Yellowstone in Spring

Yellowstone Madison032Yellowstone Madison002Last Fall, when we last visited Yellowstone National Park, we met some wolf advocates who visit the park every year. They told us that wildlife was much more active and visible and that many animals had babies in Yellowstone in spring. That is when we decided to return to the park this spring.Yellowstone Madison036

Yellowstone Madison053And so we arrived in the park in early May, entering through the West entrance in the town of West Yellowstone. Yellowstone National Park is massive, so we split our time into two different areas. For the first half of our visit, we stayed at the Madison Campground. Read my review of the campground here.Yellowstone Madison003

Yellowstone Madison014On our way into the park, we saw our first baby animals. Baby bison! They are born between April and May so these were about a month old. They are just adorable when they are babies, rusty red colored. They will begin developing their hump and changing to a dark brown color during their first winter.Yellowstone Madison005

Yellowstone Madison051The bison population in the park fluctuates from 4,000 to 5,000, the largest population on public land in the country and one of the few herds free of cattle genes. Yellowstone is the only place in the United States where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times.Yellowstone Madison052

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Trees damaged by Bison scratching

Trees damaged by Bison scratching

At the end of the 19th century, after the bison population was decimated, Congress outlawed the killing of any birds or animals in Yellowstone National Park, where the only surviving bison herd could be protected.

There were approximately two-dozen animals in the Yellowstone herd, and the U.S. Army brought in twenty-one bison from two private herds. The captive bison began to mix with the wild bison, and today all of the bison in Yellowstone are descendants of those two groups.

So although it is sad to think that there were once tens of millions of bison roaming these parts, it is good to see so many bison roaming freely in the park. They are one of my favorite animals. And watching the little cinnamon colored ones frolicking around made me very happy.

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Yellowstone Madison091The weather was somewhat wet and windy making the temperature feel much lower than 40s and 50s temperatures usually feel like. And of course the nights were below freezing at times. In fact, one morning as we headed out it was snowing. But many of the trees had fresh buds. Just love that spring green.

We were looking for wildlife and focused on several different areas while staying in Madison, from the closest to the furthest: the Madison and Gibbon River areas, the Old Faithful Geyser area, the Hayden Valley area, Canyon Village and Fishing Bridge.Yellowstone Madison039

Spring is also a great time to see birds in Yellowstone. Although many people are not as interested in birds as in other types of wildlife, there are lots of great birds in the park during this time of year. We did spot some birdwatchers too.

Yellowstone Madison034As we headed East from Madison we found trumpeter swans on the Gibbon River. The two swans were swimming together and one was about to lose a feather. They made some very low trumpeting sounds every now and then, confirming their name to us.Yellowstone Madison033

There were also many birds  around the Yellowstone River in the Hayden Valley. We spotted a heron rookery up high in the pine trees. The heron were swooping down to feed their little ones, but the nests were too high up for us to see them.Yellowstone Madison011

Yellowstone Madison084Yellowstone Madison076Our time in the Hayden Valley to the Southeast was very fruitful, we saw grizzly bears for the first time ever in Yellowstone. We usually go to the Hayden Valley looking for wolves, but did not see any there this year. But we saw four different grizzly bears in the area. Unfortunately we did not see any cubs. Yellowstone Madison083Yellowstone Madison074Yellowstone Madison082

The Hayden Valley

The Hayden Valley

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Yellowstone Madison022One of the grizzlies was frolicking on a snow bank, another walked up from the river’s edge and actually crossed the street in front of a busload of Japanese tourists (they got quite a treat) and the other two were just feeding.

 

Yellowstone Madison024Yellowstone Madison071In fact, many of the trails and some of the roads were closed due to bear activity (or snow).  After seeing just how easily these impressive carnivores disappear into the sage, it is really clear why you would not want to go for a casual stroll in some of these areas.

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Yellowstone Madison047Yellowstone Madison048Another day we drove South from Madison for a short hike to see some geysers and hot springs. We avoided Old Faithful crowds and started from the Biscuit Basin area. There are more geysers in Yellowstone than anywhere on earth. Read more about Yellowstone’s hydrothermal features here.Yellowstone Madison046Yellowstone Madison044

Some of the ones we saw this year were lesser known, several were not named. And there are many more in areas not accessible to the public. It really is an amazing place, one of the only places in the world with these geologic hot spots.

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Yellowstone Madison019Yellowstone Madison088Yellowstone Madison086Yellowstone Madison089Going East again, there is an area called Pelican Creek just east of Fishing Bridge that is one of my favorites. This wetlands also has lots of birds, and this year there were a lot of ducks swimming about. We also saw eagle, hawks and phalaropes.Yellowstone Madison055

Yellowstone Madison009Yellowstone Madison064Yellowstone Madison065Returning through the Hayden Valley we always saw lots of buffalo roaming. We once caught the buffalo swimming across the Yellowstone River. They are actually good swimmers. We also saw them rolling in the dirt and tossing dirt about, they were quite spunky.

Yellowstone Madison058Yellowstone Madison061A quick and always worthwhile stop is the beautiful overview at Artist Point in Canyon Village. We stopped again to look at the view made famous by the painter Thomas Moran. It is always quite breathtaking.Yellowstone Madison013

Yellowstone Madison001Spring really is a great time to visit, as long as you are prepared for changes in weather. We were thrilled at the amount and variety of wildlife we had seen so far, but it was time to move to our next campground nearer to the North end of the park.

~ BrendaYellowstone Madison010

22 thoughts on “Yellowstone in Spring

  1. Thank you! You guys are on fire… 5 posts in 6 days! Amazing! Thanking of you often and sending our love! xoxo

  2. We are in West Yellowstone and have been here all week. We have seen one Black Bear, one Grizzly bear, two gray wolves, one gray fox, lots of Elk and lots and lots of Buffalo. I enjoyed your pictures, what type of equipment do you use?

    • Thanks Tom, wildlife was great all around … our next stop up at Mammoth was awesome as well. Post on that week coming soon. I’m a Canon shooter. I have a 5DMK2, a 5D, and a 50D for bodies. for lenses I shoot a Canon 17/40, 24/105, and 100/400 L series zooms. And i just added a Sigma 150-600 to the toybox, useful for keeping a safe distance from those amazing grizzlies!

  3. What wonderful pictures. I haven’t been to Yellowstone since there was a huge fire all summer decades ago. Maybe next spring for us. Hope to meet up with you in Alaska.

    • Thx Steve. I was at least as far as the recommended minimums shooting with either my 100-400 or 150-600 mm zooms. Some of grizzly shots were near that minimum distance. lets just say i was paying VERY close attention to which way the bear was heading 🙂

      H

  4. Yellowstone is my all time favorite park. As a matter of fact we members of the Yellowstone Foundation. I love the variety in the park. It takes so long to really see a decent amount of the place because it is so far to all the areas. You did quite well in the wildlife department:) I love all the bears, especially the one enjoying the snow!! The photos of the thermal pools are beautiful!! The colors are so vivid.

  5. you are just churning out posts…must be almost caught up? Have really enjoyed following you across NV to here. Can you believe I’ve never been to Yellowstone? One day!

    Nina

    • I know about doggie … but you really should figure out a national park strategy! they are GREAT. miss you guys
      H

    • Yes, one more post and we’ll be caught up! It’s been a lot of work – did you notice we added Google Ads? I understand your hesitation about national parks with the doggie issues. We just take Angel out on a lot of car tours but she can’t go on hikes, even short ones! If you are interested in Yellowstone, we’ll be happy to share any info you need.
      Brenda

  6. Wonderful post about Yellowstone! Love, love, love the bison and bear photos! When you are traveling on the Alaska Highway around Liard River Hot Springs keep a lookout for a herd of Wood Bison.

  7. Looks like you got your money’s worth of wildlife sightings. Beautiful photos. We want to visit the park but have a strong aversion to crowds. Good to know they can be avoided by staying away from the main attractions.

    • Thanks Karen. And you still haven’t seen the second week! Going in spring or fall is best. Crowds aren’t bad at all even at the “big” attractions like Old Faithful. AVOID SUMMER 🙂
      H

    • Yes, it can be tricky, and frankly there were crowds even this early. But out on most hiking trails (except the main attractions) it’s much more quiet. Don’t go in the summer though, I hear it’s terrible.

  8. Breathtaking photos Hector! I have to say reading through this post that I got a bit nostalgic for Yellowstone. Our two years there was really a blessing. I remember driving into Gardner when we arrived, with bison and elk scattered everywhere. It was like a scene out of Northern Exposure.

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