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How to Photograph Wildlife in Yellowstone National Park

This is the final installment of our guide to photographing wildlife in Yellowstone. The new page (the seventh in this guide) offers suggestions for photographing bison, pronghorn, and more animals in Lamar Valley. Or, start at the beginning to see tips for photographing wildlife in Yellowstone everywhere from Fishing Bay Bridge to Washburn Range.

Of all the tall tales passed on by the early 19th-century fur trappers who ventured into the unknown reaches of Wyoming, the story of the mythical land of “Fire and Brimstone” must have seemed the most outlandish. Their tales told of a place where fire spews out of the ground and water violently boils, a place more at home in a passage from Dante’s Inferno than any earthly environment. The region’s inaccessibility meant that it was only in the late 1860’s when the first organized expeditions set out to shed light on the area and separate facts from fiction. What they found was nothing short of astounding, a land of glass mountains, boiling rivers, and geysers that spew water into the sky. These lands were so wild, so unspoiled, that many felt it was necessary to protect them from human exploitation. Sure enough, in 1871 the land that got the name “Yellowstone” became the world’s first National Park.

What could very well be the most photographed national park in the world needs no introductions. Yellowstone National Park is one of the most dramatic and diverse landscapes in the continental USA. Within the almost 9,000 kilometers of the park lies the world’s best collection of thermal features, spectacular mountain ranges, and the most diverse wildlife viewing experience in the lower 48 states.

Canon EOS-1D X @ 600mm, ISO 1000, 1/1000, f/9.0

Many articles have been written about Yellowstone. I have personally written two articles about the park which you can find on my profile. The scope of today’s article is based on a question I am often asked which usually goes something like: “What are the best places to photograph wildlife in Yellowstone?” It is a good question and one that is far too broad for a quick reply. Yellowstone National Park has 67 different species of mammals, including enigmatic species such as the gray wolf, grizzly and black bear and the American bison. Other large mammal species include: elk, moose, mule deer, white-tailed deer, mountain goat, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, coyote along with the reclusive lynx and cougar. While the mammals usually steal the show, the park has over 300 species of birds, with almost half of them nesting inside Yellowstone.

Canon EOS-1D Mark III @ 280mm, ISO 100, 15/1, f/8.0

The park’s abundance of wildlife is obvious, but this richness of fauna does not guarantee good sightings. Animals such as bison and elk are almost guaranteed sightings by even the most casual visitor to the park. The park’s bears prove to be a much bigger challenge and it takes a good amount of luck and perseverance to find and photograph one. Wolves are often considered the most exciting sighting due to their rarity and innate fear of encountering humans. The park’s diverse and contrasting seasons are a crucial element to consider when looking for specific species inside the park.

In winter, the park experiences a deep freeze that transforms the landscape into a seemingly lifeless wasteland of snow and ice. The temperatures range from 0 to 30F throughout the day and sub-zero temperatures are common at night on the high plateaus. The deep snow means that the only road open to the public is the Mammoth to Lamar Valley road and a 4×4 vehicle with snow tires is usually needed to traverse it. There are options for taking snowmobiles or snow coaches up to the Old Faithful area and staying there as well. The bears are hibernating during the winter and therefore winter is often considered the hour of the wolf. The wolf packs are most easily seen during winter when they hunt for elk in the Lamar Valley and as such, winter is by far the best time for seeing Yellowstone’s wolves. The park’s two other canids, the coyote and red fox are also at their peak during the winter. Not only are their coats at their thickest and most beautiful but they are also easier to see because of the snow. The trumpeter swans are also often seen in the remaining open waters of the park.

Canon EOS-1D Mark III @ 300mm, ISO 320, 1/500, f/6.3

Canon EOS 5D Mark III @ 200mm, ISO 800, 1/1000, f/9.0
Credit to Thomas Waldrop

With the month of March comes spring in Yellowstone. The temperatures are still low but they gradually climb and range from an average of 30F to 60F with overnight lows often in the single digits. Snow is still common and snow storms can readily appear and blanket the park. The roads begin to open in April and by May all are open. In March the grizzly bears begin to emerge from their winter slumber and the wolves are still at full strength in Lamar. Neotropical migrants, such as the osprey and bluebirds also begin to arrive. By April, the black bears are also out of their dens and join the grizzly bears in feeding on roadside meadows. The bison start their calving season while wildflowers start to take over the park’s meadows.

Canon EOS-1D X @ 600mm, ISO 250, 1/800, f/8.0

When June arrives so does Yellowstone’s summer. Temperatures are now well into the 70s and can often reach up to 80F. The park also starts seeing a great influx of tourists that will peak in July and August when the park can become almost unbearable. Mosquitoes are also at their peak in the summer now that the temperatures rarely drop below 32F during the night. The park’s bears become harder to see as they start moving to higher elevations. Bighorn sheep are easy to find in Lamar Valley and in the mountain passes. By July, the bison rutting season begins and it will last well into September. August often brings with it wildfires as the park’s trees succumb to the numerous thunderstorms of the late summer.

DSLR-A100 @ 300mm, ISO 200, 1/640, f/7.1

Canon EOS-1D X @ 300mm, ISO 12800, 1/640, f/2.8

By September, fall has officially arrived. The temperature again starts to dip into the 50s and 60s. The temperature at night also begins to go drop below freezing and snow is not uncommon by the end of the month. The elk rutting season begins in the park. The bears also return to lower elevations and roadside meadows. The fewer mosquitoes make it easier to hike and the fall colors add unique tones. By October the bears become even easier to find along the roads and the elk rutting season is in full swing. Roads in higher elevations begin to close. By the end of the month, Winter will begin to return to the park and with it, the bison and elk start migrating to lower elevations while the park’s bears start to hibernate.

Canon EOS-1D X @ 200mm, ISO 100, 1/400, f/7.1

Canon EOS-1D X @ 300mm, ISO 6400, 1/1250, f/3.2

After taking the unique seasons of Yellowstone into account, it is time to consider the different areas inside of Yellowstone and which species are more likely to be found in these different regions.

Photographic Focus: Grizzly Bear, Bald Eagle, Coyote, Waterfowl, Birds of Prey
Best Time: Early Morning and Afternoon
Season: Early Summer and Fall

“Where can I find grizzly bears?” is probably the most common question I get regarding Yellowstone National Park. While hardly a surprising question given how the iconic bear species has come to symbolize the park, it is nonetheless a question with an elusive answer. There are around 717 grizzly bears in the greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, a significant recovery from the 136 bears in 1975. The grizzly’s versatility means that they can be found in a range of altitudes and habitats so that they can be seen in almost any area of the park. Grizzly bears hibernate throughout the winter months and begin to emerge from their slumber in early spring at around March. For much of the spring, early summer and the fall season they can be found around Yellowstone Lake, Fishing Bridge, Swan Lake Flats, and Lamar and Haden Valley Eastern Entrances. By mid-summer they are most easily found in the meadows in the Hayden and Lamar Valleys and along the higher elevations of the Tower-Roosevelt road.

Canon EOS-1D Mark III @ 130mm, ISO 200, 1/320, f/5.6

While most visitors will get a glimpse of grizzly bears in the famous Lamar and Haden valleys, the chances of properly photographing them in either valley is quite low. The vast, almost endless landscapes of Lamar and Haden mean that often you will be seeing bears through spotting scopes, far out of reach of even the best telephoto lenses. That does not mean that they cannot be seen well at Haden and Lamar, but when I am faced with the question of what is the single “best place to photograph grizzly bears” my answer is always unequivocally: The East Entrance Road from the Storm Point Trailhead to Sylvan Lake.

Canon EOS-1D X @ 448mm, ISO 1250, 1/1000, f/6.3

SLT-A77V @ 16mm, ISO 50, 1/13, f/9.0

The road that leads to the Eastern Entrance of the park from Fishing Bay Bridge would seem like an unlikely area to nominate for the best grizzly bear hotspot in the park. The burnt forests that dot the surrounding landscape convey a sense of complete lifelessness. Yet, after many visits to the park, this is the one place that I can almost always count on to get close encounters with grizzly bears. The burnt forests trees that surround the road offer a remarkable visual access into the depths of the surrounding landscape and this allows for an easier time spotting wildlife. The rolling hills also mean that unlike the endless valleys of Haden and Lamar, if you do spot something, there is a good chance that it will be under 100 yards from you, and thus in much better photographic range. Most importantly, the northern portion of Yellowstone Lake is favored by grizzly bear mothers when they come out of hibernation in the spring and once again in the fall. In recent years, few bears have come to represent this relationship with the lakeside more than the female grizzly affectionately named “Raspberry” who has been a consistent visitor to the area over the past few years. Most recently she has been accompanied by her sow “Snow” who has been tagging along with Raspberry the few remaining years on her path to adulthood.

Canon EOS-1D X @ 784mm, ISO 12800, 1/1600, f/8.0

Canon EOS-1D X @ 784mm, ISO 5000, 1/1600, f/9.0

Canon EOS-1D X @ 784mm, ISO 6400, 1/1250, f/8.0

In addition, I have also seen a good number of grizzly bear boars make their way to the area in their endless search for food during the fall season. Often Raspberry will disappear if there is a heavy presence of males in the area because of the dangers they pose to her sow.

A large grizzly bear boar.

Canon EOS-1D X @ 394mm, ISO 800, 1/1600, f/6.3

Canon EOS-1D X @ 560mm, ISO 640, 1/1600, f/6.3

Canon EOS-1D X @ 560mm, ISO 640, 1/1600, f/6.3

The key to finding grizzly bears here and anywhere in Yellowstone is to have a lot of patience and the perseverance to patrol along the road for days on end. Of course, even with all the effort in the world, luck is most important and there are never any guarantees when it comes to wildlife. The key is to be out early and be in the area from Sedge Bay to Sylvan Lake by the time the sun rises and to return there in the late afternoon. If Raspberry is in the area, then you are in luck and there is a good chance of seeing her throughout the entirety of the day as she forages for food. If she is not around, the chances of seeing a grizzly bear is greatly diminished but that should not discourage you from spending time in the area looking for bears and hopefully luck will be on your side.

Canon EOS-1D X @ 490mm, ISO 8000, 1/1000, f/5.6

Canon EOS-1D X @ 454mm, ISO 8000, 1/1000, f/5.6

While scouring the road for grizzly bears it is good to keep an eye out for the other species that call the area home. The decayed skeletons of trees once-mighty forest which formerly covered the area but succumbed to forest fires allows for an especially high density of birds of prey to congregate there. These graveyards offer the birds (with species such as Red-Tailed Hawks, Merlins and Bald Eagles all being plentiful) excellent perches from which to scout the surrounding clearings for prey. And sometimes the birds use these trees in surprising ways…

Canon EOS-1D X @ 560mm, ISO 2500, 1/1600, f/5.6

Canon EOS-1D X @ 560mm, ISO 800, 1/1000, f/6.3

Another species that is common here is the Coyote, which is especially numerous along the Mary Bay stretch of road around the hot springs that border the lakeside. The grass rich area here has a large concentration of voles which the Coyotes hunt and I have seen many a Coyote here during the early mornings hours.

Canon EOS-1D X @ 600mm, ISO 800, 1/1600, f/8.0

Canon EOS-1D Mark III @ 130mm, ISO 200, 1/10, f/9.0

Photographic Focus: Elk, Pronghorn, Red Fox, Moose, Black Bear
Best Time: Early Morning and Afternoon
Season: Fall and Winter

Rich in history and radiating a timeless atmosphere, the area of Mammoth Hot Springs is one of the most well-known locales in the park. The area hosts the park’s headquarters and its own little town which surround the hot springs area. The Springs themselves are quite different from those found elsewhere in Yellowstone due to their being mostly composed of large Tavertine formations. Tavertine or limestone formations are different then the sinter formations found elsewhere due to the softer nature of limestone. As hot water rises through the limestone, large quantities of rock are dissolved by the water and a white mineral is deposited on the surface. While Mammoth lies in the far north west of the park and thus well outside the volcanic caldera, its energy can be attributed to the same magmatic system that fuels the rest of Yellowstone thermal areas. Hot water flows from Norris to Mammoth along a fault line roughly associated with the road from Norris to Mammoth.

Canon EOS-1D X @ 400mm, ISO 800, 1/200, f/4.5

Due to its relatively low elevation and comparatively mild winters, Mammoth is accessible by car year-round and is the gateway into the park during the winter months. The peak wildlife viewing in the area is from early fall through the winter months, when much of the park’s wildlife migrates to the lower elevations in a quest to escape the worst of the Yellowstone winters.

Canon EOS-1D X @ 350mm, ISO 250, 1/400, f/4.0

while winter is a magical time in Mammoth it is during the fall season when the area is at its most tumultuous. The fresh dusting of snow on the mountain peaks marks the new season and the first shrill echoes emanating through the high mountain plateaus. If there is one sound that can define the Yellowstone autumn and Mammoth, it would be the bugle call of the male Elk. Fueled by their desire to mate, they call out into the chilly morning and evening air as a show of strength to both attract females and warn other males. The call can be heard from miles away and makes autumn mornings in Mammoth one of the more unique acoustical experiences in the Americas.

Canon EOS-1D X @ 533mm, ISO 1250, 1/1000, f/6.3

At over 300 kilograms in weight and over one and a half meters tall at the shoulders, the bull elks dominate the landscape around Mammoth come September. For over a month they will jostle and clash over the rights to the females in the valley in a high stakes game of strength and fitness. In autumn you can witness over a dozen large bull elk around the rolling hills that surround the famous springs. A particularly good spot is the road leading out from Mammoth to the east in the direction of Tower Junction. They will often congregate in this area which lies just below the Mammoth Springs area and in these foothills, there is a good chance of spotting the deer.

Canon EOS-1D X @ 560mm, ISO 2500, 1/800, f/5.6

Canon EOS-1D X @ 560mm, ISO 3200, 1/800, f/6.3

elk are common in Mammoth throughout the year and there is even a resident herd that usually spends its time right in midst of the Mammoth Hot Springs hotel area. While they are visible year-round, autumn offers the best chance to photograph male elk as they congregate in the area for the rutting season.

Canon EOS-1D X @ 560mm, ISO 2500, 1/800, f/5.6

Another species that is common in the area (especially around the Lava Creek stretch of the road towards Tower Junction) is the Red Fox. The size of a small dog, the red fox is the largest member of the genus Vulpes and is well-known for its large bushy tail. They can be found in Yellowstone year-round, but the fall and winter seasons are especially good for finding them. The red fox is typically active at dusk or at night (you will often see them crossing the road while driving in the park at night) though they can also be found during the daytime in more secluded areas. With their astonishingly varied diet, you can often find them inquisitively searching for mice and voles around Mammoth, with their ears in constant motion as they try to pinpoint prey.

Canon EOS-1D X @ 280mm, ISO 1600, 1/2000, f/6.3

Canon EOS-1D X @ 280mm, ISO 1250, 1/2000, f/6.3

Another good area for finding wildlife can be found just south of Mammoth at Swan Lake flats. The lakes here will often host a number of waterfowl during the summer months and Sandhill Cranes are another species to look for in this area. There is also a healthy number of Dusky Grouse in the area.

Canon EOS-1D X @ 239mm, ISO 250, 1/640, f/8.0

Canon EOS-1D X @ 560mm, ISO 1250, 1/1250, f/5.6

Further south along the road south towards Norris, the area known as Willow Park offers a solid chance of finding one of the park’s more reclusive deer species: The Moose.

Canon EOS-1D X @ 392mm, ISO 800, 1/1250, f/8.0

Photographic Focus: Elk, Bison, Wolf, Coyote
Best Time: Early Morning and Afternoon
Season: Year-round

An everlasting icon that has come to represent Yellowstone, the Old Faithful Geyser still dazzles visitors with it’s almost hourly propulsion of water over 30 meters into the air. The seemingly timeless geyser might be the soul of the Upper Geyser Basin in which it sits, but the basin’s heart is the Firehole river which cuts through it like a winding spinal cord. Along the rivers banks, one can find the largest concentration and nearly one quarter of all the geysers in the world as well as an extensive network of thermal features and hot springs.

SLT-A77V @ 16mm, ISO 1600, 15/1, f/2.8

SLT-A77V + 20mm F2.8 @ 16mm, ISO 50, 6/1, f/11.0

Canon EOS-1D Mark III @ 210mm, ISO 100, 16/10, f/20.0

Canon EOS-1D Mark III @ 115mm, ISO 100, 6/10, f/13.0

SLT-A77V + 20mm F2.8 @ 13mm, ISO 200, 1/2000, f/8.0

Once it leaves the Upper Geyser Basin at Biscuit Basin, the Firehole river flows north with the Grand Loop Road paralleling the river throughout most of its journey. Right after Biscuit Basin the river crosses an area of rich meadows which often host a good number of Elk. They are best photographed on chilly mornings due to the area becoming shrouded in steam from the surroundings hot springs and the river itself.

Canon EOS-1D Mark III @ 125mm, ISO 200, 1/500, f/5.6

The river continues flowing through meadows which give way to sparsely forested sections of lodgepole pines until it makes a very distinct U-turn just before it reaches the Midway Geyser Basin. The basin itself is rather contained but it houses two immense thermal pools of which one is the famous Grand Prismatic Spring.

Canon EOS-1D X + EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM +1.4x @ 205mm, ISO 100, 3/10, f/36.0

Further north the landscape begins to flatten into wide meadows known as the fountain flats. This region hosts a multitude of Geyser Basins, but it is the meadows in this region that are of interest to those looking for wildlife. A common sight here are herds of American Bison which are especially photogenic during the early morning hours.

Canon EOS-1D X + EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT @ 320mm, ISO 100, 1/800, f/5.6

Canon EOS-1D X + EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT @ 490mm, ISO 100, 1/800, f/5.6

Canon EOS-1D X + EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT @ 372mm, ISO 125, 1/800, f/5.6

Canon EOS-1D X + EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM @ 200mm, ISO 100, 1/2500, f/7.1

While the area is not known for it’s high density of predators. I have found the meadows of the fountain flats to sometimes yield unlikely surprises, such as Grey Wolves.

Canon EOS-1D X + EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM +2x @ 600mm, ISO 3200, 1/1250, f/7.1

The world’s largest wild canid, the iconic Grey Wolf has long been a source of both fear and reverence, inspiring countless tales throughout human history. In appearance, the species can sometimes resemble a large domestic dog, but when seen up close, their long narrow legs, large feet, straight tail and unforgettable eyes make it obvious that they are very much wild. Once exasperated from the entirety of the ecosystem in Yellowstone due to human hunting, the species had been reintroduced in the 1990s when 41 wolves from Northern Montana and Canada were introduced into the park. Since then, their numbers have strengthened and today there are over 100 wolves inside the park and over 500 in the greater Yellowstone Area. Wolves are territorial and the 100 or so wolves found inside the park boundaries are broken down into 11 distinct packs. Each pack controls over an area that varies from 300 to around 500 square kilometers with the size of the area dependent on the number of individuals in the pack along with the food availability and the seasonal changes. The meadows of the Fountain Flats are part of the southern range of the Canyon Wolf Pack whose territory extends all the way to the Mammoth region in the North. They can sometimes be seen here along the tree line, preferring to keep their distance from any would be photographers.

Canon EOS-1D X + EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM +2x @ 600mm, ISO 3200, 1/800, f/7.1

SLT-A77V + DT 16-50mm F2.8 SSM @ 28mm, ISO 50, 1/500, f/7.1

SLT-A77V + Sony DT 16-50mm F2.8 SSM (SAL1650) @ 30mm, ISO 50, 1/640, f/7.1

Photographic Focus: Black Bears, Coyote, Bighorn Sheep, Red Fox, Mule Deer, Owls, Birds
Best Time: Early Morning and Afternoon
Season: Spring, Summer, Fall

Cutting through eastern Yellowstone like a spinal cord, the mountains that form the Washburn range are imposing. Steeps slopes and mountain meadows give way to jagged cliffs as the mountains reach a height of over 3000 meters. It is on these slopes where alpine meadows mix with Northern Temperate Coniferous Forest’s to form a diverse range of biomes that hide some of Yellowstone’s most enigmatic creatures. The road from Canyon to Tower Junction goes through forests that are mainly composed of Lodgepole Pines. A fire-dependent species which requires wildfires to maintain a healthy population. While at first it may seem like a contradiction given that the fires burn the pines, the trees use the heat from the fires to open their cones and release the seeds tucked inside.

Canon EOS-1D Mark III + EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM @ 70mm, ISO 320, 1/640, f/7.1

Canon EOS-1D X @ 420mm, ISO 400, 1/400, f/8.0

The heart of the journey is at Mt. Washburn. The imposing mountain is situated at the crossroads, with its southern soles heading towards Canyon and its northern face looking towards Tower and Lamar. The peak can be reached by a relatively easy-going trail which often yields a good number of Bighorn Sheep.

Canon EOS-1D X + EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT @ 560mm, ISO 12800, 1/1000, f/8.0

Below the peak and at the base of the trailhead is the famous Dunraven Pass. The pass itself has an elevation of 2700 meters and offers splendid views of greater Yellowstone.

Canon EOS-1D X + EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM @ 200mm, ISO 1000, 1/1250, f/5.6

The slopes of Mt. Washburn are famous for their vast swathes of burnt forests. Here, the fires have completely reshaped the landscape and in the right light or with a little fog, the area takes on a uniquely haunted atmosphere.

Canon EOS-1D Mark III + Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM @ 200mm, ISO 400, 1/1250, f/5.6

Canon EOS-1D Mark III + EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM @ 200mm, ISO 400, 1/1250, f/5.6

Thankfully, most of the forest’s that surround the road from Canyon to Tower Junction are still very much alive. Their density and thick foliage make finding wildlife difficult, especially because we are limited to the road but those with a keen eye and some luck will be rewarded.

Canon EOS-1D X + EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM +1.4x @ 420mm, ISO 1600, 1/1000, f/5.0

With a pattern resembling tree bark, Dusky Grouse are perfectly adapted to these forests. They are often found in small groups on the side of the road, both on the ground and in the trees. Once spotted, these leery grouse will often fly into the trees and freeze in place hoping that you haven’t spotted them.

While it’s camouflage is perfect at fooling would be photographers, it serves an important purpose in the birds survival for it hides them from one of the more formidable birds of prey in the park: The Great Horned Owl.

Canon EOS-1D X + EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT +1.4x @ 784mm, ISO 6400, 1/2000, f/9.0

Canon EOS-1D X + EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM +1.4x @ 526mm, ISO 5000, 1/2000, f/8.0

Famous for it’s “horns” or what are really ear tufts, the Great Horned Owl is the second largest owl species in the United States. Due to their large size, these owls have an almost unmatched variability of species on which they prey upon and this allowed them to become one of the most successful predators in the Americas.

Credit to Thomas Waldrop
Canon EOS 5D Mark III + EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM +1.4x III @ 560mm, ISO 3200, 1/320, f/13.0

Highly prized by photographers in the park, the Great Grey Owl is another species of owl which calls the dense conifer forests it’s home. This species of owl prefers to live in secluded coniferous forests on the edge of clearings which they haunt during the night as they search for small rodents. The Great Grey Owl is notorious for being difficult to find and some years only a few lucky visitors will catch a glimpse of the species. A good place to look for them is the Canyon Junction area where the mix of trees and grassy clearings offer a perfect habitat for the species.

The clearing between the dense forests are often great places to find wildlife, especially areas like Floating Island Lake or Petrified Tree where luck might reveal Black Bears, Coyote and Red Fox. Black Bears are especially good on this road during the summer months.

Canon EOS-1D X + EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM @ 300mm, ISO 8000, 1/400, f/2.8

Canon EOS-1D X + EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM +1.4x @ 480mm, ISO 10000, 1/2000, f/5.6

Canon EOS-1D X + EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM +1.4x @ 784mm, ISO 1250, 1/2500, f/9.0

Canon EOS-1D X + EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM @ 247mm, ISO 160, 1/250, f/6.3

Photographic Focus: Elk, Bighorn Sheep, Bison, Moose, Grizzly Bears, Mule Deer
Best Time: Early Morning and Afternoon
Season: Summer, Fall

Wild and desolate, the scarred peaks that rise around the Eastern Entrance road of Yellowstone as it leads out in the direction of Cody, Wyoming are some of the most beautiful in the park. The steep peaks shelter large swathes of conifer forests which blanket the steep slopes with a carpet of green. The road can be split into two zones with each offering different wildlife viewing opportunities.

Canon EOS-1D Mark III + EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM @ 170mm, ISO 200, 1/400, f/5.0

Canon EOS-1D Mark III + EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM @ 200mm, ISO 160, 1/200, f/5.6

The first zone stretches 5.7 kilometers from the park’s Eastern Entrance to the Sylvan Falls pullout area. The road here meanders along Middle Creek through dense conifer forest’s. The thick undergrowth on both sides means that the visibility is limited but there is a good chance of spotting Elk and Mule deer along this stretch of the road. Grizzly Bears are also not uncommon and can sometimes be seen high above the road grazing in alpine meadows. With some luck, the morning hours may produce one of Yellowstone’s most unique species: The Moose.

Canon EOS-1D X + EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM @ 400mm, ISO 6400, 1/800, f/4.0

Canon EOS-1D X + EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT @ 490mm, ISO 4000, 1/800, f/5.6

Given that it is the largest species of deer in the world, the Moose is considerably hard to find in the confines of the Park for they prefer the lower elevation willow swamps around the Grand Teton. While the best place for Moose in Yellowstone is around Willow Park just south of Mammoth Hot Springs, with some luck, the Eastern Entrance road offers a chance to glimpse the usually secretive species firsthand. The numbers of Moose are on the decline in Yellowstone due to the shrinking of their preferred habitat because of the drier summers in recent decades and today there are only about 400 Moose left in the park.

Canon EOS-1D X + EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT @ 560mm, ISO 100, 1/640, f/6.3

The second zone starts after the Sylvan Falls pullout as the road gains elevation on its way to Sylvan pass. The pass reaches an elevation of 2598 meters and is closed during the winter and early Spring season. This stretch of the road will often produce male Bighorn Sheep who will often be found grazing along the roadside.

Canon EOS-1D X + EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT +1.4x @ 784mm, ISO 640, 1/2000, f/9.0

A few kilometers ahead and with the pass now to your back, the Eastern Entrance road starts to weave through the Absaroka range and passes by the beautiful Sylvan Lake which can often produce a range of duck species. The area is also good for finding lone Bison males who will often use the young Lodgepole pines to scratch an itch to their hearts desire. Grizzly Bears can also be seen in this area from time to time, especially near Sylvan Lake.

SLT-A77V + DT 16-50mm F2.8 SSM @ 35mm, ISO 50, 1/125, f/8.0

Canon EOS-1D X + EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT @ 560mm, ISO 100, 1/640, f/6.3

Canon EOS-1D X + EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM @ 350mm, ISO 12800, 1/640, f/5.0

The Eastern Entrance offers something different than any other area of Yellowstone. While wildlife density in the area seems to be lower than the likes of Lamar or Mammoth, no other part of Yellowstone feels as untamed and wild as the Eastern Entrance. Some mornings you can be one of the only cars on the road, and few places offer the sheer glory of seeing a sunrise like the one pictured below all the while a male Elk’s Bugle call permeates through the surrounding forest and cuts right through your soul.

Canon EOS-1D Mark III + EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM @ 200mm, ISO 160, 1/400, f/5.6

Photographic Focus: American Bison, Pronghorn, Bighorn Sheep, Wolf, Grizzly Bear, Bald Eagles, Moose
Best Time: Early Morning and Afternoon
Season: Year round

Nicknamed “The Last American Serengeti” by some, the Lamar Valley might contain the most visually inspiring landscapes in all of Yellowstone. Nestled between towering peaks, Lamar’s sprawling expanse of hills and rivers create an untamed symphony of nature akin to an Albert Bierstadt painting.

Canon EOS-1D Mark III + EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM +1.4x @ 98mm, ISO 200, 1/200, f/5.6

Canon EOS-1D Mark III + EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM +1.4x @ 135mm, ISO 200, 1/200, f/5.0

Located between Tower Junction and the Northeast Entrance at Cooke City, Montana, the best way to break down the 29-mile road that makes up Lamar is into three distinct “sections” with each section offering different wildlife viewing opportunities.

Canon EOS-1D X + EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM +2x @ 600mm, ISO 3200, 1/1600, f/8.0

The first section is the expanse between the Yellowstone River Bridge and the Lamar River Bridge. With its seemingly endless sagebrush-covered hills, this section of the road is far less immediate than the Lamar Valley itself, but from my experience has proven more versatile in the types of species one can see. You are almost guaranteed to see Bison and Pronghorn here. Grizzly Bears are not an uncommon sight in Spring. And this stretch of the road can prove one of the most productive in the park for seeing one of Yellowstone’s most prized species: The Grey Wolf.

Of the 11 different wolf packs found in Yellowstone four have their territorial home ranges overlap in the Lamar, ensuring its status as one of the most productive areas for wolves in the park. By far the best time to see them here is during the winter months when they will often be found in the valley searching for the prey that congregates in the valleys lower elevation as they escape the harshness of the Yellowstone winter. During the rest of the year, perseverance and a good weeks’ worth of time will usually reward a lucky visitor with a wolf sighting, but to photograph them can prove incredibly challenging. While I have seen wolves many times in Lamar, they are wary of humans and will often go out of their way to prevent a close encounter.

Below is a prototypical wolf viewing experience in Lamar, taken at almost 800mm and cropped, the seemingly endless distances mean that most wolf sightings will be as mere dots to the naked eye and a small grey or black figure through binoculars.

Canon EOS-1D X + EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT +1.4x @ 784mm, ISO 500, 1/1600, f/9.0

An easier species to see in the first section of the Lamar Valley is the Pronghorn. The last remaining species of the family Antilocapridae, the Pronghorn Antelope is more closely related to a giraffe than any antelope. Unchanged since the last Ice Age, the pronghorn’s stocky body is supported on long, slim legs, which enable it to take massive eight-meter strides at full speed and allows it to outrun any would-be predator. They are the fastest terrestrial mammal in the Americas, capable of reaching top speeds of up to 86 kilometers per hour and maintaining cruising speeds of 70 kilometers per hour for several kilometers at a time. While today they are relatively common, they were once almost exasperated from the USA due to overhunting, with only 13,000 remaining by 1910. Substantial efforts to restore the species numbers have aided in a strong recovery and today they are readily found in lower lying grassy plains around northern Yellowstone, predominantly in Lamar and around the Gardiner area.

Canon EOS-1D X + EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT @ 560mm, ISO 1250, 1/1600, f/6.3

Canon EOS-1D X + EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT @ 461mm, ISO 3200, 1/1600, f/5.6

Canon EOS-1D X + EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT @ 420mm, ISO 1600, 1/1600, f/6.3

Canon EOS-1D X + EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM @ 400mm, ISO 2000, 1/1250, f/4.0

Lamar’s second distinct section begins after crossing the Lamar River Bridge and entering the actual Lamar Valley itself. The valley was carved out by glaciers during the last ice age about 10,000 years ago and is very wide which helps to create an immensely grand and sweeping landscape. The picture-perfect scenery would not be complete without the countless bison that are found throughout the year grazing in the valley and they are the main attraction here.

Canon EOS-1D Mark III + EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM @ 88mm, ISO 320, 1/250, f/8.0

Hulking giants of a bygone era, the American Buffalo seen today are the only descendants of mega-fauna not to die off in the Quaternary Extinction Event in Northern America during the last Ice Age. With large males weighing in at almost a ton and having a shoulder height of over 180cm, their size can only be truly appreciated when you see one from up close in one of Yellowstone’s famous car jams. Nearly driven to extinction in the lower 48 states in the late 19th century due to over-hunting, the Bison’s revival in Yellowstone can only be considered a success story, with their numbers rebounding to around 5000 individuals.

They can be found at Lamar year-round, with each season offering a different take on their lives. In Winter, they can be found struggling to pave through the thick snow in their search for food. When Spring arrives, their calving season adds a new dimension as the reddish. Summer is a time of dust and mosquitoes and by late August the most active time of the Bison’s year begins. As Fall slowly begins, the males will spend hours a day courting females, trying to get a hint of when she is ready to mate. When these signals are passed to the males via hormones found in her urine, that is when the commotion begins. All the males in the area start a low tone bellow, the lower the tone the better the male’s chances. If that does not work, the males will size each other up, and do their famous dust baths as a way of showing each their size and strength. If all else fails and there is still an impasse, then all hell breaks loose, and the jousting truly begins.

Canon EOS-1D Mark III + EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM +1.4x @ 280mm, ISO 500, 1/1250, f/5.6

Canon EOS-1D X + EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM +2x @ 600mm, ISO 1000, 1/1000, f/9.0

Canon EOS-1D X + EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM +2x @ 600mm, ISO 1000, 1/1000, f/9.0

Such battles often end up with no serious injuries, but they can also take a turn for the worse for the combatants. The life of a bison is not easy in Yellowstone, while fully sized adults have few natural predators, other bison, and the harsh winters claim many lives each year, and it is anyone’s guess as to what ended the life of this one…

Canon EOS-1D X + EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM +1.4x @ 377mm, ISO 1000, 1/1000, f/9.0

The pullout opposite the historic Lamar Buffalo Ranch is a good place to scout the valley and the trees around where the river bends have often yielded Bald Eagles who use them to scout the surrounding area for food.

Canon EOS-1D X + EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM +2x @ 600mm, ISO 250, 1/800, f/8.0

The third section of the road begins when Soda Butte Creek enters the Lamar River. Along with the distinct narrowing of the valley, the Soda Butte, a striking hot spring cone about two and a half miles above the mouth of Soda Butte Creek, is the feature that heralds the third section of the valley. Here the valley narrows as the mountains now loom like overseers over the surrounding landscape. The herds of bison are still present but in smaller numbers. The tree line is closer to the road and thus bears can often be seen here in the Summer and Spring. This stretch of the road here can also sometimes yield surprising species like this bull Moose found in the Pebble Creek area.

Credit Thomas Waldrop
Canon EOS 5D Mark III + EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM +2x III @ 600mm, ISO 1250, 1/1250, f/8.0

Or these Mule Deer.

Canon EOS-1D X + EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM @ 300mm, ISO 2500, 1/1000, f/3.2

#WildlifePhotography #YellowstoneNationalPark

The Photograohers
The Photograohers
Welcome to The Photographers, your go-to source for all things photography. We are a team of passionate photographers and enthusiasts who are dedicated to providing you with the latest news, reviews, and educational resources to help you improve and excel in your photography skills.


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