Yellowstone is one of the most diverse, beautiful, and awe-inspiring destinations in the entire national park system, and Yellowstone wildlife plays a vital role in creating that experience. From enormous bison to minuscule birds, these animals help draw millions of annual visitors who are hoping to get a glimpse of how wild America once was.
Join us as we take a closer look at this one-of-a-kind natural world and how to meet its inhabitants best.
Table of Contents
- What Kind of Wildlife Can You See in Yellowstone National Park?
- Does Yellowstone Have Grizzly Bears?
- What Is the Most Dangerous Animal in Yellowstone?
- Yellowstone Wildlife to See in Spring
- Yellowstone Wildlife to See in Summer
- Yellowstone Wildlife to See in Fall
- Yellowstone Wildlife to See in Winter
- Best Spots to See Wildlife in Yellowstone National Park
- Is Traveling to Yellowstone to See the Wildlife Worth It?
What Kind of Wildlife Can You See in Yellowstone National Park?
Yellowstone has an unbelievably large and diverse amount of wildlife living in the park. This includes nearly 300 kinds of birds, 67 species of mammals, and more than a dozen types of fish.
The park’s most famous wild animals are bears, wolves, elk, moose, and the iconic bison. Bird lovers might also see bald and golden eagles, owls, and falcons. And don’t forget the myriad snakes, lizards, insects, and other less apparent species that blanket this biologically diverse wonderland.
Does Yellowstone Have Grizzly Bears?
Grizzlies are native to this part of the United States and are among the most famous types of Yellowstone wildlife. The latest National Park Service estimate shows that approximately 725 grizzlies live in Yellowstone National Park as of 2019. It’s one of two bear species in the park, along with the more common black bear.
What Is the Most Dangerous Animal in Yellowstone?
While your first thought might be bears or wolves, bison injure more people than any other kind of Yellowstone wildlife. They might seem docile or harmless from afar, but bison easily weigh over 1,000 pounds and can run three times faster than a human. That’s why the National Park Service requires you to stay at least 25 yards (75 feet) away from bison at all times.
There has been, on average, just one bear attack a year at Yellowstone over the past several decades and just eight fatal bear attacks in the park’s history. There have been no recorded wolf attacks in Yellowstone. So you can rest easy if these animals’ presence in the park concerns you.
Still, remember the actual top cause of injury or death at Yellowstone: car accidents. By following a few simple rules, your wildlife viewing at Yellowstone will be a shallow risk.
Pro Tip: Due to the crowds and heavy traffic, it’s always best to have a plan when traveling to Yellowstone. Check out How to Plan an Epic RV Trip to Yellowstone for RV-specific travel tips.
Yellowstone Wildlife to See in Spring
Yellowstone comes alive in the spring, even if many of the park’s roads are still closed due to unplowed winter snow!
Animals in the Park
Spring sees Yellowstone’s bears emerging from their hibernation, as well as the return of migrating birds. You might also get a rare opportunity to see moose.
Bison babies (known as “red dogs”) are born in late spring, as are elk calves. By the time summer approaches, new wolf pups will venture into the world, and Yellowstone’s water wildlife will thrive in rushing, newly-thawed rivers and ponds.
Tips for Visiting Yellowstone in Spring
Experienced visitors recommend rising early for spring animal viewing. If you get up when they do, you’ll have a better chance to see wildlife in large numbers. You’ll also get the relatively rare opportunity to experience some of the park’s most iconic sights with fewer crowds, so take advantage of the season to get out and hike in relative solitude.
Finally, go prepared for all types of weather. Winter may not have completely released its grip by the time of your visit, so prepare for potentially frigid days alongside pleasant 60-degree ones.
Yellowstone Wildlife to See in Summer
Summer is Yellowstone’s busiest season by far, drawing huge crowds that can sometimes clog the park’s limited infrastructure. Still, the summer crowds come for a reason since the park’s climate is mild, and there’s excellent camping this time of year. You’ll see more wildlife if you visit in spring and fall, but there’s still plenty of animals to behold during the warmest months!
Animals in the Park
Most of Yellowstone’s natural inhabitants are out and about through the summer, and you can see the “big game” that makes Yellowstone famous – bison (who gather in large numbers in August), wolves, bears, elk, deer, and birds of all types. Trout also spawn in the park’s rivers and streams.
Tips for Visiting the Park in Summer
If you’re seeking Yellowstone wildlife on this trip, avoid visiting during the hottest parts of the summer. Animals, particularly bears, wolves, and elk, tend to stay hidden in the shady tree cover when it’s too warm out. On hot days, getting up early or staying out later will afford you better opportunities for wildlife viewing.
In addition to larger crowds, visiting in summer will also be more expensive, so prepare for the impact on your wallet. Go in knowing you’ll experience potentially long lines at famous sights and traffic jams on roads not equipped for the massive tourist numbers.
Either make your peace with seeing Yellowstone in this way or set your itinerary to avoid these tourist-favorite areas. Yellowstone wildlife roams free through the park’s massive expanses, so you’ve got a good chance of seeing some even on less famous trails.
One of the best ways to see the park is by getting up before sunrise and getting off the road by mid morning. This will give you the best chance at seeing wildlife and avoiding the crowds. You can do the same by traveling at dusk.
Yellowstone Wildlife to See in Fall
As temperatures cool down, crowds begin to thin out around Yellowstone. Human crowds, at least. Autumn is an excellent time to visit Yellowstone if you want a less crowded look at the wildlife.
Animals in the Park
Yellowstone’s migratory birds begin to head south for the winter, with most gone by October. Wildlife that stays year-round, like bears, elk, and other mammals, begin to bulk up for a cold winter ahead. Bears head to their den by late fall, but you could see them rooting around for food until then. Fall is mating season for deer and bighorn sheep as well.
Tips for Visiting Yellowstone in Fall
The changing leaves can make for a spectacular backdrop for your Yellowstone visit. You’ll have tremendous opportunities to see wildlife this time of year, but be especially careful. Bears are hard at work, fattening themselves up for their winter hibernation, and elk are in peak mating season. Give both of these animals (and all others) plenty of space – 25 yards for most, but 100 yards for bears or wolves.
Yellowstone Wildlife to See in Winter
Winter is the least common season to visit Yellowstone due to the frequent harsh weather, closed roads and below-freezing temperatures. However, for those willing to brave the conditions, you’ll have unmatched solitude and some of the most rewarding wildlife viewing of the year.
Animals in the Park
Elk, bison, and wolves are some of the most visible wildlife in Yellowstone over the winter, as many other species head elsewhere or hibernate. Wolves and coyotes also mate in late winter.
Tips for Visiting Yellowstone in Winter
Don’t expect to enjoy the full scope of Yellowstone if you visit in winter. Many of the park’s roads (including the entrance) won’t be plowed until spring, so you can’t enter with a standard vehicle. And many of the park’s amenities and accommodations are also closed for the season. Unless you’re an experienced winter adventurer, check out some of the guided tours local companies offer.
Most importantly, pack and dress appropriately. Temperatures can dip to as low as -30 degrees Fahrenheit, so choose gear that can handle these frigid conditions.
Best Spots to See Wildlife in Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone stretches over a vast area of unspoiled land, but certain spots still draw wildlife again and again. If you’re looking to catch a glimpse of their natural beauty, here are some of your best bets.
This is the place to go for visitors seeking Yellowstone’s iconic wolves. While wolves may be the stars of the show, you could also see bison, pronghorn, badgers, coyotes, and possibly even a grizzly! The nearly 30 miles of roads through the area have many pull-offs so you can get the perfect glimpse of these beautiful creatures.
The Tower-Roosevelt Area
A bit further west from the Lamar Valley lies the Tower-Roosevelt area, another of the top places to see Yellowstone wildlife. The district is one of the quieter parts of the park, leaving you a bit more space on your quest for Yellowstone’s natural inhabitants. You could see many of the same types of wildlife here as you would in the nearby Lamar Valley, as well as bighorn sheep, deer, and antelope.
On Hiking Trails
Like any national park, Yellowstone is an interactive experience. There’s no telling what kind of wildlife you’ll run across while strolling down a trail! Hikes known for plentiful wildlife include the Lost Lake Loop, Coyote Creek Trail, Beaver Ponds Loop, Big Horn Peak, and many more. Generally speaking, you’ll have a better chance of seeing wildlife if there are fewer people around scaring them off, so try less-trafficked trails for better results.
Is Traveling to Yellowstone to See the Wildlife Worth It?
For the many people who’ve never seen a herd of bison roaming wild or a bald eagle soar over their heads, a trip to Yellowstone is worth it. Even for experienced wildlife watchers, few places compare to Yellowstone National Park’s rugged, beautiful, and natural diversity.
While it may be relatively remote, the trip is almost always worth it as travelers experience once-in-a-lifetime viewing opportunities. Still, consider whether you’re willing to deal with peak summer crowds or the potentially harsh winter conditions before making the trip during those seasons.
No matter when you go or where you look, Yellowstone’s incredible natural life is a constant presence. It’s among the park’s most iconic draws for visitors from around the world. We hope these tips will help you make the most of your visit and create some wild memories you’ll never forget.
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