Nowhere in the Lower 48 is there more abundant wildlife than in the greater Yellowstone region. Yellowstone National Park is home to the largest concentration of large and small mammals, and most of the species 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 National 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.
Where to See Yellowstone Bears
Grizzly and Black Bears Inside Yellowstone National Park
The Yellowstone region is home to between 700 and 1,200 grizzly bears, and many more black 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 national parks.
Grizzly bears are active primarily during nocturnal (night time) and crepuscular (dawn and dusk) time periods. Look for grizzly bears with a high power spotting scope in open meadows just after sunrise and just before sunset. Grizzly bears are most commonly observed in Lamar Valley, Swan Lake Flats, Gardiners Hole, Dunraven Pass, Hayden Valley and in the wet meadows along the East Entrance Road from Fishing Bridge to the East Entrance of the park.
Where to see bears: Black bears are active primarily during crepuscular and diurnal (daylight) time periods. Look for black bears in small openings within or near forested areas. Black bears are most commonly observed on the northern portion of the park along the road corridor from Elk Creek to Tower Falls, and from Mammoth Hot Springs north to Indian Creek.
Where to See Wolves Reintroduced to Yellowstone
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. The highly social predators have come a long way since 1995. As of 2016, there were approximately 108 wolves in 11 packs primarily inside Yellowstone National Park. About 450 wolves inhabit the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Overall, wolf numbers have fluctuated between 83-108 wolves and 6-9 breeding pairs from 2009 to 2016, according to the National Park Service.
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. You also can see wolves in the Hayden Valley, Canyon area and Blacktail Deer Plateau. The best times to spot them is during dusk and dawn.
Bison (Buffalo) are Everywhere in Yellowstone
Yellowstone is home to about 3,500 bison (sometimes called buffalo). 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 National 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.
Where to See Elk in and Around Yellowstone
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. During the winter, thousands of elk migrate to the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole.
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. South of Yellowstone in Jackson Hole, see large elk herds at the National Elk Refuge. In the High Desert Area near Rock Springs, see blonde desert elk.
Where to See Trumpeter Swans
Trumpeter swans are the largest waterfowl in North America, and the biggest flyers in Yellowstone. These swans were hunted almost to extinction in the early 1900s. Today, the Yellowstone area boosts over 300 after a concentrated effort to bring back the trumpeter swan population.
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 see them: In Yellowstone National 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.
Where to See Moose
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.
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 National Park. Moose frequent streams, ponds and marshes in the summer, and feed on succulent vegetation.
Where to see them in Yellowstone: See them in Willow Park between Norris Junction and Mammoth Hot Springs. Also check out the Yellowstone Lake, Fishing Bridge and Hayden Valley regions.
Where to see them in Grand Teton: Look for moose at Willow Flats, Christian Pond (near Willow Flats) and around Oxbow Bend.
Where to See Eagles in Yellowstone
If you’re looking to get a close-up look at America’s national symbol, Yellowstone National Park is a great place to do it. Bald eagles are often spotted soaring through the skies, especially around lakes and rivers, so don’t forget to look up when hiking and driving through the park.
Where to see them: In Yellowstone, where to spot bald eagles depends on the season. Hayden Valley and Madison River are great places to see eagles all year round, whereas Yellowstone Lake is a great spot in the summer months and the Gardiner River is a good place to look during the colder winter months.