Wolf-watching in Yellowstone National Park takes a combination of patience and luck.
On my trip to the park, I had two sightings while taking part in a program sponsored by the Yellowstone Association Institute. The first, which began with the flight of the coyote from the hillside, lasted about ten minutes. The wolves had returned to the site of an elk carcass they had killed the day before. As they examined it for any traces of meat left behind, I could hear the rest of the pack howling from the forest, their voices haunting and mysterious on the chill winter air.
While my other sighting was at a greater distance—more than a mile away—it lasted for 90 minutes, giving me a much more leisurely view into the dynamics of what is known as the Druid Peak pack. Through powerful spotting scopes provided by our guide, we watched 13 wolves running, roughhousing, and sleeping. When they finally headed over a ridge and the last wolf left my sight, I felt a sense of loss, for I knew I had been granted an encounter with something rare and precious.
Experiences like these keep drawing visitors to the park, and Yellowstone officials must strike a delicate balance between the public’s insatiable curiosity about wolves and the animals’ safety. “Wolves are naturally scared of humans, and we want to keep them that way, both for their safety and that of visitors,” says Nick Derene, program manager for the Yellowstone Association.
While any visitor to Yellowstone stands a chance of seeing a wolf, the odds are much greater on a wolf-watching program sponsored by the non-profit organization Yellowstone Forever. Trained guides lead people to areas where the wolves are likely to be found and give a comprehensive introduction to their behavior and park ecology. Because observers should stay at least 100 yards from wolves, most viewing is done through spotting scopes or binoculars. Wolf-watching programs are offered throughout the year.
Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She’s the author of the Near the Exit: Travels With the Not-So-Grim Reaper and Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God. Her website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world.