Is it okay to drive next to buffalo on the road in Yellowstone?

By J. Scott Donahue ,
Vehicles stopped at a sunrise bison jam near Soda Butte in Yellowstone

What do I do if buffalo are blocking the road? Is it safe to drive into the herd? 

Bison, also called buffalo, are so accustomed to cars and asphalt roads that they seem to know the right-of-way. Driving slowly behind a group of bison plodding along a two-lane road, you can certainly maneuver around them whenever it’s safe. Bison, when they do travel on the Grand Loop or other roads, usually don’t stop in the middle of the road, either. 

However, our city slicker impulses may be to beep the horn if one bison decides to hold everyone up. Be patient for bison to make their way off the road, or just simply go around them, but please save the honking for the city.

Bison on the road to Mammoth Hot Springs

Can I pet a buffalo?

As for petting a bison? Absolutely do not get anywhere near bison. 

Grown and calf bison may look fluffy and genteel, but they are fast and agressive. Male bison (bulls) weigh 2,000 pounds, while smaller female (cow) bison are roughly half the size, and they prefer keeping to their herds and guarding their calves. 

You won’t like a bison when he or she is angry, either. Despite their bony, 6-foot-tall frame, their herd instincts make them sensitive to outsiders, aggressive and easily agitated. They can run up to 35 miles per hour if they feel like chasing you.  They’ve been known to throw grown men 10 feet in the air like rag dolls with a just hook and jerk of their horns. In short, when encountering a bison, stay at least twenty-five yards away—or else.

Related: How Close Can I Get to Wild Animals in Yellowstone?