Hiking and critter viewing

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Posted by Ballpark Frank ( on 06:15:03 01/12/18

In Reply to: May Trip posted by Rick


The second half of May and the first week of June are prime time for wildlife watching. Actually, cruising the roads is overall more productive for wildlife watching. You increase your odds of seeing charismatic megafauna, but you will also have to "share" them with other visitors, meaning the likelihood of bear jams, moose jams, wolf jams, etc. Getting out in the backcountry typically means you will have whatever you come across all to yourself, which has its appeal. Hiking at that time of year tends to be concentrated in the north end of the park, so that alone would argue for staying north, like in Cooke City or Gardiner. The key factor in both the availability of wildlife and hiking opportunities is the remnant snowpack, and it is typically much deeper in the central and southern portion of the park. In May and early June, most wildlife tends to stay done in the valley bottoms or lower, south-facing hillsides, while waiting for (1) the snowpack to erode further up higher, and (2) greenup of the vegetation that the ungulates feed on, which starts low and gradually moves higher. Another factor in wildlife watching is the gradual migration across the Northern Range of the grazing animals that spend the winter outside the park, primarily in the Hwy 89 corridor. Depending on the spring weather, you may or may not witness large herds moving toward their summer range. That is the primary magnet for me when I contemplate hiking the Northern Range at this time of year. In terms of specific hikes to recommend, I would suggest avoiding those that go up real high or feature fords of major watercourses. One example would be the Coyote Creek trail. It took us several attempts over the years to realize that in May and June, trying to cross Coyote Creek can be hazardous to your continued existence. In the Mammoth area, I would recommend the Beaver Pond Loop and the Bunsen Peak/Osprey Falls trail complex. Further east, there are a number of short itineraries out around Tower that are appropriate for the time of year, including the Garnet Hill Loop. Moving even further east, the Yellowstone River Picnic Area trail, Slough Creek trail, Lamar River trail, and Trout Lake are all low elevation options to consider.


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