Yellowstone trip results

Hey Folks,

Thanks again for the help on trip planning on my first trip to Yellowstone. I am not going to give a day by day account of the trip (I am in the middle of a cross country move which a few days later is followed by multi-week trip to New Zealand, but rather I am going to give a few points relevant to visiting the park (specifically in late May) as well as my trip list.

First off, for those planning on a early season trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton, please keep in mind the following:

Weather can be very unpredictable. A few days before I left the forecast was Sunny for the entire trip, but by the time I arrived most days were overcast, with constant rain a problem on Wednesday (which resulted in me spending the day in the hotel, catching up on other work.

This is also likely to lead to problems with travel.  The beartooth Highway was closed for much of my trip, and I had to travel the long way around.

Most of the tourist activity is centered in the southwest of the park, which also has less biodiversity. If visiting with the intent of seeing wildlife, base yourself in the north of the Park. I used Cooke City as my base of operations, as it has the closest hotel to Lamar Valley. It’s a very tiny town however, and I was unable to get gas on memorial day.

Expect everything to be costly.

Traffic/people was somewhat light during my stay. I only ran into bad traffic on my first day in the park, which also had the best weather of the trip. Most tourists don’t really get out into the park until after 10 or 11, so hitting up the park early will give you the best results. Be careful when driving through the park…there are a lot of tourists who don’t know what they are doing, and will happily stop there car in the middle of the road or run out into the road without a care in the world.

If you are visiting in late spring, please be aware that the south part of the park is something like 2 weeks behind the north part, and was still cold with plenty of snow on the ground, compared to the rainy but snowless northern part

Spotting scopes are essential for a successful trip. Mine tripod broke on the first day of the trip, which was problematic for Lamar valley, where viewing is sometimes of animals miles away. Various people were nice enough to let me look, but it would have been better if I could have had my own.

Speaking of people, looking for mass groups of people with scopes/bins/fancy cameras is probably the best way of finding animals. Most groups were pretty nice, just be sure to follow guidelines regarding safe distance from wildlife (100 yards for predators) and pull off the road completely, otherwise expect to be yelled at

Now for the annotated triplist (19 species total):

North American Water Vole: Probably the best mammals of the trip, fleeting views were had at a small pond near Trout Lake. Listed as occasional at the park, but that might simply be due to lack of attention/concern over small mammals.

Muskrat: Multiple individuals seen from the viewpoint onto the Flat River north of Jackson, as well as along Moose-Wilson road in Grand Teton

American Beaver: One animal along Moose-Wilson road, at sawmill ponds, at dusk.

Least Chipmunk: Various places in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park. Inclement weather made small mammal activity scarce, and I saw surprising few squirrels

Yellow-Pine Chipmunk: Lifer, two individuals along the Moose Pond trail in Grand Teton National Park.

American Red Squirrel: Seen along the Jenny Lake Trail, Trout Lake Trail, and in various stops in the Northeast section o f the park.

Yellow-bellied Marmot: A colony on the Moose Pond loop in Grand Teton NP

Uinta Ground Squirrel: Lifer, A few around Jenny Lake and Moose Pond trails in Grand Teton, as well as a few in the Lamar Valley. Saw surprisingly few ground squirrels this trip, which I blame on the weather.

American Badger: one near a den site in Lamar valley, at one of the turnouts. Foraging in sagebrush.

Gray Wolf: Lifer, one very distant male with mange and a noticeable limp. Not the most glamorous sighting. Lamar Valley

Coyote: Two, one along the south entrance road (that tourists kept calling a fox) and one in Little America

American Black Bear: 7 or so encounters. One individual who liked to hang out along the road near the entrance of Silvergate, two separate mothers with cubs along the central stretch of road between Mammoth and Northeast entrance, one near tower, and another near the Lamar river canyon. Great looks

Brown (Grizzly) Bear: Lifer,  three separate encounters. One close individual along the main road leading north into Yellowstone, which was being harassed by tourists. Two other encounters in Lamar valley, a very very very distant mother with cubs on the mountainside, and another bear foraging in sage.

American Bison: Lifer, scattered individuals in the southwest corner of the park, and herds in Hayden and Lamar Valley

Bighorn sheep: Scattered individuals near Tower, and a cooperative resting group just off the road near the Red Fox den site

Mountain Goat: Lifer, Considered “rare” in park literature, these guys are actually common if you have a spotting scope and know where to look. Scene with scope on distant rocky ridges from the parking areas for Pebble Creek, Baronette Peak, and Trout Lake.

Pronghorn: a few scattered individuals in Lamar Valley…not as common as I expected.

Mule Deer: Jenny Lake trail in Grand Teton as well as along the northeast entrance road.

Elk/Wapiti: Common around the visitor facilities at Mammoth, with scattered individuals elsewhere.

Moose: 4 encounters, two along the northeast entrance road and two browsing on the hillside behind the Cooke City Super Eight.

Stuff I missed: There was a Red Fox den near lamar valley that I passed several times, and was a zoo with sometimes as many as 50 people gathered around it waiting for the parents or kits to make an appearance. Obviously American Marten was high on my wishlist, and in summer they are sometimes seen along the Northeast Entrance road, Hellroaring and Mt Washburn trails, and around Jenny Lake in Grand Teton (with this latter site probably the most reliable). Hiked to Trout Lake, and despite spending a morning there and along it’s inlet stream, did not see any otters, although they are still being seen there regularly, and did see spraint. The trout are not quite running yet, so they might be more reliable in a few weeks. Tried for Pika at Hellroaring and had no luck, although they are regularly recorded. Did have a possible Uinta Chipmunk at Hellroaring, but it disappeared before I could eliminate Yellow-Pine. Had I gone out through Cody I could have added Feral Horse to the trip list. Surprisingly, I did not encounter a single rabbit on the trip.


  • vdinets

    Wow, that’s really good. Bighorns were close to impossible a few years ago, but it looks like they are becoming easier.
    Have you tried hiking in Lamar Valley? I was able to show my mom a grizzly at a reasonably short distance, and a badger literally under our feet.

  • morganchurchill

    also I apologize for the horrible grammar. I had only a short time to punch this out, so the editing wasn’t quite up to snuff.

  • Mike Richardson

    That’s an impressive list. How many days were you in the park? I intend to visit Yellowstone in the next year or so, but due to my business I’m unable to take vacations between May and late September. I guess early October would be better than late April if I want to avoid bad weather and see more mammals?

    • morganchurchill

      It’s pretty much a crap shoot on weather in Wyoming, especially in the mountainous areas. Early October will probably be better than April, but you should pack with the expectation of warm weather and snow for any trip in October (or really May and June for that matter).

      No idea when the bears begin hibernating, but I had heard from some people that wolves are easier in winter (and possibly otters), so that is an option as well.

  • Alan

    Great report Morgan. Congrats on the great sightings, especially the badger which eluded us. We just returned from a week plus in Yellowstone (our 8th visit). I echo the information that you have provided and will post info on our trip soon.

    Mike, we have visited in early October and it is a great time to visit but the chance of bad weather increases dramatically. You can read two of my trip reports from October here (I can’t remember if they are posted on or not: Just click on “Yellowstone” on the right side and drill down to 2007 and 2008 to find the day by day details.

  • Jon Hall

    Great report Morgan. How long were you there for?

  • Conuropsis

    Great list. Got most of those on my honeymoon there in the first two weeks of June 2013. It’s interesting you had weather problems. We had beautiful sunny days the whole time we were there. Wish I had gotten the wolf. Next time.


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