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  • Yellowstone Wildlife
Watching Wildlife in Yellowstone with Kids
Fast Facts

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Wildlife Watching Destinations in Yellowstone National Park
 
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ACTIVE ADVENTURE
 
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Watching Wildlife in Yellowstone with Kids

Child with binoculars

 

Photo by Alfredo De Simone

Yellowstone may not be home to nomadic elephant herds or bushy-maned lions yet the wildlife at this U.S. National Park is no less exciting. Watch bison bulls shake the earth as they collide in battle. Observe gray wolves stalk their prey by wit and cunning. View grizzlies feasting on the labors of another species. Yellowstone is inhabited by all the same large mammals as at the end of the Pleistocene era. Black bear, coyote, red fox, mountain lion, moose, elk, pronghorn, mule deer, bighorn sheep, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, river otter and trumpeter swans are just a few of the animals and birds spotted here. But before you pack your bags for a wildlife safari in Yellowstone National Park put aside any notions of private game viewings in open-air vehicles. Picture instead roadside sightings with friendly aficionados willing to share their scope as well as their experience. Yellowstone is the Serengeti of North America in all ways but one.
Getting Started
 
While it is possible to see wildlife most anywhere in Yellowstone there are a few places where the odds are greatest. 1. Lamar Valley is the best place to watch wildlife in Yellowstone National Park. This broad, u-shaped glacial valley that stretches from Roosevelt Junction to the Northeast Entrance is home to bison, elk, pronghorn, mule deer, grizzly bear, coyote, gray wolf, fox and even black bear. Bird watching is limited to raptors and songbirds. 2. The ancient lakebed known as Hayden Valley supports a variety of animal and bird life. Waterfowl and waders inhabit Hayden's low-lying wetlands. River otters and busy beavers make their home in the slow moving waters of the Yellowstone River. Elk, bison and moose forage for food in dry meadows and near water's edge. Grizzly bears, bald eagles and coyotes, predators of the above, come here in search of a meal. 3. The Firehole River from Old Faithful to Madison boasts more than a pearl-like string of geysers, hot springs and fumaroles. This open plain is one of the top spots to watch wildlife in Yellowstone National Park. Look for bison and elk through the mist of hydrothermal features. Keep your eyes peeled for river otters, trumpeter swans, great blue herons and sandhill cranes along the Firehole and its tributaries. 4. The mixed habitat - wetlands, meadows and forest - known as Pelican Valley is home to elk, moose, bison and grizzly bear. 5. Bighorn sheep are frequently sighted on the rocky ledges of Gardner Canyon.
Plotting your Route
 
Wildlife watching is a year-round event in Yellowstone National Park. Elk, bison, pronghorn and mule deer migrate through meadows and valleys with their babes in late spring and return to these habitats in late summer to mate. Predators - gray wolf, coyote, fox and bears - are hot on their heels. In winter, Yellowstone wildlife is frequently spotted in Lamar Valley and around hydrothermal features. Dawn and dusk provide the best wildlife watching experience. But as with all things wild, the animals and birds in Yellowstone don't follow the hours of a clock. Pack your patience. Watch and listen as you wait.
  • Best Time to View Wildlife
Travel Gear
 
While wildlife viewing doesn't require much in the way of specialized gear there are two pieces of equipment that will greatly enhance your child's experience. And maybe even your own. A spotting scope (compact telescope) and good binocular bring distant sightings near and they allow wildlife watchers to get a good view without impeding nature. What's more, learning to use a scope and binocular is both educational and fun. One note, unless you are an aficionado you are unlikely to require both.
Packing Tips
 
Equip each child with a camera and binoculars as well as a bird and mammal checklist. Pack hats, sunglasses and sun block as well as water and snacks. Plan to dress in layers; the early morning and late afternoon are, on average, cooler than the mid-day high. Don't forget to include a regional field guide as well as an extra battery and memory card for your camera and video recorder. You are likely to take more pictures than you plan.
Health & Safety
 
Wildlife encounters are one of the main health risks in Yellowstone. Maintain a safe distance from all wildlife, 100 yards (91m) from bears and wolves and 25 yards (23m) from all other animals. Be bear aware at all times; carry bear spray, make lots of noise on all hikes, and store food and discard debris in apposite bear safe containers.
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