The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is a great place to visit any time of year. Whether you enjoy wildlife watching or outdoor recreation, you will find something fun to do in and around Yellowstone National Park. Here are a few tips to help plan your trip to America’s first national park and its surrounding areas.

When to visit

There are so many great things to see and do. So when should you stay at Silver Willows?

Spring

Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park

Silver Willows is a launching point for visits to the Lamar Valley, a popular wildlife watching destination.

The snow is beginning to thaw as the park recovers from a long winter. Yellowstone’s spring is perhaps the best season for wildlife viewing. By mid-April, more roads in the park begin to open up. Bison start to drop their calves and bears emerge from a long winter’s nap. Wolf and bear activity is plentiful from April into June, as predators come down to the lowlands to seek out prey that has either died or been weakened by the difficult winter conditions. The weather can be fickle, with snow possible well into June, but there’s also plenty of sun and excellent wildlife viewing!

Summer

It begins to warm up and it becomes much easier to explore the park away from the road. There are many hiking opportunities in Yellowstone National Park, and there are plenty of spots to do a little fishing as well. Mid-June to mid-July is trout spawning season, which means increased activity from predators, including river otters and American white pelicans.

Autumn

Crowds have diminished, temperatures have cooled and Yellowstone takes on a golden hue. One of the autumn highlights for wildlife watchers is the elk rut. The sound of a bugling bull elk is unforgettable, as is the clash of antlers as they challenge each other for breeding rights.

Winter

A time of peace and quiet in the park, with great wolf watching opportunities along the Northern Range and the Lamar Valley. Silver Willows is one of the best places to stay for quick access to the Lamar.

There’s a lot going on outside the park, too. The Silver Gate/Cooke City area is one of the nation’s hotbeds for backcountry snowmobiling, and there are lots of opportunities to snowshoe and cross country ski, too.

Wildlife viewing tips

Many visitors come to Yellowstone National Park for its bountiful wildlife. There’s a reason it’s called “the Serengeti of North America.” Though animals are plentiful, they’re not always easy to find. Use some of these suggestions to improve your chances of seeing more of the area’s diverse wildlife.

Black bear cub exploring Yellowstone National Park

Black bears and other animals abound in the park’s northeast corner, not far from Silver Willows Cabins.

Wake up early, stay out late

Animals are typically more active in the early hours of the morning and later in the afternoon. This is especially true in summer, when temperatures soar during the middle of the day. Even if you’re not a morning person, it is worth hopping in the car at dawn (bring breakfast with you!) to go exploring. Save the visits to geysers and other landmarks for the middle of the day when things have quieted down. You’re also more likely to avoid tourist crowds by getting an early start.

Drive around, ask around

You cover more ground in your vehicle than an animal will on its feet (or wings). Therefore, you have a better chance when you hit the road to explore rather than staking out a single spot for hours at a time. You can see much of Yellowstone’s wildlife from the road, so you have a good chance of seeing something. If you see people watching something, don’t be afraid to park your car safely and see what’s going on. You may get more than just a cool wildlife sighting. You could learn something about the wildlife and the park, hear news about other sightings, and even make a friend.

Go north… and east

The best area of the park for wildlife is usually the northeast quadrant from Mammoth over to Roosevelt and the Lamar Valley, and down to Hayden Valley and the Lake area. Silver Willows cabin is right outside the northeast entrance of the park, putting you close to the action.

Study the wildlife map

Silver Willows owner Max Waugh is a professional photographer.  Max leads photo tours in Yellowstone and has published a wildlife map and guide for the park. Guests at Silver Willows receive a free copy of Max’s wildlife map in print!

Respect the wildlife

It’s important to not only let the animals roam freely without harassment, but to also keep yourself and others (including the animals) safe. Wild animals can be dangerous, and not just the bears. Injuries occur due to run-ins with bison, moose, elk, deer and more. Remember that the park enforces a 25 yard limit for most park wildlife, 100 yards for bears and wolves. Even outside the park, it is best to follow these guidelines.

Yellowstone National Park resources

Official Yellowstone Website
Max Waugh’s Yellowstone Photography & Information Page
Max Waugh’s Yellowstone Photo Tours & Workshops
Yellowstone.net Forums