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.
These omnivores can weigh up to 400 pounds and be two to four feet tall. They can be black, blond or brown, which can lead visitors to misidentify them as grizzlies. In spring, they eat shrubs and shoots. In summer and fall, they retreat to higher elevations, eating berries and trout.
Where to See Black Bears: In Yellowstone look in the Lamar and Hayden valleys. In Grand Teton, look in Two Ocean/Emma Mathilde lakes, Colter Bay and Teton Park Road.
Weighing up to 700 pounds, grizzlies, known as “brown bears,” have a distinctive hump between their shoulders, blonde-tipped fur on their backs and flanks, a long snout and smaller ears than black bears. Their front claws measure 2-4 inches. About 700 roam the Yellowstone region.
Where to See Grizzlies: In Yellowstone go to Lamar, Hayden and Pelican valleys and Yellowstone and Heart lakes. In Grand Teton, go to Willow Flats, Two Ocean/Emma Mathilde lakes, Oxbow Bend, Cascade and Death canyons.
As of 2017, about 99 wolves roamed in 10 packs in and around Yellowstone, with about 450 total wolves in the Greater Yellowstone area. The highly social predators mainly hunt elk, deer and bison and were reintroduced in1995 after decades of hunting had wiped them out.
Where to See Wolves: In Yellowstone, the most frequently spotted wolf packs roam the Lamar Valley, Hayden Valley, Canyon area and Blacktail Deer Plateau. In Grand Teton, see them in Willow Flats. Dawn and dusk are best.
Yellowstone may be the only place in the United States where never-domesticated, free-range wild bison still exist. Other herds in the country had been eradicated and then reintroduced back to the land.
Bison, sometimes called buffalo, are everywhere in Yellowstone including the roads! If you encounter a bison on foot, stay a safe distance of 25 yards. In a car, have patience and calmly make your way when there is an opening. Most of all, enjoy this spectacularly rare experience.
In 1916, America’s wild bison, which once numbered 60 million, had dwindled to 23 animals. Yellowstone’s bison today, which number 5,500, are descendants of those survivors. Bison can weigh up to 2,000 pounds. While they may seem docile, they are unpredictable and have injured visitors who approach them.
Where to See Bison: In Yellowstone, go to the Lamar, Hayden and Pelican valleys. In Grand Teton, go to the Snake River from Jackson Lake Dam south to Moose, Wyo.
In summer about 10,000-20,000 elk live in Yellowstone. The population drops to 5,000 in winter as many migrate to the National Elk Refuge near Jackson, Wyo. Bulls weigh up to 700 pounds. Females may weigh up to 500 pounds.
Where to See Elk: In Yellowstone go to Mammoth Hot Springs, Lamar Valley, Norris Junction and Madison Junction. In Grand Teton, go to Teton Park Road and Willow Flats. During the winter, thousands of elk migrate to the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole.
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 Swans: 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. Near Grand Teton, see them at the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole.
Moose have long snouts, bulbous noses and dewlaps under their throats unlike other hooved animals. Look for them in areas with willows.
Where to See Moose: In Yellowstone, look in Willow Park between Norris Junction and Mammoth, Yellowstone Lake, Fishing Bridge, West Thumb and Hayden Valley. In Grand Teton, look along Oxbow Bend, Blacktail Ponds, Mormon Row and Antelope Flats Road.
Bald and Golden Eagles
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 Eagles: 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. In Grand Teton, watch for eagles along the Snake River.
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