Best Places To See Wildlife In Yellowstone

One of the best ways to see wildlife in Yellowstone is from the comfort of your own car. Most people drive around trying to spot as many animals as possible, but I think its also fun to stop and hike a little bit to see what you can find. I find that taking hiking trails give you the opportunity to see places where the animals congregate, making it easier to spot a variety of animals. The trails listed here are some of the best for wildlife spotting in Yellowstone.

With a little planning, your Yellowstone vacation can include some amazing wildlife sightings. With over 3,500 animal species in the park, there are bound to be a few you haven’t seen yet! Follow my recommendations for the best places to see wildlife in Yellowstone here. We will base our discussion today on – Best Places To See Wildlife In Yellowstone. But, other resources which you can find on our website include some frequently asked questions such as: lamar valley yellowstone and hayden valley yellowstone

Best Places To See Wildlife In Yellowstone

Yellowstone is home to over 1,000 species of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles. It’s also the largest wildland in the lower 48 states. This makes Yellowstone a veritable zoo for nature-lovers who want to see all manner of wildlife in their natural habitats.

The best places to see wildlife in Yellowstone are:

1) Lamar Valley: Lamar Valley is known as “America’s Serengeti” because it’s home to over 400 different animal species, including many predators and prey alike. You’ll find everything from bison and elk to wolves and grizzly bears here.

2) Hayden Valley: This valley is home to larger herds of bison than any other place in the park. Hike through Hayden Valley on your own or take part in one of the guided tours offered by Xanterra Parks & Resorts (the official concessionaire for Yellowstone National Park).

3) Mammoth Hot Springs: This geothermal area is located at ground zero for some of the most famous wildlife sightings in all of Yellowstone–including grizzly bears! Keep your eyes peeled as you explore this area, which features hot springs with colorful algae blooms that attract many different species of birds year-round.

Yellowstone National Park is a haven for wildlife, and the park offers visitors a variety of opportunities to see the many animals that call the park home.

Check out these five tips for finding the best places to see wildlife in Yellowstone National Park:

  1. Visit in the fall or winter when there are fewer crowds.
  2. Go on a hike, ride a bike, or take a snowmobile tour to get closer to nature.
  3. Bring binoculars so you can get an up-close view of wildlife without disturbing them or getting too close for comfort!
  4. Be aware of road closures due to bear activity during spring/summer months (May-September).

best places to see wildlife in yellowstone

1. Get Out Early

Bison on the move at sunrise in Lamar Valley in Yellowstone
Bison in Lamar Valley at SunriseNPS Jacob W Frank

Yes, that 5 a.m. alarm can be rough on vacation! But the gutsy visitors who hit the road by sunrise will be rewarded by more active wildlife and fewer crowds. Generally, the best time to look for wildlife in Yellowstone is at dawn. Remember to account for travel time from your hotel or campsite so that you can arrive at a good wildlife hotspot like Lamar or Hayden Valley by sunrise.

When it gets warm enough to remove your jacket, wildlife will become less active. You may also have success looking for wildlife in the hours before sunset, but the crowds will be larger.

Tips: Pack a picnic breakfast and a Thermos® of hot chocolate or coffee to enjoy while watching wildlife in the early morning. Lay out everything you need the night before to make that pre-dawn start a bit easier.

2. Bad Weather is your Wildlife-Viewing Friend

Bison in the mist in Yellowstone
Bison on a gray foggy day in YellowstoneTiffany Elliott

Overcast, gloomy skies means less heat distortion for viewing or photographing animals. Rain may result in fewer crowds, and often times bad weather will clear up in Yellowstone’s unpredictable mountain climate. Animals are more active on cool, cloudy days than hot, sunny days. While the cold weather and off-season closures of early spring may deter visitors, it is a naturalist’s favorite time of year! With bouncy newborn bison, an abundance of migratory birds and glimpses of the first wildflowers of the season, spring is a magical time in Yellowstone. And it’s the best time of year to observe bears!

Tips: To stay warm in the cold and wet weather, bring lots of layers. Waterproof boots and wool-blend socks will keep your feet dry. A rain or ski jacket over a wool sweater will keep your torso warm. Don’t forget warm and waterproof gloves.

3. Seek Intimate Experiences

Black bear
Black BearPhoto by Sarah Ernst courtesy of Teton Science Schools

Oft-repeated advice to new visitors to Yellowstone is, “Just drive around until you see a bunch of cars pulled over and you’ll find wildlife!” While that’s the easiest way to find your first bear, there is also great value in spending time in the field away from the “Paw-parazzi.”

Turn off your vehicle’s engine, get outside and be quiet. Look and listen. Take a gentle stroll away from the road. Seek out intimate experiences but maintain situational awareness: carry bear spray, do not leave the boardwalk in geothermal areas, and use common sense. The most memorable moment of your trip might not be watching a grizzly with several hundred other people, but hearing the call of a trumpeter swan echoing off the mountains, or a glimpse of the elusive pine marten as it darts across the trail.

best place to stay in yellowstone to see wildlife

1. Lamar Valley

Without doubt, Lamar Valley is the best place in Yellowstone to see wildlife. Carved by glaciers and fed by the Lamar River, the grasslands that cover this valley are easily accessible on Highway 212 and attract the biggest land species in the park—bison, elk, moose, and bears. Wolves are also found here.

2. The Tower-Roosevelt area

Nature’s towers are created with cliffs. So the logic goes that Yellowstone’s species that are more vertically inclined will gravitate to its rockier terrain. Come here to see pronghorn, bighorn sheep, marmots, bison, antelope, deer, and bats (if you time it right). Agate Creek is a fantastic 14-mile lope into the Tower-Roosevelt area. Mount Washburn is prime habitat for bighorn sheep. Tower Fall Campground is in the area if you’re looking to camp.

3. Hayden Valley

The Yellowstone River feeds Yellowstone Lake at the heart of the park via the Hayden Valley, and along its course are prime opportunities to see wildlife, especially if the Lamar Valley is overrun by visitors. The usual suspects can be found here, but this part of the park is especially scenic, too. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone certainly lives up to its name, and it’s made all the better by the opportunity to see wildlife. Options also include the Yellowstone River Picnic Trail, which traverses the canyon rim.

4. Geyser basins

There are at least 10,000 geothermal features in the Yellowstone National Park, and they provide important habitat for its wildlife, especially in the winter. Although they aren’t the busiest places for wildlife in Yellowstone, it’s possible to see bison and elk at places like Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful—just don’t count on it when the crowds come out in force. Don’t count out microbiotic life, either. Other possibilities include Biscuit Basin, West Thumb Geyser Basin, Midway Geyser Basin, Norris Geyser Basin, and the famous Upper Geyser Basin. Not to be missed: Boiling River Hot Springs, in which you can soak while you watch for wildlife.

5. The Kitchen Sink

Look, the wildlife of Yellowstone operates on its own rhythms, and we can’t always predict where and when they’ll appear. Called the Serengeti of North America, Yellowstone is so rich with wildlife that they appear in unpredictable places. Here are just a few we’ve found:

  • Lost Lake Loop
  • Coyote Creek Trail
  • West Yellowstone is less busy, but still offers abundant wildlife viewing opportunities
  • Beaver Ponds Loop
  • Cascade Lake Trail
  • Hellroaring Creek, where you may share the campsites with America’s signature animal and this humble website’s mascot
  • Big Horn Peak, which is surely named for a good reason
  • Forces of the Northern Range Trail

Safety and Respect

It happens a few times per year that park wildlife injures a visitor. And, more frequently, visitors harm wildlife. It is most important to keep your distance. Stay beyond 100 yards of wolves and bears and 25 yards of all other wildlife. Don’t try to feed them. Don’t try to snap a selfie with them. If you cause them to move, you’re too close. Be respectful!

INTRODUCTION TO YELLOWSTONE

A Brief Guide to Yellowstone National Park

Hayden Valley

Hayden Valley with bison

3) Hayden Valley – This valley, centrally located in Yellowstone National Park, is the first place to go to see wildlife in Yellowstone. As you drive along this beautiful, broad valley you are likely to see herds of bison, scattered elk (and the occasional herd), and the occasional grizzly bear. You are also likely to see waterfowl, including ducks, Canada geese and pelicans, swimming in or lounging near the Yellowstone River.

Grizzly Bear feeding on carcass

There are a number or roadside turnouts along the Hayden Valley, offering views on both sides of the road. The Yellowstone river is positioned on the east side of the roadway. Several turnouts are scenic overlooks that allow panoramic views of the Valley floor below.

The Hayden Valley was once filled by an arm of Yellowstone Lake. Therefore, it contains fine-grained lake sediments that are now covered with glacial till left from the most recent glacial retreat 13,000 years ago. Because the glacial till contains many different grain sizes, including clay and a thin layer of lake sediments, water cannot percolate readily into the ground. This is why the Hayden Valley is marshy and has little encroachment of trees.

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