Yellowstone National Park is known for its stunning landscapes, diverse wildlife, and iconic geothermal features. One of the park’s most beloved and iconic animals is the American bison, also known as buffalo. Yellowstone is home to the largest wild bison population in the United States, with an estimated 4,600 bison roaming in and around the park.
On a recent trip to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, seeing buffalo in the wild was at the top of my wishlist. Fortunately, seeing buffalo in Yellowstone is actually really, really easy.
Where do Buffalo live in Yellowstone, and where can I see them?
- Buffalo/bison live all over the park, which means you can see them just about anywhere. On my trip, I saw a large group of them just a few miles north of Old Faithful and about 40 miles from the Hayden Valley, which is supposed to be the best place to see them.
- The Hayden and Lamar valleys are generally considered to be the best places to see groups of buffalo roaming. These valleys have the kind of wide open spaces you’d expect to see buffalo hanging out and grazing.
- The best times of day to see buffalo are dawn and dusk. Like most mammals, buffalo tend to be most active during the morning and evening. That said, you can still see them out and about pretty much any time of day.
- It’s important to keep your distance from the buffalo in Yellowstone – even if you don’t get hurt, getting too close to or even touching the buffalo can get you in trouble with the park rangers.
Top Locations for Bison Viewing in Yellowstone
1. Hayden Valley: Located in the central part of Yellowstone, Hayden Valley is a prime location for bison viewing. The valley is a vast open grassland that provides ample grazing opportunities for bison. Visitors can often see large herds of bison grazing or crossing the Yellowstone River. The best time to visit Hayden Valley for bison viewing is early morning or late afternoon when the animals are most active.
2. Lamar Valley: Known as the “Serengeti of North America,” Lamar Valley is another excellent location for bison viewing. This expansive valley is located in the northeastern part of the park and offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains. Bison can often be seen grazing in the valley or crossing the Lamar River. The best time to visit Lamar Valley for bison viewing is during the summer months when the animals are more active.
3. Midway Geyser Basin: While primarily known for its geothermal features, Midway Geyser Basin is also a great place to spot bison. This area is located near the famous Grand Prismatic Spring and offers a unique opportunity to see bison against the backdrop of colorful hot springs and steamy geysers. Visitors should exercise caution and keep a safe distance from the animals while enjoying the view.
4. Fountain Paint Pot: Located in the Lower Geyser Basin, Fountain Paint Pot is another popular spot for bison viewing. This area is known for its bubbling mud pots and colorful hot springs. Bison can often be seen grazing in the nearby meadows, providing a picturesque scene for visitors. It is important to stay on designated trails and boardwalks while exploring this area to ensure the safety of both visitors and wildlife.
5. Mud Volcano: Situated in the Hayden Valley, Mud Volcano is a unique geothermal area that is home to a variety of wildlife, including bison. Visitors can often see bison grazing near the mud pots and steam vents, creating a fascinating juxtaposition of nature’s forces. It is important to keep a safe distance from the animals and respect their space while enjoying this unique location.
Tips on finding buffalo in Yellowstone
When it comes to bison viewing in Yellowstone, timing and season play a crucial role. The best time to see bison is during the summer months when the animals are more active and visible. During this time, bison can be seen grazing in open meadows, crossing rivers, or resting near geothermal features. Spring and fall are also good times to see bison, as they migrate to lower elevations in search of food.
The best times of day to see bison are early morning and late afternoon when the animals are most active. During these times, bison are more likely to be grazing or moving around, providing better opportunities for viewing. It is important to be patient and observant while searching for bison, as they can sometimes blend into their surroundings or be hidden behind vegetation.
To maximize your chances of seeing bison, it’s a good idea to strategically plan your driving route. Areas such as Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley, are known hotspots for bison sightings. By visiting these locations and exploring the surrounding areas at the right time of day, you increase your chances of encountering these majestic creatures.
Need more specific advice on finding buffalo during a particular time of day or year? Park rangers are going to be your best friend; they know the park better It is also a good idea to check with park rangers or visitor centers for the latest information on bison sightings and recommended routes.
Tips for Safe and Responsible Bison Watching
While bison are magnificent animals to observe, it is important to remember that they are wild and unpredictable. Here are some tips for safe and responsible bison watching:
1. Keep a safe distance: It is crucial to keep a safe distance of at least 25 yards (23 meters) from bison. These animals may appear docile, but they can be unpredictable and potentially dangerous. Approaching or getting too close to bison can provoke them and lead to aggressive behavior.
2. Recognize bison behavior and warning signs: It is important to learn how to recognize bison behavior and warning signs. If a bison starts to raise its tail, lower its head, or paw the ground, it may be a sign of agitation or aggression. If you notice these behaviors, it is best to slowly back away and give the animal plenty of space.
3. If approached by a bison: If you find yourself in a situation where a bison approaches you, it is important to remain calm and slowly back away. Do not run or make sudden movements, as this may trigger the animal’s instinct to chase. If necessary, seek shelter behind a tree or other large object.
4. Stay on designated trails and roads: To ensure the safety of both visitors and wildlife, it is important to stay on designated trails and roads while exploring Yellowstone. Venturing off-trail can disturb sensitive habitats and potentially put you in close proximity to bison or other wildlife.
My experience sighting bison in Yellowstone
I was seriously researching and preparing to get to the perfect spot, at the perfect time of day, to see some buffalo during my 24 hours in Yellowstone with my wife and best friend. I was also feeling pretty stressed – if i didn’t get to the Hayden valley before sundown, I feared I would miss my shot.
Fortunately, Yellowstone is more or less covered in buffalo, and I saw more than one hundred of them, a full hour’s drive away from the Hayden Valley. Right after seeing a few geothermal features, we were driving toward the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, not expecting to see much of anything on the way.
Then, traffic slowed down in front of us.
Almost as soon as we could question why we were slowing down, we saw them up ahead: dozens of buffalo, making their way down a hillside and crossing the road in front of us. For the next 30-ish minutes, there were buffalo on both sides of us, and it was just awesome.