Yellowstone National Park is renowned for two things: geysers and wildlife. The last time we visited our friendly neighborhood national park, we visited the geysers, but this time we had our sights set on a Yellowstone wildlife tour. It’s one thing to see bison on the shoulder of the road; it’s something entirely different to stand on the shoulder of the road, hearing and seeing a pack of wolves communicate over your head.
This story was created in partnership with Lamar Valley Touring.
The roadside bison experience is pretty standard for a visit to America’s first national park, but being amongst howling wolves is unique and unforgettable. It requires expertise in all Yellowstone wildlife including wolves, as well as excellent people skills and the ability to teach with purpose. It requires guides like the women of Lamar Valley Touring.
Our day had started in the wee hours of the morning, departing from Cooke City, Montana, for the nearby Lamar Valley. As we toured the valley in the vehicles, we peppered Audra and Claire with questions. They kept up with the steady flow of queries without faltering, all the while watching for signs of wildlife. When an opportunity arose, we all dove out of the cars in safe places, binoculars in hand. We would peer in the direction Audra pointed and listen while Claire deftly set up multiple spotting scopes for us. We would take it all in, listen to a fresh lesson, and ask more questions, before loading back up to find more.
We were, in fact, standing next to the road in the Lamar Valley, learning from our guide Audra about bison and bears when her colleague, Claire, raised her hand over her head. Audra immediately stopped talking and whispered, “Do you hear them?”
Claire nodded in the affirmative, and we all cocked our heads, as if we could tune our ears to higher sensitivity. Through the cold morning, we heard them howl. Once, then several times more. At first, we all disagreed about the direction but then Audra explained: The grown pups were likely on one side of the road, and the rest of the pack was on the other, encouraging them to make their way across the road to join up.
This understanding of the Junction Butte Pack of the Lamar Valley is what makes Lamar Valley Touring stand out. Audra and Claire both studied this wolf pack for years before providing us with our Yellowstone wildlife tour in the famous Lamar Valley. Their expertise, enthusiasm and genuine care for the wolves of Yellowstone made our wildlife tour personal and impactful. We heard ecology lessons and personal anecdotes, paired with numerous sightings of wolves and other Yellowstone wildlife (and topped off with fresh muffins and hot cocoa). All the while, the two exemplified responsible tourism that prioritizes respect for wildlife. We learned about the historical and present circumstances surrounding reintroduced wolves in the park, population management of pronghorns, scavenging habits of bears, breeding habits of bison, and much, much more.
We also learned about how best to be guests of these year-round residents of Yellowstone: respect. Of course, we always try to keep that in mind when we travel. Whether it’s respect for future generations by swearing off single-use plastics, respect for communities by shopping local, or respect for other travelers by being quiet and kind on our adventures, we strive to be responsible travelers. Audra emphasized that carries over to the individuals we get so excited to see on our travels.
In the moments of our day with Lamar Valley Touring, it was exhilarating to watch a pack of wolves through high-powered scopes, to be able to see them with our bare eyes, to hear them while we watched bison, fox, and eagles nearby and learned about the ecosystem in which we were guests. In the years after this wildlife tour, we will carry the earnest plea of people who spend every day with them: be respectful. Give them space, be quiet, leave no trace, don’t feed them or intrude on their habitat.
Audra and Claire provide these impressive tours year-round, but spring and summer are ideal seasons. The white blanket and still chill of the winter and spring make for dramatic photos and easier wildlife spotting. February is mating season for wolves, and moose are very active this time of year. Finding tracks in the snow is thrilling, and bison breaths stand in the cold air. Before long, in about April, the bears begin to emerge, single-mindedly hungry after a winter of snoozing. Of course, summer is also excellent timing for a Yellowstone wildlife tour, as all the creatures are out and about, making the most of the short season.
We’re so glad we spent some time with a local expert during our most recent visit to Yellowstone. Thanks to our Yellowstone wildlife tour in Lamar Valley, we arrived with an understanding, and we left with a renewed appreciation.