“Held within a wolf’s gaze has been everything I’ve needed to keep alive my sense of connection to the earth.”
Doug Smith, Senior Wildlife Biologist in Yellowstone National Park
Can’t make our spring dates? Consider our Winter and Fall Wolf Discovery Vacations.
Yellowstone National Park is the ultimate tourist destination in the summer (with millions of visitors) but in the shoulder season months it offers a solitude that is truly magical! Picture snow-covered peaks, bison and elk foraging for food, and thermal features steaming in the distance.
The northern Lamar Valley of Yellowstone (also referred to as Yellowstone’s Serengeti due to its amazing wildlife viewing throughout the year) is also likely the best place in the world to observe and learn about gray wolves. Wolves are a species that have inspired both controversy and admiration throughout time. When Yellowstone became the world’s first national park in 1872, the gray wolf was a native species. However, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the prevailing thought was that wolves were bad, so ranchers and government agencies exterminated them. By 1926, the wolf population in the Park was gone.
It took over 70 years to correct the negative consequences of removing such a key species in the ecosystem. In 1995, wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone and changed the local environment – and many wolf watchers – forever. Their ability to thrive in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem is one of the greatest success stories of the national park system in our lifetimes.
On this small group experience, we’ll be joined by our friend and wolf biologist, Jon Trapp (see his bio below), and also hear from other wolf experts along the way. We’ll spend two days as “wolf watchers” in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley, the best place on Earth to observe wolves. We’ll get out to hike to places like the Rose Creek acclimation pen, where the wolves lived for their first few months in the Park in 1995, or to the historic former den of Wolf #9. We’ll hear wolf stories and learn from naturalists and scientists about wolf biology and ecology, predator-prey relationships, conflict resolution for wolf and livestock, wolf competition with other species, wolf reproduction, wolf tracking, and more.
We’ll spend a good portion of our days on gorgeous trails in open valleys and narrow gorges, along bubbling creeks, among groves of Aspens, next to herds of bison, and near the steamy thermal features of Mammoth Hot Springs. One nice thing about doing a wolf-watching tour in Yellowstone in May: It’s denning season so we will be able to observe the pack working together to support the Alpha female and will view den sites to hopefully get a glimpse of the pups. (We also offer this Yellowstone Wolf Tour in February and October.)
On this Yellowstone Wolf Tour we spend the first three nights in the small town of Gardiner at the north entrance to Yellowstone, just steps away from the Roosevelt Arch that signifies the official entrance to the world’s first national park. Our last night is spent near a wolf (and grizzly) educational facility in West Yellowstone, where we’re guaranteed to see wolves, and perhaps fall asleep to their howls!
Wolf Biologist – Jon Trapp
Jon Trapp served overseas as an Air Force intelligence officer, worked as a wolf biologist across the West and is currently a national wildland fire manager. His experience with wolves ranges from Arizona and New Mexico with the Mexican Gray Wolf reintroduction program to Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. He has an undergraduate degree from Northern Arizona University and a masters degree in Conservation Biology.
Jon taught wolf ecology and management courses at the Yellowstone Institute for 15 years. He is the Assistant Fire Chief at Red Lodge Fire Rescue and is on two national fire incident management teams as a Fire Behavior Analyst. His experiences have brought about a unique perspective on wildlife, landscape ecology and the impacts of climate change.
Check out Jon’s story – From Wolves to Wildfires: A Firefighting Biologist’s Tale on the Got Science? podcast.
Offered in partnership with our sister company, Zephyr Adventures.
Benefits of Taking a Guided Vacation with Travel Montana >> By taking a guided tour your vacation will be even more amazing than it would be if you were on your own. Our guides are experts – not just in the outdoors – but in knowing the best restaurants, the best times and locations to view popular sights, the history of the region, and in interpersonal dynamics and creating group fun. It means you can let our team take care of every detail so you can actually relax and enjoy your vacation!
Zephyr Adventures / Travel Montana is an authorized permittee of Yellowstone National Park
- Activities: Hiking, Wolf Education & Wildlife Observation
- Duration: 5 days
Price Per Person
4 - 5 people: $3,750
6 - 7 people: $3,450
8+ people: $3,350
- Single Supplement: $1,100
> Our public tours will include Jon Trapp as a guide. It can be booked as a private tour but will have another qualified wildlife guide instead.
> This trip is currently limited to 10 participants
Public Tour Price: $3,350
- Public Tour Date: May 19 - 23, 2023
- Experience a national treasure – Yellowstone National Park – in a season where there are few other visitors
- Learn about one of Yellowstone's apex species from a wildlife biologist and other wolf experts
- Hike in one of the most beautiful locations in the country
- See wildlife such as bison, elk, wolves, fox, coyote, bald eagles and more
- Stay in the cute small town of Gardiner at the north entrance of Yellowstone
- See wolves and grizzly bears up close in a wildlife park and educational facility
We reserve the right to alter our listed itinerary based on current snow conditions and wildlife movement to maximize your enjoyment!
Your guides will meet you around lunchtime in Bozeman, Montana, where we begin and end our adventure. We’ll transfer from there through the Paradise Valley to the Wonderland Hotel, our basecamp in the small town of Gardiner for the week, about 90 minutes away. We’ll have a brief orientation, pack some energy food, and dress for the weather before heading toward the park’s northeast entrance and our first hike at Mammoth Hot Springs (Yellowstone’s headquarters).
The terraces are unique from other thermal areas of the park. As hot water rises through the limestone from below it interacts with hot gases and forms an acidic solution that dissolves the rock and ultimately deposits a white chalky material known as travertine, which forms beautiful terraces on the side of the hill that we can walk among. Because we are at a lower elevation than most of the Park, the early snow up high entice elk and deer to stick around and you’ll probably see many of them at Mammoth.
Tonight your guide(s) will host a happy hour and casual dinner in their lodge room with our special guest – wolf biologist Jon Trapp, who will be leading us on adventures and educating us about wolves for the next two days. We’ll get to bed early tonight as we’ll be out the door tomorrow before the crack of dawn!
Hiking Mileage: approximately 2 miles
After a very early breakfast, we'll pack our trail lunches and be on the road while it’s still dark. Our destination? Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley, arguably the best place in the world to see wolves, because they follow the ungulates (elk, deer, etc.) down from higher terrain at this time of year. As the pale morning light reaches the pristine valley, we’ll be on the hunt for glimpses of these ephemeral icons of the wilderness, armed with spotting scopes and binoculars. Our hope is to see a lone wolf, or a pack of wolves, as they awaken for the day and begin moving. As we trundle along the road, we’ll likely experience a few “buffalo jams” (Yellowstone’s version of traffic jams), and we’ll stop frequently to get out and view the landscape and the animals around us, and to hear from Jon about these majestic canines, who are once again such an integral part of the Yellowstone ecosystem.
At some point, we’ll get out to hike, starting at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch and following Rose Creek up to one of three wolf acclimation pens built for the controversial reintroduction of wolves in the park in 1995. Three wolves transported from Canada were housed in this historic pen until they would acclimatize and not run back north. The pen was opened after several months and the three wolves began their new life in Yellowstone.
You’ll be happy to relax with a glass of wine or hot chocolate next to the fire tonight and regale one another with stories from the day. We’ll have an early dinner at the Wonderland café before lights out. Another exciting day awaits us tomorrow!
Hiking Mileage: 3 miles
It is another early day for our Yellowstone Safari! We again steer toward Lamar Valley and it is “wolf jazz” all over – looking for tracks and other signs of wolves throughout our day. As we drive further into the Lamar Valley, we’ll keep our eyes open for bison, elk, deer, moose, coyote, fox, bighorn sheep, bald eagles and river otters. Wildlife in the valley is abundant and many of the Park’s species are foraging and preparing for the long winter season ahead. Our main hike today will be to the old den of wolf #9 (one of the first wolves in the Park after the reintroduction). Along the way, Jon will talk about den site selection, trophic cascade (a side-effect when a trophic level (species) of the ecosystem is reduced or removed), and wolf mate selection and biology.
We will also be on the lookout for Rick, the “alpha" wolf-watcher and Yellowstone’s biological technician for the Yellowstone Wolf Project. He uses telemetry equipment to track wolves, as most of the wolf packs include at least one wolf with a radio collar. He has been out in the Park observing wolves every day for the last 15 years! Typically, there are around 100 wolves in the Park at any given time. The Park is 2.2 million acres, so we’ll be lucky if and when we spot (or hear, which is almost as good!) any wolves.
Once again, dinner is at the Wonderland. Afterwards, we’ll don our warm clothes and walk guided by starlight, moonlight (or headlamp) to the iconic Roosevelt Arch to toast the world’s first national park.
Hiking Mileage: 2 miles
Before checking out today, we'll offer an optional early morning walk that begins at Mammoth Hot Springs and takes the old stagecoach road all the way back down to Gardiner. The sweeping vistas in the morning light can take your breath away, and there are usually plenty of bison, elk and antelope roaming nearby. We'll kiss Gardiner goodbye and head through the Park to West Yellowstone. Our main stop on route is Norris Geyser Basin, the hottest, oldest, and most dynamic of Yellowstone's thermal areas and home to Steamboat Geyser, the tallest geyser in the world -- when it erupts it can go up to 400 feet in the air (more than twice the height of Old Faithful)! There are over two miles of boardwalks and trails here to experience the hundreds of densely packed geothermal features in one of the most extreme environments on earth: geysers, pungent odors, hot springs with all the colors of the rainbow, microscopic life, and hissing steam.
We'll enjoy a final dinner together before tucking into bed. Perhaps we’ll be serenaded by the wolves who live across the street from our hotel as we drift off to sleep!
Hiking Mileage: up to 6 miles
After breakfast, we'll walk over to visit the wolves and grizzlies at The Wolf and Grizzly Discovery Center, a non-profit Wildlife Park and Educational Facility that features bears, wolves, otters and other animals. After viewing and snapping photos of these beautiful animals, you’ll have time to shower and pack up before we check out and return to Bozeman by 11:30, where you can choose to extend your vacation or return home.Book This Vacation
NIGHTS 1 - 3 >> WONDERLAND LODGE / GARDINER, MONTANA Wonderland is new, beautiful, and small – only 6 super cozy rooms – and conveniently has a great restaurant on the main floor. It is in the heart of the tiny downtown of Gardiner, right next to the entrance of Yellowstone National Park. From our home base, we can set out on a variety of adventures.
NIGHT 4 >> KELLY INN / WEST YELLOWSTONE, MONTANA Our last night is spent in the center of town at a casual and friendly hotel. Just a 2-minute walk from the wolves at the Wolf & Grizzly Recovery Center, and just about everything else in this small town!
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Arrival & Departure
Your guides meet you in the cool mountain town of Bozeman, Montana around lunchtime on the first day of the trip. If it’s possible for you to fly and arrive that morning, we can meet you at the airport. Otherwise, you can arrive any time the day before the trip begins. We’ll return to Bozeman’s airport the last afternoon of the trip, allowing you to fly out early that afternoon. We can also leave you in downtown Bozeman so you can extend your stay, or visit nearby Big Sky. Bozeman (airport code BZN) is served by many major airlines: Alaska Air, Allegiant, Delta, Frontier, and United.
- A local Zephyr guide will be joined by another Zephyr guide if the group size dictates.
- Wolf biologist and educator, Jon Trapp, will also join the group for two days and two nights.
- Our trip prices are based on double occupancy. If you are traveling solo, you can pay a supplement to get your own room or we can attempt to match you with another solo traveler of the same gender, in which case a supplement will not be charged if we are successful.
- All of your dinners and breakfasts are included, as well as trail lunches each day (starting with dinner on Day 1 and ending with breakfast on Day 5). Gratuity for these meals is also included.
- All your transportation is included once you meet your guides on the first day.
- Trail passes and park entrance fees are included.
- NOT INCLUDED: Beverages, desserts, optional gratuities to your guides, personal expenses, and travel to and from the destination.
Gardiner is over 5,000 feet and Mammoth Hot Springs is over 6,000 feet in elevation, so it could snow. However, it could just as easily offer glorious blue-sky days! Weather is always unpredictable and spring in Yellowstone is no exception. In May, daytime highs average in the 50s and 60s and nights can get down into the 30s. Our packing list will ensure that you are prepared for all types of weather Mother Nature throws at us.
Changes to Your Itinerary
While everything under “What is Included” will remain the same, the actual restaurants, hotels, and activities listed in our itineraries are subject to modifications. Changes that are out of our control are common – a restaurant closes or loses its awesome chef, a winery changes its visiting hours, a hotel gets remodeled, a road or trail undergoes construction. You are entrusting us to create an outstanding vacation for you and so it is possible we may take the liberty of making necessary changes (even at the last minute, during the guides’ scout trip) to the itinerary that will improve your overall trip experience. If there is any one experience that is going to make or break your trip, please discuss this with us in advance! We attempt to keep our website itinerary as current as possible and communicate any major changes with you in the weeks prior to the tour.
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Interested in booking a vacation but still have questions? No problem!