Yellowstone National Park: Bears, Bison & Basins

Having loved every second spent watching polar bears in Svalbard, finding their smaller relatives – black and grizzly bears – was top of my list when I visited Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, USA this summer. And my luck held. Between Canyon Village and Fishing Bridge in the Hayden Valley was a bison carcass. According to rangers it had been hit by a vehicle and staggered a short distance from the road before it died. A mother grizzly had found it and dragged it further, covering it in grasses to save it for herself and her two cubs. Each evening we went back and watched the family arrive – the cubs standing on their back legs to look around. One cub seemed ravenous, feeding until the last possible moment and then racing after his mother and sibling as they left. The other cub seemed more interested in playing, rolling in the grass and occasionally looking up towards the ridge where rangers kept watch over the tourists.

As if to remind me how lucky I was to spend so much time so close to the bears, my other bear sightings were fleeting. Up near Tower-Roosevelt I found a black bear with a cub balancing along a fallen tree trunk, with the cub practicing his climbing in a tiny fir! As well as bears, there were also bison. On day one when I saw my first bison I was amazed by its size and spent ages watching it graze alongside the road with small birds perched on its back. On day two I was admiring huge herds of bison with calves in the Lamar Valley, and day three they were causing traffic jams. I didn’t find any moose, but saw elk and even glimpsed a young pronghorn antelope.

Yellowstone is famous not only for its wildlife, but for the incredible geothermal features. Whilst the grand prismatic pool is dramatic because of its size, Old Faithful geyser is good to visit because of its predictability, and the Mammoth hot springs are incredible with their terraces of waffle-like layers, they all draw huge crowds. However there are lots of other geothermal basins, geysers and pools which have just as beautiful colours, as pungent sulphur smells and as intriguing lunar-like landscapes, without the crowds. My top tips for visiting are below.

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My top tips:

  • Visit the Lamar Valley during the day for bison herds
  • Hayden Valley in the 2 hours before sunset is good for bears, and apparently also wolves
  • Check the recent sightings board at the information centre at West Yellowstone on your way in to the park (also check for any roadworks in the park and try to avoid them!)
  • Use the geyser prediction website to plan your trip to Old Faithful, but make sure to leave time for the quieter geothermal sights between Grant Village and Madison
  • Avoid Mammoth Hot Springs around meal times and Old Faithful after the geyser has erupted as they become packed
  • We stayed at Lake Village which was great for late evening access to Hayden Valley and allows you to enjoy Lake views at dusk

To see more of my travel photography, please visit my website: www.hannahlarkinphotography.com.

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