On January 12, 1995 gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park, correcting the eradication man had inflicted on this keystone species from most of the western United States. After decades, it was again possible to see wolves in Yellowstone!
Many people are understandably fascinated with wolves. They have been glorified and vilified in story, book, and film. They are a keystone species (pretty much everything in the ecosystem in which they live depends on them) and an apex predator. They are rugged, beautiful, and full of intrigue.
Yellowstone Is The Best Way in the World to See Wolves in the Wild
The reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone had an unintended side effect. It produced the world’s single greatest opportunity to see wolves in the wild.
Yellowstone is mountainous and cold in the winter. Snow falls and can create deep drifts that make it difficult for ungulates (hoofed animals such as deer, elk, and bison) to move around and find food. Therefore, in the winter time, these animals tend to congregate in lower elevations of the park.
The Lamar Valley is one such area. Relatively flat, at a lower elevation, with plenty of vegetation, and with the Lamar Valley as a source of water running right through it, the valley is perfect for elk. That makes it perfect, in winter, for wolves.
And what makes the Lamar Valley perfect for wolf viewing is there is a paved road running straight down the valley that remains plowed all winter long and is within a reasonable distance of both sides of the valley at all times.
How to See Wolves in Yellowstone National Park
We have a few suggestions on how to see the wolves of Yellowstone National Park.
- Visit in the Winter. Not only do wolves come down more often into the Lamar Valley, as indicated above, but they also tend to be more visible against the white snow. However, wolves are in the park year round so any time can be wolf viewing time.
- Watch the wolf watchers. These are the folks who come out frequently, sometimes every day. If you see a bunch of people with telescopes set up, they are probably watching something interesting.
- Bring binoculars or a telescope. The bigger the better. Having said that, you will encounter wildlife watchers throughout the Lamar Valley – sometimes in large groups when wolves have been spotted. Most are happy to share their expertise and sometimes offer their scope that is already set up to see a wolf.
- Get up early or stay out late. Wolves tend to be more active in the early morning or late afternoon hours just after dawn and before dusk.
- Keep Alert. Even when you are not in prime wolf territory or actively searching, in Yellowstone it is always worth keeping alert and your eyes scanning the nearby and far off terrain. Sometimes you will just see a flicker of movement that reveals an animal sighting.
- Consider hiring an expert. It is possible to hire a wolf expert as a day guide or consider joining us on our Wolf Adventure in Yellowstone!
Remember to keep your expectations in check. In winter, you are likely to see a wolf if you spend a time in the Lamar Valley, pay attention to the wolf watchers, and have or borrow a telescope. While you might not see something exciting like a pack of wolves chasing an elk, it does happen. Besides, by looking for wolves you might have other great animal sightings. And Yellowstone is beautiful anyway!