I woke up on this particular Thursday morning like a child waking on Christmas morning. Full of excitement and expectation on what the next few days would bring, I was ready to see scenery and features I had seen hundreds if not thousands of times in photographs. It was time to head into Yellowstone National Park, and I was totally up for being awestruck with weird and wonderful sights, sounds and probably smells.
Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park.
Unlike the majority of this road trip, we had planned this particular few days by pre-booking accommodation about a week ahead. Despite being so vast (the size of Yellowstone National Park alone is bigger than the county of Lincolnshire back home in the UK, and Lincolnshire is a big county!), places to stay can be very expensive and book up far in advance. We were too late to find accommodation inside the National Park – camping or otherwise, but found some great spots on the outskirts that would allow us to spend four or five days exploring this one-of-a-kind location. We had one night in Alpine to the south, two nights in Cody to the east, and two nights in West Yellowstone.
Too Quick Through Grand Tetons National Park
I’ll put my hand up and say that we underestimated the Grand Tetons National Park a little and only allowed ourselves opportunity to ride through it and into Yellowstone. It sits just south of Yellowstone National Park and rather than just being a bit of an add on to its more famous brother, is a huge and very beautiful park in its own right that probably deserved a lot more of our time. The road through the park was stunning; the mountains on our left were dominant and I was peering into the meadows on our right the whole time hoping to catch a glimpse of a moose or a bear or something. Actually we were in the park about three minutes before we saw a herd of elk.
The Grand Tetons National Park.
You’ll be pleased to know we at least didn’t stick to the main road. We always picked up one of the NPS maps whenever we got into National Parks for the first time and stopped to have a quick look; it showed the winding Jackson Lake Road that took us around some of the lakes in the park, so we took that – and were very glad we did. Quieter than the main road, the views were stunning. We grabbed some lunch from one of the grocery stores in the park and stopped at Jackson Lake Dam to eat it, where we were joined by a very inquisitive chipmunk who was no doubt hoping we’d drop a crumb or two.
If we hadn’t already have planned our accommodation for the next few days we’d have found somewhere near this park to stay so we could spend a little more time exploring, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be this time. We couldn’t do everything. I definitely want to return and learn more about the park we didn’t really know much about.
Wildlife in Yellowstone National Park
We’d already seen some amazing wildlife on our road trip through North America, including a black bear (in Sequoia) and the cutest yellow bellied marmot (in the Rockies), but now we felt like we were really deep into where the animals like to live. Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park have black bears, grizzly bears, moose, elk, deer, bison, mountain lions (bobcats), coyote, marmots and all kinds of other slightly smaller but no less impressive creatures. During the few days we made our way around the park we made an effort to keep our eyes open and do as much wildlife spotting as we possibly could, and we were not disappointed.
Riding through Yellowstone National Park.
On arrival in Yellowstone National Park we headed for one of the visitor’s centres to watch the orientation video, as had become our routine. In it were lots of tips on where to go to see different animals, information about what to do when, not if, you come across large animals close to the road, and warnings about the strange phenomenon known as “wildlife jams”. As Yellowstone in home to so many animals, inevitably they end up on the roads, and this can cause chaos. The speed limit is low to help prevent accidents, you are discouraged from driving around at night, and there are plenty of laybys so you can stop safely to view wildlife rather than blocking the road. You can be pretty sure that if you come across a traffic jam with people parking their cars in the most random patterns, you’ve probably come across some amazing creature to look at and so you end up getting excited when you see a line of cars!
Having rode through bison ranches in Utah, I knew these animals were huge, and we couldn’t wait to see them in the wild. They were everywhere! By the end of our few days in Yellowstone we had probably seen thousands of them, some chilling out on their own, others in a group of hundreds wandering across the plain on their usual migration pattern. We came across them stood at the side of the road, sat by the footpath to some of the geysers, sat on the very thin crust over some of the hot pools (I don’t know how something that heavy was sitting there without falling in), and down in the valleys away from the crowds and cars and cameras. They might be common here but they are quite magnificent.
Difficult to see in the photo but you are looking at a herd of over 1,000 bison move across the plain. Such an amazing sight.
So many bison.
Hanging around one of the thermal areas.
Chilling right by one of the footpaths.
Covered in Yellowstone mud.
There is just something so special about being in bear territory. I mean, back home in the UK we might on occasion come across a wild pony or if we’re lucky a wild bear (but I’ve never seen one of those), but here there are bears, both of the black and the grizzly variety. We had a tip off on our way back from walking to see a waterfall that there was a black bear wandering along the side of the road about a mile away. We were heading that way anyway, and soon came across the tell-tale traffic jam that meant there was something around. As we rode along, very slowly, there was a black bear wandering through the trees on our left hand side. It is a true privilege to see bears in the wild and even though we were not able to stop and grab any particularly useful photos of this one, I will always remember turning my head and seeing the large brown furry animal meandering along on all fours. Beautiful.
Other Sightings and the Unseens
The big animals are everywhere in Yellowstone; this is their home after all. We saw stag elk, elk and deer around the park and even spotted a coyote running across a meadow on the way out on our first day.
Is this an elk or a deer?
Sadly for me we didn’t spot any moose, which had been right at the top of my list, and while we think we might have seen a grizzly bear in the distance working its way up a steep hill we didn’t have a long enough lens or binoculars with us so couldn’t confirm the sighting. Even without those two slight disappointments I was blown away by the wildlife I saw in Yellowstone and felt we’d been very fortunate to see what we did. I chatted to a Ranger about moose specifically and she said I should explore the Grand Tetons if I want to see one as they are more common a little further south. This area was right at the top of the “must go” list before we started this road trip and I have to admit it’s still right up there, I would love to go back to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, especially on a moose finding expedition!
Yellowstone National Park.
There’s a second post dedicated to Yellowstone here – this time all about awesome geology.
Watch the video…