Spotting wildlife is the often the most thrilling experience of a visit to Yellowstone National Park.
And the Great Yellowstone ecosystem remains a remarkably intact and diverse wildlife habitat that supports the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48 states.
Although there are highlights throughout the year, Spring is exciting with bears coming out of hibernation and bison, moose and deer calving.
In Summer animals migrate to higher elevations and retreat to avoid the heat in the middle of day, so spotting can be more challenging.
And the Fall rut officially marks the end of Summer, when males fight for breeding rights.
Wildlife watching takes patience, luck, persistence and some early rises. Best time of day to observe wildlife are the cooler early morning hours and evening hours, when animals are more active.
Packing spotting scopes or binoculars will save on frustration and any temptation to get closer.
Bison have lived in Yellowstone since prehistoric times and their numbers currently stand at a managed ~4500 within the Park borders.
Quite remarkable considering in the years after poaching during the 1800s, their numbers dwindled down to an estimated 24.
You’re likely to get held up in a ‘bison jam’ at sometime during your visit to the Park but seeing them grazing in the Hayden and Lamar Valleys seems like a more natural setting.
Is is a black bear or grizzly bear?
Sometimes even experts are challenged as they can come in brown, blond, cinnamon and black in color.
Grizzly bears are typically much larger and have a distinguishable hump of muscle on their shoulders used for digging. As well as more rounded ears and a dish shaped face.
Black bears have a longer snout, a straighter line between forehead and nose and ears that are more pointed.
Watch for grizzly bears in the Hayden and Lamar Valleys and Mt Washburn and black bears around Tower and Mammoth.
After extermination throughout much of the United States, wolves were officially reintroduced back in Yellowstone in the years from 1995 to 1997.
From 41 gray wolves relocated from Canada and Montana, there are now approximately 500 wolves in the Great Yellowstone area and around 80 in 8 packs within the Park.
The Lamar Valley is one of the best places to view wolves in the world.
🎵…Where the deer and the pronghorn play…🎵 Actually, pronghorns are not antelopes but did roam the West with their numbers originally estimated at 35 million in the 1800s!
If you see them in the Lamar Valley, around Gardiner, or between Mt Washburn and Tower Fall in the fields running, they can be clocking speeds between 40-50 mph.
Often seen travelling together in herds, ranging in size from a few dozen to a few hundred, depending on the time of year.
Elk are the largest members of the deer family.
The male (bulls) grow antlers each year that are initially coated with a soft velvet skin that they later shed.
During the fall rut males lock antlers and fight for the right to mate. Bugling loudly they wrangle females (cows) into large harems.
True transients, most of the estimated 10,000 – 20,000 leave the Park each winter to return the following Spring.
The largest of all in the deer family, about 1500 pounds for a fully grown bull moose.
You can usually tell the difference between elk and moose, by sheer size and the antler shape. Bull moose have antlers that are shaped like the palm of your hand with the fingers outstretched (palmate).
They also have a bulbous nose and the “bell”, a dangly ball of skin that hangs from their neck.
With numbers around 200 within Yellowstone, you will be very lucky to see one here.
Travel to Grand Teton National Park where they are more heavily populated.
If you’re enjoying watching wildlife in Yellowstone, please follow all NPS recommendations on keeping safe distances from animals and adhere to speed limits.
Always remain at least 100 yards from bears or wolves, and at least 25 yards from all other wildlife.
Remember these animals are wild, unpredictable and most importantly need their space in order to survive.