Yellowstone National Park Animals: Best Family Guide

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If you’re planning a family trip to Yellowstone National Park, get ready for an unforgettable experience!

This remarkable park is a haven for wildlife lovers and offers a fantastic chance for your family to bond with nature while discovering the most iconic animals of North America in their natural habitat.

In this extensive “Yellowstone National Park Animals” guide, we’ll explore the incredible wildlife awaiting your family in Yellowstone, along with the best times and places to catch sight of these magnificent creatures.

And grab a copy of the free printable wildlife Bingo card for your family, too!

family in front of the Morning Glory pool in the Upper Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National ParkPin
Yellowstone is our family’s favorite national park…one reason? Wildlife!
woman seen taking picture through side mirror of car in yellowstone national parkPin

Pro Tip:

Yellowstone is a BIG park. You’ll have lots of time in the car. Make the most of it with one of these AWESOME audio guides. This is my family’s go-to company for national park audio tours. You’ll learn something, and everyone will be totally entertained, too!

Grab a Yellowstone Audio Tour

Yellowstone National Park Animals

Alright! Let’s meet the Yellowstone National Park animals that are a part of this favorite (and first!) US national park!

Bison: The True Symbol of Yellowstone

Best Time to Spot Them: Year-round, best during spring and summer
Best Time of Day: Morning and Late Afternoon
Best Places to Spot Them: North Entrance, Lamar Valley

As you enter the park, you might be greeted by one of the most iconic mammals of the United States, the bison, also (somewhat incorrectly) called buffalo. These magnificent creatures roam freely throughout the park, and you can spot them all year round.

Yellowstone National Park animals: bison amongst others in Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National ParkPin
male bison standing amongst members of his herd in Lamar Valley

However, for the best sightings, head to Lamar Valley during the summer months when they gather in large herds for the rut, which lasts from about June-early September, the peak typically being in August.

During the rut, it’s almost uncommon to see a bison outside of Lamar Valley…perhaps just a stray male every once in a while.

Yellowstone National Park animals: lone bison near the wood line in Yellowstone National ParkPin
lone male bison near West Yellowstone entrance

Remember, they may look calm, but these are wild animals – so always keep a safe distance, especially if you have little ones with you. At least several people each and every year are gored, thrown, and sometimes even killed by Yellowstone bison. Do not tempt fate.

Mornings and late afternoons are great times for bison viewing.

YouTube video
some of our family’s favorite bison experiences in the park

Elk

Best Time to Spot Them: Year-round, but best during the fall rut
Best Time of Day: Dawn and Dusk
Best Places to Spot Them: Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower areas and at Old Faithful

Elk are a common sight in Yellowstone and are often spotted in the Tower and Mammoth areas and at Old Faithful.

elk cow (female) hanging out by the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel sign in YellowstonePin
Elk cow (female) welcoming visitors to the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel (at least that’s what it looked like)

Spring and early summer are ideal for seeing elk, as this is when they give birth to their calves, baby elk.

YouTube video
some of our favorite elk experiences from around Yellowstone

Remember to keep your distance from these large mammals and use binoculars or a zoom lens to get a closer look.

YouTube video
Bull Elk bugling during the fall rut in Yellowstone

Dawn and dusk provide the best lighting for photography.

bull elk near Mammoth Hot Springs (north area of Yellowstone National Park)Pin
lone bull elk near Mammoth Hot Springs

Black Bears and Grizzly Bears

Best Time to Spot Them: Spring through Fall
Best Time of Day: Dawn and Dusk
Best Places to Spot Grizzly Bears: Lamar Valley, Swan Lake Flats, Gardiners Hole, Hayden Valley, and between Fishing Bridge and the East Entrance
Best Places to Spot Black Bears: Between Elk Creek and Tower Falls and between Mammoth Hot Springs and Indian Creek

Yellowstone is home to both black bears and grizzly bears, and while they are awe-inspiring, they should be observed from a safe distance.

YouTube video
Typically, if you get the chance to spot Yellowstone bears, it will always be at a distance, like this Mama grizzly and her cubs (can you spot one?) between Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower-Roosevelt

Grizzly bears are most commonly seen in Lamar Valley, Swan Lake Flats, Gardiners Hole, Hayden Valley in West Yellowstone, and between Fishing Bridge and the East Entrance.

YouTube video
some of our family’s black bear sightings in the park

Black bears are usually seen in the northern portion of the park between Elk Creek and Tower Falls and between Mammoth Hot Springs and Indian Creek.

boy standing under a statue of a grizzly pouncing at Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West YellowstonePin
Want a (safe) close encounter with a grizzly? The best place to do that is at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone

Spring through early fall is the optimal time to see them, with dawn and dusk being the best times for sightings.

Yellowstone National Park animals: black bear walking away from the camera in tall brush near Roosevelt Lodge in Yellowstone NPPin
Black bear spotted in tall brush heading away from the camera/road near Roosevelt Lodge

Bears come out of hibernation in spring, making this a fantastic opportunity to witness their activities.

a grizzly sitting at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West YellowstonePin
See how impressive these animals are by making a visit to the Grizzly and Wolf Discover Center in West Yellowstone – a rescue organization for “nuisance” bears that became too accustomed to humans to survive safely in the wild

Mountain Lions

Best Time to Spot Them: Rarely seen, but possible year-round

Mountain lions are secretive and elusive creatures, making sightings quite rare.

They are often seen in the northern parts of the park, near Gardiner and Lamar Valley, but don’t count on it. These big cats tend to avoid human contact.

telescope set up in Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park to spot wolvesPin
Taking a telescope, and definitely binoculars is a GREAT idea in Yellowstone. Animals like mountain lions are extremely elusive so your chances of catching animals will improve with these tools (although it’s still SUPER rare to spot one of these big cats).

Bighorn Sheep

Best Time to Spot Them: Year-round, but best during the fall rut
Best Time of Day: Early Morning and Late Afternoon
Best Places to Spot Them: Higher elevations near Gardiner/the North Entrance, Lamar Valley

Bighorn sheep are expert climbers and are often found in higher elevations in the northern parts of the park, near Gardiner (the North Entrance) as well as Mount Washburn.

The north entrance road washed out in 2022 due to historic flooding. It used to be that along this road, which snaked its way from Gardiner to Mammoth Hot Springs, you could often spot Bighorn Sheep on the Gardiner Canyon slopes.

Visit during the fall to witness the bighorn sheep rutting season, or mating season, when males compete for dominance. Early mornings and late afternoons are ideal for spotting them.

Ram (male bighorn sheep) crossing the road in Badlands National Park, South DakotaPin
This is a bighorn ram we saw up close and personal in Badlands NP – typically, you don’t get to be this close to these animals as they hang out on rocky, high outcroppings and cliffs

Bald Eagles

Best Time to Spot Them: Year-round, but most common in the winter
Best Time of Day: Early Morning
Best Places to Spot Them: Madison River, Hayden Valley, Fishing Bridge, and Yellowstone Lake

Bald eagles are a common sight in Yellowstone, and they’re often spotted near rivers and lakes. Look for dead trees! They love those.

bald eagle in a treePin
I never take an amazing camera with me when I travel, so most of my wildlife shots you’ll see are just average. This one is really grainy, admittedly, but it was so awesome to see this bird so (relatively) close that I could get this pic with my phone!

While they are present year-round, they are particularly abundant in the winter when they congregate to feast on carrion, or carcasses.

Early mornings provide excellent opportunities for eagle watching.

Yellowstone National Park animals: bald eagle in a dead tree against a blue sky in Yellowstone NPPin
Bald Eagle in Yellowstone spotted in a dead tree (which they LOVE)

Mule Deer

Best Time to Spot Them: Year-round
Best Time of Day: Dawn and Dusk
Best Places to Spot Them: Madison River and near Blacktail

Mule deer are a common sight in the park, and you can spot them throughout the year. They are often seen along the Madison River, in the Mammoth Hot Springs area, and near Blacktail between Mammoth and Tower, so keep your eyes peeled during your visit.

Dawn and dusk are great times to observe their activities.

Yellowstone National Park animals: female mule deer and her baby in Yellowstone National ParkPin

Trumpeter Swans

Best Time to Spot Them: Spring and early summer
Best Time of Day: Morning
Best Places to Spot Them: Swan Lake, Madison River, Yellowstone River

Yellowstone is home to a population of trumpeter swans, and you can see these elegant waterfowl during the spring and early summer.

trumpeter swans with several cygnets in Swan Lake, Yellowstone NPPin
Trumpeter Swans + cygnets in Swan Lake

Head to the park’s many lakes and rivers for the best sightings, especially in the morning. Ironically, one of the best spots to see them is called Swan Lake!

trumpeter swans with several cygnets in Swan Lake, Yellowstone NPPin

You can also spot them on Madison River and on the Yellowstone River below Fishing Bridge.

trumpeter swan Yellowstone NPPin

Coyotes

Best Time to Spot Them: Year-round
Best Time of Day: Dawn and Dusk
Best Places to Spot Them: Open areas like Hayden Valley

Coyotes are adaptable animals often seen in open areas like Hayden Valley.

They’re active year-round, so you have a good chance of spotting them during your visit. Dawn and dusk are when they are most active.

Yellowstone National Park animals: coyote in a field with wildflowersPin

River Otters

Best Time to Spot Them: Year-round, but most active in spring and summer
Best Time of Day: Early Morning and Late Afternoon
Best Places to Spot Them: Madison River, Yellowstone River, and Yellowstone Lake

River otters are a playful bunch and are often seen near lakes and rivers, especially in the spring and summer.

Yellowstone River, Madison River, and Yellowstone Lake are great places to look for these aquatic acrobats. Early mornings and late afternoons offer the best opportunities for otter sightings.

We’ve never been lucky enough to spot these guys in the wild. But if you have the same experience, don’t despair. There’s an awesome display at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone where you can see these fun creatures up close.

two river otters on a bank in Yellowstone National Park, WyomingPin

Gray Wolves

Best Time to Spot Them: Spring through Fall
Best Time of Day: Dawn and Dusk
Best Place to Spot Them: Lamar Valley

Yellowstone is renowned for its wolf packs, and they’re a true testament to the park’s conservation efforts.

view through a telescope of one of the wolves in Yellowstone, in the Lamar ValleyPin
a wolf seen in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone through a telescope

To see these elusive creatures, visit Lamar Valley, especially during the spring and early summer. The presence of wolves often attracts a crowd of wildlife enthusiasts hoping to witness their behavior.

YouTube video
Hudson, our youngest, spotted these two wolves in Lamar Valley

Dawn and dusk are prime times for wolf watching.

a wolf at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West YellowstonePin
We got to see this gray wolf up close and personal because it’s one of the wolves at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone

Or, take a shortcut and go check out these guys up close at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone. It’s a fabulous place that everyone in your family will love!

YouTube video
Gray wolves at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone

Peregrine Falcons

Best Time to Spot Them: Year-round
Best Time of Day: Late Morning and Early Afternoon
Best Places to Spot Them: Cliffs throughout the park

Peregrine falcons are incredibly fast and agile birds of prey. While they can be seen year-round, they are often spotted near cliffs and steep terrain, so look up when exploring the park.

Late mornings and early afternoons are ideal for falcon watching.

peregrine falcon in flightPin
Peregrine Falcon in flight

Cutthroat Trout

Best Time to Spot Them: Year-round
Best Time of Day: Anytime
Best Place to Spot Them: Soda Butte Creek

Cutthroat trout are native to Yellowstone’s waters, and you can spot them year-round in the park’s lakes and rivers. Fly-fishing enthusiasts will find this a fantastic opportunity.

cutthroat trout in an exhibit at the West Yellowstone Grizzly & Wolf Discovery CenterPin
See beautiful, native cutthroat trout up close at the Grizzly & Wold Discovery Center

Also, if you plan to fish in or around the park, be aware of current regulations regarding non-native fish species. The park is in an epic battle against non-native fish in the park. If certain fish (like lake trout) are caught, they must be killed and cannot be released.

cutthroat trout in an exhibit at the West Yellowstone Grizzly & Wolf Discovery CenterPin

Mountain Goats

Best Time to Spot Them: Year-round
Best Time of Day: Morning and Late Afternoon
Best Places to Spot Them: Sepulcher Mountain

Mountain goats are often seen in the high-altitude areas of the park, particularly in the northern regions. Look for them on Sepulcher Mountain, outside Mammoth Hot Springs. Their impressive climbing abilities make them a fascinating sight to behold.

Mornings and late afternoons are when they are most active.

White-Tailed Jackrabbits

Best Time to Spot Them: Year-round
Best Time of Day: Early Morning and Dusk
Best Places to Spot Them: Any grassy areas

White-tailed jackrabbits are common in Yellowstone and can be seen all over the park year-round.

These large hares are often found in grassy and open areas. Early mornings and dusk are when they are most active.

white tailed jackrabbit in yellowstone national parkPin

Bats

Best Time to Spot Them: Nighttime

Bats are nocturnal creatures and are rarely seen during the day. If your family is camping in Yellowstone, keep an eye out for them while stargazing in the park.

Pika

Best Time to Spot Them: Spring through Fall
Best Time of Day: Morning
Best Places to Spot Them: High elevation near rock fall

Pikas are small, rabbit-like creatures that live in the high alpine regions of Yellowstone.

They are most active in the warmer months and can be spotted near rocky outcrops. Mornings are a great time for seeing these small mammals.

pika in yellowstone national parkPin
Pika only live at the highest elevation areas of the park

Yellow-Bellied Marmots

Best Time to Spot Them: Spring through Fall
Best Time of Day: Mid-Morning and Mid-Afternoon
Best Place to Spot Them: Sheepeater Cliffs

Yellow-bellied marmots are often seen near rocky outcrops and cliffs like Sheepeater Cliffs. They are most active during the warmer months, so spring through fall is the ideal time for sightings.

Mid-morning and mid-afternoon are when they are most active.

YouTube video
Yellow-Bellied Marmot Motel – or that’s what it looked like! Seen on the Sheepeater trail

Pronghorns

Best Time to Spot Them: Year-round
Best Time of Day: Morning and Late Afternoon
Best Place to Spot Them: Higher elevations/slopes between Gardiner (north entrance) and Mammoth Hot Springs, Lamar Valley

Pronghorns are known for their incredible speed topping out just over 60mph, making them the fastest land animals in North America.

While they can be spotted year-round, spring is a great time to see them, especially in Lamar Valley.

Mornings and late afternoons offer the best chances to witness their lightning-fast sprints.

YouTube video
Small herd of pronghorn grazing near Mammoth Hot Springs

Bobcats

Best Time to Spot Them: Rarely seen
Best Time of Day: Dawn and Dusk

Bobcats are elusive and rarely seen in the park. They are solitary animals and tend to avoid human contact.

If you’re lucky, you might spot one during dawn or dusk when they are most active.

bobcat on a river bank in yellowstone national parkPin

Badgers

Best Time to Spot Them: Year-round
Best Time of Day: Early Morning and Late Afternoon
Best Places to Spot Them: Lamar and Hayden Valleys

Badgers are known for their digging prowess and are often seen in open areas. They are active year-round, so you have a good chance of spotting them during your visit.

Early mornings and late afternoons are when they are most active.

badger in yellowstone national parkPin

Martens, Red Foxes, Long-Tailed Weasels, Wolverines

Best Time to Spot Them: Rarely seen
Best Time of Day: Dawn and Dusk

These elusive predators are rarely seen in the park. They are known for their secretive nature and tend to avoid human contact.

If you’re patient and observant, you might catch a glimpse of them during dawn or dusk when they are most active.

Moose

Best Time to Spot Them: Year-round
Best Time of Day: Early Morning and Late Afternoon
Best Places to Spot Them: Willow Park, Yellowstone Lake, Fishing Bridge, and Hayden Valley

Moose are impressive animals often seen near water…swamplike areas, lakes and rivers, especially in the northern regions of the park. They are active year-round, so you have a good chance of spotting them.

moose munching willow right outside Yellowstone National Park on way in from Grand Tetons National ParkPin
It’s a moose-spotting “Where’s Waldo” – how many moose do you see?

Early mornings and late afternoons provide excellent lighting for moose photography.

The big fires of 1988 burned a significant portion of their habitat. And an increasing elk population has meant more competition for some favorite food sources like willow.

YouTube video
Moose happily grazing near the south Yellowstone NP entrance in Wyoming

So moose have been moving outside of the park, and it’s becoming more rare to see these animals inside Yellowstone. Nearby Grand Tetons NP is actually a better moose sighting park.

moose munching willow right outside Yellowstone National Park on way in from Grand Tetons National ParkPin

We were told by a park ranger on our trip to Yellowstone in 2023 that there are currently less than 100 moose known to be in the park boundaries. Although sites like this one from NPS still give 200 or less as the official figure.

Different sources I found regarding numbers of moose in Grand Tetons ranged from 400-800 (the 800 figure included those in Yellowstone).

Beavers

Best Time to Spot Them: Year-round
Best Time of Day: Early Morning and Dusk
Best Place to Spot Them: Beaver Pond Loop Trail

Beavers are remarkable builders and can be found near lakes and rivers throughout the year.

They are most active during early mornings and dusk, so plan your sightings accordingly.

beaver hard at work yellowstone national parkPin

Remember, while observing these incredible animals, safety and respect for wildlife are paramount. Keep a safe distance, use binoculars or a zoom lens for close-up views, and never feed or approach the animals.

The Yellowstone National Park animals are part of what makes the park so special, and by following these guidelines, you can ensure a safe and unforgettable experience for your family.

Don’t forget to print some copies of the Yellowstone wildlife bingo cards. And try one of these fabulous audio tours so you can learn while driving through the park! Enjoy your wildlife adventure in Yellowstone!

Pin this Yellowstone National Park animals article for later! And if you found this article helpful, leave a comment on the pin. That helps others decide whether to use this information, too!

A Guide to Wildlife: Yellowstone National Park (with Bull Elk) - Yellowstone is one of the most popular US National Parks for good reasons - one being the incredible variety of wildlife! This guide will help you prepare for your trip, and you can grab a free printable wildlife bingo card to make animal spotting even more fun!Pin
happy trails, heatherPin
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About Heather Thibodeau

Heather Thibodeau is the founder and mom behind nationalparksmom.com.

She and her husband Dave (AKA Tib) are on a mission to travel to as many US national parks with their three kids in tow as they possibly can, doing their best to keep the little ones out in nature and off of screens in an increasingly digital world.

Heather has earned degrees in biology & chemistry from Virginia Tech (Go Hokies), and holds master's and doctorate degrees in physical therapy from Duke University (Go Blue Devils).

Heather is also the creative force behind The Heathered Nest where she shares her love of all things DIY and home decor.

Her work has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens, House Beautiful, Good Housekeeping, This Old House, Today.com, The Washington Post, Boston Globe, and more.

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