Discover a Slice of the Old West as We Camp in Secluded Luxury Near Big Sky
Day 1: Bozeman, Montana
Arrive in Bozeman, an Old West town with a rich mining and trapping heritage and 40 individual properties on the National Register of Historic Places. Contemporary Bozeman, whose booming economy now features more software designers than ranchers, is home to Montana State University and offers a wide range of cultural and outdoor activities.
Day 2: Mammoth Hot Springs / Lamar Valley / Cooke City
Montana's legendary Rocky Mountain scenery is on display as we drive over Bozeman Pass to Livingston, then south through the Paradise Valley, following the Yellowstone River along the base of the Absaroka Range. Pointed peaks rise on either side all the way to Gardiner, where we enter Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone's unrivaled sights overlie a supervolcano, its subterranean geology shaping the park's surface in dramatic ways. Geyser basins punctuate the pine forests while boiling pools and steam vents nurture grassy meadows that fill with bison and elk, a healthy population of which have helped foster the return of wolves to the American landscape.
Our first stop inside the park is Mammoth Hot Springs, where thermal water spills over white travertine terraces that have been described as a “cave turned inside out.” Strange heat-loving organisms called thermophiles live on the terraces, adding their own distinct colors to the mineral-laden evidence of deep volcanic forces. From Mammoth, we head to the Lamar Valley in the park's remote northeast corner in search of resident wildlife—wolves, bison, bears, elk, pronghorn, eagles and bighorn sheep—most active early and late in the day. Bison are prevalent along the road, and our North American Safari Trucks,
with big windows and double-wide pop-top roof hatches, offer an unimpeded vantage point. Spend the night in Cooke City at the base of the Beartooth Range.
Day 3: Lamar Valley Wolf & Wildlife Quest
Rising early, we set out before first light in search of wolves. As dawn illumines the Lamar Valley, our high-powered spotting scope is poised to observe wolves from a distance without disturbing their natural behavior. The valley’s rolling meadows have been the prime locus for wolf watching since these apex predators were reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995. Our Expedition Leaders have worked for years with researchers on site who track the packs daily, and together they provide us every opportunity to find these magnetic animals in their natural surroundings. The Lamar Valley is home to a rich array of other wildlife, too, which we expect to see even if wolves remain elusive. Later today, visit with local wildlife photographer Dan Hartman, who has spent years chronicling Yellowstone's wolves in powerful images. Dan opens his Cooke City gallery to us and shares stories of his Yellowstone adventures as we enjoy private conversation time together.
Days 4–5: Exploring Yellowstone National Park
Spend two more full days plumbing the park's wonders, enlightened by our naturalist Expedition Leaders. As we cross the Central Plateau, be on the lookout for large bison herds and other wildlife en route to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, a mineral-stained gash in the earth’s crust that runs 20 miles long, 4,000 feet wide and 1,200 feet deep. At overlooks above the 109-foot Upper Falls and 308-foot Lower Falls, witness where springs and steam vents have percolated through the rock walls to turn them yellow, pink, red and white over millennia. Nineteenth-century painter Thomas Moran, whose famous illustration of the canyon and falls helped drive the push to make Yellowstone a national park, claimed that “its beautiful tints were beyond the reach of human art.” Our survey of the park also includes an early-morning visit to Old Faithful to beat the crowds, plus other famous highlights including Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone Lake, West Thumb Geyser Basin and Lower Geyser Basin, with its Fountain Paint Pots. Spend the night in cozy, well-appointed cabins in West Yellowstone, just outside the park boundary.
Day 6: Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center / Private Yellowstone Safari Camp
This morning, visit the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, a nonprofit education
and conservation facility that offers close-up observation of wolves and bears in a natural setting as we learn about the importance of these predators to the entire Yellowstone ecosystem. These are animals that are unable to survive in the wild and serve as ambassadors for their wild counterparts.
Continuing into the Madison Valley, we stop at Hebgen Lake, an Audubon-designated Important Bird Area where we may see sandhill cranes, herons, western grebes, white pelicans, osprey, Canada geese, mallards, wood ducks, loons, and bald and golden eagles. Heading into the Gallatin Mountains along the Wyoming/Montana border, we arrive this afternoon at our private camp in Moonlight Basin near Big Sky. Inspired by luxury African safari camps, our lakeside outpost offers exceptional seclusion in the Yellowstone wilds. With only heavy canvas to insulate us from nature beyond, we sleep in deluxe log beds inside spacious walk-in tents, with classic Western touches like antler chandeliers and Pendleton rugs to enhance the vintage ambience
. Once we're settled in, we set off with our Expedition Leader for a short hike to get acquainted with the area.
Day 7: Yellowstone's Big Sky Region
Today is devoted to exploring this scenic corner of the Yellowstone Ecosystem, outside the park and away from crowds. Wake up to a hearty camp breakfast before setting out with our Expedition Leader for a hike in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness in the Gallatin Mountains. The range provides an important part of the extensive wild lands that make up the Greater Yellowstone region, providing habitat for grizzly bears, wolves
and wolverines. The terrain is typical of Yellowstone Country: grasses and sagebrush at lower altitudes, Douglas fir
and Engelmann spruce higher up, and alpine tundra on the peaks. In the meadows, look for abundant elk and watch for moose in marshy areas, and keep an eye out for raptors gliding overhead. This afternoon, relax on a scenic raft float on the Gallatin River as we search for more local wildlife, including bighorn sheep in the rocky canyon. Back at camp, savor a farm-to-table dinner served in the open air, featuring specialties like local range-fed beef and fresh-caught trout. Once dusk's lingering light fades, gather around the fire under some of North America's darkest skies, with the Milky Way prominent among the canopy of stars.
Day 8: Bozeman / Depart
After breakfast, depart for Bozeman, following the Gallatin River north through a rugged, forested canyon and on into the broad basin that holds the city. Our Yellowstone adventure concludes at the Bozeman airport.