Winter Gone Wild

Bryony Butler went to The Wild West this winter to see why the locals insist that winter is the best time to go.

Wyoming and Montana are renowned for the exceptional wildlife that roams both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. In the summer, the parks are frequented by visitors which are drawn to the dramatic canyons, bubbling hot springs and steaming geysers. However, we were keen to explore what the parks had to offer in winter. With temperatures as cold as -20°c, the parks are a little bit of an unknown entity and yet locals say this is the best season to see the abundant wildlife. With that in mind we headed to these vast states to find out why…

Our wildlife extravaganza kicked off in Grand Teton National Park, whose expansive valley is surrounded by an imposing and a jagged mountain range known as the Tetons. The open valley floor is perfect for animal spotting and within 5 minutes we’d already encountered a majestic mule deer which happen to be named after their equine counterparts – they really do have the best ears in the business! A mere 20 minutes later and we had already ticked off bald eagles, bison, moose and elk from our ‘must-see’ list. With the majority of ground cover and foliage fading away for winter, the animals were an easy spot and it became clear that the park was a wildlife hotspot. Despite their impending bear hibernation, we heard that a notorious grizzly named bear 399 had been spotted the very same day with her cubs. At 12 years old 399 is somewhat of a celebrity of the bear world and is well known for her unusual survival techniques and inquisitive nature. Sadly, we did not stumble across her, but it was great to learn about the bears and their remarkable comeback from the brink of extinction within the park.

The next day we headed for Yellowstone in search of wolves. There are an estimated 100 of them living the park amongst approx. 2.2 million acres, our chances of spying one were slim but I was optimistic. We were in luck and within 30 minutes we spotted our first pack resting on the valley floor. Wolves are naturally shy and the way to best view them is from a distance through spotting scopes, nonetheless hearing their haunting howls echoing of the snow-capped mountains was simply incredible – something that should be on every wildlife enthusiast’s bucket list. The next day we saw two further packs each closer than the last along with a coyote and a red fox, this is known as a ‘three-dog day’ and is something of a rarity!

So, is winter the new summer?! Yes, it’s cold but my goodness it’s worth it: I finished the safari with the most unbelievable memories and content with seeing the best of North American wildlife in its natural habitat. It’s more important than ever to support seeing these incredible creatures in the wild where they belong and while there is a demand for tourism these animals are safe from the increasing lust for hunting. Wolves were hunted to extinction in the park by 1926 before being reintroduced again in 1995, without demand there’s nothing to say this won’t happen again which is food for thought. Catch them while you can, as for me, I’ll be back again in quest of bear 399…

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