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Yellowstone National Park Wildlife

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Yellowstone National Park Wildlife

Travel Update: Most destinations are open — check the official websites and read our crucial BEST TIME tips below to help you AVOID CROWDS (Travel with at least 15% off | booking.com)


When Is the Best Time 

Where animal sightings happen, depends on habitat preferences, weather and seasonal cycles of movement. Still, it's often a matter of luck but you can increase your chances by following our monthly guide. Read our full guide below and find out which animal can be seen in which months and season (spring - summer - autumn - winter). And if you want to make the most out of your wildlife visit, consider this incredible private tour: Private Yellowstone Wildlife Tour (With extremely knowledgeable, friendly, and professional tour guides.)

April - Early June (Spring)

Most animals can be spotted in or near the valleys. It's the time for baby bison, baby moose, baby bear, baby elk and many more. Also a good time to spot wolves and grizzly bears. Grizzly sightings occur mostly at night, dawn and dusk. A great grizzly bear spot in spring is the shores of Yellowstone Lake. Gray wolves are often seen in Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley.


Mid-June - July - August (Summer)

Bears and other animals leave the valleys and head for higher areas in June/July. But still, visitors often report bear sightings throughout June. Later in July and August the chances to spot grizzlies or black bears in the valleys are very low.  However, bison are still there, starting to rut in early August. Warm, great weather but also peak tourist months. 


September - October (Autumn)

Animals return to the valleys. Elk rut throughout September. The fascinating rut can be witnessed up-close in Mammoth Hot Springs, near the northern entrance. Together with amazing fall colors it’s one of the best time to view or photograph almost every animal including elk, moose, bighorn as well as wolves and grizzly. Visitor wise it gets slightly less busy in September after Labor Day weekend. However especially weekends are still busy. In late September/early October the crowds start to dissipate.

November December- January - February - March (Winter)

Winter, a magical time and least crowded. Most animals are in or near the valleys. Some can be spotted near the steaming geyser basins. Winter is the best time to view wolves. You can also observe bison, elk, bighorn and others. Another great time for photographers, since animals are easier to spot against the snow. Grizzly bears can't be spotted, since they hibernate in winter until mid-March. The list with open facilities during winter and the overview with the warming huts are extremely useful. One thing you should always consider doing when visiting in the winter, is a snowmobile tour. That's an amazing experience! Find more useful winter tips on the official NPS website: NPS - Visiting Yellowstone in Winter and check out this great video on YouTube: Yellowstone - Winter in the Park

Must-Know Yellowstone Winter Facts and Tips

  • Solitude: Winter is a silent time in Yellowstone. No tourist crowds and no packed areas. It’s not even busy at the popular spots. Example? Watching the geyser eruptions at Old Faithful in winter means standing there with only a handful of others. In the summer there are hundreds of visitors at the same time.
  • Wildlife: Winter is by far the best time for wildlife viewing: You can spot bison, wolves, elk, and bighorn in the valleys (Lamar Valley), near the road, or some even at the geysers at Old Faithful. The higher areas are just too cold for the Yellowstone mammals in winter. Viewing wolves? You’re lucky to spot one in the summer months. In the winter, it’s not unlikely to spot a pack of wolves!
  • Entrance and Roads: The only open entrance to private vehicles in winter is the North entrance in Gardiner (read our entrances descriptions). From Gardiner you have 2 choices: A) Drive the only accessible winter road to the Northeast Entrance (Cooke City) through Lamar Valley and spot amazing wildlife or B) Drive to Mammoth Hot Springs, which is like the base for winter activities. From there, you can book a snowmobile or snowcoach which drives you to Old Faithful (the only other place with open lodging in winter inside the park). You’ll spot plenty of wildlife during this ride. The alternative in the South: A guided tour from Jackson. With guided tours, you get into Yellowstone almost anywhere in winter. We recommend these excellent guys: Full Day Snowmobile Tour from Jackson Hole. The best lodging in Jackson: Inn on The Creek (via booking.com with price guarantee).
  • Lodging and Facilities: In the winter months most hotels and lodges are closed. Within the park, you can stay at two places: Mammoth Hot Springs and the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. Otherwise, we suggest to stay in Gardiner and drive to Cooke city through Lamar Valley as described above. Both towns have excellent lodging and facilities, even in winter. Check the lodging links in our ‘Entrance Section’


Time of Day

The best time of day for wildlife viewing is either dawn or dusk: Animals usually feed during the early morning and in the evening. That's why they're often more visible at these times as they're up and moving around. In general dawn is even superior: Be at the valleys just before at sunrise and stay until 9 AM. It's also less crowded. However, dusk is also great, particularly for elk viewing in Sept. Sunrise - Sunset Yellowstone

Wildlife Calendar

Avoiding Tourist Crowds

Yellowstone National Parks gets heavily crowded in the peak summer months. If you plan a summer visit, book your hotel well in advance. 

The most crowded months are June, July and August: Congested roads, overflown parking lots and the popular places are packed: Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Mammoth Hot Springs. The month of May is still moderate visitor wise. However, it gets very busy on Memorial Day. Later in September visitation starts to drop off after Labor Day weekend. However, it's still busy, even more so on weekends. In late September the crowds start to thin out. In October it's getting a lot quieter again.

How to avoid the crowds during peak months? Arrive early! The rush hour in YNP starts between 9 and 10 AM. Get up as early as possible!  Another way is to dodge the crowds is by staying late: The main attractions are packed between 10 AM and 4 PM. Get there later, as it doesn't get dark before 9 PM anyway. Another big advantage when arriving early or staying late: You'll get to see more wildlife at dawn or dusk (see above). Extra tip: Check the official NPS Webcams a few days before you arrive during certain daytimes. 


There is one word which is true for Yellowstone's weather: Unpredictable! Temperature drops and rain can happen almost any time in spring, summer and fall. Thunderstorms in summer are common in the afternoons. Bring layer of clothes and always rain gear.

If you'd like to avoid snow completely, then don't visit before May/June. It still can snow in June at some places but it will melt very quickly. By late May the valley floor is usually snow free. In higher elevations you may still see some snow in late May and June. That's important to know if you go hiking. After the summer you can expect the first real snow in October. As a local expert says: 'You can count on snow on the ground in Yellowstone by Halloween!'. However, never let the snow stop you from coming. October is an excellent month: Quiet and still so much wildlife to spot! In spring late April and May are our preferred months, regardless of the snow. Just keep in mind that until late April it still can feel like winter!

United States, Wyoming
Review and Tips 

Yellowstone's abundant and diverse wildlife are as famous as its geysers. There are 67 species of mammals including 7 species of native ungulates and 2 species of bears, nearly 300 species of birds, 16 species of fish, 5 species of amphibians, and 5 species of reptiles.

The Book

This book is a must read about Yellowstone and its wild inhabitants. Read it, even if you’re only remotely interested in wildlife and wildlands. It feels as if you’re right there with the author on his hikes. Quote from a reader's review:

'I felt like I was back in Yellowstone. Get this book now ...'

Must-Know Tips

  • It's extremely valuable to stop by ranger stations to find out the recent animal sightings and whenever you spot a ranger, get perspective from each of them.
  • Hike a couple of miles from the busy tourist areas/roads, your chances of spotting other wildlife increases a lot.
  • While driving through a valley, stop whenever you see a bunch of people looking through their binoculars or scopes. There is a good chance they already spotted something.
  • Equipment: Binoculars (Tip: Canon 10x30) are a must but a spotting scope is even better.
  • Listen! Don't just look for wildlife, close your eyes and listen to all natural ambient noises around you. Call of the elk, birds chirping and other fascinating animal noises.
  • Always hike with bear spray! Particularly in summer, bring insect repellent and/or wear clothing treated with insect repellent.


3 Amazing Wildlife Spots

Most animals migrate in and out of Yellowstone depending on the availability of food. Thus, wildlife sightingy at any given location will vary greatly by season (see above), weather, as well as other factors. Check out our three top areas:

Lamar Valley

  • Location: Lamar Valley is slightly remotely located along Lamar River in the northeast corner of Yellowstone. Lamar Valley Google Maps
  • Animals: Bison, bighorn sheep, elk, grizzly bears, black bears mule deer, pronghorn, wolves, coyote.
  • Driving: The Northeast Entrance Road is open year-round. There are many pullouts and viewpoints where you can stop at. Although accessible in winter, you need to drive carefully in snow and icy weather.
  • Hiking: A great hiking trail with many opportunities to spot wildlife in the wilderness: Lamar River Trail to Cache Creek However, experts say that sometimes you will see more wildlife from the road than from a hiking trail.

This valley is often called Yellowstone's Serengeti for its wide open meadows with large herds of bison and pronghorn along with deer, coyote, badgers and other mammals. In fact Lamar Valley is the prime spot for bison in summer. However, Lamar has it all. It's the place where you can view the largest variety of animals in Yellowstone. There is even a good chance to sport large predators like grizzly bears or wolves here.

Hayden Valley

  • Location: Hayden Valley is more easily accessible, as it's located in the southern part of Yellowstone. North of the lake and thermal areas. Hayden Valley Google Maps
  • Animals: Bison, elk, black bear, grizzly bears, wolves.
  • Driving: The Grand Loop Road (usually closed in winter) takes you through Hayden Valley. Like in Lamar Valley there are many spots where you can pull off and start watching.

This is another premier area for wildlife viewing besides Lamar Valley. The Hayden Valley covers a vast area of 50 square miles. Famous for its lush open meadows, surrounding one of the most beautiful stretches of Yellowstone River. The main difference between Hayden and Lamar landscape: Lamar is a lot wider. That means you can sometimes spot animals a little easier here in Hayden Valley. However, long time visitors report that wolves and grizzly bears are frequently closer in Lamar than in Hayden. Besides wolves and grizzlies Hayden Valley is of course another hot spot for bison, which is the most prominent animal there. However, unlike in Lamar Valley no pronghorn or bighorn sheep can be seen.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Cya later, Elks! (Mammoth Hot Springs) by David Fulmer - CC BY cropped

  • Location: Mammoth Hot Springs is located in the northern area of the park, only five miles from the North Entrance. Mammoth Hot Springs Google Maps
  • Animals: Elk, bison, black bears, mule deer
  • Driving/Parking: There is limited parking which is usually full and overflowing in peak season. Arrive before 9 a.m. or after 6 p.m.

While other places may be better for pure wildlife viewing, this one is a unique thermal spot unlike any other in Yellowstone. And that's why we chose it as the third area: You'll see some fascinating thermal activity as well as wildlife. There are usually herds of elk you can spot around Mammoth Hot Springs. They can be seen here year round. North of Mammoth you may also spot bighorn sheep in the canyon.

More Wildlife Spots
  • Fishing Bridge: Grizzly bears
  • Madison: Bison, elk
  • North Entrance: Bighorn sheep, bison, elk, pronghorn
  • Northeast Entrance: Moose
  • Old Faithful: Bison, elk
  • South Entrance: Moose

Useful Links / Resources


Apr 24, 2016

We prefer early June. The baby mammals are so cute and the summer crowds are almost non-existent that early in the season.

Apr 29, 2016

During the summer of 2005 our entire family took a trip out west to see our great national parks. We went early in the summer and got some great wildlife photographs. We loved hiking to the top of Mt. Washburn and it was a pretty easy hike for being the tallest peak in the park.

May 01, 2016

@Sonbuchner: We are planning on going in early summer as well to avoid the biggest crowds. Thanks for the Mt. Washburn hiking tip :)

May 01, 2016

I have been to Yellowstone from early June through August. It's hard to find a bad month. All my visits have been either on my motorcycle or on the back of my husband's. Every visit is amazing, every visit is different, in part due to the wildlife.

Jun 21, 2016

A couple of things I've found:
- Moose can be hard to find, but best bets are near the south entrance/Bechler area, northeast area and north of west thumb area. Check with rangers as to most recent sightings because they are familiar with wildlife movement throughout the park.
- Mt. Everts peak (by the north entrance/Gardiner, Montana) is a great place to spot bighorn sheep. It's a great place to get pictures, as well, due to the rock face backdrop. The hike to Mt. Washburn is also a place you might spot bighorns.

Jun 21, 2016

Also, another universal tip to keep in mind is that - due to Yellowstone crowds in certain hot spots - if you just hike a couple of miles from the tourist areas/roads, your chances of spotting wildlife greatly increases.

...and remember to ALWAYS BRING BEAR SPRAY and insect repellent (and/or treat your clothing) if you're going to hike - and then hope you never need to use the bear spray!

Jul 31, 2016

August is bison month at Yellowstone N.P.

Apr 15, 2018

What an amazing example of beauty in motion! Yellowstone's Prong Horn's during winter blend beautifully with the natural colors of sage brush and other dormant plant life. This was during our February winter visit that we take each year. This year held much harsher weather than usual and we found ourselves caught up in quite a few blizzards that allowed me to capture some beautiful shots.....

Apr 15, 2018

Mid April 2016 our first chance to witness coming out of hibernation up close and personal this handsome and healthy grizzly. He was stunning to watch. I didn't have time to set my shutter speed higher so not as sharp since we all were moving swiftly towards our cars. It was pure accident the crowd was photographing a location in Mammoth Hot Springs when he came out of no where while lazily chomping on grass at 20 yards!

Apr 15, 2018

While visiting in mid April 2016 it was interesting to watch a coyote digging after the quick prairie dog. Coyote passing up a duck dinner as he searches for a bigger meal. Curious to watch for long spans of time as they continue their daily life without noticing our presence.

Apr 15, 2018

Blending into the landscape was the ability of these 2 Sandhill Cranes....until they opened their mouths! As Spring was turning into Summer the vegetation was very accommodating to their needs.

Apr 15, 2018

Beautiful delicate Prong Horn does are very close to delivering their young within the vast acres of sagebrush and sunshine. Mid Spring in the Lamar Valley where they seemed be found dotted through the landscape.

Apr 15, 2018

While Winter can be extremely harsh it can also be wonderland beautiful. Coyotes are very resourceful when it comes to finding there meals that travel under the deepening snow.

Apr 15, 2018

Survival is brutal in the winter months and finding food can be as simple as excepting leftovers. Lamar Valley is one of those places you find wildlife scouting out their options.

Apr 15, 2018

The American Bison (nicknamed Buffalo) are my favorite animal in Yellowstone NP. They lumber their way across the terrain grazing as they go. During the winter they swing their head and muscular neck back and forth in the snow to clear ground in search of food and display the endurance needed to survive. Watching them power through snow banks and deep snow gives you the sense of their strength. The heat from the summer temperatures remind you of the extreme weather tolerance their body must have been built for. When their born you can't but love how adorable they are with the reddish-tan color at birth, which gave them the nickname ("red-dogs") and begin turning brown after 2-½ months. Mother's are very protective of the new arrivals and you want to give them extra distance so not to stress them out. When they are getting up in years you tend to see them off alone away from the main herd.

Apr 17, 2018

The black bear is much smaller than the grizzly but still a wonderful sight to see. During the spring the adorable cubs are great fun to watch as they play and cause mischief for their mothers. The sows are very protective and keep a close eye on where your located in regards to their young. At times when they feel threatened they will puff or blow their lips as a warning. They are another of Yellowstone's wildlife you give a wide berth by staying a safe distance away.

Apr 17, 2018

Trumpeter Swan's create such a serene landscape. The trumpeter swan (Cygnus buccinator), named for its resonant call, is North America’s largest wild waterfowl, with a wingspan of up to eight feet. These swans require open water, feed mainly on aquatic plants, and nest in wetlands. Lay 4–6 eggs in June; young (cygnets) edge in late September or early October. Usually in pairs with young in summer; larger groups in winter.

Apr 17, 2018

Roosevelt Elk live throughout the park and are pretty elusive except at Mammoth Hot Springs where they lounge in the front yards of the historic buildings. Bulls are the toughest to find when they are out and away from the Mammoth Hot Springs area. Cows can be found in small to large herds in the valley's. Most are easier to spot in winter when their color contrast the white snow.

Apr 17, 2018

Winter in Yellowstone is an absolute wonder. It transforms into a completely new park. Animals of all kinds can more easily be found and their habits seen. Bighorn Rams can be found along the roadway past Tower Junction digging through the deep snow looking for food. They balance their heavy curled horns as they scale and move about the rock face. They have a stance and presence like royalty wearing the crowns of nature.

Apr 18, 2018

During all my visit to Yellowstone I've never been lucky enough to spot a fox, until winter of 2016. Driving through the snowy landscape we came up to a group of photographers on the side of the road and knew that could only mean one thing. Your right it meant the group had come across some sort of wildlife and it was time to get out the camera. Sitting high above the road on an exposed rock point lay a beautiful fox enjoying the sunshine.

Apr 18, 2018

Survival in Yellowstone can be brutal in any season but winter seems to combine weather and opportunity which lessens the odds. I've been privileged to witness the circle of life as coyotes, eagles and even magpies gather around carcasses left behind by those who most likely fell pray from a larger more fierce predator.

Apr 18, 2018

Moose are at times tough to spot during most seasons where they have the ability to blend into the landscapes. However winter is another story. During a blizzard this February we had stopped for a moment to let the road clear a bit to better our visibility and to our great surprise 3 moose lay tucked away in the surrounding willows. Moose love willow which are naturally found near water such as rivers, creeks and even lakes or marshes.

Aug 06, 2018

If you decide to do a backpacking trip through Yellowstone or Grand Teton (or both), be well-prepared for safe food storage & prep with good bear containers, bear spray and awareness in the backcountry. Seeing Yellowstone this way is a COMPLETELY different experience, and offers the most exciting wildlife photography opportunities. You can hire guides to lead these trips, as well. I emphasize that a trip like this must be well-planned.