I’ve been to Yellowstone before. It sucked. 

Sure, the park is beautiful. The natural elements of the massive supervolcano are breathtaking. There’s grandeur, stark landscapes, wild tectonic and geologic sights to behold and the wildlife is pretty damn spectacular. I don’t know if you know this, but bison are cool as hell in person. 

But there’s an aspect to the park that just plain sucks: other people. 

I went in spring with my family and while that isn’t considered to be the seasonal peak of visitors, there were thousands of people at nearly every turnout in the park. Hundreds gathered around as they took snaps of said beauty and nature. People got wildly too close to the wildlife itself—there are many social media accounts devoted to chastising and showcasing the stupidity of most people—and cars littered the landscape. 

I got to see the park, yeah, but I didn’t really get to enjoy it as I fought the throngs of fleshy humans spraying destructive sunscreen into the air, snapping selfies, parking like idiots and generally treating the park like it was Disney World, but with fewer manners toward leaving the park better—I swear, I’ll slap the next person who throws garbage out of their windows. 

Leaving the park, I felt sort of hollow from the experience. I didn’t feel the need to come back as humanity ruined the experience. 

That all changed thanks to a Ski-Doo trip through the park this winter. I hesitate to write this, as it may ruin something that was beyond beautiful and quiet, but I hope more people get to experience Yellowstone this way, as it’s the only way you ever should.  

Ski-Doo Yellowstone
Ski-Doo Yellowstone
Ski-Doo Yellowstone

You Can’t Just Take a Snowmobile Into Yellowstone 

As you’d expect, there are a lot of rules about what goes into the park, especially during the winter months. For a long time, snowmobiles weren’t allowed until a few local guide companies petitioned the park to re-open it, so long as they met certain criteria and adhered to specific rules, like a max speed limit of 35 mph, only allowing four-stroke engines, guides must be present and to maintain normal rules of the road. 

Yep, you have to stay on the road. Likewise, private folks can’t just whip out their new Ski-Doo Renegade and blast through wherever they want. 

The result is a highly organized, highly restricted trail guide of the park during a time when cars aren’t allowed in, apart from a few outfitter’s Arctic Trucks. So no huddled masses yearning to touch a bison or tourists dropping their whole grain oat bar wrappers into a stream. There are still people, but on orders of magnitude fewer, and that makes everything better. 

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Ski-Doo Yellowstone

Welcome…To Yellowstone Park

Like I said, I saw Yellowstone before, but I didn’t really get to see Yellowstone through all the people. That wasn’t the case this time around. 

Our guide and group took our time, flowing through the park, stopping at all the turnouts and features I’d stopped at the first time. Except there just wasn’t anyone there this time around. And even when the sound of snowmobiles filled the air as a different tour group arrived, it quickly departed, as ours was far more relaxed and less on a time frame than others.

People came, but they also left, and we were alone once again. 

I watched a coyote track across a barren marsh, sometimes falling through the hard-packed snow. We saw two young bull bison grazing along a river, just relaxing and gathering whatever food they could find, using their massive skulls to push the snow aside. The volcano’s caldera rose up like a walled sentinel and I could follow animal tracks as they made their way up toward the rim. And we saw waterfalls, explored the natural geysers and hot springs and mud pits. 

Ski-Doo Jacket
Ski-Doo Jacket
Ski-Doo Jacket

At one point, we stopped along one of the rivers in the park, and as my group walked up to a picturesque spot right up a ridge, I stopped. 

I sat down in the snow and closed my eyes. I didn’t hear anyone talking, chatting, or asking a neighbor to take a picture of them. I didn’t hear kids screaming they were bored (those would be my kids) or someone asking when the animals would be “let out today?” All I heard was the burbling of the river as snow fell silently overhead and the sun’s rays struck my face, warming it to its touch. 

I stayed there for as long as I could, but I could’ve stayed there for hours, just sitting in the snow. 

Ski-Doo Yellowstone

Oh Beautiful, For Spacious Skies

After we had lunch near Old Faithful—that was still lackluster in my estimation—we headed back into the park near the end of when folks or guides are allowed in. And, indeed, it seemed like everyone had gone home for the day. 

We stopped fewer times on our way out, but that allowed us to just roll and experience the whole of the park atop our sleds. 

An image is burned into my brain of riding the Ski-Doo near Fountainhead geyser, where there’s enough volcanic activity that a wide open expanse forms. No forest and few outcroppings. The sun was setting, giving off an otherworldly vibe and glow to the glistening snow. I could see for miles, as all of the clouds in the sky broke free. I may as well have been on Europa, apart from my companions behind me. 

But what will always stick with me is our final goodbye in the park. 

Ski-Doo Yellowstone

We’d stopped for a moment for our photographer Ben to set up a shot he’d been wanting to do just before exiting the park. The group would leave the main road and head down a side road that ran along the main entrance’s river. There, he’d get some wide shots of the group. 

And as we passed along the predetermined mark, all of us looking our coolest, a bald eagle rose from its roost, swung a wide arc over the river, and started flying along the road in tandem with us. It was maybe 15 feet away from my shoulder at one point, with the two of us locking eyes just for the briefest of moments—Ray Charles intensified.

It flew with us for another 200 yards before going off to find dinner. When we stopped, myself and two other riders were left gobsmacked by what we’d just witnessed. By what we’d just experienced. I mean, how many people can say they rode a snowmobile through Yellowstone while a bald eagle flew with them? A perfect capstone to a great day. 

Ski-Doo Yellowstone

Don’t Go?

I kid, sorta. Honestly, after experiencing Yellowstone during the spring and then winter, there’s only one way I’d recommend going. Winter presents its own challenges, as there may not be enough snow for the park to open to snowmobiles, as happened this year—thank you, climate change—or it could also be -30 degrees below zero. 

But, honestly, it’s worth it either way and way more than any sightseeing done while the park is open to regular tourists and their cars or buses. I cannot stress enough how much better it was than the spring and I can’t even image what that place is like during the summer. 

I hope snowmobiles are always allowed into Yellowstone, maybe even the new Ski-Doo EV sleds, as it’s the only way to see the park properly.

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