Yellowstone Wildlife Watching: Elk Bugles to Wolf Howls

All seasons and in all quadrants of Yellowstone park

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Want to see wildlife in action? Grab the binoculars and head to Yellowstone National Park. Year round, you’ll find prime Yellowstone wildlife watching of animals in their natural habitat.

Certain times of year provide special wildlife watching opportunities. Spring is the time to see baby animals: wolves, bison, and elk. In early June, go to see colorful harlequin ducks that have flown in from the West Coast for nesting at LeHardy Rapids. Summer provides waterways full of birds—ducks, trumpeter swans, and geese—while pronghorn graze in meadows. Go in fall to see the elk rut, when bulls bugle through the night to round up harems. Even winter has good wildlife watching for fox, coyote, and snowshoe hares.

When you are wildlife watching, keep your distance—for your safety and the safety of the animals. Even docile-looking bison have injured people, and crowding animals forces them away from where they are feeding.

Year-Round Yellowstone Wildlife Watching All Around the Park


It’s easy to spot elk in Mammoth Hot Springs. They often hang around on the lawns in front of the hotel and saunter through the campground. If you want to see antlers on males, then plan to visit in fall when the annual growth of their racks reach maturity.

Just up the road on a high plateau, wildlife clusters around small lakes. Swan Lake often has ducks and geese while bison roam the surrounding sagebrush meadows of Gardners Hole. Bears and wolves may also appear.

For the closest place to stay, make reservations in the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel or plan to camp in the campground just below the village.

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No doubt the most popular wildlife watching location, the high-elevation Lamar Valley fills with wildlife: bison, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, sandhill cranes, and wolves. West of Lamar, a gravel spur road leading to Slough Creek Campground often attracts wildlife watchers for its broad mountain meadows where grizzly bears, wolves, and coyote visit.

North of Lamar Valley, the Absaroka Mountains contain mountain goats and bighorn sheep. Look for them in cliffs or where broken cliffs abut meadows. In spring, you can spot white shaggy goats adjacent to waterfalls on Barronette Peak.

For nearby places to stay, go to Roosevelt Lodge, Slough Creek Campground, or Pebble Creek Campground.


In Yellowstone’s central core, two rivers attract wildlife. Along the Madison River, meadows fill with bison and elk, particularly in spring and fall. You can also see bobcat, deer, and Canada geese. Likewise, the Gibbon River above the Madison flanks with meadows with abundant wildlife.

Around Old Faithful, bison are part of the scenery. Even in winter, a few linger, hunkering down in warm zones near hot springs and geysers.

For camping, opt for Madison Campground. For lodging, go to Old Faithful, where you can stay at Old Faithful Inn, Old Faithful Lodge, or Old Faithful Snow Lodge.


In Hayden Valley, tucked between Canyon Village and Lake Yellowstone, the road cuts through high sagebrush meadows flanking the Yellowstone River. Bison often wander onto the roads causing bison jams. You can also see trumpeter swans, elk, wolves, bears, moose, and Canada geese.

For overnighting, plan to stay at Canyon Campground or Canyon Lodge. You can also stay south of Hayden Valley at Fishing Bridge or Lake Village.


At the historic Fishing Bridge, you can see Yellowstone cutthroat trout spawning in spring. The fish sometimes attract bears intent on catching a meal. The Yellowstone River, which flows under the bridge, is home to bald eagles, muskrats, white pelicans, and osprey. Just east of Fishing Bridge, you can see many of these same species in the sloughs of Pelican Valley.

North of Fishing Bridge, the Yellowstone River picks up speed in LeHardy Rapids. The frothing water attracts harlequin ducks for spring nesting.

For places to stay, make reservations to camp at Fishing Bridge RV or Bridge Bay Campground. Also, Lake Lodge and Lake Hotel offer budget and high end accommodations.

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