Wildlife, Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone is as famous for its natural life as it is for its geysers. Traffic jams in the Park are almost always created by animals – someone sees a particular animal and stops on the road to get a picture. Bison are the biggest animals in the Park and they can be seen in herds or as a solitary animal ambling down a road or through a meadow. Herds can usually be seen in the Lamar Valley or Hayden Valley. Solitary animals can be seen literally all over the Park. Rocky Mountain elk are almost the same sized as the bison. One herd can usually be seen around Mammoth Hot Springs but others can be seen all over the Park. Pronghorn antelope like to congregate in the Lamar Valley during the summer. Bears, coyotes, wolves and a host of other mammals and birds are there to be seen, too. Give the animals space as their actions can be unpredictable. They are used to humans being around and are not bothered by us, but you don’t want to test them.
There is a reason that the Yellowstone Association Institute ranch complex is placed out here in the Lamar Valley in the northeastern corner of the Park – plethora of animal life. There are a series of fascinating classes given by the Institute – see the website below – which can really unlock the Park on a personal level. The Lamar River is a large tributary of the young Yellowstone River, draining the western side of much of the rugged Absaroka Range. Herds of bison roam the vast valley meadows giving you a sense of what the vast herds of bison must have been like two hundred years ago. Pronghorn antelope herds also congregate here in the valley during the summer. Bears and wolves are commonly noted, as well. Many people fly by this area on their way to ‘bigger’ sights. This is Park primeval.
Just like almost anywhere else in Yellowstone, be on the lookout for the wildlife. Here, a bison wandering down through adjacent meadows along the Firehole River made for a great photo opportunity for visitors. As you walk on the raised walkways through the basin, you can see that the bison go where ever they want.
Part of the fun in Yellowstone Park is the presence of easily-visible big game. Actually, it is not game anymore but cultural artifact of bygone era. After the deliberate massacre of the bison in the plains one of the pockets where this animal has been left alone is here on the territory of the first national park. The herds are small, maybe ten individuals or so in a group at the most. To compensate this handicap these beasts have been taught somehow to graze along the highways for best viewing. Or maybe the grass is greener here, who knows. The fact is that it feels very much like a safari on the designated crowded plains of Africa where one is most likely to get stuck in a traffic jam just because yet another bull (lion) has decided to check out the grass on the shoulder of the road. Well, the similarities with Africa are quite faint but still existing prompted by other species popping literally out of the woodwork to have a look at the latest SUV models on sale. Some set-ups are so benign (the lawn in front of the Mammoth Hot Springs hotel for example) that one might consider the whole thing a show of sorts for the gullible to enjoy.
Welcome to VT.
I've been traveling to both Yellowstone and GTNP since '92 - sometimes up to 3 times a year to photograph wildlife and enjoy the park.
I'll answer some of your questions but would like to know how long you have to visit both parks?
Q #1) I would def. go for September.
Vacationers begin emptying from the park by late August and as the cold weather advances, more wildlife begins coming down from their summer wintering grounds.
The leaves on the Aspen have begun turning a rich gold against the red of the maples. I have a picture on my Wyoming page taken late September: http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/97182/52f/.
I also have wildlife tips.
September/October are my favorite time in the park.
Q #2) Regardless of where you stay, Yellowstone or Grand Teton, prices are not cheap. Also, Yellowstone books up to 1 year in advance so get your reservations in quick.
There is no guarantee you won't get early snow in YNP as early as September btw.
On a budget I would stick to the basic rustic cabins offered in the various main areas of the park such as Lake Lodge area, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone area, Mammoth and finally, Old Faithful area.
I personally enjoy GTNP for sheer beauty and scenery as well as wildlife viewing. I've always been able to photograph moose, elk, bison, bear and even wolves in the less congested areas of GTNP.
As to where to stay in GTNP - there are a lot of choices but, within the park itself, quite expensive.
I've usually stayed in Jackson at a small hotel or motel and driven into the park daily. The park is not all that big and with a car you can easily drive the entire loop within 3 hours or, spend the entire day focusing on each area - more on that later.
From Jackson to the entrance of GTNP it is only about 15 mins.
"We would like to have some animals like marmots and squirrels near our cabin" - depends on where you stay.
I have an excellent recommendation for a place we've been using for years but pricey at approx. 1000/week but sleeps up to 8.
We usually split it with several couples and do all our cooking, etc there.
It is on Lower Slide Lake and we practically have the entire lake to ourselves waking up to marmots, deer, foxes, squirrels, hummingbirds and a nest of eagles who have been raising their young there for years.
Other than that, you'll be guaranteed to see all the squirrels, chipmunks and marmots you want in the park so why is it a necessity to have them around you if you're looking for budget?
Q #3) You will see plenty of wildlife in both parks - guaranteed. From buffalo to deer, elk, etc. it's a given especially in September.
Hotposts I have discussed on our tips but, in a nutshell (this has proven true for me for years now and for several other people who I have recommended) -
In Grand Teton National Park
Pronghorn Antelopes - guaranteed in Antelopes flat road across from moose junction on way to Kelly.
Ditto for Bison and sometimes wolves - especially behind the Teton Science School.
Deer/Elk & sometimes Big Horn Sheep - On the road to Lower Slide Lake off of Antelopes Flat - or up the Gros Ventre.
Elk also in the area known as "Elk Island" or the flats on the way to Jenny Lake/Jackson Lake.
Early evening listen to the elk bugle during August/September/October and see them cross from the park into the pines for evening shelter.
Moose: Gros Ventre Campground, Moose/Wilson Junction Jackson Lake Lodge (sometimes) and Oxbow Bend (early morning or early evening).
Bear: Almost a guarantee, especially in September/October: Moose Wilson Road headed to Teton Village. Sometimes also at Colter Bay and on way to Signal Mountain.
Last 2 years there has been a well known sow grizzly hanging around the Leigh Lake area or the Moran Junction area.
Last time I was there she had a fresh elk kill and crazy tourists were trying to get a photo of her. DO NOT approach wildlife, EVER. Not even deer and especially bears, elk, moose and bison.
September is also their rutting season so you will hear the elk bugling and perhaps the moose calling.
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK:
Elk - Mammoth Hotsprings - but other places throughout the park especially Lake and Geyser region
Bear - hit or miss but often seen in/around the Mt. Washburn area just north of Grand Canyon and Hayden Valley.
Buffalo - Hayden Valley and Geyser regions.
During fall sometimes can see grizzlies hunting in/around Hayden Valley. You should bring a spotting scope and good binoculars.
Wolves - scattered throughout, more easily seen during winter.
Deer/Moose - again scattered throughout but I don't see them as often as in GTNP
Q #4) i would arrive and depart from Jackson airport, especially if you're visiting GTNP first.
I usually however enjoy flying into SLC, Utah as it is a very pleasant 5 hour drive from there to the park and I personally enjoy the freedom of driving through the gorgeous scenery, seeing the quaint small towns, etc.
I would personally try to reserve 4 days for YNP broken up in the following manner: 1 day staying in Lake Lodge area, 1 day staying in Mammoth area and 2 days staying in/around Old Faithful Geyser area.
I would devote 7-8 days in GTNP and I can offer some hiking and itinerary suggestions if you'd like.
I hope I have helped.
Feel free to ask away if you need more info.
On our original visit in 1948, we saw bears and moose. This time we saw mostly bison. The last day as we were leaving, we saw some more bison and then there was an elk that was close enough for me to photograph. There was a sign about a trumpeter swan nesting area and sure enough there were swans
While over 60 different kinds of mammals live in Yellowstone, most of what we saw were the Bison. We stopped for Bison Photo Ops four different times on the day of the Ring of Fire trip
Yellowstone is the only place in the United States where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times. The two large herds are one of the few herds free of cattle genes.
The bison is the largest land mammal in North America. Males (bulls) weigh up to 2,000 pounds, females (cows) weigh up to 1,000 pounds.
A bison can run more than 30 miles per hour and also pivot quickly, so don't count on them being slow and clumsy.
A bull’s head is wider and shaped more like a triangle than the female bison; its “forehead” fur is much thicker, as is the fur on its forelegs; and its beard is thicker. A bison’s massive hump is comprised of muscles supported by long vertebrae; this allows a bison to use its head as a snowplow in winter, swinging side to side to sweep aside the snow.
A cow’s horns are slightly more curved and slender than a bull’s. In addition, a cow’s shoulders are narrower than its hips while a male’s shoulders are broader than its hips. If you see a calf nursing - it's probably a female.
In addition to the stunning scenery and the fascination of the various geothermals (as opposed to the fascination of my faux-silk thermals!), one of the main reasons for visiting Yellowstone is view the wildlife in their natural habitats. Every season will provide its own highlights, which is as good an excuse as any for several revisits.
Just a little and large contrast here, but more pics to follow on travelog (AGAIN!).
Located between Fishing Bridge and Canyon Village is a fantastic wildlife area called Hayden Valley. Following the Yellowstone River, it's here where the landscape changes from alpine to rolling hills and open parkland meadows (this is actually a former lakebed).
Due to little tree growth, the shrub and grassland area attracts animals that love to graze, so you will see herds of bison, mule deer and elk. If your timing is right, you may also get a glimpse of grizzly bears, moose and coyotes.
As someone who lives in the Yellowstone Area, and who visits at least once a year, Lamar Valley is one of my favorite places to visit. The valley is located along the most northern road in the park between Tower and the Northeast Entrance. Lamar Valley is our favorite area to explore if we are going to the park with wildlife viewing as our agenda for the day. However, unless you are going to be in the park for a number of days, or wildlife is your main objective for visiting the park, this may be too out of your way. We love packing up our spotting scope, a lunch, and driving up to the park from our hometown of Cody. Sometimes we go in through the NE Entrance of the park, and out through the East Entrance, which is the closest entrance to Cody. I find the Lamar area not only beautiful, in a stark, mountainous sort of way, but it is the area we have had the best luck in spotting some of the major wildlife in the park. You can often see elk and bison in the valley; in fact this is the main winter range for these two large animals. This is also a good area to look for wolves, coyote, pronghorn (sometimes called antelope), bears, and foxes. In the far NE portion of Lamar, in the area of Barronette Peak, look at the sheer cliffs for mountain goats and bighorn sheep. As you drive the valley, sometimes wolves or bears may be at a distance from the highway, and you may not notice them, so if you see a lot of folks out with spotting scopes, stop and find out what they are watching. There may be a wolf or bear in the distance that you missed seeing. These folks can point it out to you, and you can get a look with your own scope or binoculars, if you have them. If you don't have a scope, sometimes tourists or locals that do, will offer you a view through theirs.
Lamar Valley is the area where the Draper Natural History Museum, one of the 5 sections of our wonderful Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming, chooses to take people when leading wildlife viewing expeditions into Yellowstone. This outing is generally planned for May and is led by the Draper Museum's curator. It has always been a great outing, where we have seen such animals as black bears, grizzlies, wolves, bison, pronghorns, big horn sheep, elk, badgers, bald and golden eagles, peregrine falcons, osprey, sandhill cranes, and harlequin ducks, along with many other birds.
Of course, when I say this is our favorite place, this only means we have the best luck here. Even though this is a wonderful place to see wildlife, there have been times we have driven it and seen nothing. No specific place in the park is a guarantee viewing spot. Remember, do not hold up traffic if you see something of interest, rather pull over to view the animals.
Little did we know that while we were focused on Upper Yellowstone Falls, a White-Tailed Deer had been keeping an eye on us from a very lush little patch of land on the other side of our trail. Sue managed a nice zoom shot of the deer as well as a normal one (2nd photo) before it disappeared into the nearby trees. This is the most common type of deer in the entire United States. Meanwhile, I was playing the fool at my precarious perch on the edge of the bank as I tried to get a few clear shots of the waterfall through the trees (3rd photo).
The poor Bison have had a hard life since settlers began seriously heading into the vast wilderness areas of western United States. From an estimated population of 65 million animals in the early 1800s, the population dropped to less than 1000 animals by 1890 as hunters went crazy – even shooting them from moving trains. The destruction of this vital food supply and source of pelts and furs for native Americans was one of the main factors that drove the various tribes onto the reservations that had been set up to control them. Since then, great efforts have been made to ensure the survival of Bison. Given its size, Yellowstone NP could handle a Bison population of 2500-4500 animals but is presently at the lower end of those numbers.
Standing six-feet tall at the shoulder, weighing up to 2000-lb and capable of running 30-mph (50-kph) these are beasts that should not be annoyed! Even so, the many large herds we saw in both Yellowstone and Grand Teton NPs seemed to be generally behaving themselves. They seem to realize that they can do whatever they want when it comes to vehicles, wandering across the highway if they feel like it or just settling down beside the road for a little rest. They just don’t realize the mayhem they are causing as practically every vehicle has to stop for a close-up photo. It was nice to see them at such close quarters as shown in these photos, but it really slowed down our progress passing through Hayden Valley in both directions on our final day in Yellowstone. Still, it was worth it to see these free-roaming animals ‘do their thing’!
Now, the traffic stoppers are likely to be buffalo herds walking on the road (photo 3), or antelope or big horn sheep licking the salt on the road (photo 4).
But in 1948, it was the bears begging for food. Bears were fed at the trash dump night at the Old Faithful Inn, and we were not allowed to camp without a tent because of the bears. And sometimes even though the bears are no longer fed for the amusement of visitors there are occasions when bears injure or kill visitors.
Even in those days, I don't think we were supposed to feed the bears.
Now there are warnings about
We saw both of the kinds of bears that are in the park, but even though the black bear was a commoner animal (500–650 in the park) it was more difficult to photograph (photo 3) because when we saw them they were always someplace in the middle of the trees. We got more pictures of the grizzlies which the park estimates there are 280–610
The Grizzly Bear is a powerful predator, capable of out sprinting a horse, and weighing as much as 350-600 pounds. Grizzlies are omnivorous, meaning they eat both meat and plants. In Yellowstone, grizzlies feed on elk, trout, bison carrion, pinenuts, grasses, roots, and berries.
The grizzly is larger, both in girth and weight than the black bear and their coat ranges from tawny cinnamon to light brown or even black. They also have a shoulder hump and a dish shaped face. Black bears are not all black; their coats can be cinnamon, blonde, brown or black but they are smaller and have a Roman nose rather than a dished face
The NPS has a pdf form for reporting bear sightings and it has outlines for identification of the bears.
We were very lucky to see a lot of animals while we were there. Moose particularly like to hide in willow thickets. They are really big and there are less than 500 of them.
The other rarer animal we saw was the pronghorn antelope (photo 3 and 5) which are really speedy, but the ones we saw looked pretty seedy as they must have been shedding their winter coats. The elk we saw (photo 4) was sleeker - it did have a white rump. The elk are one of the most common of the hoofed mammals.
The NPS has a checklist of Hoofed Mammals with Habitat and population. This includes (in order of population)
Elk (Wapiti) - meadows, forests - population 15,000–25,000
Mule Deer - forests, grasslands, shrub lands - population 2,300–2,500
Bison - meadows, grasslands - population over 3,500
Moose - riparian, forests - population less than 500
Bighorn Sheep - cliffs, mountain slopes - population 250–275
Pronghorn - sagebrush, grasslands - population 200–250
Mountain Goat -alpine meadows, rocky slopes - population 175–225
White-tailed Deer - forests, grasslands, shrub lands - only occasional visitors