When and where is the best time and place to see wildlife in Yellowstone National Park?
You want to see wildlife. That’s one of the main reasons you are visiting Yellowstone National Park, right!?
Yellowstone National Park has the most abundant wildlife that you will find anywhere. It is one of my favorite national parks for that reason. If you want to see buffalo, elk, deer, bears, wolves, moose…this is the place to go.
But you need to know where to go. There are many places in Yellowstone to see animals, but I will give you the best ones (that I know of).
WHEN to see animals: Early morning and later evening is the best time of day to see wildlife in Yellowstone. If you can get up at daylight, and begin driving, you will see animals all over the park. You will also find them at dusk. (EXCEPTION: Bison. Bison are out all day long grazing and roaming, so you can see these at the locations I suggest below at any time of the day.) The other perk to traveling around the park early in the day or later at night, is that the park is empty…making it much easier to drive around and enjoy things, find parking, etc.
We were fortunate enough to drive through Yellowstone National Park in the summer of 2011, and came across one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen.
We were driving along the Yellowstone River in Hayden Valley, at about 7:30 a.m. – 8:00 a.m. in the morning, and saw several cars pulled over along the road. Now, seeing several cars pulled over doesn’t always mean much. Cars pull over for many animals – buffalo, elk, many things that are seen quite often, so we weren’t overly concerned.
We gazed out at the Yellowstone River, and suddenly I told Matt to stop and join the rest of the cars pulled over. (Please, be careful where you pull over in Yellowstone, and in all national parks. It can be quite dangerous to pull over, and should do so in designated areas only.)
There, in the Yellowstone River (maybe 1/2 mile – 3/4 miles away), were four grizzly bears, eating in the river, fighting over a dead buffalo carcass in the water.
I hope you are able to see the image, as we were pretty far away, and I did not have a good camera with us at the time. Two of the bears fought on land, and two of the bears got into a fight on their hind legs standing over the carcass. You can see the two standing in the water in my photo. We stood and watched this for what seemed like forever. The roars that we could hear, even from this far away, were incredible. Grizzly bears are such an incredible animal. Eventually, each bear gave up and swam across the water to get back into the mountains of safety behind them. And we eventually continued on our way. (See what you can find if you are able to get up early enough? And this was right off of the main road!!)
Now, I am sure you are wondering, WHERE is the best place to see animals in Yellowstone? This depends on the animals you want to see.
Buffalo are most prevalant in Hayden Valley, and in Lamar Valley. Buffalo roam all day, so are visible at any time. And you will see hundreds of them! They roll in the dirt, and fight, and they like to walk down the middle of the road and hold up traffic.
Lamar Valley on the east side of the park has been coined the “American serengeti,” for all the animals that you will see there. In particular, you will see bison, elk, coyotes, bear, and wolves if you are lucky.
I HIGHLY suggest bringing binoculars with you if you can fit them in your luggage on your way out to Montana/Wyoming. A lot of the animals are visible from the road, but are still up along the hills, and can be hard to see very well.
Also, if I can give you one huge TIP if you are entering Yellowstone National Park through Gardiner: Make a stop at the Yellowstone Association. You will find their building on your righthand side right before you turn the corner to enter Yellowstone National Park. We just randomly stopped here one day, only to find out that this is a stop we will be making every single time we enter the park through Gardiner in the future. They have a screen inside that shows recent animal sightings all over the park, and tells you what day/time, what animal, and where it was seen. This will give you a great idea about where to head to see animals. Plus, the association is a non-profit group that provides educational products and services for Yellowstone. They have lots of fun items for sale, so grab something to support Yellowstone!! And talk to the employees inside, they are a wealth of information on Yellowstone, and so nice!!
Yellowstone National Park is a fantastic place to see wildlife. That is one of the reasons it is on my top list of national parks. I don’t believe you can leave there feeling disappointed, especially if you follow the tips I have above.
I hope you are able to see as many animals as we do when we visit Yellowstone National Park! Please share stories/photos below, I love to see your experiences also!!
Warmest Wishes from Big Sky Country,
Montana Vacation Blog
NOTE: PLEASE remember that animals are WILD animals, despite the fact that they live in a national park. Animals should not be approached, should not be fed, and should generally not be bothered. Keep a safe distance from any animal to respect their space and keep everyone safe. If you are hiking, I would recommend carrying bear spray to protect yourself in case you come across bears. People do get attacked by bison, bears, etc., more often than you think.