Each year more than three million people travel to Yellowstone National Park for its stunning vistas, impressive geysers and abundant wildlife. However, just a small percentage of those visitors plan their Yellowstone vacation for the time of year when many experts feel the park is at its very best – winter.
Among those experts are filmmaker Ken Burns and his longtime collaborator Dayton Duncan, who together created the acclaimed PBS documentary “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” According to Burns, “In winter, the normal crowds are gone, the park has a special majesty and serenity, and the opportunities to see wildlife are incredible.” Duncan concurs, adding “You’ve never really seen Yellowstone until you’ve been there in winter. It’s 10 times more spectacular.”
So what makes a wintertime Yellowstone vacation so compelling?
No crowds. Last year 3.6 million people visited Yellowstone. However, the overwhelming majority of those people all crowded into the park from May through October. In fact, less than 2 percent of all 2010 visitors took a Yellowstone vacation during the winter months of December, January and February.
Increased opportunities to see wildlife. Wildlife viewing in Yellowstone is at its best in winter. Not only is ground cover thinner, but animals stand out more clearly against a white backdrop of snow. What’s more, heat from the park’s hydrothermal features can reduce snow accumulations in areas, attracting grazing animals that feed on grasses beneath the snow. Those grazing animals in turn often attract wolves and other predators.
More pronounced hydrothermal features. Yellowstone has half of the earth’s hydrothermal features, and these geysers, hot springs and fumaroles are even more pronounced in colder weather, when their steam condenses into clouds of mist. This mist settles onto surrounding trees and other cold surfaces, forming a crystalline crust that magically transforms the landscape.
The chance to meet Ken Burns. This coming January in Yellowstone also offers the unique opportunity to personally meet Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan. Last year the pair formed a partnership with Tauck, the leader in premium quality guided travel, and together Tauck and the filmmakers are offering a one-time eight-day “Winter In Yellowstone” event. Besides providing the chance to meet Burns and Dayton, this Yellowstone vacation event will also feature guided excursions through the park in special heated, motorized “snowcoaches,” wildlife viewing and special presentations by Burns, Duncan and a number of other experts.
The event features stays at the Chico Hot Springs Resort, Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Spring Creek Ranch. Tauck is also offering six departures of a similar itinerary as part of its Culturious collection of immersive, small-group trips for active boomer-age travelers. These additional departures, from January through March, will follow an itinerary designed by Burns and Duncan in cooperation with Tauck, although the filmmakers themselves will not be present.