Best Spots to See Wildlife in Yellowstone

best spots to see wildlife in yellowstone - buffalo bull

We just returned from our third trip to Yellowstone National Park. For us the biggest and most exciting moments are always seeing the wildlife. Obviously we are not the only ones, because in the summer seeing the animals generally causes a traffic jam! Getting pictures of the animals is an like an achievement (all of the pictures in this post were taken by me!). One of the main questions that first timers to Yellowstone usually have is “what are the best spots to see wildlife in Yellowstone?”.  It helps to know the answer to that when you have not been there before, because Yellowstone National Park is a VERY big place (as large as some of our smaller states!) and especially if you are driving through and trying to squeeze it on a one day venture. Fortunately, some of the best places are the easiest to get to and are right on the main road.

Best Spots to See Wildlife in Yellowstone

Pronghorn in Lamar Valley – Yellowstone National Park

Best Spots to See Wildlife in Yellowstone

  1. Lamar Valley – The northeast region of Yellowstone has been our top area for seeing the biggest diversity of wildlife. We have seen coyotes, pronghorns, a black bear, grizzly bears, pikas, mule deer, bald eagles and plenty of buffalo (bison). There are several great hiking spots in the valley (although you may have to battle for a parking spot at the trail head if you are not there early in the day), but you can see a LOT from your vehicle on the road.
    Best Spots to See Wildlife in Yellowstone

    Pronghorn standing in symmetry in Lamar Valley – Yellowstone National Park

    This is also supposed to be one of the top spots for seeing one of Yellowstone’s gray wolves, but we have never seen one in our three visits. People DO see them, and there are those who spend days staking a spot and spending the day there never to see one. Visitors often mistake coyotes (which are not uncommon to see) for a wolf. Believe me, when you actually SEE one of the gray wolves of Yellowstone, you will not mistake them for a coyote! How do I know that? Well, the last time we went to Yellowstone, we spent one night of our visit in West Yellowstone and visited the Grizzy and Wolf Discovery Center , a sanctuary for grizzly bears and wolves. When we saw the wolves, my mouth hung open. They are HUGE! Much taller than the average dog and the coloring and look is different from the coyotes. My husband and I had previously discussed whether an animal we had seen was a wolf or a coyote. Once we saw the gray wolves at the sanctuary, there was no doubt we had seen a coyote in the park. Here is a great link from the National Park Service on wolves in Yellowstone. 

    Best Spots to See Wildlife in Yellowstone

    Coyote crossing the road in Lamar Valley – Yellowstone National Park.

  2. Hayden Valley – This valley area in the heart of the park (midway between Lake Village and Canyon Village) also has the Yellowstone River running parallel to the road. The first time we visited Yellowstone, we were amazed at the huge trout you could see swimming in the river. The water was so clear you could see them very well. My fishermen (husband and two sons)  were in awe! The Lamar Valley generally always boasts a herd of buffalo and a few pronghorn, but you never know for sure what else will show up.
    Best spots to see wildlife in Yellowstone

    Trumpeter swans on the Yellowstone River in Hayden Valley.

    This year we not only saw trumpeter swans but  even a grizzly sow with two cubs! The bear was from a distance, and there was a HUGE traffic jam because of everyone wanting to see a glimpse of the bear. Park rangers were directing traffic, and it involved HUNDREDS of cars. This demonstrates the desire of most park visitors to get to actually see wildlife like bears in the wild. I got a photo from FAR away, and you can only see the top part of the bear. See that photo further in the post. The photo below is actually one I got in 2012 of a grizzly sow and her cub crossing the road near the Tower-Roosevelt junction.

    Best spots to see wildlife in Yellowstone

    Grizzly sow and cub crossing the road near the Tower-Roosevelt junction.

  3. Canyon, Norris and Madison – These areas have been where we have seen elk most frequently. It is very common to see small herds of elk, as well as big bull elk with velvet wrapped antlers right near the road. I got the photo of this elk cow from the window of our vehicle.
  4. FR6A3603 Elk cow grazing

Things to Remember

  1. No matter where you are in Yellowstone, there are two best times of day to see animals out and about, and that is early morning and late evening. That can help your planning, because the crowds come out in droves the rest of the day! Even so, if you are there in the peak summer weeks, you will find the main roads busy even early and late, so keep that in mind and be prepared. Leave extra time in your plans. Buffalo have been known to block the roads!!

    best spots to see wildlife in yellowstone

    Buffalo herd crossing the highway at dusk – Lamar Valley

  2. In fact, the buffalo often take over the road. Check out the photo above that I took of the herd crossing the highway in the Lamar Valley. One hundred or more may decide to cross around the same time, and they are on their own time schedule. In the summer of 2012, we sat in a long line of cars for about two hours while waiting for a huge herd to cross an area. Check out this guy in the photo below. He walked out in the middle of the road, and then turned around to look at us, as if  to say “what the heck are you doing here?”.  We did not move until he decided to go! Remember, after all, this giant piece of wilderness is their home. Be patient, be careful, and enjoy!

    best spots to see wildlife in yellowstone

    Buffalo bull in the road – Lamar Valley

  3. If getting great wildlife photos is your goal, you might want to consider renting the kind of lens (and a camera to go with it if you don’t have a DSLR)  that will have the reach you need if you don’t already have that equipment. Each time we went to Yellowstone, I had a different kind of camera. The first time (2002), I had a film camera. The second time we went in 2012, I had my first DSLR (a Canon Rebel), but I had rented a nice lens good for landscapes to bring with me. This last time, I was blessed to have had my new full frame DSLR and high quality lenses. The difference in the quality of pictures my new gear gets is incredible. (Yes – this place is amazing enough to go that many times, and MORE). Even so, my new lenses are not extreme zoom lenses. My biggest regret was that I did not rent a 400mm lens to take along. See the photo below? You see what looks sort of like the top of a bear by the water. It WAS a bear by the water. The bear that caused the huge traffic jam (as mentioned above), to be exact. But there was no way to get close. The bear was several hundred yards away, and even if I was stupid enough to walk closer, which I was not, the park rangers were there to keep stupid people from trying to get closer. So, the photo that you see is the one I got using my 70-200 mm L lens. That is one NICE lens, but it does not have the reach I needed. For wildlife, you need at least a 400mm lens and up. So, you don’t happen to have $8,000 in your lens budget either, huh? If you have a DSLR, remember, the lens really makes the difference. What you can do, is what I SHOULD have done – rent one. It is worth it, folks! Yellowstone is one of the most amazing places on earth, and it is not cheap to get there. It is worth renting a lens for a few days. You won’t regret it. Read my post here about renting lenses and cameras.
    Best Spots to See Wildlife in Yellowstone

    Grizzly bear with cubs – WAY far away.

    3. Have your camera ready!! The animals can show up at any time, and they do it when you are not expecting it. Have your camera with battery charged and lens attached and turned on when you drive through the gates of the park or leave your lodgings. I promise you, if you don’t do this, you WILL miss a great shot. Below is the photo I got because I MISSED the best one! This black bear was right by the ranger station in the northeast entrance when we were going out in the evening. I had already put my camera in the bag because I thought I wouldn’t see anything else. So, I got the top and back of the bear instead of the great view I had when we FIRST saw the bear. Had my camera been sitting in my lap, the picture would have been different! I am only showing you my “missed shots” of the bears to demonstrate my point (and that you CAN see bears in Yellowstone!).

Best Spots to See Wildlife in Yellowstone

Black bear near NE entrance to Yellowstone. I missed this shot because my camera wasn’t ready!

4. Stay a safe distance from the wildlife! No photo is worth your life. Every year people are gored by buffalo because they were stupid and got WAY too close. The photos you see here of the buffalo, I took from the window of our vehicle! The buffalo are usually close enough that a decent range zoom will get them. Of course, if you rent a long range lens, like I suggested above, you will be in better shape. Most of the buffalo we saw in the park generally looked at us and ignored us, but we did not get close. We did see one HUGE bull buffalo that was totally having a mad fit on the side of the road. I don’t know what ticked him off, but I have never see anything like it. He was rearing up on his hind legs, ramming his head in the ground, snorting and running around like he was looking to HURT somebody. I thought he was going to ram our vehicle was we drove by. He was totally dangerous. Of course I did not get a picture or video of that (much to my regret) as we were too worried about getting the heck away from him. The week after we came home, I heard on the news that some woman had been gored by a buffalo when she got too close – trying to take a selfie! Don’t do it! If you are patient, you can get decent photos of buffalo from your vehicle. If you want to see bears and wolves really close up, trying staying a night in West Yellowstone and visiting the Grizzy and Wolf Discovery Center where you can see them close up and still be safe.

best spots to see wildlife in Yellowstone

Buffalo bull in Lamar Valley

You can certainly see wildlife anywhere in Yellowstone National Park. Generally, if you are in the park for any amount of time, you are going to see buffalo. Your chances of seeing elk and pronhorn are also really good. After that, it depends on some planning, patience and often a good dose of luck. Good planning can increase your luck!

Best Spots to See Wildlife in Yellowstone

Buffalo calf on the side of the road – Lamar Valley

best spots to see wildlife in yellowstone

If you make it to Yellowstone, don’t over look the smaller wonders of the park. The variety of birds and small mammals is amazing! I caught this photo of a ground squirrel watching me near the northeast entrance. I hope you get to go, and if you do, don’t miss the best spots to see wildlife in Yellowstone!

 

 

 

 

 

Sandy

 

 

About Sandy

My life revolves around my faith in Jesus Christ and chasing the dreams I believe He has placed in my heart.

Comments

  1. Sandy I just love your pictures! They made me feel like I was really there. Such great detail and the scenery, breathtaking. My favorites are the swans and the buffalo crossing the road :)My kids are in college but they would love to go to Yellowstone. Someday soon!

  2. I am so jealous, I have always wanted to visit. Great post!

  3. Gorgeous pictures! Something about being out in nature is so calming. Hope to be able to visit Yellowstone one day.

  4. Wow, these pictures are amazing! What kind of camera do you use?

  5. I really want to go there! I also love wildlife. I’ve volunteered for Wildlife center for couple of months, and this place looks very exciting! I went to Bearizona earlier this summer in AZ, it was the closest I could get for now for wildlife animals. -although they don’t have the same freedom as Yellowstone.

    Hopefully one day soon! 🙂

  6. Awww! I love Yellowstone! I haven’t been since I was a kid, though. I remember there being a ton of buffalo on the road and there was a line of cars because of it!

  7. Well goodness! Right in the middle of the road lol. You had some good animal spotting moments, and you captured great pictures! ☺️

  8. So jealous! I’ve ALWAYS wanted to visit Yellow Stone!!

  9. Loved your pictures. I spent two days in Yellowstone and never got tired of seeing the buffalo or them crossing the road. Such a beautiful place! I would like to go back and see more of it.

  10. I just love going new places and seeing what type of wildlife is there 🙂

  11. My parent’s just visited there, they would have loved this list before they went! Bummer! Next time they will be ready =)

  12. Ahhh…I love your photos of the fabulous wildlife at Yellowstone National Park. The last time I was there I was a teenager. I live in California so we take annual trips to Yosemite, but I would really like to re-visit Yellowstone. It’s so beautiful! Thanks so much for all the great details. This post is a summer vacation inspiration!

    • Hi there! We were in Yosemite in July 2009 – also a very beautiful place! Yellowstone is just SO much bigger with lots of animals and the geysers. Thanks for commenting!

  13. wow sandy i love your photos!! the buffaloes are so cuuute!! and the park looks stunning!! <3

  14. Your pics are amazing. We’ve never been there – we live on another continent – but your photos brought us to this wonderful place. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Sandy, your pics are amazing x what a talented lady, and I enjoyed your article … Yellowstone park is somewhere I have always wanted to visit

  16. Wildlife watching is what I love to do on my trips. This post make my day!

  17. I’ve never seen a buffalo in my life! They are sooo enormous and cool! What was the best of the park visiting? Amazing shots as well! 🙂

    • The buffalo are HUGE and there are so many of them there. It is really hard to say what the best part was because there are so many amazing parts of Yellowstone. I honestly have to say that the wildlife is at the top of our list!

  18. I can’t believe I’ve never been to Yellowstone – but I love how you’ve captured it and I’m definitely going to have to book a trip soon 🙂

    • Yellowstone is one the THE top places to see in North America, particularly if you love beautiful landscapes and wildlife. Thanks so much for commenting!

  19. Very nice detailed blog! Thanks for the tips. Would love to go to a national park someday, somewhere where the wild is free to roam.

  20. We found it’s easy to spot wildlife in Yellowstone if you start exploring early in the morning or right before Sunset, when animals go hunting 🙂

    • You are so right! The animals are always on the move very early in the morning. The light is wonderful for photos at that time of day as well.

  21. Great captures. Quiet informative. Worth reading😎

  22. I have plans of visiting Lamar Valley some day. I love those swans at Hayden Valley. All these spots are truly the best spots to see at Yellowstone. Cheers!!

  23. Loved the pics in this post! Your photos tell an amazing story all in of themselves. Beautiful photography, and beautiful post. Yellowstone is on our bucket list of places to share with our kiddos some day. Thanks for the post!

    • Thank you so much for your comments, Jacqueline Marie! You really need to go to Yellowstone. Thanks so much for stopping by 🙂

  24. Please take me here. I always wanted to do this but never get the chance. I wanted to see animals roaming around in huge land areas and not in a 4 corner.

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