Yellowstone Wolf Watching Winter Vacation

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“Held within a wolf’s gaze has been everything I’ve needed to keep alive my sense of connection to the earth.”

Doug Smith, Senior Wildlife Biologist in Yellowstone National Park

Winter dates don’t work for you? Consider our Spring or Fall Wolf Discovery Vacations.

Yellowstone National Park is the ultimate tourist destination in the summer (with millions of visitors) but in the winter and spring months it offers a solitude that is truly magical! Picture great fields of snow, bison and elk foraging for food, and thermal features steaming in the distance.

The northern Lamar Valley of Yellowstone is also likely the best place in the world to observe and learn about gray wolves. The valley itself is breathtaking but it also offers optimal wildlife sighting opportunities and is even known as America’s Serengeti! Wolves are a species that have inspired both controversy and admiration throughout time. When Yellowstone became the world’s first national park in 1872, the gray wolf was a native species. However, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the prevailing thought was that wolves were bad, so ranchers and government agencies exterminated them. By 1926, the wolf population in the Park was gone.

It took over 70 years to correct the negative consequences of removing such a key species in the ecosystem. In 1995, wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone and changed the local environment – and many wolf watchers – forever. Their ability to thrive in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem is one of the greatest success stories of the national park system in our lifetimes.

On this small group experience, we’ll be joined by our friend and wolf biologist, Jon Trapp (see his bio below), and also hear from other wolf experts along the way. We’ll spend two days as “wolf watchers” in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley, the best place on Earth to observe wolves, basing out of our 12-passenger Mercedes Sprinter van, fondly called Explorasaurus Rex.  We’ll get out to snowshoe to places like the Rose Creek acclimation pen, where the wolves lived for their first few months in the Park in 1995, or to the historic former den of Wolf #9.  We’ll hear wolf stories and learn from naturalists and scientists about wolf biology and ecology, predator-prey relationships, conflict resolution for wolf and livestock, wolf competition with other species, wolf reproduction, wolf tracking, and more. 

We’ll spend a good portion of our days on gorgeous trails in open valleys and narrow gorges, along frozen creeks, among groves of Aspens, next to herds of bison, and near the steamy thermal features of Mammoth Hot Springs. One nice thing about doing a wolf watching tour in Yellowstone in February: In the snowy months elk (and thus wolves) hang out in the lower elevations of the park, often in the very visible Lamar Valley. And when there is snow on the ground, gray and black wolves are much easier to see.  (We also offer this Yellowstone Wolf Tour in May and October.)

If you can hike, you can snowshoe!  Snowshoeing is a blast and easy to learn. We welcome all ability levels including those who have never tried it before. With these “all-terrain vehicles” strapped to our feet we can follow a trail or make a trail of our own anywhere there is snow.

We spend the first three nights in the small town of Gardiner at the north entrance to Yellowstone, just steps away from the Roosevelt Arch that signifies the official entrance to the world’s first national park. President Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone of this icon in 1903 and the top of the arch is inscribed “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People”. Our last night is spent at Chico Hot Springs Resort for a special farewell dinner and soaking in natural mineral waters.

Jon Trapp

Jon Trapp served overseas as an Air Force intelligence officer, worked as a wolf biologist across the West and is currently a national wildland fire manager. His experience with wolves ranges from Arizona and New Mexico with the Mexican Gray Wolf reintroduction program to Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.  He has an undergraduate degree from Northern Arizona University and a masters degree in Conservation Biology.  

Jon taught wolf ecology and management courses at the Yellowstone Institute for 15 years.  He is the Assistant Fire Chief at Red Lodge Fire Rescue and is on two national fire incident management teams as a Fire Behavior Analyst.  His experiences have brought about a unique perspective on wildlife, landscape ecology and the impacts of climate change. 

Check out Jon’s story – From Wolves to Wildfires: A Firefighting Biologist’s Tale on the Got Science? podcast.

Offered in partnership with our sister company, Zephyr Adventures.

Benefits of Taking a Guided Vacation with Travel Montana >> By taking a guided tour your vacation will be even more amazing than it would be if you were on your own. Our guides are experts – not just in the outdoors – but in knowing the best restaurants, the best times and locations to view popular sights, the history of the region, and in interpersonal dynamics and creating group fun. It means you can let our team take care of every detail so you can actually relax and enjoy your vacation!

Zephyr Adventures / Travel Montana is an authorized permittee of Yellowstone National Park

Details

  • Activities: Snowshoeing, Wolf Education & Wildlife Observation
  • Duration: 5 days
  • Price Per Person
          4 - 5 people: $3,350
          6 - 7 people: $3,050
          8+ people: $2,950
  • Single Supplement: $700
  • Other Info:
    > Our public tours will include Jon Trapp as a guide. It can be booked as a private tour but will have another qualified wildlife guide instead.
    > This trip is currently limited to 10 participants.
    > $100 optional snowshoe rental (or you can bring your own)
    > Third or fourth persons in the same room receive a 15% discount

  • Public Tour Date: n/a

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Trip Highlights

  • Experience a national treasure – Yellowstone National Park – in a season where there are few other visitors
  • Learn about one of Yellowstone's apex species from a wildlife biologist and other wolf experts
  • Snowshoe in one of the most beautiful locations in the country
  • See wildlife such as bison, elk, wolves, fox, coyote, bald eagles and more
  • Stay in the cute small town of Gardiner at the north entrance of Yellowstone

We reserve the right to alter our listed itinerary based on current snow conditions and wildlife movement to maximize your enjoyment!

DAY 1

Your guides will meet you around lunchtime in Bozeman, Montana, where we begin and end our adventure. We’ll transfer from there through the Paradise Valley to Wonderland Lodge, our basecamp in the small town of Gardiner for the week, about 75 minutes away. We’ll have a brief orientation, pack some energy food, and dress for the weather before heading toward the park’s northeast entrance and our first snowshoe hike at Mammoth Hot Springs (Yellowstone’s headquarters). After a short instructional snowshoeing clinic (probably the easiest sport in the world to learn!) we’ll set off to explore the groomed 1.5-mile loop around the upper terraces. 

The terraces are unique from other thermal areas of the park. As hot water rises through the limestone from below it interacts with hot gases and forms an acidic solution that dissolves the rock and ultimately deposits a white chalky material known as travertine, which forms beautiful terraces on the side of the hill that we can walk among. Because we are at a lower elevation than most of the Park, the snow depths here entice wintering elk and deer to stick around and you’ll probably see many of them at Mammoth.

If you want more snowshoeing, you can hike the old wagon trail from Mammoth all the way back to our hotel in Gardiner, giving you more chances to see the Park's wildlife. If not, you can spend time at the Wonderland unpacking your things and making your room homey. Tonight your guides will host a happy hour in their lodge room in front of a roaring fire before we wander downstairs to the Wonderland Café for an excellent dinner with our special guest -- wolf biologist Jon Trapp, who will be leading us on adventures and educating us about wolves for the next two days. We’ll get to bed early tonight as we’ll be out the door tomorrow before the crack of dawn!

Snowshoe Mileage: 1.5 miles (with the option for an extra 5 miles)

DAY 2

After a very early breakfast, we'll pack our trail lunches and be on the road while it’s still dark. Our destination? Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley, arguably the best place in the world to see wolves, specifically in winter when they follow the ungulates (elk, deer, etc) down from higher terrain. As the pale morning light reaches the pristine valley, we’ll be on the hunt for glimpses of these ephemeral icons of the wilderness, armed with spotting scopes and binoculars. Our hope is to see a lone wolf, or a pack of wolves, as they awaken for the day and begin moving. As our van “Explorasaurus Rex” trundles along the road, we’ll likely experience a few “buffalo jams” (Yellowstone’s version of traffic jams), and we’ll stop frequently to get out and view the landscape and the animals around us, and to hear from Jon about these majestic canines, who are once again such an integral part of the Yellowstone ecosystem. 

At some point, we’ll get out to hike, starting at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch and following Rose Creek up to one of three wolf acclimation pens built for the controversial reintroduction of wolves in the park in 1995. Three wolves transported from Canada were housed in this historic pen until they would acclimatize and not run back north. The pen was opened after several months and the three wolves began their new life in Yellowstone.

You’ll be happy to relax with a glass of wine or hot chocolate next to the fire tonight and regale one another with stories from the day. We’ll have an early dinner at the Wonderland café again before lights out. Another exciting day awaits us tomorrow!

Snowshoe Mileage: 3 mile

DAY 3

Another early day awaits us today for our winter safari. We again steer the Explorasaurus toward Lamar Valley and it is “wolf jazz” all over - looking for tracks and other signs of wolves throughout our day. As we drive further into the Lamar Valley, we’ll keep our eyes open for bison, elk, deer, moose, coyote, fox, bighorn sheep, bald eagles and an occasional river otter. Wildlife in the valley is abundant in the winter and it is denning season for female wolves. Appropriately, our main hike will be to the old den of wolf #9 (one of the first wolves in the Park after the reintroduction). Along the way, Jon will talk about den site selection, trophic cascade (a side-effect when a trophic level (species) of the ecosystem is reduced or removed), and -- since it will be so close to pup season -- about wolf mate selection and biology.

We will also be on the lookout for Rick, the “alpha" wolf-watcher and Yellowstone’s biological technician for the Yellowstone Wolf Project. He uses telemetry equipment to track wolves, as most of the wolf packs include at least one wolf with a radio collar. He has been out in the Park observing wolves every day for the last 15 years! Typically, there are around 100 wolves in the Park at any given time. The Park is 2.2 million acres, so we’ll be lucky if and when we spot (or hear, which is almost as good!) any wolves.

Once again, dinner is at the Wonderland. Afterward, we’ll don our warm clothes and walk guided by starlight, moonlight (or headlamp) to the iconic Roosevelt Arch to toast the world’s first national park.

Snowshoe Mileage: approximately 3 miles

DAY 4

This morning a hearty breakfast is in order. We’ll tuck our lunches into our packs, check out of the Wonderland, and depart for our longest outing of the trip. Our hike today takes us on a wide trail to the end of the Yellowstone Canyon and the Tower Fall overlook, where Tower Creek drops 132-foot into the Yellowstone River. The steep, columnar basalt cliffs on the opposite side of the river from the overlook are remnants of an ancient lava flow and will wow even those who are not into geology.  

After our hike we head north to Chico Hot Springs Resort where we will spend our last night. Relaxing in the outdoor pools is the perfect way to end our trip together. We’ll enjoy a final dinner in the historic dining room before tucking into bed.

Snowshoe Mileage: 5 miles

DAY 5

Today is a relaxing morning. Feel free to soak in the pools, take a walk on one of the resort trails, and enjoy breakfast on your own time. You’ll have time to shower and pack up before we check out and return to Bozeman by noon, where you can choose to extend your vacation or return home.

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Trip Accommodations

NIGHTS 1 - 3 >> WONDERLAND LODGE / GARDINER, MONTANA  Wonderland is brand new, beautiful, and small -- only 6 super cozy rooms -- and conveniently has a great restaurant on the main floor. It is in the heart of the tiny downtown of Gardiner, right next to the entrance of Yellowstone National Park. From our snowy haven, we can set out on a variety of adventures.

NIGHT 4 >> CHICO HOT SPRINGS / PRAY, MT  Chico Hot Springs Resort is our absolute favorite spot for a Montana getaway. The historic resort is located in the heart of Paradise Valley, just north of Yellowstone National Park and nestled in the foothills of the breathtaking Absaroka Mountain Range. Their two outdoor pools are the perfect place to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

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Arrival & Departure

Your guides meet you in the cool mountain town of Bozeman, Montana around noon on the first day of the trip. If it’s possible for you to fly and arrive that morning, we can meet you at the airport. Otherwise, you can arrive any time the day before the trip begins. We’ll return to Bozeman’s airport the last afternoon of the trip, allowing you to fly out that afternoon. We can also leave you in downtown Bozeman so you can extend your stay, or visit nearby Big Sky Ski Resort. Bozeman (airport code BZN) is served by many major airlines: Alaska Air, Allegiant, Delta, Frontier, and United.

What's Included
  • A local Travel Montana guide will be joined by another Travel Montana guide when the group reaches 7 participants.
  • Wolf biologist and educator, Jon Trapp, will also join the group for two days.
  • Our trip prices are based on double occupancy. If you are traveling solo, you can pay a supplement to get your own room or we can attempt to match you with another solo traveler of the same gender, in which case a supplement will not be charged if we are successful.
  • All of your meals are included starting with dinner on Day 1 and ending with breakfast on Day 5. Gratuity for these meals is also included.
  • All your transportation is included once you meet your guides on the first day. For this trip we will use a 12-passenger Mercedes Sprinter van.
  • Trail passes and park entrance fees are included.
  • NOT INCLUDED: Snowshoe rental, beverages, desserts, optional gratuities to your guides, personal expenses, and travel to and from the destination.
When To Travel

Gardiner is over 5,000 feet and Mammoth Hot Springs is over 6,000 feet in elevation, so winter in Yellowstone can be cold and snowy. The key for a snowshoeing vacation is to pick the time period when there is plenty of snow on the ground and yet temperatures are moderate. In the early winter, in December and January, daytime highs average only 27 degrees and the snowpack is not yet full. So we prefer late January through March when there is usually more snow on the ground, temperatures are warmer, and we have more daylight hours. Keep in mind it is still cold and snowy in these months but that is what we expect with a winter tour!

Snow

Weather is always unpredictable and winter in Yellowstone is no exception! It is possible that there may be no snow, but don’t fret, as we will simply replace snowshoeing with hiking if there isn't enough snow.

Changes to Your Itinerary

While everything under “What is Included” will remain the same, the actual restaurants, hotels, and activities listed in our itineraries are subject to modifications. Changes that are out of our control are common – a restaurant closes or loses its awesome chef, a winery changes its visiting hours, a hotel gets remodeled, a road or trail undergoes construction. You are entrusting us to create an outstanding vacation for you and so it is possible we may take the liberty of making necessary changes (even at the last minute, during the guides’ scout trip) to the itinerary that will improve your overall trip experience. If there is any one experience that is going to make or break your trip, please discuss this with us in advance! We attempt to keep our website itinerary as current as possible and communicate any major changes with you in the weeks prior to the tour.

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