“Where can I see a bear in Yellowstone?”
The question probably made me sound like a newbie, but that’s ok, because I was. It was my first visit to Yellowstone National Park, and I was eager to see grizzly bears, bison, wolves, bighorn sheep and whatever else the park had to offer.
I’m not a Yellowstone expert, but from my own visit and from talking to other travelers to Yellowstone, I’ve come up with a shortlist of places to see bears in Yellowstone. Read on for my suggestions.
In addition to these tips, another obvious strategy is to stop into any or all of the visitor centers and chat with the rangers on duty. They’re going to know where animals have been spotted in the previous few hours or days, so they’ll be your most reliable and current source of information.
To understand some of these directions, you’ll need access to a park map. The main roads of the huge park basically make a Figure 8. Take a look at this wildlife map for a cheat sheet.
While this post is a good guide, you never know where you may see wildlife in Yellowstone. If you’re staying at a park campground or one of the Yellowstone Airbnbs in the area, you might have an elk or buffalo roam right through your yard!
Where to see bears in Yellowstone
The map points out a black bear area around Roosevelt Lodge, and that’s where I saw my only black bear during my weekend visit. You can certainly look for bears while in the backcountry or while hiking Mt. Washburn, but you can also seem them driving in your car.
For black bears, the trick is to drive back and forth around the Roosevelt area or just south, and keep looking into the forest. Whenever there’s a line of cars, it means people have stopped to observe something. That’s the easiest way to spot wildlife in the park. I saw a black bear in the woods just before it slipped out of sight.
For grizzly bears, the map points to a small spot around Mr. Washburn and Dunraven Pass, and that is absolutely the best spot on the east side of the park to see grizzlies.
I saw one grizzly while hiking Mount Washburn on foot, and then two more from my car, both high up on the hillsides near Washburn. Keep an eye out, bring binoculars, and again, watch for cues from other visitors. Don’t be shy about going up to ask what they’re looking at!
Elsewhere, Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley are known as good places to do some bear watching. These areas have pullouts where you can sit, pull out your binoculars, and scan the landscape.
Obvious disclaimer: Bears are dangerous. Don’t do anything stupid! Bring bear spray, hike with a partner, and keep your distance. Bears rarely attack and kill humans, but the frequency of attacks has been increasing – read more about this in our fun facts about Yellowstone post.
Where to see bison in Yellowstone
Um, pretty much everywhere. When I first visited, I was driving through the west side of the park and saw a lone buffalo dozens of yards away. It was the first time I’d seen one in the wild, so I excitedly created a parking space along the side of the road, got out, zoomed and took photo after photo.
Imagine how silly I felt just a few hours later, by which time I had seen literally hundreds of bison throughout the park, including some within five feet of my van.
You cannot visit Yellowstone without seeing bison, so don’t even worry about it. One of the most high-traffic areas for bison is between Canyon Village and Fishing Bridge (see link to map above.)
If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll even see something like this.
Where to see wolves in Yellowstone
Near the park’s northeast entrance, east of Roosevelt Lodge, is a great spot for wolf watching. That area is home to a lot of streams and flat, wide-open areas that wolves enjoy, as well as several turnouts where you can park and watch.
A regular group of wolf-watchers often gathers in these areas with high-powered telescopes. When I arrived, an onlooker allowed me to look through his scope to view a pack of wolves feasting on a dead buffalo.
Later, I was able to see wolves with my own eyes when two of them swam across a small stream, ran up the hill and crossed the street.
Where to see bighorn sheep and mountain goats in Yellowstone
I didn’t see either of these animals in Yellowstone, so I’ll defer to the map, which shows small spots of each in the northern section of the park. You’ll probably need binoculars if you want to see these creatures, which will be high on the sides of mountains.
And I haven’t even mentioned the other wildlife in Yellowstone, like elk, pronghorn and deer. The possibilities are endless. The NPS has a guide on wildlife safety and facts. The golden rule is to stay at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves, and at least 25 yards away from most other animals.
You can pick up an official map when you enter the park or at the visitors center. Good luck with your wildlife viewing efforts in Yellowstone!
Do you have any tips on where to see bears in Yellowstone (or other wildlife)?