Wildlife spotting in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons
A lot of people go to these national parks just to see the wildlife. Although there is a lot more to these parks than wildlife, you will probably see your fair share. I definitely felt like we did.
My public service announcement is this: Don’t feed the animals and don’t get too close. Feeding the animals leads to them being dependent on us and causing trouble in populated areas. Those things can get them relocated or even killed. Respect the power of nature (and a giant bear or bison) and don’t get too close to the animals. Snapping millions of pictures will take away from you overall enjoyment of the entire experience. Not to mention if you aren’t paying attention, those pics could be dangerous. These national parks are not zoos.
Okay, PSA done. Let’s get to what wildlife we were lucky enough to see.
Moose: A lot of people wanted to see moose, including my boys. We didn’t see any moose on our trip. We did spot moose on our trip to Alaska two years ago, twice. And one of them was with a baby moose (moose calf?). According to mooseworld, you are more likely to see moose in Alaska. It has to do with the temperatures.
Bears: Some people hope to never see a bear while on vacation. Make sure you pick up some bear spray in the area if you think it will make you feel better to have it. The spray will burn human skin easily, so be careful with it. You only spray it towards a bear, no where else.
We did see a bear cub in Yellowstone. The cub was actually scampering across the road to get to a marshy tree lined area. It was probably trying to hide. We were in our car, and it happened very quickly. That’s why I don’t have any pictures of it. Our guides told us about 2 momma bears in the area that the forest service was tracking that typically have cubs in the spring. We assumed it was one of theirs. But as anyone with wildlife experience will tell you, don’t get between a momma bear and her cub. So I was secretly glad we were in the car, and our sighting was brief.
Deer: I mentioned the deer that showed up at our campsite breakfast in the Grand Tetons on the first day. It was somewhat quiet and I can see why she thought it might be safe. Later in Yellowstone, we spotted a deer next to the path to Uncle Toms cabin. That path was loud and crowded, even I was overstimulated. So I was surprised to see a deer there. It stayed there longer than I did. We also spotted a lone deer on the Clear Lake hike. It seemed more beautiful when we were the only ones looking at her for as far as the eye could see.
Elk: If you haven’t been close to elk before, they are big. Our campsite at Grant Village in Yellowstone seemed full of them. The kids went exploring in the woods and found what they called the worlds largest elk toilet. It helps to be able to recognize scat.
After a grueling bike ride up the continental divide, we decided to stop and walk around the boardwalks at the West Thumb Geyser Basin. A HUGE elk in full velvet (that means his antlers were covered in velvet like fur) was feeding on grass right next to a geyser. Jaws dropped, cameras snapped, we could have stayed to watch him for hours. There was a park ranger letting everyone know that the elk has the right of way and if he moves, you better move and get at least 15 feet away from him. Although I had seen elk many times before, I will never forget that.
Bison: The Lamar Valley in Yellowstone is nicknamed the Serengeti of the United States. Lots of people see bison, bears, wolves, etc. The day we stopped by there were LOTS of bison and pronghorn antelope. Make sure you pack binoculars unless you have X-ray vision. The bison actually run on the road sometimes and are quite annoyed by cars. We rode in the car right next to one that was running. We could hear it breathing and grunting without even rolling the windows down.
We never saw wolves, or large bears on our trip. There are great books about the return of wolves to Yellowstone. Almost everyone we talked to, said they were most excited to see the wildlife in these National Parks. It made me feel a little sorry for the mountains, waterfalls, and geysers that make up the landscape. If the only reason you are going to these areas is to see wildlife, you might come away disappointed. Hopefully, you’ll leave the parks amazed at everything they have to offer.