Watching Wolves in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone's wolves have been a powerful draw on tourism to the park, summer and winter. NPS Photo.

Wolves seem to have a magnetic attraction on humans, at least the wolves in Yellowstone National Park. Wolf-related tourism has soared in the park since the wolf recovery program was launched in 1995, and it continues throughout the year to the tune, some figure, of $60 million for the greater Yellowstone economy.

The Lamar Valley is the undisputed hot spot for wolf sightings in the park, winter or summer. There the long, broad river valley offers unhindered views of wolves coming and going from and to their hunts. Late spring typically is an excellent time to watch for wolves returning to their dens to feed their pups. But winter also can offer good wolf viewing, as the heavy snows force the elk and bison down into the Lamar River Valley and the wolves follow.

While you can easily head out to the park on your own to watch for wolves, the Yellowstone Association has collaborated with Xanterra Parks & Resorts, which manages the lodging in the park, on a wolf-watching course.

What's the difference between planning your own trip versus signing on for one of the "Winter Wolf Discovery" classes? For starters, you get to join an expert on Yellowstone's wolves in the field, where he or she not only provides interpretation but also can readily answer your questions.

Too, there's the lodging package. For $545 per person, double occupancy ($695 for single occupancy), you get to stay in the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel for four nights, get breakfasts and box lunches each day, in-park transportation, a welcome gift (I got a Thermos), snowshoe rental, an hour's hot-tub rental, and optional evening programs.

True, you would pay about $400 less if you simply reserved yourself a mid-range room at the hotel for $108 a night and figured on spending $30 for breakfast for two and $30 for lunch. And you could save even more by opting for a room without a bath, for $78 a night, but who likes to pad down the hall in your slippers and robe in the middle of the night?

While the park staff hasn't yet published its listing of winter ranger-led activities, and so it's hard to say at this point if rangers will head into the Lamar Valley to spot wolves, in the past there has been a volunteer out in the Lamar Valley spotting wolves and answering questions. And you can be sure there will be plenty of other wolf spotters out there who are free with advice.

And, really, spotting wolves isn't that tricky in the winter. You could easily check with a ranger at Mammoth to find out when the best time is to be in the Lamar Valley to look for wolves (I spotted some shortly after sunrise, which in the middle of winter in Yellowstone really isn't that early). Plus, chances are you'll see more than wolves. There will be elk and bison, of course, but you might also spy some bighorn sheep, coyotes, and waterfowl.

But, if you prefer camaraderie and an expert at your beck and call, this package might be a wise investment. The "Winter Wolf Discovery" package is offered Wednesday to Saturday beginning December 26 through February 23. It's also available Sunday to Wednesday running December 29 to February 27.

For more information and to make reservations, check out this page.

Comments

If you don't have the cash to watch the wolves frolick in the Lamar with the privileged people, you can try it on your own if you have some mad skillz.

Yellowstone has the crustiest hard core cadre of nature watchers and if you sweet talk them, say the right things, etc., they'll not only tell you what they are watching but also show you in their scopes. But it does take some conversational skill, rather than asking "any bears!?!" It took me about 15 minutes of banter with someone to get spotting scope privileges, but more importantly the knowledge of what they were looking at. Please note that I'm not advocating you spongeing their scopes, only gaining access to info.

These crustiest of the crusty love wildlife more than people and follow their seasonal movements like NPT commenters follow reruns of that fantabulous show, the OC. Heh.

Additionally, the wolf team of biologist types are super cool about answering questions when you ask. They are great story tellers who will answer almost any question you have as long as you aren't too intrusive. It is sweet PR for their programs, after all. Your tactic would be to drive the road, look for the government plates (not all the researchers have them) and then walk up the hill the the spot.

Also, there are some super wolf nerds that maintain wolf sites online where you can find sitings, the status of the packs, etc. as well before you head out. Load that all into your ipod, your pda or laptop and who needs an interpreter! Throw some wireless networks out there and you could even check your email! Ha, I'm kidding all you crusty NPT commenters, relax.

We saw our first wolves at Yellowstone this summer -- and if it wasn't for the gaggle of people with spotting scopes we never would have known to stop and look in the first place. That group was very happy to share with us "muggles" and all the rest that stopped to look over the next 20 minutes.

I thought it would be funny to just pull over at some random (legal) spot in Yellowstone, get out the spotting scope or binoculars, and just stare off into the distance and see how many people would pull over and ask questions... Whattaya see? Whatcha lookin' at? And then make up some Latin genus/species name (Invisus Ungulatus) and see how many people hop out to look for themselves. Would make for a great Candid Camera episode...

Merryland - you don't know how close you are to nailing the situation on the head! You can stop at any pullout, overlook or visitor center (my experience is in Rocky Mountain NP, Yellowstone NP, and Denali NP) and just stare off into space, and inevitably SOMEONE will ask what you see. I guess it's good that people are interested. That helps generate some form of support for the parks and their resources. But I just wonder if some people are willing to make an effort to go to places and look for animals or plants on their own.

Always the cynic...