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

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

Vehicles stopped at a sunrise bison jam near Soda Butte in Yellowstone
Vehicles stopped at a sunrise bison jam near Soda Butte in Yellowstone. Photo: NPS Jacob W Frank

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
Bison on the road to Mammoth Hot Springs. Photo: NPS Neal Herbert

Can I pet a bison?

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 aggressive. 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.

Below is a video from July 2020 when a couple got too close to a bison. When it started to run toward them, the woman tripped and then played dead. Fortunately for her, the bison sniffed her and walked away. This video is a reminder of why it’s important to stay 25 yards from bison in Yellowstone.

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