Wildlife in Yellowstone – How to Enjoy Safe Encounters

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It’s not every day that you encounter bison just strolling down the middle of the road and refusing to get out of the way as you approach them…that’s the beauty (or some may say annoyance) of experiencing the myriad of wildlife in Yellowstone! From bison encounters to spotting bears, elk, moose among others, Yellowstone is undoubtedly one of the most amazing landscapes to explore wildlife throughout the United States.

Before you get too excited about this amazing location, I wanted to put together this post providing a review of the various wildlife in Yellowstone along with some key safety points that you would be strongly encouraged to follow. We are talking about wildlife here and some seriously dangerous animals if they are not treated with respect.

But without scaring you too much that is part of the experience and if you follow the appropriate precautions you will have the time of your life!

Safety Tips

Let’s start with our top safety tips so that you can all start enjoying what I am sure most of you are interested in – the experiences you can have with wildlife in Yellowstone National Park! Here is a quick bullet point list that you can review and if you follow this, ‘hopefully’ you should not have any problems:

  • Do not approach any wildlife. Even if you think you are a safe distance away, the likelihood is that if any animal feels any sort of danger they can immediately charge at you (and the majority of animals are faster than any human!).
  • Remain at least 100 yards from bears and wolves and at least 25 yards from all other large animals (e.g. Wolves, Bison, Elk, Moose etc.)
  • When driving, be sure to adhere to the speed limit signs! This should go without saying of course (we are all awesome drivers right!), but at any moment you could stumble across wildlife wandering along the road. This is particularly imperative at night because there is very little light available.
  • Bison – Highly unpredictable, extremely dangerous especially when they are around their offspring. Even when you are inside your vehicle, be wary if you roll your windows down.
  • Bears – Be sure to keep all of your food inside your vehicle or in bear-proof packaging. If you are hiking, do not consume food and then throw it on the ground as bears have an incredibly strong sense of smell. To reiterate, be wary of your surroundings! If you have a face-to-face encounter with a bear…DO NOT RUN! Walk away slowly!

If you explore Yellowstone with a good sense of awareness and are prepared to keep a distance from the wildlife present, you will be fine and have a great time exploring everything this park has to offer!

wildlife in yellowstone

Remember, we are the visitors here and this is the natural habitat for many of these animals so again to reiterate what I mentioned earlier…respect the animals and they will respect you.

A Wildlife Collaboration

We had a great time experiencing bison (plenty of them), elk, moose and we even saw a baby bear wandering across the road. However, we are delighted to be collaborating with a number of our fellow travelers who have also experienced wildlife in Yellowstone so the following list is a combination of our and their encounters.

Our encounters involved bison, bear and elk though as you will quickly find out as you see wildlife they are not always willing to stick around and pose for the perfect photograph!

elk wildlife in yellowstone

We want to encourage you to visit Yellowstone because it really is an awesome experience to be face to face with a bison or moose! Here is a selection of some of the wildlife you may encounter when traveling around Yellowstone.

Bison

Visiting Yellowstone for the first time, you will probably have expectations of see a wide variety of wildlife and rightly so! Much of the wildlife can be very elusive, so you will need a hint of luck on your travels to spot all of them. Fortunately, bison are not one of the elusive types and are probably the easiest of all wildlife to stumble across.

bison wildlife in yellowstone

We had a number of awesome encounters with bison, some of which were a little more impromptu than others…such as driving along the scenic loop and two large bison wandering along directly in front of us!

wildlife in yellowstone

If you experience this, you will notice that bison do not rush and unlike other animals that would likely move out of the way, bison will move when they feel like it.

yellowstone bison

Another great experience was seeing a herd of bison grazing in the Hayden Valley part of Yellowstone and we could easily pick out a number of younger offspring.

yellowstone national park

Keeping a safe distance from this herd was definitely top priority but we were able to capture a number of cool pictures.

bison encounter yellowstone

Elk

Elk are also visible throughout Yellowstone National Park and more than likely you will encounter one or more of these on your visit. While we saw quite a few from a distance, Angel and Michelle from Anywhere at Home had a really cool experience while biking around Bunsen Peak road.

wildlife in yellowstone elk

If you are willing to get off the beaten path in Yellowstone, your chances of seeing elk and other wildlife will increase dramatically as most are more comfortable where visitors are less likely to appear.

Of course that’s not always possible but don’t worry as Angel and Michelle proved during their visit to the Mammoth Visitor Center that elk can appear pretty much anywhere. Clearly this guy felt right at home even with cars and visitors frequently passing by!

Yellowstone Elk

Angela from Angela Travels was also able to capture elk wandering around Yellowstone and this one had some really cool antlers that she was able to focus on with the elk almost posing for her!

wildlife in yellowstone elk

Bighorn Sheep

Yellowstone is a geothermal hot spot, but Old Faithful isn’t the only attraction. Drive around the park and stop near open meadows and fields and if you are lucky wildlife may come out to play. Patience and timing is everything. 

Angela from Angela Travels shares her opinions on how to find the best spots throughout Yellowstone National Park to see wildlife. During her visits she has been fortunate to capture some amazing shots of wildlife, including a really cool shot of bighorn sheep grazing.

bighorn sheep yellowstone

These younger bighorn sheep may not have the stereotypical ‘big horns’ but they are still a great representation of the myriad of variety available throughout the park.

Although you can pretty much spot a bighorn sheep anywhere in Yellowstone, popular spots include the northern range of the park near Mammoth Hot Springs. The winter months are the best time to spot these sheep because they find higher elevations when the snow melts.

Red Fox

If you have been fortunate enough to see all of the above wildlife in Yellowstone, you may want to get a little more ambitious starting with the red fox. As with all foxes, they are elusive, quick movers and rarely want any sort of interaction with humans.

But as you can see from the images below, again taken by Angela from Angela Travels, you can still capture some pretty cool glimpses of these mischievous creatures.

red fox yellowstone

Keen to see a red fox? Our best tip would be to rise early in the morning or be prepared to stick around late in the evening because this is when they are most prevalent at roaming around the landscape.

red fox wildlife in yellowstone

In the middle of the day, unless you are ‘off the beaten path’ your chances of seeing a fox are slim though both Heather and I think we noticed one, albeit from a fair distance, as we were making our way from West Yellowstone to Norris Geyser Basin.

Bears

The one animal that everyone wants to see when visiting Yellowstone or any location that is known to have them is the bear! I will admit that we were no different even though we have been fortunate to see a couple of black bears during our visit to the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee.

Let’s start by saying that we had one extremely short spotting of a bear…certainly not long enough to grab our camera and capture a picture. Shortly after entering Yellowstone at the south entrance from Grand Teton National Park, I noticed a small baby bear crossing the road by Lewis Lake. I immediately told Heather to pass me the camera as I slowed down but as I peered through the viewfinder…well my chance was gone!

We pulled over soon after but unfortunately had no chance of seeing the bear again. The rest of our trip was slightly disappointing in terms of seeing bears but just like the red fox, your best chance of seeing a grizzly bear is early morning or late evening.

wildlife in yellowstone

Antonette from We12Travel did not have any problems capturing a few cool pictures of bears in Yellowstone. Here is her take on bear encounters in this part of USA:

Going to Yellowstone is a great adventure by itself but what makes it even more exciting, is the possibility of running into bears. During our hike on the Beaver Pond Trail we all of a sudden encountered a black bear, less than 25 meters away from us.

yellowstone bear encounter

He started tailing us right on the trail, which was pretty scary (many people don’t realize black bears can be as dangerous as grizzlies) but eventually we managed to increase the distance between us and he went his own way again.

It was an incredible experience yet it makes me remember hiking in bear country is to be taken seriously. If you want to read more about that, feel free to visit my blog about solo hiking as a female in bear country.

bear wildlife in yellowstone

Our trip through the Hayden Valley was early afternoon and given that this is one of the ‘hotspots’ for bear sightings, I would strongly encourage you to schedule some time around this part of Yellowstone at the optimal times.

Both black and grizzly bears are present in Yellowstone so always be prepared to grab your camera if you see one because you may not have very long to capture the perfect shot and maybe you will be as fortunate as Antonette!

Deer

Erica from TrippinTwins had a close-up encounter with a mule deer near the Tower Falls entrance proving that you can stumble across wildlife anytime and anywhere in Yellowstone.

wildlife in yellowstoneJust like any other experience with wildlife, you don’t always have time to snap the perfect picture but whatever you can capture will create a memory you can cherish forever!

Deer sightings are pretty common throughout Yellowstone but you are most likely to see them scrambling and hopping around in brush in the early morning or early evening hours.

Summary

Moose, wolves, otters and badgers are just some other examples of wildlife that can be spotted on your excursions around Yellowstone. Data from the National Park Service suggests that there are 61 different mammals within the boundaries of the national park, so regardless of which you see, you can pretty much guarantee that you will see something!

If you need a reason to visit Yellowstone (I highly doubt anyone needs to justify visiting this amazing national park), look no further than the plethora of wildlife on display here. Not only do you get to experience them in their natural habitats, you never know when you may stumble across a face to face encounter…and that folks is why it is so amazing!

Thank you to all of our fellow travelers who shared their experiences and photos of wildlife in Yellowstone.

4 COMMENTS

  1. I was disappointed that we didn’t have any bear sightings when we were at Yellowstone. I agree that the bison were really easy to come across. We went to a Ranger Talk about wildlife, and he had a lot of stern warnings about how far to stay away from animals. The next day, we saw a crowd get a little too close to an elk and thought we were about to see an attack. Luckily, the people backed off.
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted…Camping Jitters and Outdoor CookingMy Profile

  2. Hi Chris,
    Thanks for this post. Camille and I popped into Yellowstone during our road trip in the states. It’s such a beautiful park. The only problem we had was the traffic. Tons and tons of people as it was still summer time. We went camping and it rained most of the time we we’re there and even when we went next door to Grand Tetons National Park.

    Nonetheless, we saw a lot of the animals you mentioned. We weren’t able to see a black bear but I had seen one on a prevoius man trip there. The bears are pretty serious business there and the camp site we were at had a few spottings and rangers closed off some of the area.

    Anyways it was nice to reflect on this post and on our own trip. Really enjoyed this so thank you!

    Love from Manila,
    Mark and Camille
    Mark recently posted…Ultimate Packing Tips and checklist for Long term travelMy Profile

  3. I was disillusioned that we didn’t have any bear sightings when we were at Yellowstone. I concur that the buffalo were truly simple to run over. We went to a Ranger Talk about untamed life, and he had a great deal of stern notices about how far to avoid creatures. The following day, we saw a group get excessively near an elk and considered to see an assault. Fortunately, the general population sponsored off.
    Annabel recently posted…Global Outdoor Consultancy Pvt LtdMy Profile

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