If you’re an animal lover, you’ve probably heard of the Big Five. The term Big Five refers to the animals that can be seen in a particular wilderness area of the world.

In Africa, the Big Five are considered to be the buffalo, elephant, lion, rhino and leopard. Because Yellowstone National Park is considered the Serengeti of North America, many people wonder about the five big animals in the park. In this article, you’ll find Yellowstone’s Big Five and get insider tips on how to best see these animals in the park.

North America Serengeti

Because of its fairly open landscape and abundance of wildlife, Yellowstone National Park has been nicknamed the Serengeti of North America. In general, the highest concentrations of animals are found in the Lamar and Hayden valleys.

These areas of the park are home to free-roaming wolves, bison, grizzly bears and more than 300 species of birds. Yellowstone’s expansive valleys offer stunning wildlife views. Animals come here to feed on grasses, roots and carcasses.

While driving, pay attention to vehicles and groups stopping by the side of the road. That’s probably where we should stop.

Travellers not staying on site

The beauty of Yellowstone is that wildlife viewing is open to everyone. From adventurers to multi-generational families traveling by family van, everyone can have great experiences.

That’s why many Americans choose Yellowstone National Park for their vacation. People of all ages and physical abilities go away feeling like one of the best wildlife watchers in the United States. Most of the main attractions have sidewalks on the ground, an attractive attraction for families with young children and also for the elderly.

Theboardwalks make it easy to explore the landscape.

The big five of Yellowstone

Although hundreds of species live in the park, Yellowstone’s Big Five are considered the most spectacular. It is interesting to note that the Big Five are in fact the largest animals you can encounter.

Yellowstone’s Big Five: Elk, moose, wolf, buffalo and bear.


In 2020, an estimated 4,800 roaming bison were found in Yellowstone. This national park is the only place in the 48 lowlands where a population of bison have roamed freely since prehistoric times. Fortunately, buffalo are everywhere!

By the end of your visit, you may see hundreds without even getting out of the car. The bison is an animal you can easily tick off your Yellowstone Big Five list.

Bison could easily be crossed off Yellowstone’s Big Five list.


There is no doubt that the bear is Yellowstone’s most popular animal. From black bears to grizzly bears, people come from all over the world to try and spot one of these majestic creatures in their natural habitat.

Some travelers can spend days in the park without ever seeing a bear in the wild. Look out! If you see a huge traffic jam while you’re in the park, it’s probably because you saw a bear. Beware, people can get aggressive if they want to compete with a Yellowstone bear for a photo as a souvenir.

Yellowstone Bear data

In 2019 there were approximately 730+ grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone area. But only about 150 of them actually live in the park. In addition, black bears are considered the most abundant bears in the United States.

Consequently, the figures on the park are only now being studied and were not previously recorded. It is interesting to note that Yellowstone is one of the few areas outside of Canada where grizzlies and black bears co-exist.

A black bear has been sighted in Yellowstone.

June grizzly found in Yellowstone.


Elk are the most common animal in Yellowstone. In the summer, it is estimated that there are between 10,000 and 20,000 elk in six or seven different herds.

In winter, when elk herds migrate in search of better food, their numbers drop to less than 4,000. Surprisingly, only one herd of elk remains in the park year-round.

The elk bull is the most sought-after of Yellowstone’s Big Five animals. Because a male bull with huge horns is a dream of many animal photographers.

An impressive photo of a moose in Yellowstone National Park.


The wolf is perhaps the toughest animal of Yellowstone’s Big Five. In 2015, there were an estimated 528 wolves in the Greater Yellowstone area.

By January 2020, however, only eight packs containing 94 wolves were still living in the park. In recent years the wolf population has fluctuated between 83 and 108 animals.

Although they are few in number, they roam the park in packs, so you never know when you might run into them. Unfortunately, they spend most of the day under shady trees and hidden in tall grass. As with most wildlife, most encounters occur at sunrise or sunset.

In general, most sightings were in the North Yellowstone Range. Specifically, it is located in the Lamar Valley of Gardiner and Cooke City. In addition, winter is an ideal time to observe wolves in their natural habitat.


Unfortunately, moose are quite rare in Yellowstone, so it would be another animal that would be hard to cross off the Big Five list. At the last count, there were about 200 elk left in Yellowstone National Park. However, their elusive behavior makes it very difficult for rangers and scientists to accurately count the population.

Moose stay in very sheltered places – marshy meadows, lakes and riverbanks. They are also very solitary animals, making them even harder to find.

The only time they congregate is during the moose rut, which peaks in late September and early October. If you’re nearby, their size makes them highly visible. Consider yourself lucky if you saw a moose during your stay in Yellowstone.

Wildlife and seasons

Wildlife activity in Yellowstone varies with the seasons. In addition, habitat preference, weather and seasonal movements also influence wildlife viewing. It is important to have an idea of where the animals will congregate to get the most out of your visit.

Yellowstone is where Americans go to experience the best wildlife safari in the country.

Spring in Yellowstone (April to early June)

In the spring, visit the Lamar and Hayden valleys. This is the time when small animals such as bison, elk and bears are born. It’s also a good time of year to see wolves and grizzly bears.

In the valleys mainly grey wolves are seen. Bears often reside near Yellowstone Lake and are most active at dawn, dusk and night.

There are many opportunities to see new cubs in the spring, including bears with cubs, bison, and wolves.

Yellowstone summer (mid-June to August)

The warm weather draws tourists, many of whom are on excursions, to the park during the summer months. During this time, grizzlies and black bears are less common. Indeed, bears leave the valleys and move to higher ground.

In the valleys spotted in June, but very unlikely in July and August. The buffalo start turning in August, and you’ll see the males fighting the females throughout the summer. These interactions can be very hot and exciting.

Yellowstone autumn (September-October)

There are many advantages to visiting Yellowstone in the fall. Not only are the wildlife photos complemented by the colorful fall foliage, but the summer visitors are leaving the park and the animals are returning to the valleys.

After Labor Day, it’s pretty quiet in the national park. September is the height of the moose rutting season.

It’s when bulls want to mate with a cow during estrus. The Rangers suggest driving to Mammoth Hot Springs, near the northern entrance, to see the rutting of the moose up close.

Autumn colors seem to be the perfect backdrop for wildlife photography.

Yellowstone Winter (November-March)

Winter is an ideal time to observe Yellowstone’s wildlife. Indeed, the foliage is gone and the animals are more visible in the white snow.

Many world-renowned photographers agree that Yellowstone’s snowy landscape adds even more drama and contrast to wildlife images. Some visitors even have fun looking for animal tracks in the snow.

Buffalo and elk sometimes gather at geysers, steam vents and mud puddles at Old Faithful. On the Yellowstone River you can see bison, elk, bobcats and trumpeter swans.

Animals enjoy the moist warmth of Yellowstone’s geothermal activity.

Winter is the best time of year to observe wolves and coyotes. Yellowstone is one of the best places in the world to see wolves in their natural habitat.

Bison, mule deer, elk, pachyderms and owls migrate through open valleys in search of food. Fortunately, many of these open meadows are located near roads. Grizzly bears hibernate until mid-March, and we don’t see them.

The only road that remains open to visitor vehicles during the winter months is from the north entrance in Gardiner, Montana, to the northeast entrance of the park at Silver Gate, and the town of Cooke, Montana.

Each season offers a unique wildlife viewing experience.

Best time of day to see wildlife in Yellowstone

The best time to see wildlife in Yellowstone National Park is at sunrise or sunset. During this time the animals are most active. Visibility gets better in the morning and evening when the animals are eating.

If you get up early, you’re in luck, as dusk is the best time to look. We recommend going to the valleys just before sunrise and staying there until about 9am. If you’re more of a night owl, don’t worry. Twilight, especially in September, is the best time to see the elusive moose.

Enjoy Yellowstone’s wildlife from sunrise to sunset.

With a little knowledge and good timing, you have a chance of seeing the Big Five while visiting Yellowstone National Park.

Tip: There are only a few parts of the park where there is cell phone reception, and even that is sporadic and unreliable. Come prepared with maps and guides (we recommend Luna National Parks USA): Complete guide to the 62 parks), audio guides and travel apps already downloaded.

Habitats of the Big Five World Wildlife

Wildlife enthusiasts interested in other areas of the Big Five can explore the following exciting trails.

Scotland Big Five

Borneo Big Five

Africa’s Big Five

The big five of Alaska

Yellowstone’s Big Five


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frequently asked questions

What is the most dangerous animal in Yellowstone?

Bison. Bison have injured more people in Yellowstone than any other animal.

What is the most beautiful part of Yellowstone to visit?

Top 9 things to do in Yellowstone | U.S. News Travel

How many cougars are there in Yellowstone?

The Yellowstone population, based on recent surveys, is estimated to be 34-42 (for all age and sex classes) in the northern part of the park; others live seasonally in the parks.

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