Grizzly and black bears can be seen at any time and any place in Yellowstone Park but there are some times and some places that give better odds for a sighting.
- When: Early in the spring when the bears first come out of hibernation seems to be the time when they are most abundant right along the roadsides. Depending upon the year come late March or early April the bears can make a presence. An important time to pay attention to is when the roads of Yellowstone open by segment come springtime. You can track the Yellowstone road openings [here]. Generally the first opening is from West Yellowstone to Madison, Madison to Norris and Norris to Mammoth. We have seen many grizzly bear and a few black bear between Norris and Mammoth. Before noon and late in the day is the best times but we have seen bears at all times throughout the day. Don’t be afraid to make a couple of trips a day on the same stretch of highway. We have seen different bear at different times in the same area and we have seen the same bears multiple times on the same day.
- Where: The one road in Yellowstone Park that is open year round is the highway from Mammoth to Cooke City. Most anywhere from Mammoth to Tower Roosevelt one can be lucky and spot a bear. From Tower Roosevelt out into the Lamar Valley there is an even better chance for a sighting. Keep in mind not to be in a hurry in Yellowstone. It isn’t how much country you cover but how well you cover the county. Sightings can sometimes last only 30 seconds or less. One time we had a grizzly bear come into view crossing a sagebrush ridge and then disappear into the next draw within 45 seconds never to be seen again by our family. The bear was there long enough to see him but not long enough to get a camera up for a photo. So if you find yourself putzing along and holding up traffic pull over at one of the many pull outs and let traffic go by. If you take your time and pay attention you may be the only ones to enjoy a sighting.
The road from Norris to Canyon and Canyon to Fishing Bridge has given us some great sightings. The Hayden Valley is a good place for females and cubs that we have seen numerous times. The road from Old Faithful to Grant Village and the road from Canyon to Tower Roosevelt open later in the spring but we have seen both species of bear on these roads also. There is never a guarantee of a sighting but one thing for sure is if you aren’t there you will never see the Yellowstone wildlife. Remember that bears are wild animals and should not be approached even if they are just off the road. One more tip for any outdoor travel, cameras are a must but don’t forget your binoculars and a spotting scope if you have one.
For more bear photos, tips, and an identification tutorial check out this post on the Yellowstone Bear-Jam.