On Safari in the Grand Teton’s + Yellowstone National Park during Winter
For anyone interested in seeing lots and lots of wonderful wildlife, these parks are the place to be! From bears, deer, elk, moose, coyote’s, big-horned sheep, bison, pronghorns, foxes, beavers, & eagles, we were stoked to be able to see all of these amazing animals living in their natural environment, and all so close that we could watch their interesting habits and ways of life.
Our first stop was the Grand Teton’s where we were blessed with a winter wonderland snow-shower upon our arrival. This meant for us lots of perfect photo opportunities, and lots of wildlife out and about enjoying the snow too! Lots of the roads in the Teton’s were unfortunately closed due to the weather, but we were still blown away with how much it had to offer. Jackson Lake was a gorgeous must-see picnic spot, while many of the other lakes were completely frozen over.. something we were yet to see here in the US!
We only spent one day in the Teton’s, and this was enough to cover the main lookout spots that were accessible via car and short walks. However if you are visiting in the warmer months when all of the roads are open, we would certainly recommend spending a few more days in this magical place! There are campgrounds in the park, however the nearby town of Jackson is also a really nice spot to stop and explore if you’re after lodging or a local beer or meal - you have lots of options here!
During the winter months there are still so many activities on offer, from snowmobiling tours, snowshoe hire, and riding the gondola up from Teton Village to the ski fields for skiing and snowboarding sports.
When the roads are open, the trip from the Grand Teton’s to Yellowstone NP is a short one, but as that main access road was closed for us, we made the 6 hour drive from the Teton’s to Yellowstone, through mountains, snow, forests, and nothing but beautiful scenery! Only the northern entrance of Yellowstone is open during this time of year (however the park roads should all be open by mid-April, so if you are planning a trip here, you may prefer to organise it after this date!), as well as only one main-road in the park. With all the hype around Yellowstone National Park, we were expecting it to be completely packed with people, but much to our delight - it was the complete opposite! We camped in the Mammoth Campground, which was 90% empty, close to the Mammoth hot-springs, as well as the Albright Visitor’s Centre and the only road that was still open, around a 50mile / 80km stretch of mountains, rivers, lakes, and lots and lots and lots and lots of wildlife!
In all of the parks that we have visited during our travels so far, Yellowstone has definitely been the place which has offered the most active wildlife.. we were even lucky enough to share our campsite with deer, elk, and bison! The animas are most active during dusk and dawn, as well as cloudy, cool, or snowy days. We had snow during our first afternoon in the park, and were pretty keen to get up-close to some of these incredible animals that we had never seen before in our lives (Australian wildlife is very different to here in the US)! We took a short drive along the north-east road in the park, and with the gloomy and cool weather, we saw many herds of bison and elk grazing, some of the bison even with their little calves! Often we would need to slow our vehicle to a stop, as the bison casually decided that they fancied a walk along the main road for our viewing pleasure. We have never had the opportunity to see a bear before, and this big and beautiful creature was number one on our bucket list.. keeping our eyes constantly peeled we unfortunately didn’t come across any bears after day 1, but we sure did see lots of signs of them being around with their big easily identifiable paw-prints obvious in the fresh snow.
We enjoyed a warm fire at our campsite, the elk and deer grazing only a few meters away from us, completely unbothered by our presence. After hot potatoes and pie, we settled in for the night with plans to wake up early morning and go for another personal wildlife safari drive, fingers and toes crossed that tomorrow we would be lucky enough to maybe see a bear or two!
Day 2 in Yellowstone was a lot sunnier than Day 1, and we were stoked to see a few different animals getting around! Coyotes and foxes, beavers and pronghorn’s.. all within such a close distance! We spent the morning driving all the way to the east-entrance of Yellowstone (which was as far as the road was opened), admiring the gorgeous mountain landscapes and of course the Yellowstone river.. always a hot-spot for the animals coming to take a drink in the waters. On our way back towards the main park, just after noon, we noticed around 10 cars all pulled up on the side of the road, and about 20 people with camera’s, binocular’s, and telescopes admiring something around 350 meters away.. as we pulled-up next to them, we realised that what they had all spotted was a bear! Well, in fact there were two.. a grizzly momma bear with her little cub. We watched as they grazed, played, and rolled around in the grass valley, slowly coming closer towards the road, giving us all a wonderful view and show! After around 45 minutes, they ducked behind a hill and out of sight, we decided to wait around and enjoy some lunch incase they decided to appear again, but after another 45 minutes there was still no sight of them. Over the moon that we had finally seen our first bears in the US, we returned back towards the village, completely in awe of what Yellowstone had offered us in terms of both landscapes and wildlife viewing.
Yellowstone is obviously well-known for the fact that it was once a very active volcano, with eruptions occurring 2 million, 1.3 million, and 640,000 years ago. The magmatic heat powering those eruptions still power the park’s geyser’s, hot springs, and mud-pots today. Whilst we were unable to visit the famous old-faithful geyser due to road closures, we were still able to enjoy the trails that took you up and around to the Mammoth Hot Spring’s area.. where we watched as the many different shaped and sized hot-pools still boil and bubble.
Despite only being able to enjoy such a small area of both Grand Teton & Yellowstone National Park, we were still completely blown away with how much both of these parks had to offer for two nature-crazy, animal-loving photographers. Although such a large area of both of the parks were unaccessible for us, we were able to enjoy a crowd-freed environment and had no need to book our campsites in advance. If you plan to visit these parks in the busier seasons (especially Yellowstone!) we’ve been advised that there’s the need to book your campsites and accommodation up to 6 months in advance to secure yourself a spot!
If it’s wildlife that you’re looking to see, we would highly recommend bringing a pair of binoculars with you.. whilst you are lucky enough to see so many of the animals just from your car or a short walk, the bears, wolves, and coyotes often keep their distance and can be spotted much easier with a pair of binoculars!
After enjoying a number of nights camping, we were lucky enough to then make our way to the Blue Sky Cabins, only a short drive away from Yellowstone National Park where we spent a night with the most gorgeous views we have ever been lucky enough to wake up to. To read more about our incredible stay here, check out our blog post - link here! For anyone making a trip to Yellowstone and looking for some accommodation before or after, we couldn’t recommend Blue Sky Cabins in Red Lodge highly enough!