Six-Day Winter Wildlife Package
Wolves and Wildlife in a Winter Wonderland
Come explore the unparalleled beauty of Yellowstone National Park with experienced Yellowstone naturalist/biologist guides, Emil McCain and Evan Stout during one of the most beautiful and dramatic times of the year, when the pristine wildness and solitude are unmatched. This adventure will focus on the famed Lamar Valley, and Yellowstone’s wildlife-rich Northern Range, highly revered as the very best place on Earth to see wild wolves. With possibilities to spend time with as many as five different wolf packs, your tour will also be quite educational, as we will explore complex wolf social behaviors, ecological impacts on the Yellowstone ecosystem, and specialized wolf hunting strategies that make the wolf the icon of true Wilderness.
During our time on the Northern Range, we will also likely encounter moose, bison, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, coyotes, foxes, eagles, otters and more. Our new snow-tracking excursions are also an option to literally step off the beaten path and into the footsteps of Yellowstone’s wolves, cougars or other wildlife to actually walk where the animals walk and learn traditional tracking techniques.
The deep snows of winter have pushed Yellowstone’s iconic wildlife down in an elevational migration into the wintering grounds of the Lamar Valley and lower Yellowstone Canyons. Thousands of elk and bison, along with moose, big horn sheep, white-tailed and mule deer and pronghorn have filtered out of the higher mountains of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and have concentrated in the lower valleys and grasslands where winter is less extreme. Winter can be tough on these grazing animals, and partially because of that, this is when and where Yellowstone’s wolves and other carnivores thrive.
This exceptional all-inclusive tour package is specially designed to experience the wild magic of Yellowstone National Park, while treating yourself to the luxuries of the brand-new Wonderland Cade and Lodge. Located just one block from Yellowstone Park, in the town of Gardiner, Wonderland is the area’s first and only boutique eco-lodge where you can find rustic elements with all of the modern amenities to make your vacation the best it can be. Breakfasts and lunches will be catered by the Wonderland kitchen and enjoyed picnic-style at one of our favorite locations in the park. Dinners will be shared with local artists, researchers and/or storytellers in front of the Wonderland fireplace.
This is the season of the wolves!
This Package includes:
One night stay in Bozeman, MT
Four nights in Gardiner, MT at Yellowstone's north Entrance
Three and a half days of guided tours in Yellowstone National Park
Breakfast and lunch served picnic-style out in the Lamar Valley
Dinners in Gardiner, MT at the Wonderland Cafe
Presentations and talks with local photographers and biologist experts
Transportation to and from Bozeman and/or Bozeman Airport
All park fees and taxes
November 27 - December 2, 2018 - Full
December 6 - 11, 2018 - Full
December 20 - 25, 2018 - Seats Available
January 12 - 17, 2019 - Full
January 19 - 24, 2019 - Seats Available
Feb. 2 - 7, 2019 - Seats Available
Feb. 16 - 21, 2019 - Seats Available
March 2 - 7, 2019 - Seats Available
March 16 - 21, 2019 - Seats Available
March 30 - April 4, 2019 - Seats Available
Full Trip Itinerary
- Arrival at Bozeman International Airport -
- One night in Bozeman, Montana -
This package includes a one night stay at the Gran Tree Inn in Bozeman, Montana, where we will all meet the following morning to depart for Yellowstone. Guests must arrive at the hotel on the first day in order to be ready for departure for the park the following morning.
The hotel provides a free airport shuttle that can pick you and your luggage up at the Bozeman Airport Exit near Baggage Claim and drive you to the Gran Tree Inn in Bozeman (9 miles from the Airport).
A courtesy phone, located on a desk at Baggage Claim can be used to notify the Gran Tree Inn of your arrival, or you can reach the hotel directly at (406) 587-5261. Upon check-in, you will receive breakfast vouchers for your breakfast the following morning.
The hotel’s restaurant serves dinner until 10 PM. The hotel offers a free shuttle service into the city center, where there is a wider range of dining options.
- Pick-up at Gran Tree Inn and Transport to Gardiner, Montana -
- North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park -
Breakfast is available starting at 6 AM in the hotel’s dining area. You will need to check out by 10 AM and have all of your belongings in the hotel lobby.
We will pick you up at the Gran Tree Inn Lobby at 10 AM and begin our 1.5 - 2 hour drive through the Paradise Valley to your lodging in Gardiner, Montana, at the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park.
Stopping along the way will give us the opportunity to experience and photograph the spectacular scenery of the Yellowstone River, Absaroka and Gallatin Mountains and the plentiful wildlife that winters in the valley.
We will have lunch in Gardiner and then check you in at your comfortable lodging accommodations where we will be staying for the next four nights. Your lodge overlooks the Yellowstone River, and each room contains two queen beds. After settling in to your rooms, we set out into the park to see the wildlife wintering in the lower elevation Gardiner Basin. Visiting the unique geologic structures of the Mammoth Hot Springs complex during the dramatic evening light, we can walk through the stunning Travertine Terraces and travel back to Gardiner for dinner and an orientation regarding the days ahead and what to expect.
Days 3, 4 & 5
- Wildlife on the Northern Range -
An early morning start (6:00 AM) allows us the privilege of positioning ourselves inside Yellowstone National Park in the best places to find wolves and other wildlife before the first light. We will be able to access the territories of five different wolf packs, and we will spend our time in the areas with the best chances to locate and photograph wolves at that time. Your guides know these wolves well and can often predict their movements, enabling us to position ourselves for the best viewing opportunities possible. We also have the privilege of first-hand information on wildlife locations through direct contact with the Yellowstone National Park wolf biologists, local wolf enthusiasts, professional photographers and film makers. The exact areas we are visiting each day will be determined by the most current information on wildlife activity.
While focusing on these five wolf packs, we will also have many opportunities to spend time with other iconic Yellowstone wildlife species that concentrate in the lower elevation valley bottoms due to the heavy snow in the higher mountains. During these days, we can expect to be able to watch and photograph wolf, bison, elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, moose, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, coyote, fox, otter, beaver, bald eagle, golden eagle, raven, magpie, and possibly other rarer species.
It is important to remember, that the expanses in Yellowstone are huge and the animals are wild. As such, we cannot expect everything to be up close and personal. In fact, many of our sightings will be at considerable distances. Therefore, we provide you with the very best in viewing optics for the greatest viewing enjoyment possible with each sighting. The binoculars and spotting scopes that we provide are the highest quality available and allow us to enjoy great views while maintaining a respectful distance from the wildlife that keeps both them and us safe.
On these days, we are serving hot drinks and breakfast snacks at sunrise in the park. At midmorning, a larger lunch spread will be served picnic style in one of our favorite spots in the park. On at least one of these days we will spend our lunch break at the warm cabin and gallery of our good friend, the highly-accomplished photographer, Dan Hartman. We scheduled our visit with Dan for the 19th of February, and we can repeat our visit if desired. Dan will host us in his cozy cabin where we will prepare and eat our lunch. He will present his award-winning work and tell the stories behind how he got those great shots. Be aware while browsing through his gallery to keep an eye on his bird feeder to see who might drop by while we are there.
In the afternoons, wildlife sightings can be amazing as we work our way back through the Lamar Valley and the Northern Range. Guests can plan on arriving back in Gardiner between 4-5 PM depending on the animals we find along the way.
Our dinners will be enjoyed in the comfort of the brand-new Wonderland Cafe in Gardiner, complete with a gourmet chef and full menus of exquisite food, beer and wine. A special guest presentation will follow dinner each evening with local biologists, authors and filmmakers in the Wonderland Lounge.
- Gardiner to Bozeman -
The final day of the trip will be a day of transition as we prepare for our departure from this magical place. On this transition day, we will have breakfast before we drive back to Bozeman. We can provide a drop-off at the Bozeman Airport no earlier than 11:30 and we can arrange a drop-off at the Gran Tree Inn or any other location in Bozeman for anyone wanting to stay longer in Big Sky Country.
This Five - Day All-Inclusive Winter Wolves and Wildlife Tour Package is yours for only $1950 per person. Price is based on two guests per room. These is an optional single-room supplement for an additional $300.
Double Occupancy Single Occupancy
In case you need to cancel your trip with us, we will fully refund you up to 60 days prior to the starting day of this trip minus a $65 processing fee. In case you need to cancel your trip with us between 32 and 59 days prior to the starting day of your trip, we will refund half of the costs of your trip. Any cancellation made 31 days or less before the starting day of your trip, will not be refunded.
We reserve the right to cancel the trip due to extreme weather conditions, events that would jeopardize the success of the expedition or other factors that are outside of our control. Full refunds, minus a $65 processing fee will be given at that time.
Winter Wildlife on the Northern Range
As soon as we enter the northern gate of Yellowstone National Park, wildlife-viewing opportunities abound! The Gardiner Canyon immediately greets us as we start our ascent towards Mammoth Village. This canyon is home to the McMinn herd of Rocky Mountain big horn sheep, which overwinter in this lower elevation canyon. Come spring they will spread back out and fill in their high-mountain territories throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. During November and December, the rams can be found amongst the herds competing for breeding rights. The cracking sound of their impressive skulls and horns crashing together can sometimes be heard for miles. Keep your eyes up on these steep canyon walls, as nowhere is out of reach for these climbing specialists.
Climbing our way to 6200’ elevation, we arrive at the historic park headquarters at Mammoth Hot Springs. Originally established as Fort Yellowstone by the U.S. Army in the late 1800s, Mammoth is most known for the exquisite beauty of the Mammoth Terraces. Large herds of elk spend their winter in and around Mammoth, often providing the up-close views that have given Mammoth the nickname of “Elk Town”.
Here we turn to the east and find ourselves climbing ever more up and eventually over the Blacktail Plateau. Our route parallels one that has been used for tens of thousands of years, not by humans, but Yellowstone’s prehistoric survivors, the American Plains Bison. Buffalo, as named by early explorers and settlers, have traveled in the footsteps of their ancestors for millennia, heading towards the lower elevations of the Gardiner basin to escape winter’s relentless assault. Along this path, we often see family groups of bison heading west, and downhill, appearing as natural and adept on the landscape as the very snow itself. It is humbling and inspiring to witness these timeless creatures carry out, and pass on to the next generation, the route of this ancient migration, and the open vistas, and windswept landscape of the Blacktail Plateau is as good as any place along the Northern Range to experience it.
Further towards the east, we have a couple massive vistas overlooking the confluence of Hellroaring Creek and the Yellowstone River, an area known simply as “Hellroaring”. From our pullout views here, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the scale with the landscape first dropping away from your feet, then dramatically rising again, leaving a beautifully soft and welcoming slope below. Surely, an Ansel Adams-worthy landscape, but also a winter wildlife viewers delight! The lower elevations along the bottom of the slope, and the edges of the Yellowstone River are a welcome refuge for the large migrators of Yellowstone. Elk and bison alike gather here, sometimes resting along their march, or spending their entire winter season in the bottom of Hellroaring. This concentration of prey, will undoubtedly draw the attention of several wolf packs who annually travel into Hellroaring for this season, also looking for a meal. Your guides will use their high-powered optics to find them!
Carrying on past the Tower Ranger Station, a beacon of human life dropped into the vast frozen wilderness, we cross the Yellowstone River, and approach Little America. This area of the park is unique for its glacial erratics, evidence of a time when ice and cold truly dominated the land some 20,000 years ago. But Little America isn’t just a playground of geologic history; it’s a wolf watcher’s dream. This area, 7 miles long, and 3 miles wide is home to some of Yellowstone’s best wolf habitat. With massive views in all directions, the opportunity to spot a wild wolf is as good here as anywhere. Wolves commonly travel the road during the dark winter nights, and with the only the vehicle’s headlights illuminating the road, an experienced guide can often pick up their tracks, determine their direction of travel, and often the number of individuals to search for. This is always an exciting moment, knowing the elusive apex predator is nearby, and it’s often in Little America.
Moving further to the east, we pass through the Lamar Canyon, a cascade of the Lamar River, over boulders, ice and toppled pines, and approach the destination most intrepid winter visitors of Yellowstone covet, the Lamar Valley.
A valley often likened to “driving into a postcard” or the “Little Serengeti”, never disappoints, regardless of the season, but there is a little extra magic during a Yellowstone winter. First noticed is the Lamar, snaking it way through the valley bottom, with meanders so beautiful and natural it reminds us what rivers a supposed to look like. Dots in the distance, first appearing as rocks, turn into frosted steam generators and eventually reveal themselves. Bull bison, in bachelor groups will stay in Lamar Valley all winter, leaving the cows, and younger bison to migrate to easier pastures. Are these bulls too stubborn to migrate? Or too strong to worry about the extreme cold and snow? Regardless, they appear perfectly adapted to wait out Old Man Winter.
This sacred valley was also the site of the first wolf tracks to be laid upon Yellowstone in 69 years. The first release of wolves into Yellowstone in 1995 was right here in Lamar Valley. Since, it has been dubbed “the valley of the wolves” because of its unique opportunities to view wild wolves, living truly wild lives. It was called home by the park’s most famous, and maybe the world’s most famous wolf pack: the Druid Peak Pack, who reached its peak in 2001 with 37 members. Currently, the Junction Butte pack, and the Lamar Canyon pack both use the valley to hunt, and raise their young. When it comes to wolves in the Lamar, perhaps the most impressive wolf sightings, photographs, films and scientific research of all time have occurred right here in Lamar Valley, and everyday something new and memorable happens.
The Lamar Valley is also home to many other creatures, large and small. Golden Eagles can sometimes be seen hunting their favorite winter meal, Golden-eye Ducks along the Lamar River. Otters frequent openings along the ice-shelved river as well, always wary of trout stealing Bald Eagles. Foxes and Coyotes use the mid-day hours to hunt, when the snow is softest, and their diving plunge through it is most rewarding. We never know what may be around the next bend or coming over the ridge, but we do know, there’s always something amazing happening in the Lamar; it’s just a matter of finding it!
Moving along the northern bank of the Lamar River, past the confluence with Soda Butte Creek, we transition into the Soda Butte Valley. Here the landscape changes, from the vast expanses of the Lamar to a tighter and more dramatic section of the Northern Range. Soda Butte Creek is lined with willows, hiding the valley bottom, and therefore creating textbook habitat for another one of Yellowstone’s mega fauna: Moose. Winter is the perfect season to find these gangly, yet somehow majestic browsers. Harsh temperatures and deeps snow have pushed them to the valley floor, and often into view if you know where to look. Fortunately, we do!
We will spend three full days exploring the wonders of the Northern Range: a variety and density of wildlife unmatched by anywhere else in North America, breathtaking vistas, and a natural and human history rivaling a story stranger than fiction. With the restoration of wolves and their subsequent impacts on the ecosystem, known as “trophic cascades”, Yellowstone’s Northern Range now holds all of its original species and ecological components, and scientists declare it to be every bit as wild and healthy right now as it’s ever been! The Northern Range has become a world-class destination for wildlife viewing, and immersing yourself in a truly wild ecosystem and the beauty of winter will only enhance everything you’ve come for!