Yellowstone and Grand Teton open for winter season

Doug Kraus, a firefighter who lives in Mammoth, skis into the Yellowstone National Park backcountry near Top Notch Peak.

Ruffin Prevost/Yellowstone Gate file photo

Doug Kraus, a firefighter who lives in Mammoth, skis into the Yellowstone National Park backcountry near Top Notch Peak.

The winter season kicks off today in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, as entrances open to snow coaches, snowmobiles, skiers and hikers along the snow-covered roads through both parks. A mix of travel and recreational activities are allowed on different roads and trails in both parks.

In Yellowstone National Park the North, West and South Entrances are open, while travel through the park’s East Entrance over Sylvan Pass is scheduled to begin Dec. 22.

Commercially guided snowmobile and snow coaches may travel in Yellowstone on the main roads only.

The road from the park’s North Entrance at Gardiner, Mont., through Mammoth Hot Springs and on to Cooke City, Mont., outside the park’s Northeast Entrance is open to auto traffic year-round. In winter, the auto road ends at Cooke City, where an 8-mile section of unplowed road is used by snowmobiles, connecting at Pilot Creek in Park County, Wyo.

At Old Faithful, the Geyser Grill, the Bear Den Gift Shop, and the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center are open for the season. The Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins and the Obsidian Dining Room open on Dec. 18.

The Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, dining room and gift shop will open for the season on Dec. 20. The Yellowstone General Store, the medical clinic, campground, post office and the Albright Visitor Center at Mammoth Hot Springs are open all year, as are the 24-hour gasoline pumps at Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower Junction.

Communities surrounding Yellowstone are open year-round, and local businesses offer a wide range of winter recreation opportunities. Extensive information and assistance for planning a visit to Yellowstone during the winter is on the park’s website.

In Grand Teton National Park, the Craig Thomas Discovery & Visitor Center will be closed until April 7, 2014 as a cost-saving measure following federal budget cuts mandated under the Congressional sequester. Visitors may call a weekday hotline at (307) 739-3399 for park information.

Visitor information is also available at the Jackson Hole and Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center on North Cache Street in Jackson, Wyoming. That visitor center is open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., offering interactive displays and dioramas that highlight the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Wintering elk can be observed on the nearby National Elk Refuge from a wildlife observation deck equipped with spotting scopes. Visit the Center’s website for more information.

Ranger-led snowshoe hikes in Grand Teton begin Friday, Dec. 27 from Taggart Lake trailhead on the Teton Park Road, three miles north of Moose, Wyo. The snowshoe tours take place at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. The two-hour guided walks offer an opportunity to learn about snow science and winter ecology. Previous experience is not necessary, and snowshoes are available for a rental fee of $5 for adults and $2 for children, 8 years or older. Reservations are required and can be made by calling (307) 739-3399.

A single-day entry pass for Grand Teton is available to winter visitors at the Moose, Moran and Granite Canyon entrance stations. This winter-season permit allows a one-day entry at a cost of $5 per vehicle. The single-day pass is valid only in Grand Teton and cannot be used for entry into Yellowstone.

Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are popular along several trails, most of which skier-tracked, but not groomed. The Teton Park Road becomes a designated trail in winter, open to non-mechanized use only. This road is intermittently groomed for cross-country and skate skiing from the Taggart Lake parking area to Signal Mountain, but plowing of park roads and other access areas take priority and often pre-empt grooming operations, which begin only after at least two feet of snow accumulates on the road. For grooming updates, call (307) 739-3682. Snowshoers are reminded to walk adjacent to the groomed ski trail, as snowshoe treads ruin the grooved track used by skier

Skiers and snowshoers are not restricted to established trails in Grand Teton. For protection of wildlife, however, park visitors are required to observe closure areas from December through March. Trail maps, closure locations and other winter information is available online. Winter closure areas include:

Closed December 1 to April 1— Static Peak, Prospectors Mountain and Mount Hunt (see the park’s cross-country ski brochure for area descriptions).

Closed December 15 to April 1— Snake River floodplain from Moran to Menor’s Ferry near Moose, Buffalo Fork River floodplain within the park, Kelly Hill and Uhl Hill.

Backcountry users and mountaineers planning to stay overnight in the Grand Teton backcountry must get a camping permit before their trip. Winter backcountry permits can be obtained in person weekdays at the front desk of the park’s headquarters in Moose between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.. During weekends and holidays, persons wishing to get a backcountry permit must call (307) 739-3301.The backcountry permits office phone line at (307) 739-3309 will be staffed weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. On weekends and holidays, this line will not be staffed and only voice messages will be accepted. Permits are not required for day users.

To obtain weather forecasts and backcountry avalanche hazard information, visit www.jhavalanche.org, or phone the avalanche hotline at 307.733.2664.

Leashed pets are allowed on the park’s plowed roads and turnouts, the unplowed Moose-Wilson Road, and the Grassy Lake Road. Pets are not allowed in the backcountry, which includes all other park areas beyond the plowed roadways.

The unplowed Teton Park Road is open to visitors who wish to walk, snowshoe or ski with their leashed pet. Dogs are restricted to the Teton Park Road, and must be restrained at all times on a leash no longer than six feet. Dogs must also be leashed while in the parking areas at Taggart Lake or Signal Mountain. Dogs should be kept off the groomed ski tracks as a courtesy to other trail users.

Pet owners are required to clean up their pet’s waste and properly dispose of the bags in the receptacles provided.

Dog sleds are not allowed on the Teton Park Road or on Grassy Lake Road.

Snowmobilers may use the frozen surface of Jackson Lake for ice fishing only. A Wyoming fishing license and appropriate fishing gear must be in possession. On Jackson Lake, snowmobiles must meet National Park Service requirements for best-available technology (BAT).

Snowmobiles may also use the Grassy Lake Road in the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway. The BAT machine requirement does not apply to snowmobile access on Grassy Lake Road between Headwaters Lodge & Cabins at Flagg Ranch and the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. More information on snowmobiling is available online.

Weather during the winter season is extremely unpredictable in Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Road closures or delays can occur with little or no warning.  Visitors are reminded to come prepared by carrying personal emergency survival equipment in their vehicles and dressing appropriately for outside activities in extremely cold weather.

Contact Yellowstone Gate at 307-213-9818 or info@yellowstonegate.com.

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