Northwestern Wyoming is a sprawling, open-air zoo. Here, forests, mountains, clear-running streams and verdant meadows nourish wolves, bison and bears – not too mention elk, eagles and bighorn sheep. These are nature’s own wild creatures, not docile animals, that allow you briefly into their world – from a safe distance. Remember – in national parks, it’s against the law to approach within 100 yards of a bear while you are on foot, or within 25 yards of other wildlife.
Wolves, Grizzlies, Bison and Swan
Yellowstone National Park is full of wildlife. But what are the best places to spot specific animals? For wolves, the Lamar Valley marks the confluence of the Hellroaring, Slough Creek, Agate Creek and Druid packs. Your best bet is early summer, which is denning time for these packs. With the elk and bison herds that congregate in the valley, food is never far away from the park’s top predator. Use spotting scopes or binoculars to watch these animals as they lope to and from the hunt. Grizzly bears sometimes can be spied high atop the valley’s ridgelines in early summer, when they like to romp in waning snowfields. Throughout summer and into the fall, the Hayden Valley is certain to be home to bison herds, while trumpeter swans and other waterfowl can be seen on the Yellowstone River near Fishing Bridge. A sure bet for elk is Mammoth Hot Springs, where these antlered animals like to lounge on the lawns.
Whiskey Mountain, which rises nearly 11,000 feet above Dubois (a small, rustic town 55 miles east of Moran Junction), is home to the largest wintering herd of bighorn sheep in the lower 48. The sheep herds that summer on BLM Ridge, Sheep Ridge and Torrey Ridge band together here beneath Torrey Rim for about four months to mate and escape winter’s worst. Though the 800 or so bighorns are nearly impossible to spot in summer when they head to the high country, come fall they flock to the lower elevations with just one thing in mind – amour. Meaning they also drop their inhibitions to human observers. You can drive up to Whiskey Mountain and its observation stations, or check with the folks at the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center in Dubois about a guided tour.
Moose, Elk, Antelope, Eagles and More
Grand Teton National Park is most famous for its jagged horizon, but its wildlife ranks right behind. Just south of Jackson Lake Lodge, Oxbow Bend is a watery aviary, luring swans, white pelicans, eagles, osprey and ducks to the Snake River. Moose also are frequent visitors, coming down to browse the riverside thickets. Explore the Moose-Wilson Road that runs between park headquarters and Teton Village in late summer or early fall and you’ve got an excellent chance of spotting black bears lured by the succulent hawthorn berries. Early in the morning or near sunset, you might also spy moose drawn to the wetlands here. While pronghorn antelope are easily spotted on the sagebrush flats off the Teton Park Road beneath the Grand Teton, for elk you’ll want to visit the National Elk Refuge just north of the town of Jackson. Roughly 8,000 elk congregate on these feeding grounds during the winter for a bite to eat.