Spanning a whopping 3,468 square miles, Yellowstone National Park is a vast wonderland conglomerate of lakes, canyons, rivers and mountain ranges.
The Park is the centerpiece of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which is the largest remaining nearly-intact ecosystem in Earth’s northern temperate zone.
Here vast forests and grasslands are home to unique species of plant and animal. Grizzly bears, wolves, and free-ranging herds of bison and elk are often spotted in the backcountry as well as along roadsides and boardwalks.
Half of the world’s geothermal features are found at Yellowstone, fueled by a massive caldera, which is the largest Super Volcano on the continent. Lava flows and rocks from volcanic eruptions cover most of this land.
The unique landscape combined with the sheer number of animals present make for one of the more memorable places to visit and photograph, which is the reason Backcountry Journeys offers many tours to the greater Yellowstone area.
And now that we’ve successfully buried this post’s lede deeply enough, I suppose we’ll get on with it without further adieu.
We’d love for you to join us on this inn and vehicle based tour, with dates currently available in May, August and October.
The above described beauty, such as the hydrothermal features, wildlife, vegetation, lakes, and geologic wonders will be certain to take center stage inside the crosshairs of our viewfinders as we cruise the Park in luxury on this tour that is designed for folks who are a bit less interested (at least this time) in roughing it out on the trails, more for those who’d prefer the comfort of a carseat and roadside attractions to the trail and elements. Unlike many of Backcountry Journeys Photography Tours & Workshops this is a less intensive trip and requires little hiking as we mainly travel through Yellowstone along it’s scenic roadways as well as off the beaten path backroads.
If you’ve read the last couple paragraphs and said, “whoa, that’s totally me!” then continue reading because this one is for you! If you’re the type to prefer hiking and “roughing it” a bit more while adventuring through Yellowstone, click here, as we’d still love to travel with you and show you around this wonderful place that we love so much.
While on this five-day vehicle based Wildlife Safari we’ll immerse ourselves in Yellowstone’s thriving ecosystem and have the opportunity to see and photograph bald eagles, osprey, moose, coyotes, marmots, pronghorn, badgers, bighorn sheep and more.
Paved roads provide close access to the major geothermal areas, as well as some of the lakes and waterfalls. We’ll see the iconic “wonders” of what the Park has to offer, such as the globally famous Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic, Hayden and Lamar Valleys, as well as the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River and Lower Falls from Artist Point.
Each night our small group will return to comfortable lodging, taking advantage of fantastic meals, cozy beds, and of course time to pour over photos from the day’s adventures. We’ll intentionally keep group sizes for this trip small so that each photographer receives plenty of one on one instruction, if desired, as well as (perhaps more importantly) their own window in the vehicle, so we’ll be ready to go on this tour with our best telephoto lenses. Like the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6, or the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 II. Not to mention just the right camera body.
So, what will this tour look like?
After meeting up in Bozeman, Montana, we’ll head straight for Yellowstone’s Northern Range, where we’ll spend our first day photographing wildlife along the Blacktail Plateau and in the stunning Lamar Valley, plus we’ll check out historic Mammoth Hot Springs.
The Blacktail Plateau drive is a six-mile, one-way, dirt road drive with unbelievable mountain views. While the northern part of the park has no geysers to speak of, it does boast some of the most impressive mountain views and best opportunities to spot wildlife. It’s not uncommon to see bears and bison while on the Plateau drive.
Mammoth Hot Springs is a large complex of hot springs on a hill of travertine adjacent to Fort Yellowstone and the Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District, located near the Park’s northern boundary. These hot springs were created over thousands of years as hot water from the spring cooled and deposited calcium carbonate. Although these springs lie outside the caldera boundary, their energy has been attributed to the same magmatic system that fuels other Yellowstone geothermal areas. Nearby Fort Yellowstone was a United States Army fort, established in 1891. While Yellowstone was designated America’s first National Park in 1872, the Department of the Interior proved unable to effectively manage the park. Administration was transferred to the War Department in August 1886, and General Philip Sheridan sent a company of cavalry to Mammoth Hot Springs to build a post. The army administered the park until 1918 when it was transferred to the newly created National Park Service.
The Lamar Valley is home to an assortment of the Park’s famous wildlife, and we might just find some of these critters along the highway as we drive through the heart of this legendary valley, located between Tower Junction and the Northeast Entrance at Cooke City, Montana.
In search of bighorn sheep, bison and the Lamar Valley wolves, we’ll head out early the morning of day two. Later, we’ll look for black bear and explore the Tower Falls area as we travel up and over Dunraven Pass towards the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Tower Fall is a 132 foot tall waterfall who’s name comes from the rock pinnacles at the top of the fall, and is located on Tower Creek just upstream from the creek’s confluence with the Yellowstone River.
This evening we will head out to a special vantage point along the Yellowstone River with a jaw dropping overlook into Hayden Valley. Wildlife chances are fantastic in Hayden in the evening and we may see black bear, bison, elk, white pelicans and/or (fingers crossed) the universally respected grizzly bear!
We truly have an outstanding opportunity to create vivid wildlife images while on this trip. Did you know that Yellowstone is home to the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48 states? Notable for its predator–prey complex of large mammals, the Park has eight ungulate species (bighorn sheep, bison, elk, moose, mountain goats, mule deer, pronghorn, and white-tailed deer) that spend their time eating and running away from the seven large predators (black bears, Canada lynx, coyotes, grizzly bears, mountain lions, wolverines, and wolves), who do their best to keep their stomachs full, at times leaving meadows and valleys graveyards of bones.
All in all 67 different mammals live in this region. As of 2016, an estimated 690 grizzly bears live in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and black bears are extremely common. Gray wolves were restored in 1995, and as of January 2016, 99 live primarily inside the park boundary.
After a great morning session of photography in Hayden Valley on the following day, we’ll grab breakfast and rest up a bit before our next session. Later in the day we will explore along the shores of Yellowstone Lake, taking in a marvelous alpine sunset along the lake shore before retiring.
Yellowstone Lake is the largest freshwater lake above 7,000 feet in North America, and the largest body of water inside the Park. The lake is 7,732 feet above sea level and covers 136 square miles with 110 miles of shoreline. While the average depth of the lake is 139 feet, its greatest depth is at least 390 feet.
Day four will take us to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, where we’ll get to spend some time learning how to photograph the canyon as well as the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone. We will have a chance to photograph the tallest waterfall in the Rocky Mountains from Artist Point, which was made famous by the artist Thomas Moran.
We’ll then pack up and head further into the Yellowstone Caldera to explore the Old Faithful area in the late afternoon light. The rest of the day will be spent amongst the various geysers and thermal features of the Upper Basin. In the evening we will make our way along the scenic Firehole River in search of wildlife.
On the afternoon of September 18, 1870, the members of the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition traveled down the Firehole River from the Kepler Cascades and entered the Upper Geyser Basin. The first geyser that they saw was Old Faithful, to which expedition member Nathaniel P. Langford wrote in his 1871 Scribner’s account of the expedition:
“It spouted at regular intervals nine times during our stay, the columns of boiling water being thrown from ninety to one hundred and twenty-five feet at each discharge, which lasted from fifteen to twenty minutes. We gave it the name of “Old Faithful.”
The final day of our tour will begin with an early morning exploration of the Madison River in search of more wildlife due to our now insatiable appetite for all things bears, bison and wolves.
After checking in on some additional geysers, we’ll proceed north towards Big Sky through the gorgeous Gallatin River Canyon. Chances of spotting grizzlies, moose and elk are fantastic as is the scenery along the Gallatin River as we slowly make our way back to Bozeman.
We hope that after reading this post you are as excited about the Yellowstone Wildlife Safari as we are, and that the allure of the “American Serengeti” has your inner traveler anxious for a photographic adventure!
Perhaps the Serengeti should be referred to as “Africa’s Yellowstone,” instead…
Kenton Krueger has spent the past several years guiding guiding backpackers, hikers and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Havasu Falls, Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Parks as well as in the Grand Staircase Escalante in southern Utah. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah, mountain biking, and bagging 14ers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Mountain Range. Kenton is a trail runner, former pilot, newspaper photographer and writer. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.