Types of Wildlife in Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is an amazing and unique place to visit. The park is set on an active super volcano that boasts over half of the world’s geysers. The park is offers stunning views at every turn. Yellowstone offers many beautiful waterfalls including several that are spectacular. There is so much to see and do there. One of the most amazing parts of visiting Yellowstone is seeing the abundant wildlife in their actual habitat. Yellowstone National Park is home to many different types of wildlife including grizzly bears, black bears, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, and bison.
Have you ever been to Yellowstone?
Yellowstone National Park covers an area of just under 3,500 square miles. The park has 3 to 4 million visitors every year, but due to the vast amount of backcountry where nobody goes, it is an excellent habitat for wildlife. Remember not to approach any wild animals. In fact, for bears and wolves, the guidelines put out by the national park service say that you are supposed to be at least 100 yards away from them. For bison, elk, deer, moose, etc, you are required to stay 25 yards away. The basic rule of thumb is that if you cause an animal to move or change what they are doing, you are too close. A great tip as you are planning your visit to Yellowstone is to make sure that you have a high-powered camera that will be able to zoom in a considerable distance away. A pair of high-powered binoculars is also recommended. The best tips that I can give you for seeing wildlife include going out early in the morning or late in the evening. Also, drive slow and keep an eye out in the woods and in fields. Another great idea if you see a ranger, ask him or her, about recent wildlife sightings.
Grizzly Bears in YellowstoneClick thumbnail to view full-size
Yellowstone has the highest population of grizzly bears in the United States. Grizzly bears are easy to differentiate from black bears because they have a hump on their backs above the shoulders and are much larger than a black bear. Grizzlies can weigh as much as 850 lbs, whereas black bears are closer to 500 lbs. Another way to tell grizzlies and black bears apart is if you climb a tree, a black bear will climb the tree and the grizzly will just knock the tree over. They can run 35 miles per hour in short bursts. The best place to see a grizzly bear is in either Lamar Valley or Hayden Valley early in the morning or late in the evening. Although, when my family and I went, we saw one near Dunraven Pass about 100 yards up on a hill. If you plan to do any back country hiking, it is a good idea to purchase some bear spray for your protection. Also, when hiking be sure to make noise so that you do not sneak up on a bear. If you come upon a grizzly, do not run, but slowly back away without making eye contact. If it should charge you, lay down on your stomach with your hand folded behind your neck and lay still. Grizzly attacks are rare, but being prepared can save your life.
Black Bears in YellowstoneClick thumbnail to view full-size
As mentioned above, black bears are much smaller than grizzly bears. They are also the most common bear in North America and numerous in Yellowstone. Black bears tend to be found in wooded areas especially during the heat of the day. The same safety rules apply to black bears as well. The only difference is that if you see the bear is aware of your presence and bothered by it; make yourself as tall and as big as possible and slowly back away. If it should charge, pick up a rock or a stick and fight back. Again, bear attacks are rare, but make sure to make noise as you hike to alert them to your presence. Most of the time, they will go out of their way to avoid you. I witnessed this while visiting Great Smoky Mountain National Park a few years ago. People pull over, got out of their cars, and were watching a mother bear with her cubs walking in the woods. It could have been a very bad situation had the cubs been any closer to the road. Thankfully, she kept them walking through the woods.
Moose in YellowstoneClick thumbnail to view full-size
Moose are the largest animal in the deer family. They can weigh up to 1,800 lbs. A male’s antlers can have a spread between them of as much as six feet. Moose love to feed on aquatic vegetation and willow trees. They are usually found in marshy areas or along lakes and streams. Moose are solitary animals. The best places to see them in Yellowstone are in the willows in Willows Park (between Mammoth Hot Springs and Norris), south of Canyon Village, and near Yellowstone Lake. On our trip there, we saw a moose down in a marshy area right at the east entrance station. Moose can be very dangerous during their mating season. It is a good idea to keep your distance to well over 25 yards during that time.
Elk in YellowstoneClick thumbnail to view full-size
Elk is an abundant animal in Yellowstone. It is the second largest member of the deer family. They weigh anywhere between 500 – 700 lbs. During their mating season, male elk let out cries, which are called “bugling”, to challenge other males over their female elk. The absolute best place to be guaranteed of seeing elk is in the Mammoth Hot Springs area. An elk herd lives in that area and is seen hanging out around the houses and government buildings. Lamar Valley is also a great location to see elk. It is important to remember that even though the elk at Mammoth Hot Springs seems to be tame, they are still wild animals. Do not approach elk with your car or walk up to them. They have been known to chase people, especially during mating season. When my family was there, we witnessed people passing within 3 or 4 feet of a few elk, and one of them started coming closer to the people. Luckily for the people, a park ranger, yelled at them before they were attacked.
Bison in YellowstoneClick thumbnail to view full-size
Bison are one of the most abundant animals in Yellowstone and can be seen anywhere in the park. Yellowstone is the only place in the continental United States that bison are allowed to roam free. Bison can way over 2,000 lbs. Do not let their size fool you, bison can run at speeds greater than 30 miles per hour. Do not get close to them. Leave plenty of room. On our visit, I was driving around the Tower area, and people were out of their cars taking pictures of bison and standing less than 3 feet from the bison. One of the largest ones was getting agitated. It is important to remember that these are wild animals. If you spend any time in the park, you are likely to encounter a bison jam. What is a bison jam? It can be as little as one, usually the whole herd meandering down or across the road with no sense of urgency. The worse ones that we encountered were on the West Entrance Road and in Lamar Valley.
Pronghorn Antelopes in YellowstoneClick thumbnail to view full-size
Pronghorn antelopes are the fastest land animal in North America. They can run over 60 miles per hour in short distances and can sustain 30 miles per hours over longer ones. They only weigh around 130 lbs. The best place to see pronghorns is in Lamar Valley. We saw a whole heard there. The picture to the right is an amazing picture of a pronghorn that was running towards the road and was surprised to see us and we were to see him. I love this picture. As I was planning our trip, I had read that between the North Entrance and Mammoth Hot Springs is a good area to see them too.
Bighorn Sheep in YellowstoneClick thumbnail to view full-size
Bighorn sheep are named that way because of their big curled horns. They can be found in rocky and mountainous areas. They do a great job of blending in and are hard to see. The best place to see them in Yellowstone is between Mammoth Hot Springs and the North Entrance on a cliff that is on the right side of the road as you head north from the springs to the entrance.
Gray Wolves in YellowstoneClick thumbnail to view full-size
Gray Wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in 2005. Since then, there are now 10 packs of wolves living in and around Yellowstone. Wolves are very intelligent animals and very good hunters. You can tell a wolf from a coyote by the size of the animal. Wolves are 2 to 3 times bigger than a coyote. Also, wolves generally tend to hangout in packs, whereas, coyotes are more solitary. The best places to see them are in Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley early in the morning or in late evening. Remember to leave at least 100 yards between a wolf and you. There have been no human attacks by wolves in Yellowstone, but they have happened elsewhere.
Yellowstone National Park is full of wildlife. The animals listed above are the ones most people want to see and have a good chance of seeing. Other animals in Yellowstone include mountain lions, coyotes, fox, eagles, osprey, beavers, badgers, etc. I fell in love with Yellowstone after my first visit and long to go back there.
Wildlife in Yellowstone
© 2012 Eric Cramer