Yellowstone in Winter 2018 Trip Report

By Eric Rock on Mar 13, 2018

The weather during a photography trip can be seen as a make-it or break-it element for travelers. This year’s two winter trips in Yellowstone National Park had plenty of weather to go around! Winter in Yellowstone is about snow, and this year Yellowstone did not disappoint. With temperatures seemingly locked in just around freezing for two weeks, and warm, moist air moving in off the Pacific Ocean, we had a fresh blanket of new snow nearly every day of our photo trips. The fresh mantle of snow was a welcome addition to each day’s adventures as we set out to work the park’s many photographic subjects. (Being prepared is a big part of enjoying a winter photography trip to Yellowstone, and all of our trip participants were very well prepared for the snowy conditions.)
 
Yellowstone in Winter 2018 photo tourEven with the extra snowfall, our travel was accomplished in comfort in two of the best snow coaches available in Yellowstone. Piloted by two knowledgeable and safety-minded drivers, our photographic journeys took us through the wintry interior of Yellowstone as we searched for wildlife subjects, and visited geyser basins and waterfalls. For our first three nights of each trip we stayed in the community of West Yellowstone, where access to the park was through the Madison River Valley. Our early morning drives into the park allowed regular encounters with bison, elk and bald eagles, providing each of our photographers with good portfolio images along the way.
 
Our days were spent photographing along the Gibbon and Firehole River drainages. The combination of snowy landscapes and open water flowing from the numerous geothermal areas worked well for dramatic landscape compositions. On our second trip, the snowy conditions permitted us to make the journey to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Between snow squalls, the group was able to get moody and atmospheric images of Lower Falls from multiple perspectives from the overlooks, including Artist Point.  
 
These trips were planned to include two nights in the interior of Yellowstone at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. Here, we photographed around Upper Geyser Basin, allowing us an extra opportunity to take advantage of changing light conditions and shoot many of the area’s prominent features. We spent time photographing multiple geothermal features, including Old Faithful, Lion Geyser and—one of my favorites—Castle Geyser as they erupted. Winter in the geyser basins almost always provides scenes of mystical proportions, including colorful pools of hot water and drifting steam. Walking through these geothermal basins offers the landscape photographer new colors, textures and patterns of the thermal bacterial mats, adding new elements to winter compositions. These photographic explorations through the geyser basins also provided the groups with some wonderful chances to photograph bison in steam-strewn valley landscapes and the occasional coyote on the prowl for its next meal.
 
Bison in Yellowstone National Park 2018A highlight of the first trip was an encounter with the Wapiti Lake wolf pack. We had heard the pack had made a kill of a bull elk near Willow Flats the day before, so we made a plan to check the area the next morning. Our plans were successful, as we located the kill site and stationed ourselves at an optimal distance for photography with respect to the carcass. It wasn’t long before several members of the pack came into the site to feed. Over the next few hours, at least seven pack members took opportunities to feed, providing ample chances for our travelers to photograph feeding behavior, as well as the frequent comings and goings of the wolves. With snowfall heavy on some occasions everyone was able to work the snowy environment into their images for extra impact.
 
Each photo trip’s last full day was utilized photographing Yellowstone’s Northern Range, where much of the wildlife is concentrated in the winter due to the heavy snowpack in the interior of the park. Along with more chances to photograph bison and elk in snowy landscapes, the Northern Range also gave us the best chances to photograph Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. Our second photography group was privy to some unmatched photographic opportunities with a group of seven majestic rams as they pawed and foraged their way along one of the hillsides in the Lamar Valley. Participants wanting additional landscape images found a lone Douglas fir on a snowy hillside near Soda Butte, photographing the wintry scene with the tree in a snowbound landscape.
 
Trip leader Jeff Vangua instructing a Photo Safaris client in Yellowstone National ParkIn summary, these two photographic trips had the challenge of warmer than average temperatures and snowier than expected conditions. Yet they ended up being very productive shoots for both of our groups. The wildlife, while usually sparse in the interior of the park in winter, provided far more images than one could ever imagine. The usually ever-present bison were even more present. The elk, wolves, coyotes, swans, otters and eagles all added to the wonderful image making. Our photo travelers took on the winter challenges of low light and sometimes significant snowfall to make images with a distinct wintry mood, adding to the beauty of their wildlife and landscape images.