Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Lamar Valley - Yellowstone National Park

Do you want to see wildlife in Yellowstone? Don't waste your time driving around the Grand Loop with the other tourists. The best place to see wildlife is the Lamar Valley in the Northeast area of the park. This is the least visited part of the park, which is one reason it's the best place to see wildlife.

Location:  The Lamar Valley is located on the Northeast Entrance Road about halfway between Tower Junction and Silver Gate City.

Driving Distance and Time:  The whole road is 33 miles long.  Plan for an hour to drive one way, so allow at least two hours to drive the road and then return to the rest of the park.

Operating Seasons and Hours: The North East Entrance Road is open all year long. Other roads in the park that lead to the NE road may be closed so plan accordingly and check the current conditions list.

Date of Visit: Sunday, June 18, 2017 and several other times throughout the summer

In the summer of 2017 I received a job with Xanterra Parks and Resorts in Yellowstone National Park. I moved there with my husband and our four young children. We lived in a 25 foot RV and spent all our free time exploring the park. This is one of many posts that I will write about specific features within Yellowstone National Park. Be sure to check out my other posts for more tips for your Yellowstone visit.

I visited Yellowstone four different times before I ever drove on the Northeast Entrance Road.  I'd always entered Yellowstone from the South Entrance or the West Entrance and so to drive all the way up to the Northeast area of the park seemed like a big waste of time and gas.  The map didn't indicate any features of interest along that road so I didn't see any reason I should bother to go up there.

What I didn't know is that the road runs through the Lamar Valley which has been called America's Serengeti.  This area is a haven for all sorts of wildlife.

I learned this when I went on a Wake Up to Wildlife Yellow Bus tour.  The tour costs $97.00  for an adult or $48.50 for a child. Since I was a Xanterra employee I was able to get a free ride on a tour that didn't fill up. Brandon had taken our four kids to a family reunion in Utah and so I had some free time to fill. I got up early, and met up with the Yellow Bus at Canyon Village.
The five hours I spent on the tour were some of the best I spent in Yellowstone. We drove from Canyon Village over the Dunraven Pass to Tower/Roosevelt. Then we turned onto the Northeast Entrance Road. That road goes into the Lamar Valley.

The guide was knowledgeable and gave out lots of good information. He had a scope that he would often set up and allow us to look at animals from far away.  But we didn't just see animals through the scope.  We saw many of them close to the road as well.

I was very impressed the things I saw on the tour. When my family came back from the reunion I made sure we drove into the Lamar Valley. We saw plenty of wildlife on our drive through the Lamar Valley. We returned a few other times during our time in Yellowstone.

Every time we went into the Lamar Valley we saw wildlife.  Often we saw animals that we hadn't seen anywhere else in the park.  The Lamar Valley is definitely where you should go if you want to see wildlife during your visit to Yellowstone.

The best thing you can do to ensure you have an enjoyable visit to the Lamar Valley is to go early in the morning or in the evening.  This is when animals are the most active. It's also when there are the fewest tourists in the park.

Morning is especially good because you will have the roads to yourself.  The Wake Up to Wildlife tours leave Canyon Village and Mammoth Hot Springs at 6:15 in the morning. Later in the summer I was promoted to a position at Roosevelt Lodge.  I commuted between Canyon Village and Roosevelt Lodge over the Dunraven Pass four days a week. I had to be to work at 7:30 in the morning so I left my RV in Canyon Village around 6:45.  I hardly saw any other cars on the road on those early morning drives.

Evening is also a good time to be in the Lamar Valley.  There is an evening Yellow Bus tour called Evening Wildlife Encounters ($71.50 for adults and $35.75 for children).  The bus leaves at 4:15 and doesn't return until 8:30.

The animal you will see the most of in the Lamar Valley is the bison.  Many of them live on the grasses in the valley.  You'll see whole herds of them spread out.
It's always amazing to see so many of these animals.  If you are there in the late spring/early summer you will see many red calves near their mothers.  If you are there in early August you will hear the males make deep bellowing groans that indicate they are in Rut.
Here's a fox that was eating road kill of the road.  I love foxes so I was super happy to see this one on the Wake Up to Wildlife Tour.
If you are driving along and you see a group of people with scopes set up you should stop. They are probably looking at wolves through the scopes. This is serious business for these people. The invest a lot of money into their equipment so that they can come watch and photograph wolves. Keep quiet and you may hear a wolf howl. Someone may let you look through their scope, but please be courteous.

When I went on the Walk Up to Wildlife Tour our driver had a scope that he set up so we could look at wolf cubs playing outside a den.  The den was located near the dirt road that leads to the Slough Creek Campground.
If you feel like you are striking out with seeing wildlife you can stop at the restrooms located along the Northeast Entrance Road.  Swallows have built nests on the back of the restrooms.
Even if you aren't seeing wildlife, the Lamar Valley is impressive because of it's size and tranquility.  We walked down a path to the edge of Soda Butte Creek. I was surprised at how calm the area felt.
There are flowers growing all over Yellowstone, but some how I appreciated them more in the Lamar Valley.
Remember not to pick any flowers inside the National Park.
My favorite bear encounter happened in the Lamar Valley.  During our summer we saw over 10 bears.  Most of the sightings happened on the Dunraven pass road between Canyon Village and Roosevelt/Tower.  But the best sighting happened with my family on our way out of the Lamar Valley.

We saw a Mama Bear and her two cubs play along the side of the road and then cross behind our car.
 It was the most adorable thing we ever saw.
Other animals that I saw in the Lamar Valley include a moose and her baby, a red tailed hawk, osprey, and a coyote.  I saw more wildlife in the Lamar Valley than in any other area of the park combined.

Recommendation: If you want to see animals during your visit to Yellowstone, then the Lamar Valley should be at the top of your Yellowstone Itinerary.  It's that simple.

Directions: The Northeast Entrance Road runs through the Lamar Valley.  If you are travelling on the Upper Loop of the Grand Loop road you will turn onto the Northeast Entrance Road at Tower/Roosevelt Junction.

Places Nearby: Silver Gate is located right outside the Northeast entrance.  It's a cute little mountain city that depends heavily on tourism.  The nice thing is that it doesn't feel like a tourist trap.  Cooke City is a few miles down the road from Silver Gate.

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I would love to hear what you think. Did I get it right, or was I dead wrong? What was your experience like?


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