Watching Wildlife at Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is one of the best places in the world to watch some of the most magical big game animals roam in freedom. That’s why Yellowstone is such a popular destination for travelers – not only does it have the geysers, but it has the wildlife, too.

What are these majestic beasts you can behold in Yellowstone? Let’s look at some of their “top” species for wildlife watching.

Yellowstone’s Most Watched Animals

Photograph of a Bald Eagle

Bald Eagles: If you want to see bald eagles in the sky roaming free, then head over to Yellowstone National Park. Noted for their big white heads and tails, as well as their symbolism of American freedom, bald eagles – once at the point of extinction – have made a big comeback in America.

Photograph of a Bear with Cubs

Bears: Yellowstone is home to both grizzly bears and black bears. Grizzly bears can run up to 45 miles per hour, feeding on nuts, berries, plant roots, and other animals. They are often agitated when confronted and are more likely to attack than a black bear. A black bear is more common than a grizzly bear, found across North America. They have shorter, more curved claws than grizzly bears and are not aggressive.

Photograph of Bison

Bison: thanks to the conservation efforts of 100-yers ago, the American bison can be witnessed in Yellowstone. In fact, Yellowstone is home to the nation’s largest bison population on public land. These creatures can weigh up to 2,000 pounds, roaming for hundreds of miles to find food. They are characterized by their thick winter coats.

Photograph of Elk

Elk: There are between 10,000 and 20,000 elk living in Yellowstone today. During the winter, most elk will retreat from the park. They are known to be the most abundant large mammal in Yellowstone, with antlers that can weigh about 30 pounds per pair.

Photograph of a wolf

Rocky Mountain Wolves: Due to a destruction of habitat, wolves have largely retreated from the United States northward today. These creatures used to roam as far south as Mexico, with only 100 wolves calling Yellowstone their home today. Commonly traveling in packs of 10 or more, wolves communicate through barks, whines, growls, and howls. They will not attack unless provoked.

Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout: The most abundant fish in the park is the Yellowstone cutthroat trout. These native trout are an important food for at least 16 species of birds and mammals. Defined by their red-orange mark under their jaw, these trout can be found in the cool, clean water streams and lakes around the park confines.

Beavers: This keystone species can be found all over the park, with beaver dams galore. As a crepuscular species, meaning they are active in the morning and evening hours, beavers live in family groups and feed off of willow, aspen, and cottonwood. They also rely on underwater plants for nourishment.

Bighorn Sheep: Although these sheep are widely dispersed over the Rocky Mountains, they can also be found in fragmented populations throughout the park. Named for the large, curved horns on the males, male sheephorn can be spotted by having head-butting contests to win over a female.

Boreal Chorus Frogs: Due to their small size and secretive habitats, it can be hard to spot these frogs. However, you will certainly hear them as you make your way around the park.
Long-Tailed Weasels: Cute as can be, the long-tailed weasel can be spotted in forests, open grassy meadows, marshes, and near water. Spotted as a solitary creature, they are known for their long, sleek bodies and small heads. Their fur turns completely white during the winter.

Moose: The largest member of the deer family, the moose, is commonly found in Yellowstone. Although relatively harmless, these massive creatures can get aggressive if threatened or scared.

Pikas: Considered an indicator species for detecting ecological effects of climate change, the pika inhabits rocky alpines and sub-alpine areas. Active during the daytime, be sure to look at the ground when you are walking to try and spot one.

River Otters: Yes, Yellowstone is home to the North American River Otter! As the most aquatic member of the weasel family, these otters can stay underwater for an impressive length of 8-minutes. They are also naturally waterproof and completely adorable.

Trumpeter Swans: Named for its trumpet call, the Trumpeter Swan is North America’s biggest waterfowl. Able to sleep on land or on water, swans make for gorgeous lake pictures set against Yellowstone’s natural flora.

With many more animal options for you to consider, you can see that there is no shortage of animal appreciation within the confines of the park. Just remember to keep your distance!

Viewing Locations

Where are the best places within the park to see these animals?

  • Fishing Bridge: grizzly bears
  • Hayden Valley: bison, black bears, elk, grizzly bears, wolves
  • Lamar Valley: bison, black bears, bighorn sheep, elk, grizzly bears, mule, deer, pronghorn, wolves
  • Mammoth Hot Springs: bison, black bears, elk, mule deer
  • Madison: bison, elk
  • North Entrance: bighorn sheep, bison, elk, pronghorn
  • Northeast Entrance: moose
  • Old Faithful: bison, elk
  • South Entrance: moose
  • West Thumb: elk, moose

When Should You Go?

Seasonality plays a role in every American National Park. However, when it comes to Yellowstone, the wildlife viewing opportunities are amazing any time of year. You can catch the animals feeding during early morning and evening hours. If you want to see hibernation animals, like bears, you can catch them awakening from their slumber during April. However, although they aren’t around in the winter, you can still get a perfect view of a wolf, which prefers to do most of its roaming during the colder months.

Of course, if you hate crowds, the colder, winter months are when the park experiences the least amount of visitors. Naturally, the summer is when it is its busiest.