Central Route Itinerary
Our Yellowstone wildlife tour begins in the Old West town of Jackson, which sits at the edge of Grand Teton National Park in the shadow of the mountain range’s jagged spires. This evening, meet your Expedition Leader and fellow travelers at an informal welcome dinner and orientation.
Day 2: Jackson Hole—National Elk Refuge
Our winter safari begins in the broad valley of Jackson Hole aboard our specialty North American Safari Trucks. Taking advantage of double-wide pop-top roof hatches, look for bald and golden eagles, bighorn sheep, coyote, bison, mule deer, moose and elk. After lunch at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, travel by horse-drawn sleigh through the National Elk Refuge. Gliding over the snow that blankets the valley floor, we capture close-up photos of the massive herd that winters here, with thousands of animals roaming the range.
Day 3: Grand Teton National Park / Yellowstone National Park—Old Faithful
A traverse of Buffalo Valley and the northern sector of Grand Teton National Park offers a panorama of the iconic peaks rising above the Snake River. Reaching the boundary of Yellowstone, we board heated snowcoaches that convey us into the silent winter splendor of America's first national park. We stop at West Thumb Geyser Basin on the edge of Yellowstone Lake, looking along the way for moose, river otters and trumpeter swans before arriving at Old Faithful Snow Lodge. Because winter access to the park's interior is limited to snow vehicles, an overnight stay here is a coveted experience. In silent seclusion, witness the park's most famous geothermal feature, Old Faithful geyser, shoot forth in a crystalline veil of spray. And on a clear night, we may even get to watch it erupt by the light of the moon.
Day 4: Mammoth Hot Springs / Lamar Valley / Cooke City
Back aboard the snowcoach, head northward through Yellowstone’s famous geyser basins to the white limestone terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs, where we often see many elk. As dusk descends, an early-evening drive through the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone’s far northeast corner offers our first chance to search for wolves. The park is the best place in the world to view these charismatic predators, and we dedicate the next two days to finding them. Although pack movements are unpredictable, and the impact of past human interactions tends to make wolves shy in the presence of humans, our Expedition Leader is an experienced tracker, teaching us about wolf behavior and how to look for them through spotting scopes. We are also in close contact with scientists who conduct research on wolves in the region, and they will help us locate them based on recent sightings. Continuing east, we reach our destination of Cooke City, Montana, which lies just outside the park's northern boundary.
Day 5: Lamar Valley Wolf Safari
A full day is ours to scout for Yellowstone's legendary wolves. Reintroduced to the park in 1995 amid much controversy, the gray wolf was returned to this native ecosystem after a 70-year absence following a policy of government-sanctioned eradication. Since then, they have flourished, supported by bountiful prey including a multitude of elk. Yet controversy continues to surround their presence, and we learn in detail from our guides about the current conditions in which wolves exist within the greater Yellowstone area. As the wolves have restored more balance to the natural ecosystem, elk numbers have dropped, and we may not be as likely to see as many wolves as visitors did several years ago. If we are especially lucky, though, we might see a pack test an elk herd for a weak or sick animal, or spot lone individuals foraging on their own. But even if the wolves remain elusive, the winter landscape is magical, and we're sure to see plenty of other wildlife native to the park.
Day 6: Lamar Valley / Bozeman
As dawn illumines the snowy meadows of the Lamar Valley, we return once more in search of wolves. If we are fortunate to sight them, our onboard spotting scope enhances our observation of their activities from a distance without disturbing their natural behavior. Many of our Expedition Leaders have worked for years with the on-site researchers who track these wolves daily, and together they provide us every opportunity to find these intriguing animals in their natural surroundings. Returning to Mammoth Hot Springs, we leave Yellowstone’s frozen silence and continue up the Paradise Valley along the Yellowstone River to reach Bozeman for our final night.
Day 7: Bozeman / Depart
If your flight schedule permits, you may enjoy exploring Bozeman on your own today. This historic Old West/New West town, with a rich mining and trapping heritage, boasts 40 individual properties on the National Register of Historic Places. It is home to Montana State University and offers a wide range of cultural and outdoor activities.
Please note: Alternating trips run in the opposite direction, from Bozeman to Jackson.
Physical Rating: Easy to Moderate
Tracking wolves in Yellowstone typically occurs in snowy, icy and/or wet conditions, and temperatures can be very cold, often dropping well below zero at night with daytime highs in the 30s. Our days generally start before sunrise and are filled with activities. Optional hikes and snowshoe excursions require moderate physical exertion, ranging from one to three miles in length over level ground and slight inclines, though snow and ice may create rough and/or challenging terrain conditions. If you opt to snowshoe, you must be able to go at least one-half mile. In order to view Old Faithful, participants must be able to walk 300 yards over icy, snowy pavement and boardwalk. To explore Yellowstone’s geothermal basins, you must be able to walk at least one-half to one mile over ice- and snow-covered boardwalk, dirt trails and pavement. While much of our wildlife viewing takes place from our vehicles, participants should be prepared to spend extended periods of time outside in cold temperatures. Travelers should be aware that activities in the park occur at altitudes between 4,810 and 7,380 feet. While travelers are not required to participate in all activities, if you should opt out of any of the day’s scheduled activities, we cannot guarantee that alternatives will be available.