Being retired and traveling full-time in an RV may seem to many like a permanent vacation but we’ve discovered life on the road can get monotonous after a while. Just like those who go to work everyday, it does the body good to shake things up and take a vacation every now and then. We’ve always wanted to visit Yellowstone in the winter and since the campgrounds are closed, we decided this would be a good time to leave the motorhome behind and spend a couple of weeks visiting the park.
What to do with the RV? Should we store it or leave it in an RV park?
Since we live in our RV full-time, we have a fully stocked fridge and freezer meaning we need to leave our RV plugged in. Finding a storage facility that offers electric hookups is difficult so we decided to simply leave the RV in a commercial RV park. We chose American RV Park in Albuquerque NM. Sure, it’s a 2 day drive from ABQ to Yellowstone but 1) the weather in ABQ is relatively mild so no need to winterize the RV and 2) the driving distance to Yellowstone is about the same going east or west of the Rockies giving us an alternative in case the weather turns bad. And to top it off, American RV Park offers a winter monthly rate that comes out to ~$15/day. It would be hard to find short term storage for that rate.
The Perfect Place to Stay and it’s Dog Friendly!
If you’re going to visit Yellowstone by car in the winter there are very few options of where to stay. Only one road in Yellowstone National Park is kept open year-round and it’s the road between Gardiner and Cooke City MT, about 60 miles away. Cooke City lies just outside the northeast entrance of Yellowstone and all roads east of Cooke City are closed in winter due to heavy snow. As a visitor, you have 3 choices: 1) Mammoth Springs just inside the north entrance, 2) Gardiner just outside the north entrance or 3) Cooke City . We chose to stay at the Yellowstone Gateway Inn in Gardiner. They’re pet friendly and all the rooms are 1 bedroom apartments with fully equipped kitchens.
Weather – What to Expect
Yellowstone in winter is cold! 40 below is not uncommon but come mid-February there may be days when the thermometer climbs above freezing. During our two week stay, we saw lows in the single digits and a few days in the upper 30’s. We came prepared with down parkas, snow boots, thermal underwear, ski masks, and heavy mittens. Hand and toe warmers, sold in the Gardiner grocery store, were a must-have. Before we arrived, I had many sleepless nights worrying about how our car would fare in the snow. Turns out, I was worried over nothing. The road in Yellowstone is kept well plowed and gravel is spread where most needed. Our front wheel drive Honda CRV with regular tires did just fine.
This is our 7th visit to Yellowstone National Park. We come every fall for the primary purpose of viewing and photographing wildlife, especially the wolves. The road between Gardiner and Cooke City passes right through Lamar Valley or as I like to call it, wolf-central. Winter offers a unique opportunity for wildlife viewing: 1) the park has few visitors this time of year and many who visit come to see the wolves, 2) the wolves and other wildlife are easier to spot against the white backdrop of snow, and 3) the wolves are more active and seem to relish the cold weather.
Winter is an easy time for the wolves. The elk, bison, deer and sheep have a hard time finding enough to eat resulting in many weakened individuals for the wolves to prey upon. Necroscopic analysis indicates that up to 80% of wolf-kills are of injured or sick animals.
On my last day in the park, I was fortunate to witness the Lamar pack take down a bull elk. The actual kill was behind a berm so I was unable to video the event but immediately after the kill, the wolves reappeared for a well deserved rest.