Established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park was the world’s first national park. It was protected so that people could enjoy its unique hydrothermal and geologic wonders such as ‘Old Faithful’ – one of the most famous geysers in the world. And it’s not just geological wonders that make the park so special – Yellow is as complex as it is wonderous. For thousands of years, Native Americans have stewarded the area – hunting, fishing, gathering plants, and conducting ceremonies. The Crow, Blackfeet, Umatilla, and other tribes have a deep connection to a land which is home to an incredible range of charismatic and threatened wildlife including grizzly bears, American bison, black bears, wolves, moose, and red deer (or elk). It is a place where nature and culture abound and a place which has made a lasting mark on how all of humanity views and interacts with the natural world.
Average rating: 5.0 (very good)
Average cost: a seven-day pass costs $35 if you’re in a private vehicle and $30 for a motorbike. If you’re on foot or bike it’s only $20. If you do go hiking in the park make sure to take precautions such as bringing bear spray. There’s a good guide to safe hiking in the park here.
Best time to visit: the best times to visit Yellowstone are April to May and September to October. These shoulder months offer milder weather and fewer crowds. July and August are the warmest and most popular months to visit. Winter is colder and harsher but can be a great time to look for wolves in the snow. There is a good guide to the best wildlife watching opportunities over the year here.
How to get there: Yellowstone is a big place! It covers 9,000 km2 over three states and has five separate entrances. You can drive, fly, or take a bus to the park although you do need your own transport once you get there – unless you’re on a tour. There’s loads of info in this excellent guide to planning a trip to Yellowstone. If you’re looking for wildlife there’s another guide to the top wildlife hotspots in the park here. We haven’t tried it but people also recommend the GyPSy Guide to park.
Typical activities: camping, hiking, trekking
Number of reports: 2
WILDLIFE IN Yellowstone
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the most popular species that can be seen here are:
Grizzly Bear – 100% OF WildSide Users (2/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Seeing a grizzly bear in the wild is an unforgettable experience. And Yellowstone is an amazing place to see them. From 1980 to 2005, over 37,000 bear sightings have been reported in the park. And there are even reports of people seeing ten or fifteen bears in one day! Grizzlies are active throughout spring, summer, and autumn, before hibernating through the winter and emerging again in March or early April. They are most active at night or during dawn and dusk – so head out just after sunrise or before sunset to maximise your chances of seeing one.
Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley are excellent places to see grizzlies. You can drive through the valleys and stop in the paved areas to scan for bears. Look across the valleys along the treeline and watch for movement of large animals. Plan to spend some time looking and waiting! If there is a bear around, someone will probably spot it before you do. So lookout for people with scopes or cameras. There’s an excellent guide to spotting grizzlies in Yellowstone here. And you can learn more about the bears here.
American bison – 100% OF WildSide Users (2/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The Yellowstone bison herd is the largest and oldest bison herd in the US – with a population of up to 5,000 individuals. There are two distinct groups in the park. The northern herd is made up of around 2,300 bison and ranges from the northern park entrance near Gardiner, Montana through the Blacktail Plateau and into the Lamar Valley. The central herd has around 1,400 individuals and ranges from the Madison River valley into the Hayden Valley and Upper and Lower Geyser Basins.
Bison are hard to miss in the park, with the large areas of alpine meadow and grass prairie providing the perfect habitat for enormous herds. They are present year-round and in hotspots such as the Lamar Valley, it’s possible to see up to two to three thousand animals at a time! Other good places to look for bison include the Hayden and Pelican valleys, and Snake River. There’s a great video about Yellowstone’s bison here.
Black bear – 50% OF WildSide Users (1/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Alongside the bigger, fiercer grizzlies, Yellowstone is also home to a substantial number of black bears. Like grizzlies, they are active throughout the year apart from winter when they hibernate. Unlike grizzlies, however, they are mostly active during daylight so can be easier to see. You can learn more about the black bears of the park here.
Your best bet for spotting black bears is the Tower and Roosevelt area. Known as the “Bearmuda Triangle”, it’s common to see black bears close to the road here. They tend to be used to people and don’t mind the odd photograph! If you see a black bear in the woods watch for cubs that may be up in a tree. Other good spots include the northern portion of the park along the road corridor from Elk Creek to Tower Falls, and from Mammoth Hot Springs north to Indian Creek, as well as the Lamar and Hayden valleys.
Moose – 0% OF WildSide Users (0/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
In the 1970s there were around 1,000 moose in Yellowstone. Today, however, there are estimated to be less than 200. The population started to decline in the 1980s due to a combination of wildfires, harsh winters, changing habitat, and predation by wolves and grizzlies. You can find them in marshy areas of meadows, lakeshores, and along rivers. Good places to look out for them include the drainages of Soda Butte Creek, Pelican Creek, Lewis River, and Gallatin River. Other hotspots in Yellowstone include Willow Park between Norris Junction and Mammoth, Yellowstone Lake, Fishing Bridge, West Thumb, and Hayden Valley. You can find out more about the moose of Yellowstone here. There’s also an in-depth guide to moose spotting here.
Wolf – 0% OF WildSide Users (0/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
After being hunted to extinction over many decades, wolves were reintroduced to the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone in 1995. The reintroduction has been a spectacular and much-heralded conservation success story. Transforming not just the fate of wolves in America, but also the behaviour of almost all of the other species in Yellowstone, and the very nature of the park itself. There’s an excellent video which tells the story of how the reintroduction of a top predator led to more trees, cleaner water, and ultimately more life!
As of 2017, around 100 wolves roam in and around Yellowstone, with around 450 across the Greater Yellowstone area. The Lamar Valley has now become a wolf-watching mecca and one of the best places in North America to see these incredible carnivores. Other hotspots include the Hayden Valley, Canyon area, and Blacktail Deer Plateau. That said, they can be tricky to spot. There’s a detailed guide to wolf spotting in the park here. One tip is to try exploring less-visited areas at less-visited times – so head up to Lamar Valley at dawn or dusk in winter for a wilder, wolfier experience. There are also several winter wolf tracking tour packages available.
Red Deer – 50% OF WildSide Users (1/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
There are around 10,000 to 20,000 red deer in Yellowstone. They are known as ‘elk’ in North America, which confusingly refers to ‘moose’ in Europe! The population peaks in summer and drops down to around 5,000 in winter as the deer migrate to the National Elk Refuge. The huge numbers mean they are pretty easy to spot in the park. Some hotspots include Mammoth Hot Springs, Lamar Valley, Norris Junction, and Madison Junction. The autumn months of September and October are a great time to look for deer as they take part in the spectacular rutting season.
Photo credit: David Mark under a Creative Commons licence from Pixabay