A Wildlife Stake out in Yellowstone

Yellowstone is the first national park in the world. It got national park status in 1872, in case anyone is wondering. Yes that’s right, I paid attention!!  But it’s probably thanks to that that wildlife is so abundant – no hunters!

Bison 1

When I saw my first Bison up close it was a special moment. Part fear – is he going to smash up my car? But mostly awe – he was a majestic creature and had a really muscular body and a surprisingly woolly face!

After that first encounter with 1 bison, we had several Elk-spottings, several Bison-traffic-jams, and did a wildlife stakeout.

People generally want to see the “big 5” – that is Bison, Elk, Wolves, Bear, and Moose.

Elk can be seen fairly easily around Yellowstone. We saw plenty of them in Mammoth and 1 in Gardiner. We saw several alongside the road from the town of West Yellowstone into the Park. One day we were driving along the road to West Yellowstone and there was a massive traffic jam. We were sitting in traffic for about an hour. I thought there must have been an accident… but no – eventually we got to the front of the queue and realised that there were Elk by the side of the road and instead of people pulling off the road as the park authorities advise, people were slowing down in the road to take photos. Grrr!! Very stupid as I read that this causes car accidents in the park every year.

Elk 1

We also spotted these antelopes outside Gardiner.


Bison were everywhere – if you drive around Yellowstone you are bound to see them, either off in the distance, on the road itself causing traffic jams, or near the road so the tourists cause traffic jams by slowing down to photograph them.

Bison 3
Bison Jam

Bison 2

Sadly we didn’t see any bears, moose, or wolves.  Seeing a bear seems to be largely a matter of luck. I read reviews where people had been coming here for 20 years and not seen any bears, and others who were on their first visit and saw bears crossing the road in front of their car.  It made me laugh when I read in the newspaper that they had closed a road due to “a crowd of bears” sitting in the central reservation munching on berries 🙂

But is is still wise to know what to do, should you come across a bear, especially if you are planning to go off the beaten track. The advice for what to do if you see a Black Bear or a Grizzly bear is different, so you have to know the difference (and it’s not just colour!). We learnt this off the internet beforehand and took an online test. I know it seems a remote possibility but I’d rather be prepared than mauled.

One night we decided to do a stake-out in a car park in the woods to see if anything came out of the woods (it would even be good to see a racoon!). We thought we were being stealthy as we sat in the car giggling, but the bears could probably hear and smell us from miles away! 🙂

Bear Sign

When we drove along I scanned my eyes along the rocky outcrops at the top of the mountains nearby, looking for Wolves. We didn’t see any – maybe if we had had better binoculars….

We also tried hard to see Moose, basically finding out that they like to eat willow, we found out where the willow flats are and went there. When we had no luck we tried visiting the visitors centre at the aptly named Moose Junction. They were really helpful and were able to tell us where the moose sightings had been recently. We went to those sites and at one we saw something in the distance that could have been a Moose but could equally have been Elk. It was too far away to tell. We spent the rest of the day driving between the sites that the lady had told us, but to no avail. Finally, at the last site we saw lots of cars stopped, so we pulled over. I asked a lady with a large telescopic lens what was happening, and she said that about 10 minutes ago, 3 moose had just walked past, closely followed by a bear!! We were absolutely gutted to have missed it. We tried going back in the direction they had headed, but we couldn’t see them. So eventually we had to leave and accept the fact that we hadn’t seen any bears, moose, or wolves. 😦

However one night we saw a coyote which crossed the road in front of our car.

Travel Tips:

  • Take binoculars with you, or you can rent them from West Yellowstone (and probably other nearby towns).
  • Take time to stop and scan the mountain sides and the edge of the treeline with binoculars.
  • Look out for other cars stopped and people with telescopic lenses taking photos. This is probably our best hope to spot wildlife!  Traffic Jams also often signal some wildflie near the road.
  • If there are only 2 of you in the car, consider having the passenger sit in the back seat. It will make you feel like a child but you can slide between each side of the car to hang out the window if you see any wildlife 🙂
  • If you’re hiring a car, get a car with a sunroof. You can then stand up through the sunroof to see wildlife (when safe and stopped etc).

Next blog: Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

Previous blog: Grand Teton National Park, USA


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