Natural Habitat Adventure’s journey through Yellowstone is a trip for the true wanderer, embracing the spirit of remote nature travel. This adventure stands apart from the typical park tour, delving deep into Yellowstone’s wilds. Before your visit, here are some fascinating facts you may not have known about the wildlife, natural wonders and storied past of this beloved national park.
America’s Oldest National Park
President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act into law on March 1, 1872, establishing the world’s first national park. Yellowstone National Park is larger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined, and this vast swath of protected land, brimming with geological wonders and abundant wildlife, became a conservation model for generations to come. President Theodore Roosevelt, upon laying the cornerstone for the Gateway to Yellowstone National Park in 1903, proclaimed:
“The Yellowstone Park is something absolutely unique in the world, so far as I know…The scheme of its preservation is noteworthy in its essential democracy… This Park was created, and is now administered, for the benefit and enjoyment of the people… The only way that the people as a whole can secure to themselves and their children the enjoyment in perpetuity of what the Yellowstone Park has to give is by assuming the ownership in the name of the nation and by jealously safeguarding and preserving the scenery, the forests, and the wild creatures.”
There are 500 geysers in Yellowstone and 10,000 hydrothermal features in total, including fumaroles, travertine terraces, hot springs, steam vents and mudpots. This is the largest active geyser field on the planet, home to 60 percent of the world’s geysers! Many are found in the Upper Geyser Basin, including Old Faithful. Named for its frequent eruptions, which take place about 20 times a day, Old Faithful was discovered by the Washburn Expedition in 1870. A little-known fact is that members of the party tried doing their laundry in the geyser, placing clothes inside the crater and leaving them to be ejected by Old Faithful. Talk about a power wash! Another famed thermal area is Norris Geyser Basin. Steamboat, the tallest active geyser in the world, is its most popular feature, reaching heights of more than 300 feet.
Yellowstone’s First Inhabitants
Archeological evidence shows us that people have inhabited Yellowstone for more than 11,000 years. This was the traditional homeland of the Tukudeka—a band of Shoshone Native Americans—and many other tribes such as the Blackfeet and Nez Perce traveled through the area. They engaged in trade, gathered plants, hunted, fished, quarried obsidian, and held religious and medicinal ceremonies at sacred sites. Today, 27 tribes have historic connections to Yellowstone.
Mammals in Yellowstone
Yellowstone has the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48 states—there are 67 different mammals that inhabit its grasslands and forests. Large predators comprise of grizzly bears, black bears, gray wolves, coyotes, wolverines, mountain lions and Canada lynx. There are eight species of ungulates (hoofed mammals)—bighorn sheep, bison, elk, moose, mountain goats, mule deer, pronghorn and white-tailed deer. Smaller mammals include badger, beaver, bobcats, ground squirrels, marten, pika, red fox, river otter, snowshoe hare and yellow-bellied marmot.
Bison—An American Icon
The bison is the largest land mammal in North America, with bulls weighing up to 2,000 pounds! Roaming herds of these impressive ungulates can be found in Yellowstone, which has the largest population on public land. While bison were hunted to near extinction in the 1800s, the U.S. army eventually stepped in to protect what was left of Yellowstone’s bison from further poaching. This makes Yellowstone the only place in the lower 48 states to have a free-ranging bison population since prehistoric times. Recognizing its prominent place in history and significance to the American landscape, former President Barack Obama designated the bison as the United States’ national mammal in 2016 by signing the National Bison Legacy Act.
Grizzly Bears vs. Black Bears
The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is one of the few places in the U.S. where black bears and grizzly bears coexist. You may think the easiest means to distinguish between black bears and grizzlies (brown bears) is their fur color, but this is not an effective way to tell these two top predators apart. Only about half of Yellowstone’s black bears are black in color—the rest are blond, brown or cinnamon! A more reliable way is to look for a prominent shoulder hump, shorter ears and longer, straight claws—these are the markings of a grizzly bear. Grizzlies are also generally about 1 ½ to 2 times larger than black bears.
Gray Wolves—A Keystone Species
Before their reintroduction, the last of Yellowstone’s wolf packs was killed in 1926. Government predator control programs were responsible for eliminating this apex predator, and since the 1940s, environmentalists, biologists and park managers rallied to restore wolves to Yellowstone. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 helped clear the way for this campaign, and in 1995, wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley. The reintroduction of this keystone species quickly proved beneficial. Elk population numbers, which had skyrocketed since the wolves’ disappearance, were stabilized. The overabundance of elk negatively impacted other animals: elk stripped aspen and willow trees bare, which animals such as beavers rely on, and excessively browsed on shrubs along the banks of streams, which causes cold-water fish to suffer when the water was left unshaded. The reintroduction of wolves and subsequent natural regulation of elk numbers has helped restore the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and carcasses of wolf kills once again provide sustinance for bears, foxes and bald eagles.
World Wildlife Fund
Tens of millions of bison once roamed across North America before their population was decimated as expansion pressed westward. Today, the largest remaining wild bison herd of nearly 5,000 individuals can be found in Yellowstone National Park. World Wildlife Fund’s Northern Great Plains Program is working with national parks and native communities to restore bison to the prairie landscape. World Wildlife Fund is partnered with the American Prairie Reserve, a land trust that allows bison to roam freely, and is collaborating with tribes to bring herds back to sacred lands. In addition, the nonprofit organization is working with ranchers on sustainable land management and grasslands conservation to ensure a positive outcome for cattle and native wildlife. Join Natural Habitat Adventures, the travel partner of World Wildlife Fund, on a wildlife safari in Yellowstone to see bison herds, geothermal wonders and more!