Everyone has heard about the “Big 5” when you are on an African Safari, so we thought we’d play along and introduce a Big 5 to Yellowstone National Park. Anyone who has ever been to Yellowstone before will know that the place is abundant with wildlife. The fairly open landscape makes it easy to spot as well. That’s one of the things we love about Yellowstone National Park. The park is set up for all ages and people of different physical ability to enjoy. Yes, you will see more if you hike the back-country trails, but you can also see amazing things even if you don’t want to walk more than a hundred yards from your car. The way the park has been set up is great for everyone willing to venture to this park. You are basically guaranteed to see lots of wildlife in a stunning setting. And that’s one of the reasons we decided to return after first visiting the park on our 12,000 mile road trip back in 2012.
While there is lots of different wildlife to see, we think that 5 really stand out. Not surprisingly the “Big 5” are 5 of the largest animals you will find in Yellowstone. So, let’s get started on the “Big 5” of spectacular wildlife of Yellowstone National Park.
By far the most popular animal in Yellowstone, whether it be the black or brown. People come from all over the USA (and the world) to see them. If you are on the look out for a bear you’ll find them where there is a massive traffic jam, 100s of people out of their car and dozens of cameras on tripods. Yes, it’s very difficult to get them to yourself. As soon as one is spotted the word gets out quickly and people will be turning up in droves. But even with crowds it’s still an amazing experience to see these majestic animals wander the landscape. With only about one thousand bears in the park it isn’t unusual for a visitor not to see a bear at all. While they are generally not scared of humans, they will tend to stay away from the roads and camps meaning they are less often sighted. This is particularly true now with the National Park Service doing a fantastic job of educating the public about not leaving their food out.
You will have no problems finding a bison. In fact, by the end of a visit you will probably have seen hundreds. There are estimated to be 4,000 bison in the park. Their love of grazing the open fields and because they hang out together in herds means you see them all over the place. Bison can weigh up to 1,800 pounds and use their massive head to move snow so they can feed in the winter. You will often find them walking down the road, so be careful when driving.
Known best for their beautiful antlers you shouldn’t have too many problems seeing these guys all around the park. Estimates of up to 30,000 elks can be found in Yellowstone and you will find them around every corner. You also often find them near campsites crazing on anything they can find.
Of the “Big 5”, these are the hardest ones to spot around the park. Firstly there are only about 100 of them, and secondly, they spend a large portion of the day lying down under trees. Even if you are close to one, you might not even see it as it hides in the long grass. Sunrise and sunset is the best time of day to see them out and about. They roam in packs and have the ability to bring down and kill a bison, which considering the size is amazing. Wolves had to be reintroduced to the Yellowstone in 1995 after they were eradicated in the early 1900s as part of predator control measure. Since the reintroduction they have been doing well and hopefully we will not see another period where wolves don’t roam Yellowstone.
The largest of the deer family is also quite rare in Yellowstone. There are fewer than 200 to be found here with most of them found in the southern end of the park. Fortunately, due to their size, you can see them quite easily if you are in the general facility of one. They are often a victim of hunters due to their antlers.
Best of the Rest
While the Big 5 are the cream of the crop there are 100s of other types of animals and bird-life to see when visiting. While some can be quite difficult to find, like the wolverine and lynx, there are plenty that can be seen everywhere, like the crow and deer. You will find the place teaming with wildlife around each turn you take, whether it be by car or hiking the back-country trails. Our pick of the remainder is the otter. That’s mainly because it is a personal favorite of ours. They aren’t easy to find, but your best chance to find one in one of the many waterways in the park in winter at dusk or dawn. Their dark coat is easy to see against the snow.
Last Word on Safety
Never forget that these animals are wild. It may feel like somewhat of a controlled environment in Yellowstone because of the number of people around, and the animals certainly have become accustomed to humans, but make no mistake, they will protect themselves if they feel threatened. It is a common site to see people walk up close to these animals to try and take a photo. We shake our heads in disbelief. These animals are wild. It’s not worth that selfie to risk your life. Keep safe!
This post forms part of our road trip from San Diego to Toronto series.
Have you been to Yellowstone? Which is your favorite of the spectacular wildlife of Yellowstone National Park?