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An Epic Start to a Week in Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park is home to wild animals and geysers as the world's first national park. Yellowstone Wild Tours can help you have your best experience!

One thing I like about guiding in Yellowstone National Park is that every day is different. There are some days where we have to work hard to find wildlife, and there are other days where Yellowstone smiles upon us and decides to share her bounty at every bend in the road. This was one of those latter types of days.

Mind you, it got off to a somewhat slow start. This was the first full day of a weeklong photo workshop, and we eagerly set off for Lamar Valley, in the Northern Range of Yellowstone, to search for our first photo subjects. One of the advantages of having multiple days to spend in the park is that you don’t have to try to experience everything in one day. You can afford to spend time searching for one species at the expense of another, knowing you will have other chances to try to find other wildlife you may have missed during the first couple days.

With that in mind, we spent some time early in the tour hanging around the Tower Junction and Lamar Buffalo Ranch areas in northern Yellowstone looking for wolves. We understood the Rescue Creek and Junction Butte wolf packs had been sighted in the area. But even when you are doing everything right, it takes a lot of patience—and a fair amount of luck—to get close-up wolf photos. Some days wolves simply don’t venture close to the roads, and hiking out to them is discouraged (not to mention illegal if you disturb the wolves’ behavior). After an hour or two of searching, we received word wolves had been found. However, they were going to be much too far out for good photos. Deciding to shift tactics and search for more cooperative subjects, we continued east.

A red fox in the snow is viewed by guests on tour with Yellowstone Wild Tours.

This fox was one of the many amazing sightings on our first full day in the park for this trip.

 

I previously had some intermittent moose sightings in the days leading up to this trip, so I was cautiously optimistic for a sighting of a moose at some point during the week. But moose tend to disappear shortly after the sun comes up, and it was already approaching 9:00 a.m. by the time we abandoned our wolf search. Maybe we’ll try to find some good bison photos today and try to get moose tomorrow, I thought as we passed Trout Lake and headed into Round Prairie, farther east than where we started.

No sooner did the thought leave my mind than we came around the bend and spotted not one, not two, but seven bull moose out in the flats of Round Prairie! A few had already shed their antlers—moose are usually the first ungulates to drop their antlers every winter—but at least one still had a full rack and another had one antler, adding a slightly comical element to an already gangly-looking animal. We photographed the bachelor herd of moose for several minutes before they slowly started to file away into the distant tree cover.

Bull moose are among many wild animals visible on tour with Yellowstone Wild Tours in Yellowstone National Park.

Five of the seven bull moose we were able to photograph multiple times throughout the week.

 

Still riding a high from that sighting as we continued east, we came upon another two moose in meadows near Barronette Peak, even farther east. These fellows were supremely cooperative, and we were able to get some fantastic photos without disturbing their midday nap and lunch. Adding in a fox sighting near the Northeast Entrance Station, and we were feeling pretty content as we started making our way back west toward the North Entrance community of Gardiner, Montana, where our tours and company are based.

Yellowstone National Park is home to wild animals and geysers as the world's first national park. Yellowstone Wild Tours can help you have your best experience!

The golden morning light broke through the clouds and lit up this moose in Lower Barronette, highlighting the reddish tones in the fur.

 

“I think we peaked too early,” one member of the group joked as we traveled back through the park. I chuckled in agreement. With such a fantastic first day, it seemed like an impossibly high bar was set for the remainder of our week. But Yellowstone wasn’t done with us yet. Heading back through Round Prairie on our way home, my radio crackled to life, and I heard the thinly-concealed excitement in the voice on the other end.

“Any unit in Lamar, Soda Butte is pretty good right now.” That’s guide speak for wolves in view, get here as soon as you can. It’s always dangerous business chasing radio calls; oftentimes, by the time you arrive, whatever had been seen is no longer in view. But Soda Butte Valley was just a few minutes down the road, and we were heading that way anyway. I waited with bated breath as we drove closer, not daring to get too excited in case we missed the sighting by mere minutes.

Rounding the bend into Soda Butte Valley, I could see the “wolf jam”—cars and visitors congregating— already forming, with drivers hastily snagging any available open parking spot in the sparse pullouts. Sure enough, several members of the Shrimp Lake wolf pack were a couple hundred yards off the road to the north. We spotted the almost-two-year-old black yearling—the only black-colored member of this pack. This wolf was the offspring of a previous breeding male who was also black in color. But after that male’s death, a new gray-colored male paired with the gray alpha female, and two gray parents can only produce gray offspring. We watched in amazement as the black yearling playfully jumped around chasing mice and voles.

 

 

Nearby, the massive gray alpha male was concerned with more serious business: trying to link up with the rest of the pack. I saw him sit and howl in our direction, and I quickly realized the pack members must be split between both ends of the valley, with the road dividing them in between. Sure enough, I looked to our south and saw a couple other members of the pack nervously approaching the road. They got within about 150 yards before getting scared off by the growing crowd of people on the roadway.

Realizing the conundrum that the wolves were facing, and grateful with the view and photos we were already able to get, we decided to remove ourselves from the situation in the hope that the wolves would eventually find a break in the crowd and cross to reunite with their packmates. Leaving the jam behind us and heading back home for the day, we were all lost in wonder at what an incredible experience Yellowstone offered us that day: wolves, moose, fox, bison, and more. What an incredible way to kick off a week out in Yellowstone!

 

Trip report provided by Yellowstone Wild Guide Rob Harwood. Photos and video courtesy of and taken by Rob Harwood during this tour.

Rob Harwood is the author of this blog post.

To learn more about Rob and the rest of the Yellowstone Wild team visit our “About Us” webpage.

From $4500

We’re excited to be offering two immersive Yellowstone Photography Workshops for Winter 2025. Each workshop will focus on encouraging all levels of photographers to hone their visual storytelling skills through one-on-one instruction with a local professional photographer.

2025 Workshop Dates and Instructor

Workshop 1:   9-Days: 1/5/2025 – 1/13/2025 ~ Led by local photographer Evan Watts  ONLY 1 SPOT LEFT!

Workshop 2:   7-Days: 2/9/2025 – 2/15/2025 – Led by local photographer Rob Harwood