When we decided to go to Yellowstone, seeing wolves top on our to-do list. I did a ton of research and talked to many friends who visited the park with their families. We quickly decided to improve our chances of seeing wolves by booking a private wildlife safari. This was definitely our big-ticket item and there were tons of options. Ultimately we decided to spend the day with Yellowstone Wild and do wildlife viewing in the morning and fly fishing in the afternoon. Best. Decision. Ever. This was a day none of us will ever forget.
We were up at 4:30am and met our guide, Evan, promptly at 5am. Yes, it was still dark. He drove us approximately 45 minutes to Lamar Valley, where we arrived just as the sun was rising. It was gorgeous. And cold.
Evan set up scopes for us and, literally, in about 30 seconds, had them focused on three grizzly bears who were gathering up insects for their morning breakfast. They were about 1 mile away so we couldn’t see them without the scopes. This was the way I wanted to observe grizzly bears!
Lamar Valley was a wildlife wonderland at 6am! While our guide Evan was on the lookout (and radios) for wolves, we were having a great time! There were a few bison roaming around and we got a cool shot highlighting the size difference between a bison and a grizzly:
We also had a family of pronghorn wander by right in front of us. After watching them for a bit, they laid in the grass in front of us and disappeared. Through the scopes, we could see the pronghorn running right by the grizzly bears … not that the bears cared. Pronghorn are the second-fastest runners on earth (behind the cheetah) so the grizzlies have no chance of catching them in August. But they are much, much slower in the snow. Yeah, we are pretty much wildlife experts after one day with Evan…
We also had a close encounter with a bull bison who apparently wanted to have a look through our scopes. Evan taught us a lot about bison throughout the day … most importantly to be very cautious of these males during the August rut! We quickly and calmly got back into the car as this guy came close, avoiding sudden movements and loud noises.
After an hour or so, Evan got the call he’d been waiting for … the adults from the Junction Butte wolf pack was spotted at Slough Creek. Evan threw our stuff in the car and we were off! Unfortunately, it was after 7am by then and “many” observers were already at Slough Creek.
There was no space on the prime viewing hill, but we set up on a second hill. With help via radio from some other Yellowstone Wild guides, we were able to get the wolves in our scopes. They were also close enough to barely see without the scopes. Over the next hour, we would watch seven wolves (4 black, 2 grey) make their way back toward the den. It was everything we wanted it to be!
After the wolves, we got caught in our first bison jam, a Yellowstone rite of passage. Evan used that opportunity to teach us all about the bison rut, explaining the various behaviors of the males and females. We got to see several baby bison up close, and capped it off with a bull bison that charged the car and almost hit us! We also saw a badger but it ran so fast that we didn’t get any pictures.
By now it was after 9am and we had already checked the box for our 2 big-ticket items (grizzles and wolves) and our a few of our second-tier animals. It was time to move on to fly fishing.
Our first stop was along the Lamar River. It was so gorgeous, it felt like we were in a movie. Even better, the fish were hungry! Evan accidentally caught a fish when he was teaching us how to fish. :-) Once the boys got going, they each caught a fish very quickly. The boys caught four Yellowstone Cut-Throat Trout, which all have to be released. So much fun!
Evan brought a great lunch for us, and, much to our delight, he knew a secret picnic spot where you could actually get a table. No lunch on the side of the road for us! In the afternoon, we went to a fishing spot on the Yellowstone River. The current was much faster! We didn’t catch any fish here, but we sure had a great time.
As we were leaving to head back to Gardiner, we saw our first black bear and got caught in our first bear jam (similar but different than a bison jam). That checked the last box for W. Best Day Ever!
More from our Grand Tetons & Yellowstone trip here.