Last 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.
And 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.
On 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.
The 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.
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.
The 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.
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.
As 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.
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.
Our 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.
One 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.
In 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.
Another 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.
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.
Going 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.
Returning 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.
A 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.
Spring 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.