By Christine Gianas Weinheimer
We’ve seen the viral photos and videos: wildlife close encounters of the wrong kind. But the fact is that animal attacks in Yellowstone are relatively rare and almost always preventable. It is easy to enjoy observing the park’s magnificent animals without putting yourself at risk.
“If you follow these five safety tips and take the Yellowstone Pledge (go.nps.gov/YellowstonePledge), you will protect yourself and protect this exceptional place,” said Morgan Warthin, public affairs specialist for Yellowstone National Park. “Thanks for being a steward of Yellowstone.”
1. Enjoy wildlife from a safe distance. Park regulations say you must stay at least 100 yards—the length of a football field—away from bears and wolves, and at least 25 yards away from all other large animals such as bison, elk, bighorn sheep, moose and coyotes. Don’t forget—bears and bison can easily outrun you, so maintain a safe distance from wildlife at all times.
2. Carry bear spray. If you plan to hike in Yellowstone, bring bear spray and know how to use it. This is just as important for day hikes as it is for overnight hikes. You can purchase bear spray at numerous locations throughout the park, including Yellowstone Forever Park Stores, and even rent it at Canyon Village.
3. Follow instructions. Park rangers work hard to keep visitors informed and safe. If a wildlife closure is posted, steer clear of the area. If a roadside ranger asks you to return to your car, do it as quickly as possible. If hitting a trail, inquire at the nearest visitor center beforehand whether there has been bear activity in the area.
4. Keep your children close and your dogs closer. It’s easy to get distracted during the thrill of spotting a large mammal in Yellowstone, but never leave small children unattended. If you have a dog, make sure it can’t jump out of your car windows, and keep your furry friend leashed when outdoors.
5. Be informed. Before your visit, check out the park’s official website at nps.gov/yell to watch videos on wildlife safety and how to use bear spray.
Now you’re ready for your Yellowstone wildlife-watching adventure. But what if you see someone else violating wildlife safety guidelines? If you witness someone getting too close to wildlife, report it immediately to the nearest ranger or call 911, which will alert law enforcement rangers in the area.
Yellowstone Forever—the official nonprofit partner of Yellowstone National Park—raises funds annually to support the Wildlife & Visitor Safety Program, in which roving rangers and volunteers provide information at park locations where wildlife and visitors are in close proximity. Learn more at Yellowstone.org.