One thing I wasn’t expecting in Wyoming was all the wild animals we would see. I knew Wyoming was a beautiful state, as I have been there a few times before, but I have never seen so much wildlife in one day since going on an African safari.
Grand Teton National Park
We started the day at 6:00 am to catch the sunrise in Grand Teton National Park. It’s about a 20 minute drive outside of Jackson, WY (where we were staying at The Painted Buffalo Inn *UPDATE: The Painted Buffalo Inn is now the Mountain Modern Motel and I still recommend it). After doing a little research, we found out that a good sunrise spot in Grand Teton National Park is at Mormon Row, which is basically a little dirt road with some houses and barns. You wouldn’t think that this would be a scenic spot if you passed by it during the day, but when the sunrise hits the barns, with the mountains in the background, the view becomes magical.
After the sun had risen over the Grand Tetons, we went exploring. Each time we headed for a new trail, we would spot some wildlife on the way. First, we saw some Elk on our way out of Mormon Row.
Then, we spotted some moose standing in the grass and stopped to watch them for a while.
As we were heading down a dirt road to a trail called Death Canyon, Wes spotted something in a tree that he thought was a funny-looking squirrel. We stopped to take a look and realized it was definitely not a squirrel. We watched this cute little animal scurry down the tree to hunt and eat a mouse. After doing some research, we discovered that it is an American Marten.
We never made it to the Death Canyon trail because we also saw a Great Gray Owl perched on a log. It was huge and really funny to watch it turn its neck almost a complete 360 degrees to monitor its’ surroundings.
Once we stopped to watch all the animal sightings, we ran out of time to hike in the park. In all honesty I was OK with that because there were bear alerts at Grand Teton National Park and hikers were advised to carry bear spray (which we did not have on us). We were able to see so many awesome animals and views just driving around the park that it was probably better (and safer) for us that we didn’t get a chance to hike.
After heading back into the town of Jackson, we stopped for a bite to eat at Persephone’s Bakery and walked around Jackson Square for a bit before going back to the hotel to pick up the dogs and check out.
Jackson is such a cute town. It’s rustic charm to the core! I highly recommend Gun Barrel Steak and Game House. We ate there the night before when we arrived in Jackson. It’s an old wildlife museum and taxidermy turned restaurant and the ambiance is outstanding. We shared the buffalo ribs, which were pretty good.
Jackson is so convenient to Grand Teton National Park (which is one of my favorites) that I’m sure I will be back!
On our way north back through Grand Teton National Park, we stopped to take in the views of Oxbow Bend (the most photographed spot in Grand Teton) and Jackson Lake before heading north into Yellowstone National Park.
Yellowstone National Park
We planned on driving through the eastern portion of Yellowstone to Cody, WY for the night. But, we ended up staying in Yellowstone longer than planned. We ran into even more wildlife in Yellowstone!
I have always wanted to see a bear in the wild. I think they are the coolest animal. So after doing a little research, we learned that bears are most often spotted in the Hayden Valley of Yellowstone. We headed that way, stopping along the way when we saw tons of bison.
After driving through Hayden Valley with no bear sightings, we decided to continue north to what’s called “The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone” where there was a beautiful canyon and waterfall.
I have never seen much of the east side of Yellowstone, as it is typically the less popular (but arguably more beautiful) side. Old Faithful and some of the other geysers are on the west side of Yellowstone and that is where most of the tourist draw is. I have been to Yellowstone and Old Faithful a few times before (with my family when I was younger and with Wes a few winters ago), but I don’t remember seeing much of the east side. It was nice to explore some of the lesser known wonders of Yellowstone.
Around the canyon area we saw several cars parked on the side of the road with people standing in the woods. We decided to check it out and started talking with a nice guy named Les who showed us what the fuss was all about…there was a small grizzly bear about 100 feet away laying in the woods. My first bear sighting!! I was so excited! We stood and watched him for a bit before heading up the road to find another bear called Scarface that Les said he had seen earlier.
On our way out of the canyon area we turned down a side road and came up on Scarface walking in the middle of the road! I couldn’t believe we had actually found him, and no one else was around! He was much larger than the other grizzly we saw. Luckily we were in our car and maintained a safe distance as we watched him walk down the road and into the woods.
On our way back east through Yellowstone we ran into Les at another outlook. Him and a few others were watching two gray wolves in the tree line. Wes was absolutely ecstatic as this is one of his favorite animals. Unfortunately, they were too far away to get a good picture, but we could watch them through the binoculars.
How to Find Animals in Wyoming
Some animals we spotted on our own, but we learned very quickly that if you see one or more cars pulled onto the side of the road or at a lookout, it is likely that they are watching an animal. We stopped several times to chat with some of the other people stopped to watch the wildlife. Luckily everyone was respectful of the animals’ space and the fact that most of these animals could kill you in a second if they had the desire. On our way out of the park we came across some bighorn sheep too!
By the time we reached Cody, WY we were exhausted and excited about the day we just had. After picking up pizza and catching the fourth quarter of the Florida State versus Georgia Tech game (a heartbreaker for FSU fans), we called it a night.
The next morning we got up and went to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, which is a huge museum featuring Buffalo Bill history. I am not a big fan of museums (would rather experience the outdoors), but this one was worth a visit. If you like Western history, it’s a must-see.
After spending a few hours at the museum, we headed east out of Cody, stopping at the McCullough Peaks Wild Horse area to see if we could catch some wild mustangs that we had heard about. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any mustangs, but the views from McCullough Peak were incredible!
After leaving Cody we drove about 7.5 hours east through Big Horn National Forest to Keystone, SD where we called it a night!
Have you every been to Wyoming?
What’s your favorite National Park?