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Back 40: A guide to viewing Yellowstone wildlife

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Story and photos by John Layshock Yellowstone Alpen Guides

June is an exciting and dynamic month in Yellowstone National Park, and this season – after heavy winter snowfall – is no exception. Wildlife viewers with a keen eye can witness numerous sightings including bear, wolf, raptors, bighorn sheep, otter, antelope, and bison, among others.

Bears have been especially active this spring. The lasting, deep snowpack and subsequent warm weather has made good food readily available, and there have been multiple bear sightings throughout the park each day, especially on the northern loop.

While avid animal viewers – especially wolf watchers – are usually up in the morning before first light, wildlife activity really gets going around 3 p.m. and viewing opportunities last until it’s too dark to see.

Raptors, including peregrine falcon and osprey, are hatching eggs. Newly born bisonlayshock_red_dog_bison – called “red dogs” due to their red appearance before they turn brown in August – are everywhere. On a recent trip I guided, we saw pronghorn antelope twins that were only hours old.

My rule for sighting animals is to keep your eyes open: You can see anything at anytime, and in any part of Yellowstone. All you need is time and luck.

There are many eager locals and professionals out there, and I highly recommend talking to them. Most are friendly and excited to share information with you, and they’re easy to find. Just look for expensive spotting equipment and cameras, local license plates, and vehicle stickers depicting wolves or bears.

Here are some specific animals to look for, and where you’re likely to see them:

Spot falcons in nests high on the basalt cliffs and bighorn sheep in the canyon at Tower Falls, while osprey nest on the north canyon overlook; keep an eye out for harlequin ducks on rocks in the Lehardy Rapids between Yellowstone Lake and Hayden Valley, and moose and bear on the Blacktail Plateau and petrified tree area. Otter and spawning trout are right under your nose at Trout Lake. Also find otter – as well as wolves – along the Gibbon River from Madison Junction to Norris Junction.

In the Lamar and Hayden valleys you’re likely to find grizzly bear, elk, antelope and maybe a badger. The northern bison herd has produced hundreds of red dogs this year. Moose and mountain goats can be found from Pebble Creek to Barronette Mountain in the northeast section of the park.

While wildlife viewers are lucky to see wolves, it does happen every day. In more than 100 days of guiding each year, I see wolves on average a dozen different times. With the right information on current activities, layshock_wolfit’s possible to see a wolf one in four days, but be prepared for long hours: To see wolves, most viewers are in the park daily before first light, and remain there after dark. There are many wolf watchers in Yellowstone who are friendly and willing to share beta.

Remember to follow the rules and etiquette of our national park. Respect the animals’ space and the visitor experience. Don’t feed or whistle at the wildlife; don’t park in the road; don’t throw objects into thermal features; and stay on the boardwalks!

John Layshock is a professional tour/photography guide with seven years of experience with Yellowstone Alpen Guides in West Yellowstone. Book trips or ask him questions by calling (406) 646-9591 or visiting YAG runs daily public and private tours of Yellowstone National Park year round.

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