Western 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: National Elk Refuge / West Yellowstone
Our winter safari begins this morning as we head into Jackson Hole in specialty North American Safari Trucks featuring double-wide pop-top roof hatches designed to optimize wildlife viewing. Search for bighorn sheep, bald and golden eagles, coyotes, bison, mule deer and moose, not to mention elk, which we're sure to see on a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the National Elk Refuge. Gliding across the snow that blankets the valley floor, we get close-up photos of the massive herd that winters here, with thousands of animals roaming the range. Continuing to West Yellowstone, we visit the Grizzly Discovery Center, a nonprofit education and conservation facility that offers close-up observation of wolves and bears in a natural setting. Learn about the importance of these predators to the entire Yellowstone ecosystem as we observe animals that are unable to survive in the wild and now serve as ambassadors for their wild counterparts.
Day 3: Yellowstone National Park—Snowcoach Tour to Old Faithful
Board a private snowcoach for an all-day adventure in America's first national park. Because winter access to the park interior is limited to snow vehicles and crowds are non-existent, we'll get to witness Old Faithful in seclusion, as the park's most famous geyser erupts in a crystalline veil of spray in the frosty air. The broader basin surrounding the Firehole River holds the highest density of geothermal features in the world, with opportunities to explore more geysers, hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles during our visit. Because of the warmth provided by the steam vents and bubbling mud, wildlife congregates in this area during the winter—we'll hope to encounter trumpeter swans, bald eagles, elk and bison.
Day 4: Mammoth Hot Springs / Lamar Valley / Cooke City
Back aboard our snowcoach, head north through more geyser basins to reach 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.
After an exhilarating morning, return to Cooke City for lunch and a visit to the Hartman Gallery, with a slide presentation by Dan Hartman. Dan is a local naturalist and renowned Yellowstone wildlife photographer whose wolf images are widely acclaimed. He'll share insightful observations about wolf behavior gleaned from countless hours in their presence, as well as tips for pursuing photos of wolves and other wildlife. In the waning light of mid-afternoon, we head back to the Lamar Valley for more wolf tracking, knowing our chances to see them are best at dawn and dusk.
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.