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Yellowstone is as popular for its diverse wildlife as it is for its thermal features. It is home to the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48 states [1], including elk, bears, bison, wolves, and bighorn sheep. If you want to plan a visit to the park to marvel at the wildlife, here is a guide to where you will have the best chance of seeing each type of animal.

Disclaimer: Wildlife in Yellowstone are dangerous and should not be approached. Every year visitors get injured by wildlife, and for your own safety and the animals’ safety be responsible and follow park rules. 

Grizzly Bears

Hotspot: The East Entrance Road from Sylvan Lake to Storm Point Trailhead.

Amount of Luck Needed: Moderate

There are roughly 717 grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (up from 136 in 1975) [2] and seeing a bear is the holy grail for many visitors of Yellowstone. Grizzly bears live in virtually every part of the park but one of the best places to see one along the East Entrance Road in the mornings and evenings in the early summer. As the summer progresses, the bears often move to higher elevations to eat moths found underneath rocks on scree-covered slopes.

Yellowstone National Park requires visitors to keep a distance of at least 100 yards (300 feet) from any bear. If in the backcountry, carry bear spray and keep as far away as possible.

Wolves

Hotspot: Lamar Valley

Amount of Luck Needed: A Lot

Wolves were completely exterminated from Yellowstone in 1926, but from 1995 to 1997, 41 gray wolves from northern Montana and Canada were reintroduced to the park [3]. Since then, the numbers have multiplied to 108 in the national park and 528 in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. 

The most popular place to spot wolves is during dawn and dusk in Lamar Valley. High-power binoculars or a spotting scope and a bit of luck is needed to spot these elusive predators.

Bison

Hotspot: Hayden Valley, Lamar Valley

Amount of Luck Needed: Very Little

Bison, the national mammal, and the largest extant land mammals in North America, are abundant in the valleys of Yellowstone. Herds of bison frequently cause traffic jams in Hayden Valley.

Yellowstone is the only place in the USA where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times [4]. Before westward expansion, bison roamed in great numbers across the Great Plains, but in the matter of several decades were nearly exterminated.

Not only did the buffalo range eastward far into the forest regions of western New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, but in some places it was so abundant as to cause remark…

No wonder that the men of the West of those days, both white and red, thought it would be impossible to exterminate such a mighty multitude. The Indians of some tribes believed that the buffaloes issued from the earth continually, and that the supply was necessarily inexhaustible. And yet, in four short years the southern herd was almost totally annihilated.

William T. Hornaday (1889)

Elk

Hotspot: Mammoth Hot Springs

Amount of Luck Needed: Little

One of Yellowstone’s best attractions in the fall is the elk rut around the village of Mammoth. A herd of elk – often with large bulls – can often seen bugling in the front lawns of Mammoth’s residential and administrative buildings. Elk during the rut can be especially dangerous and should not be approached.

Moose

Hotspot: Grand Teton National Park*

Amount of Luck Needed: Lots in Yellowstone, or moderate in Grand Teton

Moose live in Yellowstone, but your chances of seeing them are much higher in nearby Grand Teton National Park. Moose tend to love boggy wetlands full of willows which are abundant near Willow Flats Overlook near Jackson Lake Lodge. If you still want to try looking in Yellowstone, Soda Butte Creek might be a good place to start.

Bighorn Sheep

Hotspot: Tower Junction

Amount of Luck Needed: Moderate to a Lot

Bighorn Sheep are most commonly seen in the northern part of the park near Tower Junction. The sheep below were seen not far from Yellowstone River Picnic Area Trailhead.

Nearby Wildlife Museums

If you are staying in Jackson or Cody, WY on your trip to Yellowstone, it is worth checking out the following museums dedicated to wildlife in the area: Draper Museum of Natural History in Cody, WY and National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, WY.

Recording Your Own
Wildlife Sightings

Do you want to keep track or share where you make an animal sighting? The Natural Atlas App makes it easy to take geotagged notes allowing you to pick from thousands of animal species (and more). 

– Animal sightings automatically get synced to the website (click here to see an example).

– View the most detailed map of Yellowstone ever on your phone

– Viewing the map in the app normally requires an internet connection (which is lacking in Yellowstone), but by  Upgrading to a Pro Subscription you can download the map for any large area you want and it will be available regardless of the cell service

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