Planning a trip to Yellowstone National Park?
When we visited Yellowstone National Park over the 4th of July in 2008, I was astonished by two things. First, that Yellowstone is big enough to comfortably accommodate large summer holiday crowds. Second, the park is full of wildlife that can be seen readily from the main roads.
Yellowstone isn't a zoo, so there are no guaranteed wildlife sightings. However, there are so many animals in Yellowstone National Park that your odds of seeing large grazing animals like elk, bison or moose are excellent. Bears, coyote, fox and other predators are harder to spot, but sightings are not uncommon, especially early or late in the day.
My family spotted a bear, coyote, bald eagles and countless bison and elk on our first trip to Yellowstone, without doing anything special. Just keep your eyes peeled and the camera handy.
Here are a few important wildlife safety tips.
Keep a safe distance
The wildlife of Yellowstone seem tame because they are used to cars and people, but they are unpredictable. Bears, bison and other animals are faster than they look and can easily outrun a human if they feel threatened. Even adorable chipmunks can give nasty bites. Animals have injured and killed tourists in Yellowstone.
Bear spray is recommended on hiking trails. We haven't worried about it on crowded boardwalks and heavily visited viewpoints, but if you plan to get away from the crowds, bear spray is a good idea. You can rent or buy it inside and outside Yellowstone.
Yellowstone National Park is a great place to teach children respect for nature. You may see tourists doing crazy things. Just make sure you're not one of them.
Never feed wildlife
Offering an animal food may seem like a good way to get a photo, and it may even feel kind. However, it's not a good idea.
Feeding wild animals can make them dependent on humans for food and disrupt nature's balance. You could put yourself or your family in danger. Plus, your junk food isn't any healthier for them than it is for you.
Don't feed the animals unintentionally. Use the bear-proof garbage cans at picnic and camp sites. Always store food in a safe place where bears are not likely to sniff it out, like your locked car. These time-tested rules are in place to protect both visitors and animals.
Traffic jams and groups of cars pulled off the road are sure ways to tell if there is an animal nearby. Often, the animal is standing in the middle of the road. Pay attention to the road when driving and pull out of the way of traffic if you want to stop for a better look at the wildlife.
Be especially careful if you drive through the park at nighttime. Animals are most active before sunrise and after dark, and they will be harder to see. Follow posted speed limits and pay close attention to avoid an accident.
On one trip, the only time we saw a bear was when we almost hit it with the car. We were driving near the park's southern entrance just after dusk when I spotted a bear running out of the trees toward the road. We hit the brakes and so did the bear. It was just a few feet from my passenger window and made eye contact as we passed by. I just wish I hadn't been too rattled to take a photo!
Spotting wildlife is one of the highlights of visiting Yellowstone National Park. The animals are used to people, and may seem tame, but they are not.
Always keep a safe distance, keep your food tucked away and drive carefully. This will help your family stay safe and make great memories at Yellowstone National Park.