Yellowstone: Ultimate Wolf & Wildlife Photo Expedition
Please note: Alternating trips run in the opposite direction, starting in Jackson and ending in Bozeman. All inclusions are the same.
Day 1: Bozeman, Montana
Arrive in Bozeman, where you’re met at the airport and transferred to our hotel in the heart of the city's historic downtown. The only 4-star property in Bozeman, the Armory Hotel blends the Art Deco bones of the historic Armory building with contemporary luxury and amenities, in an unpretentious Old West/New West meld that evokes the personality of modern-day Bozeman. Harking back to its rich mining, trapping and ranching heritage, Bozeman boasts 40 individual properties on the National Register of Historic Places. It is home to Montana State University, with a thriving economy also built on growing tourism and tech sectors. This evening, gather with our Expedition Leader for a welcome dinner.
Day 2: Paradise Valley / Yellowstone National Park—Mammoth Hot Springs / Northern Range Wolf Tracking / Gardiner
Depart early this morning, traveling in specialty North American Safari Trucks to follow the Lewis & Clark Trail over Bozeman Pass to the Yellowstone River. We spend the morning in the Paradise Valley in search of rough-legged hawks, eagles, mule deer and pronghorn antelope. The ragged heights of the Absaroka Range provide a dramatic backdrop for landscape photos. En route, look for wintering bighorn sheep in Gardiner River Canyon. We enter the park through the northern entrance at Gardiner, then continue to Mammoth Hot Springs where we stop for lunch. There's plenty of time to photograph the thermal activity as super-heated water flows over the white limestone terraces, which some observers describe as a "cave turned inside out." Later this afternoon, we enter Yellowstone’s Northern Range, the best place in the park to search for wolves, and our first possible chance to capture photographs of them. More frequently, we spot coyotes, elk and bison against the snow-mantled landscape. As dusk fades, we return to Gardiner, just outside the park boundary, to spend two nights.
Day 3: Wolf Tracking in the Lamar Valley / Hartman Gallery Visit
We rise very early this morning to reach the Lamar Valley at the break of day. As the sun's rays illumine the frosty meadows, we look far afield in hopes of spotting wolves. The broad glacial valley offers wide-open vistas of a sublime landscape, and if wolves are present, they are likely to stand out against the snowy backdrop, although they are almost always seen at a distance. Our Expedition Leaders carry high-powered spotting scopes on board our vehicles, and if we are fortunate to spy wolves, we'll have the opportunity to obtain images via digiscoping, with coaching from our Expedition Leader. Other wildlife is abundant, and we're sure to come away with exhilarating images, which may include coyotes, elk and shaggy bison with heavy coats encrusted with ice.
During the day, we'll also have a chance to go snowshoeing in the silence, and we'll stop in Silver Gate, just outside the park's northeast corner, for a presentation at the Hartman Gallery. Owner Dan Hartman is a renowned Yellowstone wildlife photographer and local naturalist whose wolf images are widely acclaimed. He'll share slides, insights and observations about wolf behavior gleaned from countless hours in their presence, as well as tips for pursuing photos of wolves and other wildlife. Then, as the light wanes by mid-afternoon, we return to the Lamar Valley to turn our focus on wolf tracking again, knowing our chances to see them are best at dawn and dusk.
Day 4: Northern Range Wolf Tracking / Norris Geyser Basin / West Yellowstone
As dawn breaks over the snowy expanse of the Northern Range, we return once more in search of wolves. An onboard spotting scope is always at the ready, allowing us to observe wolf activity from a distance without disturbing their natural behavior. Many of our Expedition Leaders have worked for years with on-site researchers who track the packs daily, and together they provide us every opportunity to find these charismatic animals in their natural surroundings.
Leaving the valley, we travel southwest across the park to reach our next base in West Yellowstone. Aboard a chartered snowcoach, traverse Yellowstone’s wild interior, accessible in winter only by over-the-snow vehicles. Along the Madison River, a lower-elevation corridor with abundant winter wildlife, we find excellent opportunities for photos of bison, elk and winter birdlife, while large bison herds are often spotted on the Central Plateau. We'll hope for more wolf sightings, too, though they are less frequent here. Stop for photos at the hottest geothermal feature in the park, Norris Geyser Basin, flowing with acidic waters that create unique color patterns. The world’s tallest active geyser is found here—Steamboat Geyser—though its timetable for eruptions is highly erratic. Our day ends in West Yellowstone, where we spend two nights.
Day 5: Snowcoach Tour to Old Faithful
This morning, board our private snowcoach and head into the park for an all-day adventure in the Old Faithful area. Because winter access to the park interior is limited to over-the-snow vehicles, we enjoy a peaceful opportunity to witness the magic of Old Faithful erupting in a crystalline veil of spray, without the crowds of summer. But the park's most famous geyser isn't the only attraction. This basin surrounding the Firehole River holds the highest density of geothermal features in the world, with opportunities to photograph more geysers, hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles. Because of the warmth provided by the steam vents and bubbling mud, wildlife congregates in the area during the winter—we'll hope to photograph trumpeter swans, bald eagles, elk and bison.
Day 6: Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center / Grand Teton National Park / Jackson
Rise early for a sunrise photo shoot on the open landscape outside West Yellowstone. Following a hearty breakfast, visit the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, an educational facility that houses rescued animals unable to survive in the wild for various reasons. Get close-up photos of these magnificent predators and learn how they are helping to product-test items like bear-resistant food bags, bear-proof trash cans and other items to help keep wild bears out of trouble. Leaving West Yellowstone, we drive south to Grand Teton National Park, stopping along the way for our first views of the Teton spires. More great shots await as sunset casts alpenglow on the jagged range, providing an incomparable backdrop for wildlife such as elk, bighorn sheep and moose.
Day 7: Jackson Hole—National Elk Refuge
Our winter safari continues into Jackson Hole, the broad, open valley at the base of the Tetons, where we go in search of bighorn sheep, bald and golden eagles, coyotes, bison, mule deer, moose
Day 8: Jackson / Depart
After breakfast, the day is yours to explore the Old West town of Jackson before you depart, as your schedule permits. Take the hotel's complimentary shuttle to the airport to connect with individual flights home. Our hotel is located in the heart of town, steps from shops, galleries, cafes and the famous Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, with its line-up of leather saddle bar stools. A gondola ride up Snow King Mountain offers panoramic views over the town and Tetons beyond.
Physical Rating: Easy to Moderate
Natural Habitat Adventures is an authorized permittee of Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks.