Go On Safari In Yellowstone And Grand Teton National Park

Spot bears on a North American safariThe thought of going on safari generally conjures up mental images of driving across the African savannah dressed in khaki and wearing a pith helmet while spotting elephants and lions. But did you know that it is possible to get a true safari experience in North America, without having to endure a very long trans-Atlantic flight?

Luxury travel company The Clear Creek Group is now offering the Wolf and Bear Expedition, which promises to take adventurous travelers into Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in search of the two legendary predators. The three-day trip pairs visitors with a wildlife biologist who then guides them into the the famous Lamar and Hayden Valleys, which are often referred to as “the Serengeti of North America.” Those two destinations feature an incredible amount of wildlife, including bison, moose, elk and more, set against a dramatic backdrop of sprawling and beautiful landscapes.

The Wolf and Bear Expedition begins and ends in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, but while on safari, travelers will stay in the wonderfully quirky Montana town of Cooke City. Accommodations are included as part of the package, as are side visits to Old Faithful, the spectacular Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and the terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs.

Of course, the real highlight of the trip is the wildlife, which will take center stage thanks to the expert guides on these trips. They’ll know how to locate the predators in the wild and they’ll give travelers an opportunity to observe them in their natural settings.

Having visited Lamar Valley myself, I can tell you that it truly is a magical setting. I’ve seen the wildlife there and it is quite the experience. While I was there, I spotted a large moose, a pack of wolves and numerous elk and bison. Sadly, I didn’t get the chance to see a bear, although on this excursion it sounds like that is more likely to happen.

The four-night itinerary for the Wolf and Bear Expedition is packed top-to-bottom with activities for a very busy few days. Prices start at $3675 with bookings available in May, June, September and October.

[Photo Credit: Clear Creek Group]

10 Great Things To Do In Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park truly is one of the great American destinations, and judging from the fact that it is on pace to break its all time attendance record this year, many of you agree. But for those of you who still haven’t made the trip for yourself, here are ten great things to do while you’re there:

1. Catch an Old Faithful Eruption
Sure, it may be the most touristy thing to do in all of Yellowstone, but it’s still a required activity. Old Faithful, the most famous geyser in the world, erupts every 90 minutes, give or take a few, and when it does blow, it’s still a fun sight to see. Grab a seat plenty early though, as the old smoking hole still draws quite a crowd. While you’re in the area, be sure to stop by the brand new visitor center as well.

2. Take a Hike!
With more than 1100 miles of trails, you can spend a lifetime trekking Yellowstone without getting bored. With hikes ranging in length from a few hours to a few days, you’ll find yourself wandering through spectacular and rugged backcountry that is both remote and scenic. Just be sure you plan your hike accordingly and have all the necessary permits.

3. Cycle the Park
One of the best ways to take in the sights in Yellowstone is by bike. You can opt to bring your own or rent one in the Old Faithful area, then hit the road for the opportunity to see the park in a unique new way. Just don’t forget that road elevations vary between 5300 and 8860 feet, which means a brisk ride can really take your breath away.

4. Wildlife Viewing
Yellowstone is home to the largest collection of free roaming wildlife in the lower 48 states, with bison, elk, deer and sheep prominently on display. The appearance of a bear, either black or grizzly, always draws a crowd and moose, coyote, and even mountain lions are seen from time to time. With this wide variety of animals on display, a trip through Yellowstone just might be the North American equivalent of a safari.

5. Take in the Sights at Artist Point

The park is filled with breathtaking scenery, but few places are as amazing as Artist Point, a location that overlooks the “Grand Canyon of Yellowstone” and the beautiful Lower Falls. You’ll lured in by the promise of a great photo opportunity but you’ll find yourself lingering to take in every detail of one of the most stunning landscapes you’ll find anywhere on the planet.

6. Stay the Night at a Yellowstone Lodge
Yellowstone is huge, encompassing more than 2.2 million acres and hundreds of miles of road. It’ll take you several days to properly explore it all, and with a number of great lodges within the park borders, there is no need to leave to find a place to stay. From the Old Faithful Inn to the Lake Yellowstone Hotel, the accommodations range from rustic to luxurious, with something that fits within the budget of just about everyone.

7. Paddle Lake Yellowstone
With all of the geothermal activity in Yellowstone, smoking geysers, hot springs, and bubbling mud pots are a common sight. One of the best ways to get close to those natural wonders is by kayak and paddling company OARS offers just such a trip. The 2-3 hour paddle allows you to drift in close to the Lakeshore Geysers, while the knowledgeable guides offer insights into what’s happening just below the Earth’s surface.

8. Go Wolf Spotting
Sure, wildlife viewing has already made the list, but the wolves of Yellowstone deserve their own mention. The predators were reintroduced to the park back in 1995, and have been a point of interest ever since, with a dedicated group of wolf spotters tracking their every movement. If you spot one of them peering through their powerful spotting scopes, they’re usually more than happy to share their view, and if you’re lucky, you might just catch a glimpse of the mysterious and elusive creatures in the wild.

9. Go Fly Fishing
With over 100 lakes and a thousand miles of rivers and streams within the park, Yellowstone offers anglers some of the best fishing in all of North America. There are several varieties of game fish to reel in, including rainbow, brook, and lake trout, as well as mountain whitefish, amongst others. The clear, pristine waters of the park are a fisherman’s dream come true, just don’t forget to purchase a permit before you make that first cast.

10. Have Some Winter Fun Too!
Typically, the summer months are the busiest time of year in terms of visitors for Yellowstone, but there is plenty to see and do during the winter as well. Active and adventurous travelers can don cross country skis or snowshoes and explore the trails on foot, or they can elect to take a guided ride on a snowmobile or in a snowcoach, going well into the backcountry. The park is much quieter during those months, but still well worth the visit. With a fresh blanket of snow, the landscapes may be even more beautiful.

Back in 1872, Yellowstone became the world’s first national park, and now, nearly 140 years later, it remains one of the most spellbinding places on Earth. No matter what season you go, you’ll find plenty of fun and outdoor adventure to last a lifetime.

Spotting wolves in Yellowstone

America’s first national park may still be its best when it comes to wildlife viewing. Yellowstone is home to the greatest concentration of animals in the lower 48 states, offering ample opportunities to see a wide variety of species, including elk, bison, sheep, and even bear, in their natural habitats. But the park is also home to a number of unique, and distinct, wolf packs as well, and visitors come from all over the world with the hope of catching a glimpse of these mysterious and elusive animals in the wild.

I recently traveled to the park myself, and had a rare opportunity to go wolf spotting with Ranger Rick McIntyre, a man who knows more about the wolves of Yellowstone than anyone else on the planet. McIntyre tirelessly tracks the various packs, not only recording their movement and feeding habits, but more intimate details such as changes in leadership, mating habits, and other behavioral patterns as well. In fact, he watches them so closely, he can usually identify the individual wolves by sight and give you a brief history of each animal too. McIntyre is a man who has dedicated his life to observing the wolves, and admits that he spends an average of 11 hours a day, seven days a week, in Yellowstone following the creatures that he loves so much. His dedication to the job runs so deep, that he hasn’t taken a single day off in over ten years.

Listening to Rick talk about the wolves is like listening to a master storyteller weaving an epic tale filled with passion, love, tragedy and triumph. He identifies the key players by their officially assigned numbers, but breathes life into the central characters, giving them motivations and desires to the extent that you’ll forget that you’re talking about wild animals instead of the Montagues and Capulets.

While spotting wolves can be a challenging and difficult affair, McIntyre makes it seem easy. It doesn’t hurt that he has the radio frequencies for the various tracking collars worn by a number of females in the various packs, not to mention the high tech gear used to detect the presence of those signals. While I was with him however, he wasn’t picking up much of a signal at all, picking up just very feint, and distant pings. But rather than give up and move on to another area of the park, he simply shrugged his shoulders, set up his powerful spotting scope, and aimed it at a distant hill. Peering through the powerful lens for a moment, and without adjusting it a single millimeter, he stood up and cheerfully asked “who wants to see a wolf?”
For the next 20 minutes or so, Rick, myself and several other travelers took turns watching members of the Blacktail Pack, so named because they live in the Blacktail Plateau region of Yellowstone, as they took shelter along a ridgeline. The wind was cold and biting that day, and for the most part, the wolves stayed low and huddled close to one another. At times however, a large, black wolf, which McIntyre identified as the beta female, would rise up and walk the perimeter, keeping a wary eye out for intruders. Even at the distance that we were watching them from, the profiles of the animals were distinct and unmistakable, and it was a sublime experience to catch them in their natural state while their biggest advocate in the park shared their secrets.

There was a time when wolves in the Yellowstone region were a common sight, but because the intelligent and well organized predators were so good at hunting their prey, they often ran afoul with local ranchers and other residents. It was not uncommon for wolves to kill cattle or sheep, which did little to endear them to the humans that they shared the landscape with. Because of this natural rivalry, wolves were generally shot on sight, and were eventually hunted to near extinction. By the early 20th century, they were a rare site in the American west, and completely non-existent in Yellowstone itself.

In 1995, 70 years after the last wolf has been spotted in the park, a controversial plan was announced to reintroduce wolves to Yellowstone. Experts saw them as vital to managing the overall health of the park’s ecosystem, which had seen its elk herds grow to record numbers, unchecked by any natural predators. Meanwhile opponents to the plan feared that the wolves would wander out of the park and once again raid the livestock of ranchers. It turns out both parties were right, as the reintroduction of the wolves helped to thin the herds and make them stronger overall, but the number of run-ins between man and wolf also rose as well. The presence of the wolves in the region remains a point of contention, as ranchers along the Yellowstone perimeter, and beyond, would like to have the option of shooting the wolves that prey upon their livestock, something that isn’t possible while the creatures remain on the endangered species list.

For Rick McIntyre, and the other wolf specialists in Yellowstone, those political issues are off their radar. Their only concern is studying and managing the wolf packs under their care and ensuring that they continue to play their necessary role in keeping the park’s ecology healthy and strong. McIntyre wouldn’t comment on anything related to wolves that weren’t in the park, and deftly evaded the potential minefield that discussions of those predators inevitably bring. Instead, he prefers to focus on the wolves that he knows so very well, and sharing his insights into their lives.

Tracking the various wolf packs of Yellowstone is quite a job, as they are regularly on the move and prefer to stay well hidden from prying eyes. They all have their own territories however, which helps to define their locations to a degree, so if you are traveling through Yellowstone, it is worth the time and effort to see if you can spot them in the wild. Be sure to bring a good pair of binoculars or a spotting scope of your own, and checking in with any of the rangers in the park can usually offer valuable tips on the best spots to catch a glimpse of the creatures. Keep an eye out for the “wolfman” himself, Rick McIntyre, as he is usually driving a distinct yellow Nissan Xterra, and is always willing to offer great tips on where to look.

When it was established back in 1872, Yellowstone was the world’s first national park. Now, nearly 140 years later, it continues to offer a host of natural wonders for all of us to marvel at, including the wolf packs that have once again taken their rightful place amongst the wildlife there.