June 5th, as I neared Tower Fall I was treated to an answered prayer…two adorable bears roadside (safe distance). In all my times traversing the backcountry of Yellowstone on foot or the frontcountry via car I’ve only seen two bears in the park.
I usually recommend visitors safely see Grizzlies at the Grizzly Discovery Center, but seeing the two black bears searching for berries roadside was a special treat. A park ranger was nearby directly traffic keeps humans and bears a safe distance.
Yellowstone is home to both Grizzly and Black Bears. Each has unique physical attributes. And while both types of bears are more afraid that humans that we are, it is important to recognize which type of bear you are encountering if you meet one in the backcountry. Black Bears usually scare off with a bunch of noise and yelling during an encounter, whereas confronting a Grizzly with clanging and banging face to face will antagonize them.
You can read up on the differences between black bears and grizzlies via this link and bear safety here.
Want to safely see Yellowstone bears – I recommend the following wildlife sancturaries to see Grizzlies, Black bears and more safely and support local non-profits:
Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center – West Yellowstone
Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary – Red Lodge
Montana Grizzly Encounter – near Bozeman, MT
I knew time was short if I wanted to make it to Old Faithful to check in at the Old Faithful Inn by dinner, but seeing the sign for the Lamar Valley near Tower Junction, I couldn’t resist a small detour into Yellowstone’s Serengeti.
The Lamar Valley is accessible from the Northeast Entrance Road (near Roosevelt Lodge/Tower Junction)…Carved by the Lamar River, this vast valley is a haven for wildlife from herds of thundering bison to grizzlies enjoying berries; the antelope play and mule deer and bighorn scale the nearby cliffs. The valley is cradled by the formidable Absaroka-Beartooth Mountains.
The Lamar Valley is worth at least a few hours of your time on a first visit to Yellowstone. I love picnicing near the river and driving the twenty miles to Cooke City, MT (northeastern gateway town of YNP)
*As I type my travelogue several months after my trip – I am sad to say that The Lamar Valley was one of the areas hit by the devastating Yellowstone flooding. However you can still have the opportunity to explore the amazing Cooke City (via Beartooth Highway). From my understanding the Lamar Valley should be open to vehicular traffic soon. Stay tuned to the NPS website for the latest updates.
I spent around thirty minutes enjoying the Lamar Valley – spotting bison and elk in the distance and breathing in the cool mountain air. Clouds gathered a bit on the horizon as rain drizzled on the valley before revealing shards of sunlight and blue sky.
Mindful of time, I returned to the main section of the Upper Loop (near Roosevelt) and continued west towards Mammoth Hot Springs. If you are looking for a great meal, I recommend The Roosevelt Lodge dining room. This rustic lodge pays homage to the frontier President Theodore Roosevelt. Cabins are available for rent (depending on the season) offering unbridled views of the surrounding scenery.
The road between Tower-Roosevelt and Mammoth is one of my favorite sections of the park. It is usually not as congested as the Lower Loop and the scenery is unrivaled. Endless miles of wandering prairies and ambling hills are backed by steep mountains. This area is also home to The Petrified Tree and many of the roadside boulders are actually petrified wood samples – a legacy of Yellowstone’s volcanism.
For a quick and scenic boardwalk jaunt stop at The Forces of Nature trail.
Once at Mammoth (the original entrance to Yellowstone and a mini-metropolis for tourists), I found a parking spot near the Terrace Grill and wandered to the Mammoth General Store. Mammoth is a great spot to grab a quick meal and scoop of ice-cream.
Mammoth also provides a window into Yellowstone’s human history with Fort Yellowstone. Before the NPS was created, Yellowstone was patroled by Buffalo Soldiers to protect the park from poachers. The Albright Visitor Center is a great place to dig into YNP’s history and formation as a park.
Mammoth is also near the dynamic gateway town of Gardiner. While I was fortunate to drive the Gardiner Road (around five miles) this past June (2022) unfortunately days after I left, a historic flood washed away the road from Gardiner to Mammoth. But I encourage you to continue with your travel plans and support Gardiner. It is one of the coolest towns in Montana and the scenery is unrivaled. You won’t regret the fifty-mile drive from Livingston, MT south to Gardiner through The Paradise Valley.
To donate to flood relief click here.
While I usually make time to climb the stairs to access Mammoth Hot Springs…I decided to skip the trail as the rain became steady, the steam from the hot springs pluming towards the gray sky.
Instead I drove the scenic Upper Terrace Drive – which allows you to experience Mammoth springs from you car.
Heading south from Mammoth towards Norris Junction (and evenually Old Faithful)
I stopped at one of my favorite spots in the park: The Golden Gate
Stay tuned to my next post as we explore the fifty-miles from Mammoth Hot Springs to Old Faithful.