Without a doubt the Yellowstone Wildlife Walks tour has one of the best itineraries of any Grand American Adventures tours. With three nights in the towering peaks and rugged wilderness of Glacier National Park, two nights in Jackson Hole Wyoming, allowing ample time to wander the breathtaking scenery of Grand Tetons National Park. Bear, elk, moose, big horn sheep, mountain goat and a seemingly endless variety of birds are plentiful.
But it is Yellowstone this tour is named after and you're given four days to explore the 2.2 million acres of wilderness; bison become an ordinary sight in the vast meadows, elk walk beside humans in the historic Mammoth village, and as we experienced recently, sometimes the grizzlies and black bears seem to go on parade and offer once in a lifetime experiences seeing these awesome predators.
But what would be the one wildlife sighting that is at the top of everyone's list?
The answer is simple and unanimous. Wolves. Or even a wolf. Whether near, or far, wandering a meadow or patrolling a ridge line, seeing a wolf in Yellowstone National Park (or anywhere for that matter) is a once in a lifetime, and truly unforgettable moment.
During the early years of the Park Service, wolves were hunted to extinction in Yellowstone, with the belief that they were a danger to the human visitors. Since their reintroduction in 1995 the wolves have returned to what biologist believe was their original population and are sustaining healthily, and have triggered a trophic cascade that has made Yellowstone one of the most pristine wildernesses in the “lower 48”. There are about 100 wolves in Yellowstone comprising of 10 packs that cover the majority of Yellowstone. So why are they so hard to find?
Wolves tend to be most active during dawn and dusk, making their viewing common only for the most vigilant and determined wildlife seeker. They also have been conditioned to realize humans as a threat (wouldn’t you?) and prefer to keep far away from roads and developed areas.
This trip has an included wolf-tracking guide for one of our days in the park. The help of a local expert, armed with local knowledge of the wolves ranges and tendencies, along with radios to communicate with other wildlife viewers and a few high-powered spotting scopes our chances dramatically increase. But as is true with all wildlife there are no guarantees.
On my most recent tour our day with the wolf tracker produced a brief sighting of a wolf. The white alpha female of the Hayden Pack was seen briefly at about a distance of about 2 miles. A success to be happy with, but it left our group wanting more. The elusive wolf had shown itself only enough to whet the appetite of our travellers. That night around camp, I decided to go for an adventure, group willing (as I knew they would be!) into the depths of Hayden Valley, hiking off trail, into one of the most densely grizzly populated areas of the park to try to find that snow white wolf who teased us the day before.
The hike started out casually passing by the army of scope-clad pseudo-adventurers who were set-up roadside waiting for a speck of a wolf to show itself miles away. We travelled along hillsides, up and down over small knolls, across a stream and set-up on a small hill a couple miles deep to eat lunch and get all eyes on the landscape.
As we ate lunch, a herd of bison numbering in the hundreds did the same, tucked safely into a gulch about a half-mile away. But still no wolves. On the horizon a classic Yellowstone-mid-afternoon thunderstorm was brewing, and heading straight for us. I decided we had about 30 more minutes to explore before it was time to head to safety. We travelled up and around one more knoll, hoping it would be the one.
As the majority of the group crested the knoll, and I scanned the far off hills for our white canine goal, “Wolf!” was called out by a group member.
Then “Two Wolves!!” and “Three Wolves! … “Four Wolves!!”.
The group went silent, and all eyes fixed on a pond just below us about 100 yards away. The entire Hayden Pack had been bed down near the pond, and was now casually making its way up the ridge opposite us.
We watched in silence for about 6-7 minutes as the pack trotted together across several more hills, and disappeared into a patch of woods about a mile away. The entire group was star struck.The reclusive rock-star celebrities of Yellowstone had been found and had created a memory for our travellers to last a lifetime.
Thunder boomed sounding the end of our show, and we headed back to the safety of the van, content and still amazed with our luck. We’d beaten the crowds at the roadside, the uneven footing of the hills, the fear of grizzly encounters and the impending thunderstorm, and we were rewarded. Days don’t get any better than that in Yellowstone, or anywhere else in my opinion.
Author: Evan Stout - My name is Evan Stout and I’m a 6th year leader with Grand American Adventures. I’m originally from Maine, and very proud of it! In my 6 years of tour leading I have been to 40+ States, 7 Canadian provinces, 35 different national parks (with groups), covered hundreds of thousands of miles, and encountered just about every species of wildlife in North America! I’ve also made hundreds of friends, and countless memories. I can confidently say I have the best job in America! I hope you enjoy reading my posts, watching my videos, and following me around my beautiful country!