Wildlife Viewing

Where to Watch Wildlife
Be A Wise Wildlife Watcher


Bighorn Sheep

Mountain Lions
Yellowstone’s unparalleled beauty and natural wonders combine with the continental U.S.’ largest population of free-roaming wildlife to create a wonderland destination. As one of the world’s most important wildlife habitats, Yellowstone is home to every major vertebrate wildlife species known to have roamed the earth since the Ice Age. 90,000 elk share the park with 4,000 bison (the continental U.S.’ largest free-roaming herd), hundreds of endangered grizzlies, seventy smaller mammal species, 290 bird species, three varieties of wild cats, and dozens of other notable creatures that captivate tourists from far and wide. Although it is tempting to approach this abundant wildlife for a closer look, park visitors should remember that Yellowstone’s critters are just as wild as the landscape they inhabit. Yellowstone is not a zoo; it is a sanctuary for one of America’s most diverse wildlife populations and should be treated with the utmost respect for visitor and animal safety.

Where to Watch Wildlife:
With so many different animal species populating Yellowstone, it is virtually impossible for a park visitor to conclude their trip without at least a single sighting of one of Yellowstone’s famous wild inhabitants. Wildlife habits and personality, weather patterns, mating seasons, and time of day greatly affect the potential for viewing Yellowstone’s wildlife. Visitors who opt to enter Yellowstone in the early morning or late evening hours have the greatest potential to see a range of park wildlife during typical feeding hours. However, sightings are possible throughout the day. For specific viewing locations, contact a park ranger, check out the park’s visitor center information, or simply take your chances at sighting some of Yellowstone’s magnificent creatures roaming near the park’s highways.

Beaver: Although certainly not gathering as much attention as many park animals, beavers are quite common near Yellowstone’s streams, ponds, and rivers. Watch for them during the early morning and evening, especially near Harlequin Lake and Willow Park.

Bighorn Sheep: Bighorn sheep are most commonly sighted in the park’s northern regions. They are frequently spotted around Gardiner, the Gardner River, Calcite Springs, Tower Fall, and Mount Washburn.

Black Bears: Black bears prefer to keep a low profile away from humans, so sightings are infrequent. Occasionally, bears are spotted in or near forests. Most reported sightings have occurred along the highways around Mammoth, Tower, the Northeast Entrance, Madison, Old Faithful, and the Canyon regions. Black bear sightings have also been documented on Yellowstone’s backcountry trails

Black Bear

Elk: Elk can be found throughout the entirety of Yellowstone’s 2.2 million acres, but a large herd congregates around Mammoth Hot Springs nearly year-round. Elk can also be spotted on Mount Washburn’s north slope and in the Lamar and Hayden Valleys.

Grizzly Bears: Open meadows provide some of the best possible viewing sites for grizzly bears. Preferring to hunt during dusk and dawn, grizzlies are most often spotted at these times of day in the Hayden and Lamar Valleys. Occasionally, sightings have occurred around the Tower, Canyon Lake, and Fishing Bridge Areas with many documented reports of grizzly bear presence in the backcountry.

Moose: These prehistoric-looking creatures make an appearance near marshy areas and willow-lined streams. They are especially prevalent around Mammoth, Norris, Lake, and the Northeast Entrance.

Mountain Lions: Mountain lion sightings are rare, so if you catch a glimpse, consider yourself lucky. Sporadic sightings have been reported in the late evening hours around Cooke City and the Northeast Entrance.

Mule Deer: Mule deer are prevalent throughout the park, especially in forests lining the park’s highways. Most sightings occur during morning and evening hours, but drivers should watch for deer on the roads at all times of day.

Pronghorn: These speedy creatures prefer grassy habitats, so watch for them around Mammoth and on the road leading to the park’s Northeast Entrance.

Wolves: Wolves, when sighted, most often appear in packs during dawn and dusk. The species appear to be most active and easily spotted along Soda Butte Creek and the open areas lining the Lamar River.

Be A Wise Wildlife Watcher:
As wild, untamed animals, Yellowstone’s wildlife needs plenty of undisturbed space, and park visitors are reminded that they are guests in these animals’ homes. Respect the wild nature of these creatures, and wisely watch from a distance. By engaging in this behavior, park visitors are not only rewarded with a more natural look at the animals’ activities, but they also ensure a greater level of safety for the wildlife and other nearby onlookers.

Wildlife watchers who choose not to follow these principles greatly jeopardize themselves and the animals they are viewing. An animal that becomes aware of an onlooker’s presence experiences a rapid rise in heart rate, may move to a less desirable feeding location just to escape its watchers, and can become habituated to humans. These factors deplete animals’ valuable energy supplies, create a nourishment deficit, and can potentially make animals unafraid of would-be poachers.

At the same time these disrespectful wildlife watchers are inherently harming the animals, they are also putting themselves at risk. Wildlife is unpredictable, and those animals that feel their territory has been encroached upon may fight back. Several park visitors are injured every year when they approach animals too closely, and encounters with some wildlife have resulted in visitors’ deaths. Always maintain your distance, and keep in mind the following tips to help you become a wise wildlife watcher while minimizing your impact.

  • Park law mandates that visitors must stay at least 100 yards (91 meters) away from bears and at least 25 yards away from all other large wildlife, including wolves, coyotes, moose, deer, elk, bison, and bighorn sheep.
  • Never stop in the middle of the road to view wildlife. Always pull off to the road’s shoulder or a pullout, and always shut off your engine so as not to disturb the wildlife.
  • Refrain from shouting or exclaiming in excitement. Instead, talk quietly among yourselves, and stay in your car if possible. Vehicles often make the most appropriate photo blinds.
  • Never distract animals or try to grab their attention for a photo opportunity. Instead, use a telephoto lens to capture animals in their natural state and environment.
  • Never bait animals with food handouts. Not only is human food harmful to wildlife, but it also habituates wildlife to humans. This can eventually lead to negative encounters between park visitors and wildlife. Refrain from engaging in this illegal behavior; park rangers watch visitors closely and are not afraid to ticket violators.

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