Winter in Yellowstone is the prime time for wildlife viewing. Sure, many species migrate out of the park in winter, and some hibernate—we’re looking at you, grizzly—but for the other animals, winter brings a peaceful lull to typically busy areas of the park, making them potentially more visible. On the same token, colder temperatures draw them down from remote mountaintops to within range of your spotting scope. Here are some of the best places in Yellowstone to spot winter wildlife.
The expansive reaches of the Lamar Valley holds many benefits for wildlife viewing. For starters, you can enjoy wide-open views of the valley, just from the road. Possibly more important, this is one of the few routes open and plowed for conventional vehicles in the winter. And on top of that, it’s a known home for bison, black bears, bighorn sheep, elk, grizzly bears, mule deer, pronghorn, and wolves, to name just a few of the top animals to spot in the park.
It’s common to see herds of bison, elk, and pronghorn before you even drive past the entrance station at the North Entrance in Gardener. You also could spot some bighorn sheep along the way as you start your drive toward Mammoth Hot Springs.
In winter, the road inside the park is open all the way through the Lamar Valley to Cooke City, where you might be able to spot some moose, among other critters. As the largest of North American Cervids (that’s the deer family), these guys are ones you’ll want to check off your list.
But it’s not like wildlife sticks within drawn-out boundary lines. So here are the field notes to what habitat to look for when you’re scouting for specific species of Yellowstone wildlife.
Bison like grasslands, which means there are many spots throughout the northern part of the park where you may spot them.
These fellas migrate with the seasons. In winter, they’re likely to prefer grasslands.
Forested habitat or grasslands.
Diverse, but primarily open grasslands.
Riparian, marshy, or dense forested habitats are where you’re most likely to find these guys.
Rough, rocky terrain with steep cliffs—but don’t forget they need meadows or grasslands nearby too.
Prefer wooded habitats—less likely to spot, so any viewing of this preditor from the safety of a car should be celebrated!
Anything from prairies to riparian zones (along rivers) or denser forests.
Whenever you’re out in the park, remember to observe wildlife safely and respectfully. That means remaining at least 100 meters from wolves and bears, and at least 25 meters from all other wildlife. If you have questions about wildlife viewing etiquette and laws, it’s always best to speak to a park ranger before heading out. You don’t want to wind up the subject of next year’s bad behavior viral video—in the worst possible way.
But the important thing to remember is to grab your binoculars and get out there to enjoy wildlife viewing in Yellowstone.