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.