Yellowstone National Park is not only my favorite National Park, YellowstoneGrand Canyon of the Yellowstone at Yellowstone National Parkis my favorite place on earth to visit. I have probably spent 2 months total within Yellowstone, and I know for a fact that I havent seen anywhere near half of the stuff there is to see in Yellowstone. Be it hiking around the geyser basins, or trekking out into the middle of Hayden Valley with a folding chair, my camera equipment and a book to read a book and wait for the wildlife to come to me.

By Act of Congress on March 1, 1872, Yellowstone National Park was "dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people" and "for the preservation, from injury or spoilation,
of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders. . . and their retention in their natural condition." Yellowstone is the first and oldest national park in the world.

The commanding features that initially attracted interest, and led to the preservation of Yellowstone as a national park, were geological: the geothermal phenomena (there are more geysers and hot springs here than in the rest of the world combined), the colorful Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, fossil forests, and the size and elevation of Yellowstone Lake.

The human history of the park is evidenced by cultural sites dating back 12,000 years. More recent history can be seen in the historic structures and sites that represent the various periods of park administration and visitor facilities development.

Basic Information on Yellowstone National Park
Operating Hours, Seasons
Summer: Park entrances open on different dates when snow crews are able to clear the roads. Visit the following Web address to learn the projected dates for this year. ( The season runs from mid-April to late-October. Once an entrance/road opens it is open 24 hours. The only exceptions are caused by road construction and weather-caused restrictions.

Winter: The season runs from mid-December to mid-March. The road for the North Entrance at Gardiner, MT to the Northeast Entrance at Cooke City, MT is open to wheeled-vehicle use year around. Only over-snow vehicles are allowed on other park roads.

How to Get to Yellowstone National Park

Nearest Airport to Yellowstone National Park - Commercial airlines serve the following airports near Yellowstone National Park all year: Cody and Jackson, WY; Bozeman and Billings, MT, and Idaho Falls, ID. The West Yellowstone, MT airport is serviced from June to early September.

How to Get to Yellowstone National Park in Your Car-
North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park - Near the gateway community of Gardiner, MT, the North Entrance is the only park entrance open to wheeled vehicles all year. November through April, the North Entrance provides the only access to Cooke City, MT. Beyond Cooke City the road is closed to wheeled vehicles November through April. The road from Mammoth to Norris is open to wheeled vehicles from the third Friday in April through the first Sunday in November, and to tracked oversnow vehicles from the third Wednesday in December to Monday of the first full week in March.

West Entrance to Yellowstone National Park - Adjacent to the town of West Yellowstone, MT, the West Entrance is open to wheeled vehicles from the third Friday in April through the first Sunday in November, and to tracked oversnow vehicles from the third Wednesday in December to Monday of the second full week in March.

South & East Entrances to Yellowstone National Park - Open to wheeled vehicles from the first Friday of May through the first Sunday in November, and to tracked oversnow vehicles from the third wednesday in December to monday of the second full week in March. Limited services are available near the South & East Entrances.

Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone National Park - Near the gateway community of Cooke City, MT, this entrance is open year around for wheeled vehicle access to Cooke City through Gardiner, MT and the North Entrance. Opening dates for roads east of Cooke City vary from year to year, depending on the weather.

Weather & Climate
Summer: Daytime temperatures are often in the 70s (25C) and occasionally in the 80s (30C) in lower elevations. Nights are usually cool and temperatures may drop below freezing at higher elevations. Thunderstorms are common in the afternoons. Winter: Temperatures often range from zero to 20F(-20 to -5C) throughout the day. Sub-zero temperatures over-night are common. The record low temperature is -66F (-54C). Snowfall is highly variable. While the average is 150 inches per year, it is not uncommon for higher elevations to get twice that amount. Spring & Fall: Daytime temperatures range from the 30s to the 60s (0 to 20C) with overnight lows in the teens to single digits (-5 to -20C). Snow is common in the Spring and Fall with regular accumulations of 12" in a 24 hour period. At any time of year, be prepared for sudden changes. Unpredictability, more than anything else, characterizes Yellowstone’s weather. Always be equipped with a wide range of clothing options. Be sure to bring a warm jacket and rain gear even in the summer.

Most visitor centers, gift shops, and hotels are accessible.

Where to Stay at Yellowstone National Park

Camping at Yellowstone National Park
I have spent more than a month total camping in Yellowstone National Park, mostly in Canyon and Bridge Bay.

Bridge Bay Campground
Open Summers
430 sites, more than half located in an open meadow, with no shade and no privacy between campsites. The other half the sites are located in the woods, with 2 loops for tents only. Has flush toilets and no hookups. Showers are available over at fishing bridge rv park. Reservations allowed.

Canyon Campground
Open Summers
272 sites. Although the AAA book says it is for hard sided campers only, tents are allowed at Canyon. All of the sites are situated among the trees, with some truly on the edge of wilderness. Some of the sites are extremely close together (10 feet away), and doesnt allow much room for putting up a larger tent. Reservations allowed.

Fishing Bridge RV Park
Open Summers
Private RV park, with hookups. Has flush toilets, showers and laundry located at entrance.

Grant Village Campground
Open Summers
425 sites. Has flush toilets, showers, and laundry collocated.

Indian Creek Campground
Open Summers
75 sites Vaulted Toilets

Lewis Lake Campground
Open Summers
85 sites. Vaulted Toilets

Madison Campground
Open Summers
280 sites. Flush toilets, no showers.

Mammoth Campground
Open All Year
85 sites. Flush toilets, no showers.

Norris Campground
Open Summers
116 sites. Flush toilets, no showers.

Pebble Creek Campground
Open Summers
32 sites. Vaulted Toilets.

Slough Creek Campground
Open Summers
29 sites. Vaulted Toilets.

Tower Fall Campground
Open Summers
32 sites. Vaulted Toilets.

Lodging Near Yellowstone National Park

A River Runs By It Lodge
A River Runs By It Lodge During FallA River Runs By It Lodge Lobby with large fireplace

Come home to the very best relaxation, serenity and nature with a great breakfast to start each day. This is what A River Runs By It Lodge has to offer you. Meet wonderful people from all over the world. The amenities are endless with a hand-built fireplace, uniquely designed decor with log furniture from local craftsmen and artists. Open year round!! Henry's Lake offers great fishing in the spring and fall. The best Blue Ribbon fishing on the Madison River is close by. Abundant wildlife viewing with elk bugling in the fall. 500 miles of groomed snowmobile trails right from the back door and endless ski trails. Check out Trip advisor!!!

For More Information, Vist A River Runs By It Lodge website.

Activities and More Information on Yellowstone National Park

I am a freelance photographer that specializes in Wildlife and Nature photography, which is one reason why Yellowstone is so near and dear to my heart. You can't find a better mix of subjects to shoot than here in Yellowstone.

Canyon to Roosevelt Lodge
There are great mountain wildflowers that grow along the road from Canyon to Roosevelt that just beg to be photographed. Best yet, there is great scenery visible behind most of these wildflowers, so stop down that aperature and get a great shot of flowers and the valleys beyond. This is also the best area to find both grizzlies and black bears along the side of the road. Be extremely CAUTIONS, this road is always in horrendous condition and is a windy mountain road. Use other people in the car to spot the wildlife, the driver needs to be watching the road for cars and animals (and those car sized pot holes... no Im not kidding). Also along the road is Tower Falls, a somewhat grueling hike down to the base of the falls can give you some nice shots, but you will regret dragging the 20 pounds of equipment to the bottom, as you hike back out. Best deal is a scoop or two of ice cream back at the Hamilton Store next to the parking lot.

*A word of caution along the road. A good portion of the area is "Bear Management Area" and is therefor closed to hike back into it more than 100 yards. I believe the park rangers will be very unhappy if you ignore the signs and walk back into it. If you happen to hike down an area that doesnt have a sign, then you are probably safe, but its best to always ask a park ranger. I got a good yelling at by a park ranger for walking up a hill and back into the woods to try to get some pics of a black bear. I honestly didnt realize it was closed until he said it was. Rangers are very lenient if you honestly dont know what they are talking about but it is a bad thing to lie to them if you really do know the rules.

Fishing Bridge (Lake) to Canyon
This is one of the best 16 mile stretches found anywhere in the entire planet. You start out following the Yellowstone river in dense forest, allowing for some good chances to find black bears and the lone male bison. The first 5 to 6 miles are pretty boring as far as scnenics, but wildlife is usually plentiful. You will then come to the Fountain Paint Pots area (bunch of mud pots). If its a cold morning you will see the steam and smell them before you get close. There are a couple of pretty pools there to photograph. The mud pots are hard to get shots of in any weather except when its warm, due to the amount of steam around them. There is a pretty good chance of finding a lone male bison or two around the mud pots, but its rare to a larger herd there. About 2 miles down the road, you start getting out into the Hayden Valley. This is an ENORMOUS valley that is home to just about every animal found within the park, including a wolf pack or two that relocated into the area back in 1998-1999. The area that is visible from the road is about 1/20th of the valley, so it is actually pretty rare to have the large herd of buffalo visble when you are there. There will always be atleast a couple of lone male bison, but the herds tend to move to higher altitude when the temperature goes up. Grizzly bears are a very common sight from the road, but rarely within 300 yards, so bring a pair of high powered binoculars. Do not go walking out to get closer to the bear, even if you maintain your 100 yards, the park rangers think its their god given rite to yell and scream at you for "harrassing" the wildlife.

If you hike out into the valley, I would suggest walking just on the trail at the far northern edge of the valley, mainly because the valley tends to be very wet and streams criss cross the valley. The underbrush is also rather painful, so wear long pants. Watch out diligently along the treeline and the valley for both rogue bison and bears, since they are very easy to sneak upon, and trust me, you dont want to do that. If you come upon bison, specially if it is a large herd, bypass the area by a large distance, or just turn back. The bison here in yellowstone are a mix of mountain and plains bison, and are therefor just as at home in the trees as in the valley.

The Fishing Bridge area is an interesting place to watch for wildlife, bears are common sight (black bears mostly) and every conceivable type of bird that is found within the park. There is also a small visitor center there and a Hamilton Store.

Old Faithful Area and Surrounding Geyser Basins

This is the most crowded area of the park, and sadly this is also where 60% of the visitors only see. I enjoy spending a day or two in this area of the park when I visit Yellowstone, but in all honesty it is much too crowded to truly enjoy yourself. The essence of National Parks are not to be standing sholder to shoulder or honking horns in crowded parking lots, its to be out in the wilderness. The NPS is building a brand new visitor center here, but I am not sure when it is supposed to be open. The first thing you will notice is that the visitor center here at Old Faithful is actually smaller than the visitor center over at Fishing Bridge. The have no interpretive displays, but it is a convenient place to find out eruptoin predictions of the major geysers, and to ask some questions. Old Faithful is right out the front door of the visitor center, and a trip to Yellowstone is not complete without viewing it. The rest of the Old Faithful area is rather large, and you can take a whole day wandering around trying to see it. It is important that you pay attention to the skies above, because you can be a long way away from the lodge area and a thunderstorm can pop up. Trust me, its happened to me (I had 2 camera's, 2 "big lenses" and a 15 pound tripod with my photo vest, nothing else. It was bright and sunny when I left, not 1 hour later, I was running as fast as possible in heavy hiking boots almost a mile back to my car trying to stay ahead of the rain. I managed to make it, but my shins weren't the same for the rest of the trip).

If you are planning on doing any photography here, it is important to remember that these geysers erupt, and they often go across the boardwalks, so be ready to move fast. You may want to use a polarizing filter, especailly when shooting the pools, since that will help to reduce glare and deepen the colors found in the pools.

Mammoth Hot Springs Area

This is where the park headquarters is located, and the place to be during the winter (since you can drive here). It is much lower in altitude here than the rest of the park, so the temperatures year round are much warmer here. Perhaps the first thing you will notice here is that a herd of elk have adopted the lawns around town as home, and are everywhere. DO NOT APPROACH THEM. THEY ARE WILD. This is the place to get a close shot of them tho, since many times they are sitting 10 feet from the road. Black bears are commonly seen around the hot springs, as well as down by the bridge that heads to Tower.

Geothermal Features

With half of the earth’s geothermal features, Yellowstone holds the planet’s most diverse and intact collection of geysers, hot springs, mudpots, and fumaroles. Its more than 300 geysers make up two thirds of all those found on earth. Combine this with more than 10,000 thermal features comprised of brilliantly colored hot springs, bubbling mudpots, and steaming fumaroles, and you have a place like no other. Geyserland, fairyland, wonderland--through the years, all have been used to describe the natural wonder and magic of this unique park that contains more geothermal features than any other place on earth.

Yellowstone’s vast collection of thermal features provides a constant reminder of the park’s recent volcanic past. Indeed, the caldera provides the setting that allows such features as Old Faithful to exist and to exist in such great concentrations.

Midway Geyser Basin at Yellowstone National Park
Midway Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park

Hot Springs

In the high mountains surrounding the Yellowstone Plateau, water falls as snow or rain and slowly percolates through layers of porous rock, finding its way through cracks and fissures in the earth’s crust created by the ring fracturing and collapse of the caldera. Sinking to a depth of nearly 10,000 feet, this cold water comes into contact with the hot rocks associated with the shallow magma chamber beneath the surface. As the water is heated, its temperatures rise well above the boiling point to become superheated. This superheated water, however, remains in a liquid state due to the great pressure and weight pushing down on it from overlying rock and water. The result is something akin to a giant pressure cooker, with water temperatures in excess of 400°F.

The highly energized water is less dense than the colder, heavier water sinking around it. This creates convection currents that allow the lighter, more buoyant, superheated water to begin its slow, arduous journey back toward the surface through rhyolitic lava flows, following the cracks, fissures, and weak areas of the earth’s crust. Rhyolite is essential to geysers because it contains an abundance of silica, the mineral from which glass is made. As the hot water travels through this "natural plumbing system," the high temperatures dissolve some of the silica in the rhyolite, yielding a solution of silica within the water.

At the surface, these silica-laden waters form a rock called geyserite, or sinter, creating the massive geyser cones; the scalloped edges of hot springs; and the expansive, light- colored, barren landscape characteristic of geyser basins. While in solution underground, some of this silica deposits as geyserite on the walls of the plumbing system forming a pressure-tight seal, locking in the hot water and creating a system that can withstand the great pressure needed to produce a geyser.

With the rise of superheated water through this complex plumbing system, the immense pressure exerted over the water drops as it nears the surface. The heat energy, if released in a slow steady manner, gives rise to a hot spring, the most abundant and colorful thermal feature in the park. Hot springs with names like Morning Glory, Grand Prismatic, Abyss, Emerald, and Sapphire, glisten like jewels in a host of colors across the park’s harsh volcanic plain.


Where hot water is limited and hydrogen sulfide gas is present (emitting the "rotten egg" smell common to thermal areas), sulfuric acid is generated. The acid dissolves the surrounding rock into fine particles of silica and clay that mix with what little water there is to form the seething and bubbling mudpots. The sights, sounds, and smells of areas like Artist and Fountain paint pots and Mud Volcano make these curious features some of the most memorable in the park.

Fumaroles (Steam Vents)

Fumaroles, or steam vents, are hot springs with a lot of heat, but so little water that it all boils away before reaching the surface. At places like Roaring Mountain, the result is a loud hissing vent of steam and gases.

Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces

At Mammoth Hot Springs, a rarer kind of spring is born when the hot water ascends through the ancient limestone deposits of the area instead of the silica-rich lava flows of the hot springs common elsewhere in the park. The results are strikingly different and unique. They invoke a landscape that resembles a cave turned inside out, with its delicate features exposed for all to see. The flowing waters spill across the surface to sculpt magnificent travertine limestone terraces. As one early visitor described them, "No human architect ever designed such intricate fountains as these. The water trickles over the edges from one to another, blending them together with the effect of a frozen waterfall."

How They Work
As ground water seeps slowly downward and laterally, it comes in contact with hot gases charged with carbon dioxide rising from the magma chamber. Some carbon dioxide is readily dissolved in the hot water to form a weak carbonic acid solution. This hot, acidic solution dissolves great quantities of limestone as it works up through the rock layers to the surface hot springs. Once exposed to the open air, some of the carbon dioxide escapes from solution. As this happens, limestone can no longer remain in solution. A solid mineral reforms and is deposited as the travertine that forms the terraces.


Sprinkled amid the hot springs are the rarest fountains of all, the geysers. What makes them rare and distinguishes them from hot springs is that somewhere, usually near the surface in the plumbing system of a geyser, there are one or more constrictions. Expanding steam bubbles generated from the rising hot water build up behind these constrictions, ultimately squeezing through the narrow passageways and forcing the water above to overflow from the geyser. The release of water at the surface prompts a sudden decline in pressure of the hotter waters at great depth, triggering a violent chain reaction of tremendous steam explosions in which the volume of rising, now boiling, water expands 1,500 times or more. This expanding body of boiling superheated water bursts into the sky as one of Yellowstone’s many famous geysers.

There are more geysers here than anywhere else on earth. Old Faithful, certainly the most famous geyser, is joined by numerous others big and small, named and unnamed. Though born of the same water and rock, what is enchanting is how differently they play in the sky. Riverside Geyser shoots at an angle across the Firehole River, often forming a rainbow in its mist. Castle erupts from a cone shaped like the ruins of some medieval fortress. Grand explodes in a series of powerful bursts, towering above the surrounding trees. Echinus spouts up and out to all sides like a fireworks display of water. And Steamboat, the largest in the world, pulsates like a massive steam engine in a rare, but remarkably memorable eruption, reaching heights of 300 to 400 feet.


Yellowstone is known more for its abundant wildlife than any other feature. It is this wildlife that most people come to see, and I dont blame them. Your trip just doesnt feel complete without seeing a moose, a bear, a bison, or even an elk. Below is some basic information on each animal and where you will likely see them.

Black Bears

Color: Varies from pure black to brown, cinnamon, or blonde; in the Rocky Mountains, approximately 50% are black with a light brown muzzle.
Height: About 3 ft (0.9 m) at the shoulder.
Weight: Male: 210-315 lbs (95-143 kg); Female: 135-160 lbs (61-73 kg) (Barnes and Bray 1967).
Home Range Size: Males: 6-124 mi2 (16-321 km2); Females: 2-45 mi2 (5-117 km2) (Mack 1988).
Life Expectancy: 15 - 20 years in the wild; 30+ years in captivity.

This is one animal that causes the most problems in bear encounters, since black bears are generally a curious animal, and want to go figure out what you are. They are generally on the small side, with no hump visible on its front legs. You will find them mostly in wooded areas and along tree lines. It is rare to find them in open valleys. You will find them mostly along the roadway from Grant to Lake, Lake to Canyon, Canyon to Roosevelt, Roosevelt to Mammoth. If you are attacked by a black bear, you must fight back, they will not stop fighting if you play dead.

Grizzly Bears

Color: Varies from black to blonde; frequently with white-tipped fur giving a grizzled, "silver-tipped" appearance. In the Yellowstone ecosystem, many grizzly bears have a light brown girth band.
Height: About 3-1/2 ft (1.0 m) at the shoulder.
Weight: Male: 216-717 lbs (98-325 kg); Female: 200-428 lbs (91-194 kg) (Blanchard 1987).
Home Range Size: Males: 813-2075 mi2 (2106-5374 km2); Females: 309-537 mi2 (801-1391 km2) (Blanchard and Knight 1991).
Life Expectancy: 15 - 20 years in the wild; 30+ years in captivity.

Grizzly bears are generally much larger in size than black bears, and have their characteristic hump on their front legs. Grizzly bears are rarely found in forested areas, and prefer the hunting/foraging of the large valleys, so look for them mostly in the Lamar and Hayden Valleys. Grizzly bears tend to be solitary animals, and will run off when encountered by a human (as long as you dont startle it). If attacked by a grizzly bear because you provoke it, playing dead may convince it that you are no longer a threat and it will leave you alone. If you are attacked at night or think you may be being stalked by the Grizzly, it is best to fight back, since they more than likely think of you as food.


North American Bison "Buffalo" Calf during the early summer at Yellowstone National Park
Young Bison in Hayden Valley - Yellowstone National Park

Bison are the largest mammals in Yellowstone National Park. They are strictly vegetarian, a grazer of grasslands and sedges in the meadows, the foothills, and even the high-elevation, forested plateaus of Yellowstone. Bison males, called bulls, can weigh upwards of 1,800 pounds. Females (cows) average about 1,000 pounds. Both stand approximately six feet tall at the shoulder, and can move with surprising speed to defend their young or when approached too closely by people. Bison breed from mid-July to mid-August, and bear one calf in April and May. Some wolf predation of bison is documented in Canada and has recently been observed in Yellowstone.

Yellowstone is the only place in the lower 48 states where a population of wild bison has persisted since prehistoric times, although fewer than 50 native bison remained here in 1902. Fearing extinction, the park imported 21 bison from two privately-owned herds, as foundation stock for a bison ranching project that spanned 50 years at the Buffalo Ranch in Yellowstone's Lamar Valley. Activities there included irrigation, hay-feeding, roundups, culling, and predator control, to artificially ensure herd survival. By the 1920s, some intermingling of the introduced and wild bison had begun. With protection from poaching, the native and transplanted populations increased. In 1936, bison were transplanted to historic habitats in the Firehole River and Hayden Valley. In 1954, the entire population numbered 1,477. Bison were trapped and herds periodically reduced until 1967, when only 397 bison were counted parkwide. All bison herd reduction activities were phased out after 1966, again allowing natural ecological processes to determine bison numbers and distribution. Although winterkill takes a toll, by 1996 bison numbers had increased to about 3,500.

Bison are nomadic grazers, wandering high on Yellowstone’s grassy plateaus in summer. Despite their slow gait, bison are surprisingly fast for animals that weigh more than half a ton. In winter, they use their large heads like a plow to push aside snow and find winter food. In the park interior where snows are deep, they winter in thermally influenced areas and around the geyser basins. Bison also move to winter range in the northern part of Yellowstone.

Bison are enjoyed by visitors, celebrated by conservationists, and revered by Native Americans. Why are they a management challenge? One reason is that about half of Yellowstone's bison have been exposed to brucellosis, a bacterial disease that came to this continent with European cattle and may cause cattle to miscarry. The disease has little effect on park bison and has never been transmitted from wild bison to a visitor or to domestic livestock. Despite the very low risk to humans and livestock today, since the possibility of contagion exists, the State of Montana believes its "brucellosis-free" status may be jeopardized if bison are in proximity to cattle. Although the risk is very low, if cattle become infected, ranchers can be prevented from shipping livestock out of state until stringent testing and quarantine requirements are met. Although scientists are studying new possibilities, there is yet no known safe, effective brucellosis vaccine for bison. Ironically, elk in the ecosystem also carry the disease, but this popular game species is not considered a threat to livestock.

Yellowstone wildlife freely move across boundaries set a century ago without knowledge of each animal’s habitat needs. But bison are not always unwelcome outside the park. In the park managers have tried to limit bison use of lands outside the park through public hunting, hazing bison back inside park boundaries, capture, testing for exposure to brucellosis, and shipping them to slaughter. Since 1990, state and federal agency personnel have shot bison that leave the park. During the severe winter of 1996-1997, nearly 1,100 bison were sent to slaughter. The carcasses sold at public auction, or shot and given to Native Americans. These actions reduced the bison population to about 2,200 in 1997-1998. In the mild winter of 1997-1998, only 11 bison were killed in management actions, all in January, and all from the West Yellowstone area. Six bison were shot and five were sent to slaughter. Through the winter another 21 bison are known to have died, 12 of natural causes, and 9 from other causes such as collisions with vehicles.

The NPS, U.S.D.A. Forest Service, U.S.D.A. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and the State of Montana completed a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Interagency Bison Management Plan for the State of Montana and Yellowstone National Park for public release on June 12, 1998. The purpose is to maintain a wild free-ranging bison population and to address the risk of brucellosis transmissions to protect the economic interest and viability of the livestock industry in Montana. Alternatives being considered range from: allowing bison to freely range over a large portion of public land inside and outside the park; managing bison like elk and other wildlife through controlled hunting outside park boundaries; and attempting to eradicate brucellosis by capturing, testing, and slaughtering infected bison at numerous facilities constructed inside the park. Additional options include purchase of additional winter range; attacking brucellosis with a (yet unknown) safe and effective vaccine for bison; and quarantine of animals at appropriate locations such as Indian Reservations or other suitable sites outside Yellowstone.


More than 30,000 elk from 7-8 different herds summer in Yellowstone and approximately 15,000 to 22,000 winter in the park. The subspecies of elk that lives here are found from Arizona to northern Canada along the Rocky Mountain chain; other species of elk were historically distributed from coast to coast, but disappeared from the eastern United States in the early 1800s. Some other subspecies of elk still occupy coastal regions of California, Washington, and Oregon. Elk are the second largest member of the deer family (moose are larger). Adult males, or bulls, range upwards of 700 pounds while females, or cows, average 500-525 pounds. Their coats are reddish brown with heavy, darker-colored manes and a distinct yellowish rump patch.

Bulls grow antlers annually from the time they are nearly one year old. When mature, a bull’s "rack" may have 6 to 8 points or tines on each side and weigh more than 30 pounds. The antlers are usually shed in March or April, and begin regrowing in May, when the bony growth is nourished by blood vessels and covered by furry-looking "velvet." Antler growth ceases each year by August, when the velvet dries up and bulls begin to scrape it off by rubbing against trees, in preparation for the autumn mating season or rut. A bull may gather 20-30 cows into his harem during the mating season, often clashing or locking antlers with another mature male for the privilege of dominating the herd group. By November, mating season ends and elk generally move to their winter ranges. Calves weighing 25-40 pounds are born in late May or early June.


Moose (Alces alces shirasi Nelson), the largest member of the deer family, were reportedly very rare in northwest Wyoming when Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872. Subsequent protection from hunting and wolf control programs may have contributed to increased numbers but suppression of forest fires probably was the most important factor, since moose here depend on mature fir forests for winter survival.

Moose breed from early September to November and one to three calves are born in May or June. Calves weigh 25 to 35 pounds at birth but grow rapidly; adult females (cows) weigh up to 800 pounds and males (bulls) up to 1300 pounds. Bulls are readily identified by their large, palmate antlers, which are shed annually, and their bells, an apparently useless dewlap of skin and hair that dangles from the throat. Moose live mostly solitary lives, and die from disease, starvation, or predation by wolves and, occasionally, by grizzly bears.

The moose calf crop has been declining since the fires of 1988. During that summer there was also high predation of moose by grizzly bears in small patches of surviving timber. The winter following the fires many old moose died, probably as a combined result of the loss of good moose forage and a harsh winter. The fires forced some moose into poorer habitats, with the result that some almost doubled their home range, using deeper snow areas than previously, and sometimes browsing burned lodgepole pines. Unlike moose habitat elsewhere, northern Yellowstone does not have woody browse species that will come in quickly after a fire and extend above the snowpack to provide winter food. Therefore, the overall effects of the fires were probably detrimental to moose populations. Park managers, in cooperation with staff from the adjacent Gallatin National Forest and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks continue to seek good methods to monitor the status of moose in northern Yellowstone. Aerial surveys of willow habitats in spring have shown some promise of providing an index of moose population trends in Yellowstone, although their current population and distribution remain largely unknown.

Moose are commonly observed in the park's southwestern corner along the Bechler and Falls rivers, in the riparian zones around Yellowstone Lake, in the Soda Butte Creek, Pelican Creek, Lewis River, and Gallatin river drainages, and in the Willow Park area between Mammoth and Norris. Summer moose migrations from south and west of the park into Yellowstone have been confirmed by radiotelemetry.


As of January, about 200 wolves inhabit the Yellowstone ecosystem. Forty three of these are collared. There are about sixteen packs or groups in the ecosystem, most of which inhabit territories within Yellowstone National Park or Grand Teton National Park. There are currently about 11-12 breeding pairs in the ecosystem.

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