Yellowstone in Winter 2020 Trip Report

By Jeff Vanuga on Feb 25, 2020

When the grip of winter finally takes hold on the Yellowstone Plateau, the landscape is transformed into a winter wonderland of fire and ice. Meadows once carpeted by lush green grasses are now blanketed in several feet of snow and the thermal areas are defined by steam plumes, frost, ice crystals and ghost trees. Most animals migrate to lower elevations for the winter, but the hearty few that remain, such as bison, go to great efforts to plow a morsel of grass from under the deep snow. Predators like wolves, coyotes and foxes benefit from the season’s misfortune of others—these remaining animals are designed to survive the harshest season in the lower 48 states. Winter has arrived in Yellowstone—and so have we!
I just finished leading two consecutive photography trips to Yellowstone with my friend and colleague, Eric Rock. Both of us are longtime residents of the region and share a passion for Yellowstone National Park. Our combined years of experience shooting in and around the park, along with our knowledge of wildlife patterns, allow us to get  photographers to the right place at the right time for wintry landscape and wildlife photography. We try hard to blend our local knowledge with humor and camaraderie to maximize our photo opportunities while having a good time.
Bison on the move in YellowstoneOur trips began in the mountain town of West Yellowstone where we were based for the first two-and-a-half days. During this time, we took our private snow coaches to a variety of locations around the park. As time permitted, we cruised along the Madison River, searching for specific animals like coyotes, wolves, trumpeter swans and bobcats. Wildlife is always on our agenda, and at any time or place in the park we may run into a great wildlife photography opportunity—as was the case when we came across the Wapiti Pack of 19 wolves. Although our encounter was short, we witnessed some great predatory behavior around a small herd of bison and managed to photograph pack members at incredibly close range. For many of our hearty photographers, a few minutes with the wolves made the entire journey worthwhile.
Thermal pool in Yellowstone National ParkDuring our snow coach adventures we visited many geyser basins including Upper, Middle, Lower and Norris, as well as a full day excursion to the Hayden Valley and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. On our last day touring with our snow coaches we transferred in the afternoon to Old Faithful where we spent a day-and-a-half walking the trails and photographing in the world’s premier geyser basin. The photo opportunities there depend on which features you want to reach, your physical ability, drive and desire. But it’s always a great shoot no matter how far you go!
The transfer from the Old Faithful area required an afternoon snow coach drive north to the newly remodeled Mammoth Hotel in Mammoth, Wyoming. The next day we used our chartered mini coach to search for wolves and predators in the far reaches of the Lamar Valley. The ability to locate and photograph wolves at a reasonable distance is always the luck of the draw. Anywhere in the park the wolf packs are dynamic in nature, constantly on the move and able to travel 25 or more miles in a single night. Wolf from Wapiti pack YellowstoneThe Wapiti Pack we photographed on our first tour was on the Northern Range in December and early January, but we photographed them in the park’s interior in mid-January—50 air miles away. As I was writing this trip report, Eric texted me that the pack was chasing a bison at the Old Faithful Geyser and it could be seen on the park’s web cam. You never know where they may show up.
I could write much more about our experiences on this and previous JVO trips to Yellowstone. Instead, I will let the imagery tell you the stories of our adventures in the park. Now is the time to register for our 2021 Winter in Yellowstone trip. These trips always sell out—and for good reason. As so many people will attest, Yellowstone in winter is one of the best nature experiences on the planet and is nothing short of a jaw-dropping spectacle!

Yellowstone in Winter 2021