Nowhere in the Lower 48 is there more abundant wildlife than in the greater Yellowstone region. Yellowstone Park is home to the largest concentration of large and small mammals in the Lower 48 states, and most of the species that live in the park also inhabit regions of Grand Teton National Park and the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. The following is a summary of some of the more popular wild animals that live in Yellowstone Park and where visitors might best view each. Just remember to keep your distance. Although they may appear tame, these wild animals are just that—wild.
The summer population of elk in Yellowstone numbers approximately 15,000 to 25,000, and the winter population numbers about 12,000 to 15,000. Adult bull elk weigh up to 700 pounds, while adult females may weigh up to 500 pounds. The animal’s head is dark brown, and males’ coats are lighter than those of females. Their rear-ends are white, and often give them away to passersby looking for them in dry, brush-covered areas.
The rut typically begins in early September, which is the best time to view elk at lower elevations.
Where to see them: Look for elk throughout Yellowstone, but especially in the Lamar Valley, Gibbon River, Norris Junction, Elk Park and Mammoth Hot Springs areas. Also keep an eye out for them when traveling the Old Faithful-Upper Geyser Basin, Firehole River and Madison Junction areas.
Yellowstone is home to about 3,500 bison. Bison are respected not only for their size, but also for their resilience. At the turn of the century, America’s wild bison—which at one time numbered 60 million— had dwindled to about two dozen animals.
The bison in Yellowstone today are descendants of those survivors. Bison can weigh up to 2,000 pounds. Although they seem docile, they are unpredictable and have been known to charge at visitors who approach them too closely.
Where to see them: In Yellowstone Park, check out the Lamar and Hayden valleys—both great places to watch bison. Also look for them near Pelican Valley, the Lower Geyser Basin and in Gibbon Meadows.
The Yellowstone region is home to between 200 and 600 grizzly bears, and many more black bears.
Where to see bears: Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on how you look at it—we can’t guarantee you’ll see a bear while traveling through Yellowstone or Grand Teton parks. But we can guarantee where you’ll see a bear in the region.
Yellowstone Bear World , located southwest of Yellowstone Park in Rexburg, Idaho, strives to ensure visitors see spectacular animals. To help, Yellowstone Bear World accommodates all vehicles including travel trailers, motor homes and tour buses.
At the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center, see LIVE grizzlies at this AZA Accredited, Not-for-Profit Wildlife Park and Educational Facility, located one block from Yellowstone National Park in West Yellowstone, Montana. The Center is home to nine rescued grizzly bears. Watch them forage for food, play in ponds and wrestle with each other, just like in the wild. Learn about the struggles of the species in the Yellowstone area in our World-Class Bear Museum. If you didn’t get a chance to see a grizzly in the park, a visit to the Center will ensure a memorable trip.
Pelicans are beautiful, graceful swimmers. They have bright orange bills that can measure almost a foot long. They dine primarily on fish, and use their bills to scoop up food. Pelicans often work in groups, like synchronized swimmers, when trying to catch a meal. By crowding around the fish, pelicans are able to corral the fish closer to shore (and shallow water), where the birds scoop them up and eat them.
Where best to view Pelicans: In Yellowstone Park, look along the Yellowstone River between Fishing Bridge and Hayden Valley, and on Yellowstone Lake.
Trumpeter swans are the largest waterfowl in North America, and the biggest flyers in Yellowstone. Male trumpeter swans’ wingspans can reach seven feet. Usually heavier than eagles, males weigh 25 to 30 pounds, while females weigh 23 to 27 pounds.
They are long-necked and all white, except for their black bills and webbed feet. Trumpeter swans swim with their necks straight up.
Where to view Trumpeter Swans: In Yellowstone Park, the best place to view trumpeter swans is near Seven Mile Bridge, between Madison Junction and the West Entrance of Yellowstone.
Also look for them south of Mammoth Hot Springs on Swan Lake, and on the Yellowstone River between Fishing Bridge and Hayden Valley.
Wildlife biologist Doug Smith, who is in charge of the Yellowstone Wolf Project, says a person’s chance of seeing wolves in Yellowstone from the roadside is really good—if you’re patient.
During the winters of 1995 and 1996, a total of 31 gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone from Canada. As of early 2008, there were approximately 171 wolves in 11 packs inside Yellowstone Park, with 400 wolves inhabiting the greater Yellowstone region.
Where to view wolves: In Yellowstone, the Lamar Valley is home to the park’s largest pack, the Druid Peak pack. More than 100,000 visitors have reported seeing wolves inside Yellowstone since their reintroduction in 1995.
At the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center, have the unique opportunity to watch two LIVE wolf packs from the comfort of the Naturalist Cabin. Wolf social structure is one of the most fascinating within the animal kingdom. Wolves posses a dynamic and strong family structure that can be observed as these animals go through their day. The wolves at the Center are ambassadors, providing a greater understanding of this predator in the Yellowstone ecosystem. The Center is an AZA Accredited, Not-for-Profit Wildlife Park and Educational Facility, located one block from Yellowstone National Park in West Yellowstone, Montana.
The largest member of the deer family, the moose is a vegetarian with an odd-looking, but charming, appearance. They are dark brown, with a long snout and bulbous nose, and a dewlap under the throat that distinguishes them from Yellowstone’s other hooved animals.
Where to see them: Moose frequent streams, ponds and marshes in the summer, and feed on succulent vegetation.
About 800 moose inhabit the southern part of Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park and surrounding national forests. They are most heavily concentrated in Grand Teton Park. Look for moose at Willow Flats, Christian Pond (near Willow Flats) and around Oxbow Bend.
In Yellowstone Park, try Willow Park, between Norris Junction and Mammoth Hot Springs. Also check out the Yellowstone Lake, Fishing Bridge and Hayden Valley regions.
Wildlife Viewing Opportunities
Yellowstone Bear World , located southwest of Yellowstone Park in Rexburg, Idaho, strives to ensure visitors see spectacular animals. Visitors can view a variety of North American wildlife such as elk, bison, white-tailed deer, mule deer, moose and, of course, black bear, grizzly bear and gray wolves—all the animals you would expect to see in Yellowstone National Park but, unfortunately, are rarely seen. Yellowstone Bear World accommodates all vehicles including travel trailers, motor homes and tour buses.
Let the local Yellowstone experts at Yellowstone Tour and Travel help you create a life-long Yellowstone memory with custom vacation packages with lodging combined with unique summer and winter wildlife activities. Call 800-221-1151.
Sheridan, Wyoming , is an outdoor paradise with recreational opportunities as abundant as the wildlife—which includes moose, elk, deer, antelope, birds of prey, turkey and pheasant. The Big Horn Mountains rise majestically to the west, and rolling plains slope gently to the east. Take any roadway out of town or visit Kendrick Park for your fill of wildlife. Just moments away for any outdoor enthusiast are: fishing, hiking, picnicking, biking, rock climbing, wildlife viewing, hunting, cross-country and downhill skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, and snowmobiling.
For a fantastic interpretation of all of Yellowstone’s natural history, including wildlife, habitat and human impact, visit the Draper Museum of Natural History at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming. The geographic focus of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem combines educational programming with original research.
Stop at Antelope Island State Park in Davis County, Utah, as you travel along the Wasatch Front. View bison, pronghorn antelope, coyote and mule deer by horseback or aboard a World War II Amphibious Army DUKW Wildlife Safari.