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One question that I get asked often when people see my photographs from Yellowstone is,” where did you go to find the different wildlife?” So I thought it’s time to create this guide on the best wildlife viewing places in Yellowstone.
If you haven’t been yet, Yellowstone National Park is truly amazing and will forever hold a special place in my heart.
Yellowstone is the oldest park in the United States and definitely one of the more popular ones! If you want to know more about when to go or where to camp, check out my Yellowstone trip review.
Most people go for two reasons.
- to see the unique geological features like Old Faithful and The Grand Prismatic spring.
- To see animals in their natural element and not behind bars
However, many leave feeling a little empty because they don’t get to see as much wildlife as they had hoped.
It’s hard to blame them when you see people sharing photos of animals like wolves and grizzlies just wandering about.
The trick to finding them is needing a little bit of luck, knowing where to go looking, and WHEN.
I’m here to help you with the where and when! So keep reading!
Hands down, this is THE best area to spot animals! I didn’t spend enough time on my first trip to Yellowstone, but the second time we went straight to the valley!
I was not disappointed!
Really heading north in the park will not only give you maximum chances of seeing a variety of wildlife, you will avoid the crowds as well!
Most visitors tend to stay near the areas of easy hikes and sights.
Lamar Valley has some trails, but nothing like the boardwalks around the geysers. It’s more natural of an area.
The valley is popular to the larger animal residents such as:
- Bears (both black and grizzly).
You also have the greatest chance of seeing one of the many famous wolves from Yellowstone. It is known that a wolf den resides near Slough Creek. So it’s best to start there if your goal is to get wolf pictures.
IF you want to know why they are famous AND extremely important, check out the history of the Yellowstone Wolves.
Also sighted in Lamar Valley are Red Foxes, Coyotes, and many small mammals like ground squirrels.
Another valley that has proven some luck in wildlife sighting is Hayden Valley. This valley area consist of Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon and Yellowstone Lake. You can sight the same animals as you would in Lamar Valley with the added bonus of also sighting spectacular birds of prey.
As you follow the river and canyon and you look carefully, you will see large nest belonging to the Osprey. If you have a good lens or a pair of binoculars, then you’ll be treated with a really up close look.
Bald Eagles have also been spotted in this area as well.
Not only is it a great hike, I have been fortunate not once but twice to come across Grizzly bears (at a rather safe distance mind you).
Other animals that frequently visit or reside in this region are bighorn sheep.
This area of the park is definitely more rockier. You will also see why the park was named Yellowstone in the first place.
Because of its rocky terrain, the most sighted animals are going to be ones that prefer to live in steep rocky habitats.
Animals sighted here are:
- Yellow-bellied Marmots
- Ground squirrels (they are EVERYWHERE!)
- Mule Deer
This lake is beautiful and pretty secluded, which in the eyes of wildlife is ideal.
For us, it’s another chance to photograph amazing animals but also get in a scenic hike.
I will say that the hike to Lost Lake is not super easy. It has a decent elevation gain and consists of many switchbacks to get up the side of the mountain.
But once you make it to the top, it’s highly rewarding!
Here I’ve seen:
- Red foxes (yup plural! As in more than one in the same hike)
- Black Bear
- Bison (but let’s be honest, these big guys are all over, if you don’t see one, you might be in the wrong park)
- Mallard ducks
The Rest of Yellowstone
While the above regions are practically guaranteed the best places to see Yellowstone animals, that doesn’t mean the rest of the park is devoid of life.
In the other regions of the park, you will spot the most populated mammal.
People! Haha I’m only kidding. Well not really, people are everywhere.
In all seriousness, you will undoubtedly see bison and elk. Like I said earlier, if you drive or camp in Yellowstone and don’t see a single bison, you are definitely in the wrong park.
When Is The Best Time To Sight Animals?
So I also get asked this question too. I don’t have some magic strategy to get animals photos, I just try to go when I think the best times of the day are.
Early morning or early evening. I will note I don’t stay out too late in the evenings. Especially in areas of top predators. (Better to play it safe)
It is recommended to go out and explore Lamar Valley early in the morning when the more elusive animals (wolves) are more active.
Personally, I have also been lucky are all times of the day. I saw a black bear swim across Lost Lake and it was near mid-day.
Time of year plays somewhat of a factor, but mostly for bears. If your visiting in the winter, don’t expect to see any since they are in hibernation.
I’ve been to Yellowstone twice now, both times during the summer (June/July) and each time I was delighted to see such a great variety of animals. I also did not have to worry about road closures due to snow.
The only downfall to summer is the crowds, but the park is huge and finding trails that are less crowded is easy. (Hint go north! Example: Slough Creek)
While I encourage everyone and their mom to get outside and explore nature, we must be smart and respectful about it.
Yellowstone does a great job with reminding guest about viewing animals and being safe. For animals like bison and deer, it’s is required that you keep a minimum distance of 25 yards.
You do not want to get too close to a bison and piss it off! Sadly people have been injured because they don’t understand these are WILD animals not circus or zoo trained.
For predators like wolves, bears, coyotes, and the Canadian Lynx you need to keep a distance of 100 yards. (Invest in a good camera lens!)
Do I Need A Ridiculously Expensive Camera?
This is not exactly a simple yes or no question. It is more of a yes AND no and here is why.
It all depends on what type of photos you are trying to achieve. Decent ones for your personal album? OR are you entering the annual photography contest for National Geographic?
For my pictures seen within my article and Instagram, I use what I call my “beginners camera”. It is a Canon Rebel 5ti DSLR (there are newer wifi enabled models now)
While I do not think you need to buy a top of the line camera, you do want to invest in a DSLR with at least two lens range options. The two lenses I use are Canon EFS 18-55mm and Canon EFS 55-250 mm.
I do plan on investing into stronger lenses in the future, but I definitely need to save for the ones I want.
***any camera savvy readers please leave me a comment on your favorite lens or camera. I need good recommendations!
If you’re planning a trip soon to this monumental park, I hope you have the best time ever!
While I talked about the best places to see Yellowstone animals, please don’t go with the expectation of checking off each one from a list.
They may have typical patterns of areas to spot them, but it’s never 100 percent guaranteed. By happy with the animals you do come across!
For me, I have yet to see a moose! So I try hard not to get bummed when it seems like everyone has a picture and yet I don’t.
Guess it’s just more reason to keep going back! Not only to find the majestic moose but also because no two trips are the same!
That’s the true beauty of nature!
Have you been to Yellowstone? What animals did you see or not see? I want to know your best memory of the park in the comments below!
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