Yellowstone Wildlife

Bison, Wolves and Bears, oh my!

Viewing wildlife was one of the most memorable activities we enjoyed in Yellowstone.  The chances of seeing wildlife will depend on what time of year you visit, the effort you put into it, and some luck as well.  We decided to increase our chances by getting up very early a few days and driving to locations known for wildlife viewing.  We also made a few sightings by sheer luck.  While we saw more bison overall during out first visit in late July, we had much better luck seeing bears in June. 

We did not see much wildlife during our first few days in the park while visiting the major geyser basins.  During the summer months many of the park animals can be visible in the Hayden and Lamar Valleys.  During the winter, some animals such as the bison, may be found near thermal features - most likely to keep a little warmer.  The National Park Service has a web cam of the Old Faithful Geyser and during the winter I have seen bison wandering around near Old Faithful Geyser while viewing it.  The web cam can be found at 

On our way towards the Old Faithful area we did spot a few elk.  However, it wasn't until I got a little anxious to spot the bison that I had heard so much about that we went out of our way just to find them.  We headed towards Lake Yellowstone and visited the West Thumb Geyser Basin (more info in the Geyser Basin section).  Then we headed towards Fishing Bridge hoping to catch a glimpse of a bear looking for fish.  We were a little late for that as we heard bear activity occurs there in late spring and early summer.  We then headed through Hayden Valley towards the Canyon area and were rewarded with our first sighting of Bison.  We actually encountered a "bison jam" as they are commonly called before we caught our first glimpse of the large animals.  We were stopped in a very slow line of traffic.  My daughter and I got out of the car and walked up the road a short distance and came to a clearing full of bison.  It was very exciting.  Cars were pulled over by the side of the road and the road was jammed.   Some bison were crossing the road which added to the jam.   We walked back to the car and gave my husband and son a chance to walk to see these large animals.   We were able to stop and a pull-out in the road.  At one point we had one bison crossing in front of the car while another crossed behind.  You need to be cautious as the bison can run fast.  If they are close you should observe from inside the car only.  My husband and I got caught scrambling for the car when a few bison changed direction quickly and came running our way.  The National Park Service literature handed out in the park says to stay at least 25 feet away from most wildlife, 100 feet from bears and we could understand why.  Apparently more park visitors have been injured by bison than bears.  We saw many more bison on the way to Canyon as well as a coyote on the hunt for dinner.  

A few days later we were staying in Gardiner just outside the north entrance to the park.  We left around 5:00 or so in the morning to drive out to the Lamar Valley which is located in the northeast section of the park.  We brought our binoculars along and were hoping to spot bears, pronghorn and wolves.   With a lot persistance and patience we were able to spot 2 out of 3 of those as well as a fleeting glimpse of a few moose that were crossing the road near in the northeast corner of the park.  We pulled out at several locations along the route from Tower Junction towards the Northeast entrance.  We spotted  a grizzly bear at two different locations through the binoculars and several groups of pronhorn along the way.   Both animals were exciting to see.  There were often visitors at pull-outs with spotting scopes and we were able to see one of the bears through them as well.  Just as we stopped to turn around and head back toward the Mammoth Hot Springs area we spotted the moose.  The moose has just crossed the road in a very forested area so we were unable to see them as we drove by.

The next day we were driving from Tower/Roosevelt south towards the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and came upon another wildlife jam.  This time it was two mother and cub bear sightings within close proximity to the road and each other.   We saw a black bear and cub resting near a log and and a short walk down the road there was a grizzly and her two cubs.  The cubs were very close to the road and park rangers quickly sent the crowd back to there cars.  This was what I call one of the lucky wildlife sightings.  It was around 11 am and we were not specifically looking for a wildlife but the traffic jam was the sure sign that some sort of wildlife was involved.   Later that day we also came upon a female moose in the river right by the road as well as a coyote looking for dinner.  
By the time our last day in the park came, we had seen most of the wildlife on my list.  The elusive wolves were the last animal we had yet to find.  We got up early and headed back up to the Hayden Valley from Lake Yellowstone and pulled out our binoculars at various turn-outs.  We were at a large pull-put along with many other people, some with spotting scopes, and kept a patient watch.  Finally a family of wolves was spotted.  They were very far away but friendly people with spotting scopes made it possible to view them.   We also saw a bald eagle at that site as well.   We found it helpful to have a pair of binoculars for each family member so all eyes could be on the look-out for a wildlife spotting. 
Overall I thought we had pretty good success spotting wildlife.  The bears were the most exciting animal for me but all the wildlife were wonderful.   I have read that some people refer to Yellowstone as American's Serengeti and I can certainly see why.  It was an experience I will never forget.   


Yellowstone Overview

Yellowstone Lodging



 Bison at Rest

Moose in the River


Elk at Mammoth


Grizzly Cubs