstoneNationalParkLodges.com.


Known for its “Legendary Hospitality with a Softer Footprint,” Xanterra Parks & Resorts® entities include lodges, restaurants, tours and activities in national and state parks and resorts as well as a cruise line, railway and tour operator. Xanterra Parks & Resorts has operations in the Grand Canyon, including Grand Canyon Railway and The Grand Hotel in Tusayan, Ariz.; Yellowstone; Zion; Crater Lake; Rocky Mountain and Petrified Forest National Parks; Mount Rushmore National Memorial; Furnace Creek Resort in Death Valley National Park and five Ohio State Park Lodges as well as the Geneva Marina at Ohio’s Geneva State Park. Xanterra Parks & Resorts also operates Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, Va., Windstar Cruises and VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations.

Xanterra Parks & Resorts
6312 S. Fiddlers Green Circle
Suite 600 North
Greenwood Village, CO 80111

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