Geysers? Nah, not impressed…
When you’re going to the Yellowstone national park, you have to ask yourself – what do you want out of it. Because really, it’s everything you heard about it. It has different sides to it. If someone would ask me if it is as touristy as they say, I would say yes, even more touristy as they say. This is a place people go from all around the world to see… well… geysers. And luckily, if you are a person who loves nature and animals, you can still enjoy this park, leaving all the masses on the other part of it. Because wildlife of Yellowstone is the other side of the wonder and it’s, possibly, the best wildlife seeing spot (definitely one of the best) in the whole wide world!
On the first day we were there we went around pretty much all of the park and as we planned a hike the next day, we thought we could see all those geysers. And dear me, it was dull and boring. Okay, for some people this kind of stuff is interesting and I understand it can be, but it was not the geysers that create this negative picture, it was the people, the kind of people that were after them.
You could see all those blokes who never go out anywhere, have nothing to do with nature, venturing around the geysers, pushing each other out of the way for a better picture, running around, cursing and yelling at each other to get a better parking spot. I hope no one pushed anyone in those geysers as there were stories of people dying after falling in them.
To be fair, all of this created a bad picture in our heads and we thought that it will be a place we won’t enjoy. But luckily, as you go a bit further from all the people waiting for the Old Faithful’s appearance (the squirt from the ground that people sit and wait for) you can be surprised. First we saw some bison, then some birds, beautiful elk roamed the lands… And we got convinced with the last one – as we stopped to have a look at the map a curious grizzly walked out of the forest. It was then when we decided that we will try to see only more of this side – wildlife of Yellowstone.
Camping in Yellowstone
The wildlife of Yellowstone is fragile and must be protected. So, because of all those fires that are often occurring in the national park, often you are not allowed to make camp fires next to your tents, or anywhere in the area, depending on the level of the fire risk. This sucked for us because on this trip we depend on fire to cook our meals, which we usually buy in cans so we could reduce the budget. Luckily we had supplies for all the days we’ve spent there, that we could eat raw or cold, but it was really unpleasant as the weather there was quite cold.
A good tip that I learned after I saw one guy doing it – get an electric kettle. Anywhere, even if it’s a few dollars worth kettle from the Walmart, it fill be fine. Campgrounds in the US are quite great, most of them have at least one socket (plug) in the toilet, where you can easily boil your water. It opens up your meal options to ramen, cooked sausages, coffee, tea, with some patience – even cooked rice as these things do not need constant heating to cook all the way through, you basically just need to put them in hot water, and maybe change the older one with some new hot water.
We have stayed in the Mammoth campground and it was great. The wildlife of Yellowstone would come to us every morning as you wake up from the elk chewing grass right next to your tent. Amazing!
Great hikes – few people (makes it even better!)
Although Yellowstone is really popular, seems like most people really go there for the geysers, some for driving around the park and trying to spot animals, while causing huge traffic jams for all the other on the road, because you definitely MUST stop and make some pictures of the 35th bison you saw at that same day, and of course all the other 50 drivers behind you must understand and have plenty of time to wait until you or your wife gets out of the vehicle, goes to an animal that weighs 15 times more than you (well, for some people back there maybe only 5 times more) so close that it could really get you within 2 seconds and irritates the hell out of it by yelling “hey! hey! look here! hey you! look here, I’m trying to make a good picture!”…. Had to be said! What I meant by all of this – the hiking trails are pretty much left out. So for the real nature lovers – it’s a great way to spend the time and explore the nature.
I am not saying there aren’t people who go there to hike. I am saying that you will most likely not have to crawl in lines with all the other hikers and to apologise each and every one of them for over taking them or to let them passed you. There’s a lot of space, a lot of hikes, and fewer people. So it is more enjoyable.
That’s if you are okay being alone with all the grizzlies, black bears, wolves and coyotes out there! It’s not that bad, most likely you will not see any on your hike, but it is possible! Wildlife of Yellowstone is amazing and here you can definitely have better chances at seeing the bigger mammals. But you have to be aware of the hiking rules in here. Yellowstone is one of the few places where a bear spray is highly recommended to have on you if you will go hiking. And yes, there were some accidents and deaths even BUT statistically less then 2 people die yearly of a bear attack in the whole Northern America (that’s including Canada and Mexico), so you have more chances at dying on the way to the park (especially with all those drivers that I mentioned before) than by being attacked by one of the animals.
We have made two hikes in one day – Bunsen peak and Osprey falls. Bunsen peak is moderate to strenuous, I would say, but it seems like you have a better chance of spotting some wildlife on that one. There is a forest at the beginning of the elevation and if you are not keen on seeing some bears, you do a lot of noise there. Later you go up on the mountain and are able to see some really nice views 360 degrees!
Then, if you want, you can continue downhill to the other side and go to the Osprey falls. This one is easy at the start but gets strenuous and a bit dangerous to go down to the big waterfall. The hard part is getting back up. For us it was not that impressive but we do not like waterfalls too much and we think the whole way back just was not worth it. But all combined it was the longest hike we have done by that time and it was almost 20 kilometres long. We were quite exhausted by the end but felt really happy.
Yellowstone has many different regions and all of them can offer good hiking. The best source of information was Canyon Visitor Education center. They have many info centers down there but this one has really good rangers working in it. All the questions were answered perfectly: where can we see wolves – here; where is the best place to see some nature – there; when – then. We got all the immediate answers other info centers never even try answering. Just describe what you want to do or see at the hike and they will tell it to you. Even tell them your future plans and they can recommend you the places to stay at or things to do at the neighbouring parks (like Grand Teton NP)!
What we can recommend
When choosing the campgrounds do keep in mind that some are close to the hiking locations and hikes, others are closer to towns. We chose the Mammoth Hot Springs campground because it was in a good spot, had electricity and was close to the town. We were able to get to the grocery store, the gas station and even found a corner of a building where they had an open wifi that we leeched on for a couple of times. Have some cold food options if you are there on the time when they prohibit camp fires!
Spotting the wildlife of Yellowstone
The southern part of Yellowstone is filled with geysers and all “that kind of people” so if you do not have much time and are more into nature – just avoid it. Especially if you saw some geysers in other parks – they are all the same. Best place for watching the wildlife of Yellowstone – the Lamar valley.
There we saw the antelopes, huge numbers of elk, bison, coyotes, a fox, prey birds. We did not have the luck to see wolves but other people saw them there and apparently for these animals it is the best spot to go.
Bunsen peak is a good hike for people who like it to end with a view. On a clear day you definitely get the view. You get to see the Grand Teton mountains which are amazing. Osprey falls – if you really like waterfalls… We had limited time in there so I would say – go to the information center and describe what you love about a hike and let them guide you!
If you have an extra day or two – Grand Teton national park is an option you can definitely look into. Although for animal lovers I would suggest going to the Tetons first and to Yellowstone after. In the Tetons you get the view, but the wildlife of Yellowstone is just overwhelming and I can already tell you that we have not seen as much and as many different animals in any other place we have been at. So the Tetons looked a bit empty after Yellowsone national park.
If you love wildlife as much as I do, I recommend checking out this amazing camping and wilderness blog TheWildGuides.com. It’s full of great guides and tips you might find useful to read before going on your next wild getaway.
Do you have any other questions about the location or the wildlife of Yellowstone, or maybe you think we could cover something more? Just ask us directly by dropping an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or leaving a comment after the article!