Yellowstone is arguably the best place in North America for photographing large mammals; images of enormous Bison browsing on snow-dusted plains, Pronghorns gathering amid glorious Rocky Mountain landscapes, of imposing male Bighorn Sheep scaling near vertical rocky slopes, and mighty Elk stags sporting colossal racks, are all synonymous with this “ancient” park, the oldest National Park in the World, which was established in 1872. The park is famously popular, attracting masses of wildlife tourists each year, though most of these visits are concentrated in the summer months. This tour has been timed for the quieter fall period, once visitor numbers have significantly dropped, and there is also the added chance of fall snowfalls adding atmosphere to many of our photo sessions. While the main targets will be those already mentioned, in some years there is also the added opportunity to shoot the magnificent Great Gray Owl, Black Bear, or if we are very fortunate, one of the local Wolf packs. One of the drawbacks of visiting Yellowstone for the first time is it only intensifies the need to get there again.
Day 1: Arrival in Bozeman. After your arrival in this city located in southwestern Montana, we will arrange a shuttle to a local hotel for the night. The tour starts with a meet up for dinner on this night, which will be spent in Bozeman.
Days 2-5: Yellowstone National Park. With four full days to shoot inside the park, we are going to have plenty of time to target classic Yellowstone subjects like Pronghorn, Bighorn Sheep, Bison, Gray Jay and Clark’s Nutcracker, and perhaps too Great Gray Owl, should there be one around.
The park is scenically spectacular, with sites like Swan Lake, Mount Washburn, and the legendary Lamar Valley all providing wonderful backdrops to our time photographing large animals there. These sites are often at their most breathtaking at dawn and in the late afternoon, when daubed in subtle pink and orange tones, and we will ensure we get out early, and stay out late, ensuring we are also at the very best time of day for wildlife encounters too.
The Lamar Valley is famed for its large concentrations of grazing Bison, the roaming wolf packs that call it home, and can also be good for Moose in particular areas too. This is “Big Sky Country”, where the feeling of being in vast open spaces, where large animals are abundant is constant.
These days will not merely be about shooting these animals period, but also be concerned with shooting them in gorgeous settings, and also angling to get some of these species exhaling in the cool morning mountain air, when their breath turns to vapor, and turns already impressive stag Elks into something extraordinary. Being both observant to animal behavior and fellow human behavior can pay off; even though this is the quieter season, there are still plentiful other visitors to often alert us to the presence of a flagship animal in the area; we’ll be on the lookout for any bear sightings too, as both Grizzly and Black Bears are not uncommon in the park.
Of course, it would be an absolute travesty to not visit one of the most famous attractions inside the park, and we shall ensure we also take in the massive cone geyser of Old Faithful whilst there, and wait around for one of its regular eruptions that occur every 75 minutes or so, throughout the day. Our nights will be spent in nearby Gardiner, just across the border through the famous Roosevelt Arch in Montana, while all of our time inside Yellowstone will be in the neighboring state of Wyoming.
Day 6: Yellowstone to Bozeman. After most of the day inside Yellowstone, we shall return to Bozeman for an evening arrival, and a final night will be spent there again.
Day 7: Departure from Bozeman. A hotel shuttle will take you to the airport to connect with your outgoing flights.
PACE: Easy. Long days are spent in the field, (typically twelve hours, with 6:30am starts and evening finishes). As some of the key places inside this vast park are several hours from the hotel, there are no breaks during the middle of the day, with full days spent inside, and both field breakfasts and a picnic lunch taken there too, in order to ensure we are in the park at the peak hours for wildlife encounters; (i.e. dawn and late afternoon). The drive too and from Bozeman and Gardiner is around two hours; the drives around Yellowstone are up to two hours long, when done direct, although much of this tour is spent driving and searching for nature photo opportunities, and this is best done by combing the roads through the park. Thus, longer hours will be spent in the car than the mere travel times between sites.
PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy. The tour spends plentiful time in the vehicle, while searching for wildlife, and only short walks will be undertaken, as much of the animals will be photographed close to the roadsides. The altitudes covered on the tour are varied, from 4795ft. (1460m) in Bozeman, to in 5225ft. (1590m) Gardiner, up to 8880ft. (2710m) at Dunraven Pass inside Yellowstone.
CLIMATE: Very variable at this time of year, though low temperatures, and even snow are expected in the fall. In this season, the average monthly temperatures in Bozeman are highs of 58 Fahrenheit (14.5 Celsius), and lows of 32 Fahrenheit (0 Celsius); in Gardiner highs average 60 Fahrenheit (15.5 Celsius), and lows 34 Fahrenheit (1 Celsius); inside the park in Yellowstone these can be 20 degrees Fahrenheit lower. While this is not the wettest month of the year, rain and snow are both possible in this season. Cold weather and rain gear are therefore both essential.
ACCOMMODATION: Good to excellent. All of the hotels and motels have typical amenities, including Wi-Fi, full time hot water and 24-hour electricity.
PHOTO PHILOSOPHY: This tour is centered around photographing large mammals, and also some birds too. Many of the wild mammals inside the park are habituated to humans, and will allow close approach, both by vehicle and on foot. This is particularly true of Pronghorn, Elk, Mule Deer, Bison and Bighorn Sheep. We will be scanning the roads from the vehicle for photographic opportunities, and then mostly shooting from the road itself (from outside the vehicle), and by taking short walks to approach animals that may be a short way off of the roads. There are no feeder set ups, although birds like Clark’s Nutcracker, Common Raven, and Gray Jay, may be attracted to the campgrounds over lunch for the chance of fallen food, although we will not be directly feeding them, as this is illegal within the park.
GEAR: A range of lenses are useful on this tour from landscape ones for the abundant scenery shots available, all the way up to an 800mm lens too, as there are often animals both close and far off the roads, making for a range of photo shoots being available.
TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: For US citizens, there are no special travel requirements. Citizens of Canada may enter the US with a valid passport, and do not need to obtain a visa. For citizens of the 38 countries on the visa waiver list (including the UK, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and Japan), you can enter the US with a valid passport and a completed Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which can be applied for online. For all passports, the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Citizens of all other countries will need to apply for a US visa. Travel requirements are subject to change; please double check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff if you are unsure.
WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night of day 6; meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to breakfast on day 7; reasonable non-alcoholic beverages with meals; safe drinking water only between meals (tap water is safe to drink in the US, and you are encouraged to fill your water bottles when able); photo tour leader with camera and from the evening of day 1 to the evening of day 6; ground transport for the group in a suitable vehicle driven by the guide from the morning of day 2 to the evening of day 6; airport shuttle bus on day 1 and day 7; tips for included meals; entrance fees to the sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings/photos if required (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the tour leader; tips to baggage carriers if you require their services; flights; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.