If you are headed to Yellowstone I’m sure one of the reasons you want to travel there is to experience the wildlife. This is a mecca for wildlife enthusiasts and you could be lucky and see grizzlies, wolves and bison. But where do you go to see the wildlife in this vast wilderness? These are our insider tips to help you increase you chances.
Sunset over Lamay Valley
America’s Serengeti is located in the northeast section of Yellowstone. Lamar Valley is one of Yellowstone’s wide valleys and you will most likely always see wildlife here. We never went to Lamar valley without seeing large herds of bisons. There is also a high chance of seeing pronghorns.
Roaring bison along the road to Lamar Valley
Where there is prey there will always be predators as grizzlies and wolves. Lamar is one of the best places to see wolves, but the chances are not as high as spotting a grizzly or bison. Remember that your best chances of seeing wildlife will always be dusk and dawn.
A group of pronghorn in Lamar Valley
Pronghorn rut in September
Yellowstone has two types of bears, the black bear and the grizzly (also called brown bear). We observed both in the area around Mount Washburn so that will have to be our insider tips for bears.
Another location for seeing grizzly bears (except from Lamar and Hayden valley) is the Fishing Bridge area. At the Fishing Bridge campground only RVs are allowed, no tents, due to the high risk of grizzlies entering the area.
Black bear about the cross the road close to Mount Washburn
Yellowstone River meanders through the park from south to north and everyone has seen it in photos of Upper and Lower falls of the Grand Canyon. But if you are looking for birds I would head to the peaceful stretch that runs through Hayden Valley. We observed trumpeter swans, ducks and small birds in this area.
The most idyllic rest stop in Yellowstone is also along this river. You will find it driving south along Hayden Valley. Just after you have passed the valley and the Mud Volcano area it will be on the left side of the road.
Hayden Valley is like Lamar Valley one of Yellowstone’s wide valleys where you can expect to see large herds of bison. You could also see grizzlies and wolves here. We were lucky too see grizzlies twice in Hayden Valley. While we observed lots of wildlife we did not get many photos as the wildlife often kept a good distance to the road. Bring your binoculars!
When you visit the thermal areas like Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic wildlife is probably not what you are expecting, but you might get surprised! The bison doesn’t care about the warning signs and tend to wander through these areas and that could give you some spectacular images.
Bison walking through Grand Prismatic hot spring
Great Blue Heron in the Old Faithful area
Road between Madison and Mammoth Hot Springs
In the area between Madison and Mammoth Hot Springs we often observed herds of bison. You will find bison in many areas in the park, but the advantage in this area is that the herds will likely be closer to the road. The fields on both sides of the road has beautiful tall grass that offers some lovely photos during the golden hour.
Bison on the road between Mammoth Hot Springs and Madison
Baby bison during golden hour
Mammoth Hot Springs
You will find elk in several areas in Yellowstone. They tend to draw into the woods during the day so you have to get up early or catch them at dawn. We found them sporadically around the park, most often east of Mammoth Hot Springs or south of Lake Yellowstone in the West Thumb Geyser Basin area.
If you are running out of time and haven’t seen any elk your safest bet it to head to Mammoth Hot Springs. Like I wrote in my previous post from Mammoth Hot Springs the elk loves the grass on the many lawns in the village and can be found here year round for this delicacy.
For both your safety and the safety of the animals: Do not approach bears or wolves on foot within 100 yards (91 m) or other wildlife within 25 yards (23 m). If you cause an animal to move, you are too close! The bison may look calm, but have injured more people than any other animal in the park.
If you are headed to Yellowstone please check out the National Park Services’ Safety Advices. Please note that all photos in this blog are captured with a telephoto lens.