What to Expect
Trips can be run in my vehicle which seats up to 6 passengers, or I can ride along with you in your vehicle. If we travel in your vehicle, I generally prefer to drive for wildlife watching trips. I know where to go and how to get in to those tricky road side parking spots. I have full coverage insurance for any car that I do not own or rent. Yes, I can drive your rental car! If we are hiking it does not matter who drives to the trail head and we may both take our cars to enable one-way trips. You can select your preference at the booking stage. Either way, we will travel to our day's destinations while I share information about the park, answer your questions, and adapt our itinerary to changing conditions and opportunities to your preferences.
I am based in Gardiner, MT and will typically meet you at your accommodation or a central spot in Gardiner or Mammoth, as we agree upon in correspondence. I can also meet you in the Tower/Lamar area or Canyon Area. Meeting in Norris is sometimes possible, depending on road construction and closures. If we are meeting in these areas, there is an additional guide travel fee to help cover my time and travel expenses to meet you there. If your plans have changed or you need to meet in a central location because of onward travel, please let me know. It is easiest to make a strategy before but we may need to be flexible depending on our wildlife activity, road construction and closures.
I have a very high success rate for finding particular wildlife, such as wolves and bears on wildlife watching trips. However, these are wild animals and sightings are not certain nor guaranteed. July and August are some of the most challenging months to see larger mammals because high temperatures cause reduced activity and movement to higher elevation. We will often need to search more on those days. On day hikes, typically do not see bears and wolves but we may see bison, elk, badgers, foxes, coyotes, bighorn sheep, marmots or pika depending on where we go. If seeing bears and/or wolves is important to you, please book a wildlife watching trip, which is more vehicle based (so we can cover more ground) and includes use of spotting scopes, which are imperative for finding and watching these larger animals at a safe, mutually comfortable distance. Please read the 'Staying Safe in Yellowstone' section below for the park service's rules about maintaining safe distances from wildlife.
Weather conditions can vary dramatically throughout the day. In the spring, summer and autumn we can have sub-freezing temperatures in the morning followed by intensely sunny afternoons and 90 F (33 C). Bring warm layers for mornings and expect to shed those warm clothes by late morning. Unless you just came back from a winter in the Antarctic, please do not show up for morning wildlife watching trips wearing shorts and a t-shirt. We will be standing outside for up to an hour an you will be uncomfortably cold! Thunderstorms commonly bring rain in the summer afternoons. Snow can fall at any time of year, including July and August. There isn't much gear available in Gardiner or inside the park, so check the forecasts and come prepared.
If you are departing from Gardiner, expect temperatures to drop approximately 15 degrees F or 10 degrees C as we head to higher elevation. From October to April, expect it to range from cold to very very very nasty cold. We sometimes find ourselves watching wildlife in -30 F!! Please bring appropriate layers and waterproof insulated shoes, a warm hat and gloves. If you need suggestions or need to borrow gear, please let me know. I will do my best to provide suggestions to help you get what you need.
In addition to guiding expertise, I will bring a delicious variety of food (breakfast and late morning snacks for wildlife watching or lunch for hikes); beverages, high quality spotting scopes; binoculars and a few field guides. You will be asked to sign a National Park standard Acknowledgement of Risk form on the day of your trip.
What to Bring
Please remember to bring: your own water bottle (to reduce waste); warm layers for cool morning temperatures, including a rain/wind proof jacket and closed footwear with slip-resistant soles; hat and sunscreen; insect repellent; your camera, and whatever other viewing or recording devices you like to use in addition to those provided (high quality spotting scopes (Swarovski) and binoculars). For liability reasons, firearms are not allowed on our tours.
Hydration is key to enjoying Yellowstone! It is high and dry all year long. Expect to drink at least 3 LITERS OF WATER per day! I know it seems like a lot, but using our gross pit toilets is much better than headaches, bloody noses, fatigue and dizziness that most people experience in our high dry altitude. If you are going on a hike, please plan to carry your own water. I can carry our food but cannot carry everyone's water.
Since it is high here, you will also get exposed to more UV. Wear sunscreen, seriously!
If you cancel more than 30 days before your trip date, you will receive a full refund minus a $50 processing fee. If it is 5 to 29 days before your trip date, then you will receive a 50% refund. Refunds are usually not provided within 5 days of your booking, but please contact me if exceptional circumstances are keeping you from your tour. I will worry if you just don't show up! I may be able to make alternative arrangements. A full refund will apply, less the $50 processing fee, if I am able to re-book your date.
Stay Safe in Yellowstone!
Traffic in Yellowstone includes unique hazards. Drive cautiously and always at or below the speed limit. You will see more and also reduce your risk of collisions with wildlife or other cars. Please be aware that traffic jams commonly occur on park roads where visitors stop (and sometimes abandon) their vehicles (pets, small children, etc.) in the middle of the road to look at wildlife on or near the road. You may encounter this behavior anywhere in the park, even around blind corners. Drive with caution and without fatigue. If you see wildlife or incredible views, the National Park Service requests that you park with all tires on the outside of the road's white line or use the nearest pullout. Do not stand on the road. Not all motorists are vigilant and many are distracted by beautiful views or trying to see what you are looking at.
Don't approach wildlife! Yellowstone National Park has the following policy regarding wildlife:
“You must stay at least 100 yards (91 m) away from bears and wolves; and at least 25 yards (23 m) away from all other animals—including birds.” Minimize your risks of encountering a bear by “making loud noises, shouting, or singing. Hike in groups and use caution where vision is obstructed. Carry bear spray and know how to use it. Do not hike after dark. Avoid carcasses; bears often defend this food source."
Even though the bison do it, don't leave the boardwalks or otherwise walk off trail in geothermal areas. Throughout Yellowstone's history, more than 100 people have been injured and 20 have died by falling into geothermal features. Be mindful of where your children are stepping. Keep your dog safe too: never outside of the parking area and never off leash. Dogs have also lost their lives in Yellowstone's geothermal features.