As the nation’s first national park, Yellowstone offers something for everyone, from mountain lakes and thermal hot springs, to dramatic geysers and forested hiking trails. But the one thing that captures everyone’s instant attention is wildlife viewing. Driving by a herd of buffalo is an unusual experience that can last a lifetime. Seeing a bear running across a meadow rivets your attention. It is fascinating to people of all ages to observe the varied wildlife at Yellowstone: raccoons, squirrels, otters, bald eagles, deer, elk, moose, ravens, foxes, and wolves… there are so many animals to look out for at Yellowstone National Park! Here are 10 tips for the best wildlife viewing at Yellowstone.
- Play it safe. All wild animals can become dangerous and every year, there are visitors who are gored, scratched, injured, or even killed because they got too close to wildlife. Stay 25 yards (23 m) away from bison or deer, and 100 yards (91 m) feet away from bears and wolves.
- Do not approach an animal. It is illegal to approach wildlife. If you walk up to an animal, it will feel threatened and may become violent. The National Park Service reports that anytime you move close to an animal and it moves in response, you’ve come too close for safety and the animal feels threatened.
- Find quiet spots. If you really want to see wildlife in a natural setting, seek out areas like Big Sky that are less frequented by tourists. You can sometimes see a few animals around Old Faithful, but most animals tend to stay clear of areas with high traffic.
- Bring binoculars. You can enjoy wildlife viewing at a safe distance (and enjoy a close up view!) by using binoculars. Cameras with a telephoto lens are also great for seeing wildlife up close while staying safe.
- Go wildlife viewing early in the morning and late in the evening, just before sunset. Most of the animals at Yellowstone are more active in early morning and early evening hours. During the daytime, when most tourists are out, they’re hiding or keeping out of sight.
- Bring bear spray. Buy or rent bear spray while at Yellowstone and learn how to use it. You might not be seeking out bear watching, but you may have a chance encounter with a bear and you need to be prepared. Bear spray will not deter a bear (you can’t spray it on you before going out on a hike and expect bears to smell you and stay away). It’s used like pepper spray; spray it directly at a bear’s face if a bear comes within 30 feet of you.
- Teach children to be quiet and respectful around wild animals. Children can be loud and startle a wild animal, or behave irrationally (running when they should stay still, for instance, which might make a bear want to chase them). If you’re viewing wildlife with children, stay safe and stay in the car. Use scenic pullouts on the road to pull over safely without causing a hazard on the road.
- Don’t ever feed any wild animal. If animals are fed human food, they often become aggressive in an effort to get human food and become dangerous. Some of these animals may need to be killed. Both for human safety and the sake of the animals, don’t ever feed animals in the wild.
- Stay in your car if you come upon an animal while driving. People who jump out of cars to get closer to an animal on the side of the road appear aggressive to animals. This can provoke an animal attack and result in serious injury. Use scenic pullouts on the road or pull far over on the side of the road.
- Hike without earphones. You’ll notice the small sounds that indicate an animal is near. This can also keep you safer. You’ll be quicker to notice bears or other dangerous animals around you more quickly if you aren’t listening to music.
At Brandin Iron, you can find clean, comfortable accommodations just a few minutes outside of the park, in West Yellowstone, Montana. In West Yellowstone, you’ll find the best dining options, shopping, and entertainment within minutes of the park gates. Click here to select a hotel or schedule your stay at Yellowstone National Park. For more information on wildlife viewing in Yellowstone, visit the National Park Service website.
Bears at Yellowstone Park
Yellowstone National park is home to two species of bear: grizzly bears and black bears. For centuries, Yellowstone visitors have been fascinated with engaging bears while in their natural habitat. Yellowstone has since passed safety measures to limit the property damage and unsafe conditions generated by bears encountering human camps or waste. Visitors are now encouraged to safely observe bears foraging for food or guiding their young from a distance of at least 100 feet.
Learn more about Yellowstone’s bear community with two two minute guide: