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Bison Near Mud Volcano

Yellowstone is home to a wide variety of different animals, ranging from bison to wolves to bald eagles. No matter what you’re viewing, keep a safe distance! Even if the animal seems calm, it can quickly become agitated and get aggressive. You can never know what you might happen to see while visiting, but here’s a brief overview of what to expect:

1. General Tips for Wildlife Viewing:

  • Lamar Valley is your best bet for any wildlife viewing, no matter what time of year.

  • Hayden Valley is great for bison viewing until September.

  • Mammoth will almost always have elk.

  • If you see a large crowd of people stopped, go ahead and pull over so that you can get pictures without blocking traffic.

  • If you see a ranger stopped with a crowd of people, that usually means that there are wolves or bears (sometimes moose).

  • The most commonly spotted bears are either the black bears in the ravine near Blacktail Plateau Drive, or three grizzlies in the burned area of Sylvan Pass (named Raspberry, Snow, and Jam).

  • More animals are out around sunrise or sunset.

  • Some animals will come out shortly after rain (since people have left or aren’t driving as much).

  • Always be watchful. Animals can randomly dart out in front of your car, so be careful and don’t speed in the park!

Wildlife Watchers in Lamar Valley


2. Specific Wildlife:

· Bison

Bison are the most common animal found in the park:

  • To see large herds, go to Lamar and Hayden Valleys. These herds can be anywhere from a few to dozens in size.

  • BE CAREFUL around any wild animals, with bison as certainly no exception! Experts recommend keeping at least a 25 yard (30 meter) distance between yourself and bison. They seem docile most of the time, but you can never predict their movements.

  • Many traffic jams throughout the park occur because of bison. During winter months, bison tend to walk on the roads rather than sink into the deeper snow on the grass. Because of this, they tend to stick the roads the whole year.

  • If bison are near your car, DO NOT TRY TO GET THEM TO MOVE. Wait until they pass, or very slowly drive past when you can. They WILL ram your car if you aggravate them!

  • Bison will sometimes jump onto boardwalks (particularly around Mud Volcano). If this happens, DON’T WALK UP TO IT! You’re in a dangerous thermal area with a wild animal, so safety first! Try and walk down the boardwalk away from the animal, and return when it’s moved on.

  • The best times of year to see bison are in the spring (May or even early June) when they’re calving, or August during their mating season.

· Elk

Elk are one of the most commonly seen animals in the park:

  • If you spend any time around Mammoth or Gardiner, MT, you’ll probably see quite a few around.

  • Elk are also commonly seen around the Lake area and West Thumb Geyser Basin.

  • In the winter, you can see hundreds of elk near Jackson, WY at the National Elk Refuge.

  • Like with bison, KEEP YOUR DISTANCE! Experts recommend keeping at least a 25 yard (30 meter) distance between yourself and elk.

  • The best time of year to see elk (and hear the unique calls) is September to early October during their rut (mating) season. It’s best to be around the Mammoth area during this time.

· Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn sheep are sometimes hard to find:

  • I’ve had the best luck seeing them on the side edge of Sylvan Pass, and near Roosevelt on Dunraven Pass.

  • They seem to spook easily compared to bison or elk, so you probably won’t be able to get extremely close. Nevertheless, please keep your distance of at least 25 years (30 meters).

  • The best time of year to see them would either be in June when their lambs are born, or November during their mating season.

· Pronghorn

Pronghorn are also a common sight in Yellowstone:

  • They travel in decent sized herds most of the time, usually in grassy valleys.

  • They stay more on the northern side of the park, around Lamar Valley.

  • You’ll most likely see pronghorn around the Lamar Valley, somewhere between Slough and Pebble Creeks. I’ve had more luck seeing them around the picnic area before Blacktail Plateau Drive.

  • The best time of year to see them would be either in late May to June when they have their fawns, or early October during their mating season.

· Moose

Moose are rare in Yellowstone:

  • Moose can be found in Yellowstone, but they’re more commonly seen further south in Grand Teton National Park.

  • It’s very rare to see moose in Yellowstone due to their movement south after the large forest fire in 1988. However, they have been spotted in certain locations.

  • If you visit early in the spring, there’s one that seems to hang around the Canyon Lodge (particularly the Rhyolite building).

  • There have also been sightings around the Madison Junction and near water in Lamar Valley.

  • If you really want to see moose, I’d recommend driving to Grand Teton National Park. You have a much higher chance of seeing one compared to inside Yellowstone.

· Foxes

Foxes are often a roadside attraction:

  • Foxes are adorable and can be seen more towards the northeast portion of the park

  • They can range from grey to red.

  • The best places to see foxes are past Lamar Valley, heading towards the northeast entrance. Or, just outside the park going towards the Beartooth Highway.

  • They often hang around the roads, so be careful when driving!

  • The best time of year to see them seems to be in May or June.

· Great Grey Owls

Owls are much harder to spot compared to other, much larger wildlife.

  • There are 2 main spots in the park where these owls are most often seen: near Yellowstone Lake, just south of Bridge Bay Marina or the Canyon area, south of the main junction or near the employee dorms.

  • If you really want to see an owl and aren’t having any luck, stop by the Canyon Village or Lodge and ask some of the employees.

· Black and Grizzly Bears

Bears have been sighted all over Yellowstone during different times of the year.

  • There are plenty of black and grizzly bears in the park, and they can look more similar than you might think.

  • Grizzly bears are usually larger than black bears.

  • Grizzlies have a large muscle mass above their shoulders.

  • Black bears have a straighter shaped face.

  • Grizzlies are usually more aggressive and have larger claws.

  • Black bears, despite the name, are not always black. They can be anywhere from black to cinnamon to even white in color. This can sometimes confuse visitors as to what kind of bear they’re seeing.

  • BE CAREFUL AROUND BEARS!! Keep at least 100 years (90 meters) between yourself and a bear.

  • If you go hiking in or around the park, TAKE BEAR SPRAY with you and travel in groups of 3 or more. The more noise you make, the more nearby bears can hear you and will move away. You never want to accidentally surprise a bear!

  • When driving around the park, you will inevitably encounter crowds stopping and viewing wildlife. If you see a park ranger along with the crowds, that means that there may be either a bear or wolf. They are there to make sure that people don’t get too close.

  • Bears are most commonly seen around Lamar Valley, Canyon (near the Upper Falls), Roaring Mountain, Bridge Bay Marina, and the burned area of Sylvan Pass (Grizzlies named Raspberry, Snow, and Jam).

  • The best time of year to see bears is in the spring. I saw bears almost every day in May and early June.

· Wolves

While the winter is a better time of year to see wolves, there is still a good chance of seeing them during the summer season.

  • There are 9 different wolf packs in the park:

    • Phantom Lake

    • 8 Mile

    • Carnelian Creek

    • Junction Butte

    • Wapiti Lake

    • Cougar Creek

    • Bechler

    • Heart Lake

    • Mollie’s

  • The different packs stay within their territories, with many being up in the Lamar Valley.

  • The most commonly seen packs seem to be the Junction Butte pack in Lamar Valley (near Slough Creek) and the Wapiti Lake pack in Hayden Valley.

  • The best time during the summer season to see wolves is the spring. You have a better chance of seeing them around sunrise or sunset.

You can never know what you’re going to get to see while visiting the park, but that’s part of the fun! Just remember to always be careful while viewing any type of wildlife.

This is their home, and we’re just visiting.


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