Yellowstone: Gray Wolf

This is part of a series of posts about wildlife we saw in Yellowstone National Park during our June vacation in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.

A fierce predator that hunts in packs, gray wolves are native to Yellowstone NP, but they were hunted there in the early 1900s, and they disappeared by the 1970s. Gray wolves from Canada were introduced in 1995, and about 100 wolves now live in Yellowstone. After our first day in Yellowstone, our apartment owner mentioned that an Idaho family that rented his place started early and had seen a dozen wolves. Wildlife is most active at dawn and dusk, and our game drives in Botswana and Tanzania started at 7:00 am, so we decided to start our days at 7:00 am.

The next morning we got out before 7:00 and drove toward the Lamar Valley. Just east of the Tower Junction, we saw a mass of cars, people, and tripods. We stopped and went through the usual ritual of asking what they were looking at and not being able to see. People with spotting scopes were talking about two wolves of different colors and what they were doing: walking, lying down, sitting up. The above photo (400 mm or 8x magnification) shows what we could see with binoculars. Despite people’s best efforts to tell us where to look, we couldn’t see any wolves.

People let us look through their spotting scopes, and then we finally saw what they were talking about. The next photo was taken at 400 mm, and it has been cropped to make the animals larger. There are two dark animals in the green field. The animal on the left might have its head down; the one on the right is walking to the right. Watching carefully, we could see movement over time.

two wolves 2 miles from road
two wolves 3 miles from road (click to enlarge)

Folks with spotting scopes told us these are wolves, describing the colors of the wolves and what pack they belong to. A person told us these wolves were two miles away from us. He later checked this on Google Earth and found it was more like 3 miles. Our first taste of watching wolves.

Later that morning, we found cars and tripods farther west on the Lamar River. Folks told us there was a wolf across the river. Here’s an uncropped photo at 400 mm. The wolf is the light-colored dot across the river, to the left of a brown patch.

wolf across the Lamar River
wolf across the Lamar River (click to enlarge)

In the cropped photo below, the wolf is lying down, facing left. It is chewing on the remains of a buffalo carcass. The dark object to the left of the wolf is a bison head. Can you see the curved horn on the buffalo head?

wolf eating bison carcass
wolf eating bison carcass (click to enlarge)

This was the closest we got to a wolf. At these long distances, one needs a spotting scope to see and appreciate wolves. At the wolf stops, most people had a spotting scope. We didn’t have one. We had no idea that so many people would have them, and we didn’t know that the wildlife would be so far away. A family told us that they rented a spotting scope for a week in Gardiner, and it cost $200.


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I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

3 thoughts on “Yellowstone: Gray Wolf”

    1. Thank you. You’re right. These were the first wolves we had seen, a big deal. And wolves are a traditional predator that helps control overpopulation of other wildlife, such as elk. Grand Teton National Park, just south of Yellowstone, needs to arrange hunting of elk to balance the elk population with the food supply. Not being a hunter, I’m happy to see wolves return to their role in nature.


  1. Thank you for sharing your experience in Yellowstone and seeing Wolves there. The wolves in Yellowstone National Park (YNP) are world famous and people pump millions of dollars into the local economy going there to see this iconic predator in the wild as they should be. You are now a “Wolfwatcher”. Congrats! This is one reason they must be protected under the US Endangered Species Act. People don’t go there to see dead animals. These wolves need protection from the hunts. To learn more please visit our web site.
    ~Candy Copeland, Director, Social Media Outreach for National Wolfwatcher Coalition & Content provider for “Wolfwatcher” on Face Book.


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