Yellowstone’s huge, wide valleys make excellent habitat for wildlife. For your best chance of spotting bears, wolves, bison, pronghorn, and many, many more species, point your compass toward the Lamar and Hayden.
Lamar Valley in Northern Yellowstone
This expansive valley along the Lamar River, in Yellowstone’s northeast section, is often called America’s Serengeti for its large and easy-to-see populations of charismatic megafauna.
Among its most famous inhabitants are the Junction Butte and Lamar Canyon wolf packs; wolf enthusiasts gather with spotting scopes most days hoping to see these impressive canines in action. Besides wolves, other animals that roam the Lamar include large herds of bison, pronghorn, badgers, grizzly bears, bald eagles, osprey, deer, and coyotes. Many pullouts line the road, so keep your eyes peeled and park in the nearest one if you see any active wildlife.
If you can tear your eyes away from the wildlife, the Lamar Valley also offers several points of interest. Two small, primitive campgrounds—Slough Creek and Pebble Creek—are here, and they make ideal launching points for early-rising wildlife watchers. The Yellowstone Association’s Lamar Buffalo Ranch hosts students enrolled in the association’s many field programs. Soda Butte is a large remnant of a hot spring cone located just off the road in the valley’s east side. And Trout Lake, a short hike from the road, is a great place to stretch your legs.
Getting there: To reach the Lamar Valley from Mammoth Hot Springs, take Grand Loop Road east past Tower-Roosevelt, then continue on the Northeast Entrance road. From Cooke City and Silver Gate, enter the park through the Northeast Entrance and drive west.
Hayden Valley in Central Yellowstone
This broad valley just north of the Lake area and Mud Volcano thermal area is bison central; visitors often see herds of them grazing and lounging along the wide Yellowstone River that runs through it. It’s also a good place to look for coyotes, waterfowl, grizzly bears, and wolves.
Stop at one of the many pullouts and overlooks along the park road to scope for wildlife, or hike the Mary Mountain Trail (21 miles from the Hayden Valley to the Madison area) for a chance to see animals in the wilderness.
Best Time to Watch Wildlife
Time: Animals are most active at dawn and dusk. If you’re going early, aim to be in the valleys before sunrise for the best odds.
Season: Hayden Valley is best spring through fall, when the park roads are open. Lamar Valley is accessible by vehicle year-round.
Wildlife Spotting Tips
- Pack binoculars or a spotting scope. Many animals are tough to see with the naked eye.
- In the Lamar Valley, look for groups of people pulled over—chances are good someone has spotted a wolf, bison, or other animal.
- Be still. Park yourself at a good vantage point and wait quietly for wildlife to wander by.