Yellowstone and The Tetons Photo Tour

This is a Photo Tour. The goal of the tour is to get great photos of wildlife, especially the large mammals, but also birds too. A lot of time will be spent with each individual species, and the size of the trip list is not a priority.

For details of how Tropical Birding will be operating this tour, here are our guidelines and tour practices: Safety Tour Regulations and Policy.

Yellowstone is rightly revered worldwide. This readily accessible national park boasts stunning scenery that is home to healthy populations of large, photogenic animals like Bison and bears, and also hosts plentiful spectacular volcanic features, like the Old Faithful geyser and Mammoth Hot Springs. While this tour is a natural fit for photographers of large mammals and fans of jaw dropping landscapes, birds will also be on the agenda too, with boreal forest specialties like Great Gray Owl and Canada Jay occurring there too. We will also visit nearby Grand Teton National Park, where moose and yet more spellbinding landscapes will be on offer, providing a natural complement to Yellowstone.



Morning Glory Spring, Yellowstone
Morning Glory Spring, Yellowstone (George Lin)

Day 1: Arrival in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. After an afternoon arrival at this airport, you will become rapidly aware of the lure of this tour, as the it sits at the base of the Teton mountain range, within Grand Teton National Park. You will be met on arrival, and transferred to our local hotel. Arriving at the hotel in the evening, the tour will begin in earnest with dinner complimented by a presentation from your Tropical Birding guide on photography, focusing particularly on light, composition and camera settings. Two nights will be spent in Jackson Hole, in the shadow of the Tetons.

The mountains in the parks make great backdrops to our animal photo shoots
The mountains in the parks make great backdrops to our animal photo shoots (George Lin)

Day 2: The Tetons. The morning will be spent photographing the sunrise in an extraordinarily beautiful location in the Tetons mountain range. Sunrise photography is always dependent on local weather conditions, although the tour is timed at one of the optimum times of year for this. The beauty of this Rocky Mountain area is legendary, and has featured in numerous Hollywood movies. Jackson Hole sits in a 6450ft-high valley, from which the Tetons rise dramatically, culminating in ten peaks of over 12,000ft. While the scenery will be at the forefront of everything on this tour, the mountains are home to good numbers of large animals, notably Grizzly Bear, Moose, Elk, and Coyote. Wolves also roam the park, but are considerably scarcer, and great fortune is required to photograph them.

The Tetons are good for close ups of Moose
The Tetons are good for close ups of Moose (Keith Barnes)

When the light begins to harshen, we will return to town for brunch, at around 10:30am or so. After this, we will return to our hotel for our first round of editing and reviewing field tactics, but will return to the field for an afternoon session too. The afternoon will be spent driving the roads and through beautiful boreal habitat for both mammals and birds. Some of the birds we may be able to locate are: Great Gray Owl, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Trumpeter Swan, Mountain Bluebird and Ruffed Grouse. If conditions are good, we will linger at a fantastic sunset location.

A magpie uses a convenient bison for a perch!
A magpie uses a convenient bison for a perch! (Ben Knoot)

Day 3: The Tetons to Yellowstone. Today, we will check out of Jackson Hole but spend one last morning exploring the richness of the Tetons. Often the best strategy is slowly driving the park roads, searching for roadside wildlife that is accustomed to photographers.

Once the light becomes unfavorable, we will drive the scenic route over the pass through the park, right into Yellowstone National Park. (Please Note: Although we plan to drive through the pass within Grand Teton National Park, if this is closed, we will need to drive around the park instead, a journey of around 2hr45min. If we do this, we need to take lunch outside of the park).

A Ruffed Grouse emerges on the roadside
A Ruffed Grouse emerges on the roadside (George Lin)

After checking into our hotel close to Yellowstone, we will head out for some local afternoon photography at the famous Lamar River Valley. This is home to many of the same mammals that the Tetons already offered, giving us further chances for photographing bears and moose, along with conspicuous herds of Bison, and perhaps a Pronghorn. Three nights will be spent just outside Yellowstone.

The parks are a haven for wildlife like this Pronghorn
The parks are a haven for wildlife like this Pronghorn (Ben Knoot)

Days 4-5: Yellowstone. Two full days of photography will be spent in Yellowstone National Park. The focus of these days will be four fold; photographing mammals, birds, the stunning landscapes that have made this park world famous, and also to visit some of Yellowstone’s most revered volcanic sites, like Mammoth Hot Springs and Ol’ Faithful. We will take lunches inside the park, right among the constant onslaught of dramatic backdrops, before taking advantage of the wonderful afternoon light for photographing animals once they become active again following their midday slumber. While bears, bison and birds are the more likely candidates, we will be on the lookout for one of the local wolf packs too, and keep an ear to the ground for any news on local Great Gray Owls. These nights will be spent just outside the park.

Day 6: Yellowstone to Bozeman. We will spend a final morning in Yellowstone, (focusing on anything we may be lacking), before driving to Bozeman, Montana for late afternoon flights home.

The surrounding geology is as absorbing as the surrounding wildlife
The surrounding geology is as absorbing as the surrounding wildlife (George Lin)

Bison are the largest mammals in Yellowstone
Bison are the largest mammals in Yellowstone (Ben Knoot)

Bighorn Sheep is one of a handful of large mammals we will be seeking to photograph
Bighorn Sheep is one of a handful of large mammals we will be seeking to photograph (Sam Woods)

We'll stop at a variety of volcanic features, like Ol ' Faithful
We'll stop at a variety of volcanic features, like Ol ' Faithful (Sam Woods)

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Easy. This is an easy going tour but there are some early mornings required. All locations are a quick drive from the hotel and there is little walking, and certainly no hiking. The mornings will start about 30minutes before sunrise so we can catch the best light (and be accompanied with a snack breakfast in the field). Brunch will be around 10:00-10:30am and the evening shoots will finish after sunset, followed by dinner.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY:Easy. Walking is mostly flat, with some minor incline, on the park roads. If we start tracking an animal, there may be an optional walk off-trail that could include steep inclines, uneven terrain or slippery slopes. The trails are in good shape but may also have some slight incline but overall, we don’t walk more than a few miles during the day. The drives on this tour are not long, with the longest, direct, drive only being around 3 hours (between the Tetons and Yellowstone, which is in interesting habitat). However, we will spend a lot of time in the vehicle patrolling the park roads, as this is the best way to connect with the wildlife for photography; then getting out for extended periods once we have an animal in our sights. This tour spends time at altitude; our first hotel in Jackson Hole (Wyoming), is situated at around 6230ft (1900m), and our second hotel near Gardiner (Montana) is at around 5250ft (1600m) elevation. Inside the parks, we are likely to go higher still, up to the highest point of Yellowstone being at around 11,500ft (3500m).

CLIMATE: Cool weather conditions. We may even get a snowstorm so jackets are definitely recommended. However, the day can be sunny and a bit warm so a light long-sleeve shirt is recommended for our daily photography. A light warm jacket and a rain jacket are recommended. A rain coat would also be a good idea, both for your gear and for yourself. Lows and highs in Yellowstone in this season average between 39 and 73 Fahrenheit (4 and 23 Celsius), and rainfall occurs on about 5 days in this month. It is one of the warmest and driest months, but being in the mountains, and visiting varied elevations, we will need to have warm weather clothing, and dress with layers, so we can shed them during the warmer spells of the day.

ACCOMMODATION: Good throughout, with full-time electricity, 24-hr hot water, and en-suite facilities throughout. Wi-Fi is available at all of the hotels used.

PHOTO PHILOSOPHY: This is a photography focused tour with the goal of capturing excellent images as well as learning how to better your photography skills and thinking when you’re out in the field.

GEAR: For bird photography, generally a lens set-up of at least 300mm is recommended. For mammals, zoom lenses are recommended. Something similar to a 100-400mm is recommended. The optimum camera set-up is a DSLR or equivalent mirrorless. You can get some wonderful photos on this tour using a bridge camera, and so these are welcome, but there will likely be more opportunities with a DSLR or mirrorless camera.

While a tripod can be useful for the mammal photography, overall the best option for both mammals and birds, would be a monopod. This tends to be a more practical option in the field, and allows you to get photos off sooner, and therefore miss fewer shots overall. Flashes are not essential, although if you usually use one, feel free to bring this too.

OTHER INFO:

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. Those who need to apply for an ESTA or Visa should do so long in advance of the tour, as these can take days weeks to be issued.

WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Accommodations from the night of day 1 through the night of day 5; meals from dinner on day 1 through to lunch on day 6; all park fees to sites stated on this itinerary; one airport transfer per person/couple (by hotel shuttle, this might be shared with others) at the start of the tour (the departure drop off at tour end will be at a specific time for the entire group, with the guide doing this-please confirm this with the office before booking any flights); Tropical Birding photo workshop leader from the night of day 1 through to the group drop off at the airport on the afternoon of day 6; ground transport for the group, to all sites in the itinerary from day 2 to day 6 in a rented modern vehicle with the Tropical Birding guide as the driver; (although people are welcome to self-drive if they prefer).

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Any extra nights you wish to stay in the area. Optional tips to the tour leader; tips to baggage handlers if used anywhere; international and domestic flights to get there; any passport or visa fees; excess baggage fees; 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, internet, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.