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These Are the Best National Parks to See American Bison

A common bucket list experience for many people is to find themselves in a bison traffic jam or, at the very least, spot one of these creatures in the wild. It is unlikely you’ll forget your first time seeing a bison in its home environment, especially if you have one walk slowly past your vehicle.

If seeing an American bison is something you’ve yet to cross off your list, keep reading to learn more about bison in the United States and where to see them. 

Two bison grazing in grass.
From Yellowstone to the Badlands, there are many national park options to search for bison in.

The History of American Bison in the United States

American bison became nearly extinct. By the late 1800s and early 1900s, the wild American Bison population had dwindled to only two dozen at Yellowstone National Park and an estimated 300 overall due to overhunting and disease. The U.S. Army began protecting the animals and formed private herds to repopulate areas. 

Today, bison herds thrive both in protected free-roaming herds and conservation areas. There are an estimated 500,000 American bison roaming. It’s still a far cry from the prehistoric numbers of around 30-60 million but far better than extinction. 

The repopulation of bison is a major accomplishment and shows the massive role we can play in taking care of the plants and animals on earth. 

What to Do If You See a Bison

It may be tempting to get out of your vehicle to look at these beautiful beasts, but it’s a bad idea and illegal. It is unlawful to intentionally come within 25 yards of bison, or any wildlife, in Yellowstone National Park.

 If you have unintentionally come across a bison while hiking, slowly remove yourself from the situation by heading away until you have at least 25 yards of space between you. 

While bison may seem like slow cuddly creatures, they are fast. Bison can reach speeds of up to 35 miles per hour and maintain their speed for up to five miles, so you won’t outrun one. They aren’t aggressive unless threatened, but getting too close is an easy way to provoke them, especially if they have a calf. 

Bison walking on road through national park
Spotting wildlife is one of the biggest draws for visitors to explore national parks.

The Best National Parks to See Wild American Bison

Seeing a few bison in a small rehabilitation park or farm can be fun, but spotting them in the wild at a national park is an experience that you won’t forget. Let’s look at some national parks that give you the best shot of seeing a wild bison. 

1. Badlands National Park

About the Herd: Badlands National Park houses one of the largest federal bison herds in North America, with over 1,000 roaming animals. In 1963, two trucks from Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota carried 25 bison each to Badlands National Park in South Dakota. The herd flourished, and this is now one of the best places to see them.

Where to Go: You can spot bison in many places throughout Badlands National Park. But it may surprise you to learn that one of the best places is right at the entrance to the park. A group of bison often grazes at the gate, ready to greet you. Another great place is along the Sage Creek Rim Road. 

Morton Road Trip Rating: 8/10 — You’ll likely spot a handful of bison before entering the park. They’re like the unofficial welcoming committee.

Cait from Mortons on the Move inside of car next to bison.
Drive alongside wild herds of bison while visiting a national park.

2. Theodore Roosevelt National Park

About the Herd: In 1956, there were 29 bison relocated to Theodore Roosevelt National Park from Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge located in Nebraska. Their numbers quickly multiplied, giving the park the herds they have today.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park has two herds at both the North and South Units. The North Unit can accommodate a herd of up to 300 bison, whereas the South Unit can hold 400. 

Where to Go: The North Unit herd is often spotted along Squaw Creek and Little Mo Nature Trail. Those exploring the South Unit should try their luck on the 36-mile scenic loop drive. You may find yourself in a bison traffic jam as they often cross over roadways. 

Morton Road Trip Rating: 9/10 — The epic landscapes of Theodore Roosevelt National Park make it the perfect place to take pictures of a herd of bison.

What Is Theodore Roosevelt National Park? | MOTM VLOG #56

3. Grand Teton National Park

About the Herd: Grand Teton National Park currently has over 1,000 bison. While bison historically roamed here, like many other places, their numbers dwindled. Twenty bison were introduced to the Jackson Hole Wildlife Park in Moran, Wyoming, to repopulate the area. They were managed here successfully for 20 years before some bison escaped, at which point they were allowed to roam freely.

Where to Go: You can often find the bison grazing just south of the north entrance to the park on U.S. Highway 26 near Elk Ranch Flats. You can easily see them from the road as you drive down to Jackson.

Other viewing areas include Mormon Row and Oxbow Bend. The rugged Teton Mountain Range provides a beautiful backdrop for seeing these amazing animals. 

Morton Road Trip Rating: 9/10 — If you get the chance to adventure in the Tetons, do it! Not only can you spot bison, but you can enjoy the jagged and impressive mountain views.

Pro Tip: Use our itinerary on What to Do When Visiting Grand Teton National Park to ensure you have a great adventure!

4. Yellowstone National Park

About The Herd: Yellowstone National Park has the largest bison herd on public lands. As of the summer of 2021, the herd consisted of 5,450 bison.

This is quite an accomplishment considering the number dropped as low as 24 at the brink of extinction just over a hundred years ago. Today, the herd is thriving, and the park has a transfer program in place, making great strides in preserving the species. 

Where to Go: You can spot bison in the Hayden and Lamar Valleys all year long. If you travel to Yellowstone in the summer, look for bison in the grasslands. While Yellowstone presents harsh winters, the bison still make plenty of appearances near the hydrothermal areas and along the Madison River. 

Morton Road Trip Rating: 10/10 — As if Yellowstone National Park wasn’t fantastic enough, their bison are icing on the cake.

Pro Tip: Bison aren’t the only magnificent animals you can see in Yellowstone. Get ready to be in awe with these tips on How to See Amazing Yellowstone Wildlife Year-Round.

bison in yellowstone national park
Always keep at least 25 yards of space between you and a bison in a national park.

5. Wind Cave National Park

About the Herd: The Zoological Society in New York reintroduced bison to the area. The society provided 14 bison as a base to start the herd. The bison made their way to the area via train on Nov. 25, 1913, and arrived on Nov. 28. The trip took the bison 63 hours to travel the 2,000-mile journey. Today the herd has grown to upwards of 400.  

Where to Go: You can easily spot the animals in Wind Cave National Park year-round. The most common and easy route to see them is traveling on NPS 5 or hiking in the grasslands. 

Morton Road Trip Rating: 7/10 — It’s hard to miss these huge beasts grazing in the grasslands.

Herd of bison on road in national park.
Crossing paths with a herd of American bison is sure to leave you speechless!

6. Capitol Reef National Park

About the Herd: The state of Utah manages the bison found around and sometimes within Capitol Reef National Park. The herd consists of anywhere between 250 to 400 bison at any given time. A group of 18 bison from Yellowstone National Park came to the area in the 1940s, leading to today’s herd. 

Where to Go: The bison of Capitol Reef National Park spend most of their time at higher elevations in the Henry Mountains. Due to the area’s accessibility, these bison are harder to spot. Those lucky enough might see them in the higher elevations during the spring and summer. However, they tend to come down to the lower elevations on the western side of the mountain range in the fall and winter. 

Morton Road Trip Rating: 7/10 — This herd is typically hard to spot and likely only on your way into the park.

Top 10 Tips for Visiting Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in the Summer

See America’s National Mammal at These National Parks

The American Bison became the United States’ National Mammal on May 9, 2016. Those lucky enough to get up close to bison in their vehicles will truly appreciate their size. Those that keep a respectful distance will get an experience they won’t soon forget.

Have you had a chance to see bison roaming in the wild? Let us know your best bison spotting experience in the comments!

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About Tom and Caitlin Morton

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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George brown

Tuesday 5th of April 2022

In Kentucky there is the “Land between the lakes” it is managed by the Corp of engineers. They have a drive through area with elk and bison our kids. Love it. It also have a reenactment farm. It is a great area definitely with a trip.

Mortons on the Move

Wednesday 6th of April 2022

Sounds fun! Thanks for sharing!