You’ve arrived and you’re ready to go into Yellowstone National Park for some adventures or perhaps start by doing some hikes in West Yellowstone. Let’s have a little chat about safety. In this area, you must be aware of possible wildlife encounters and of the dangers of the land itself.
Yellowstone National Park and West Yellowstone are both a part of The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and have many different types of wildlife you could possibly encounter while out having fun. Bears, wolves, coyotes, red fox, bison, and otters are just some of the animals you can encounter, even here in town! There are some basic rules to keep in mind that will not only protect you but will also protect the animals.
One of the first rules is to never approach wildlife. They are not tame animals and are very unpredictable and many can harm or even kill you. It is best to try to view and photograph animals from your vehicle but if you find yourself on a trail or out of your vehicle and an animal approaches you, there are a few things you can do to prevent incidents from occurring. It is a great idea to always carry bear spray in or out of the park and know how and when to use it. Bear spray can be used for any animal that is charging you, not just a bear. This is a super-hot pepper spray and has been known to prevent attacks and can be a life-saving tool. If you see animals, it is very exciting but can be dangerous, always stay at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves and at least 25 yards away from other animals.
Another very important rule to follow is not to feed any wildlife. The animals become dependent on those handouts and become conditioned to human behaviors such as feeding them on the roadside. These animals that are fed will eventually lash out at the person that does not feed them and then that animal will be put down. The slogan here in the park is “a fed animal is a dead animal”, unfortunately, that is what eventually will happen. Please help us protect the wildlife and do not feed the animals, not even the squirrels.
Another important rule in or outside the park is never park in the road or block traffic. If you see something that you would like to observe or photograph, pull into a pull-out or completely off the road so you do not cause an accident and so that others can get around you and keep traffic flowing. It is very exciting to have wildlife encounters but can cause big problems if we don’t try to do this. Yellowstone and the surrounding towns are busier than they have ever been before, let’s try to keep the accidents down.
Lastly, I just want to mention the thermal features in Yellowstone. These can be very dangerous. There are boardwalks in the thermal areas, please stay on them. The earth’s crust can be very thin in these areas and the water temperatures can be extremely hot and cause serious injury or even death. The best way to enjoy these areas is to stay on the boardwalks and do not attempt to touch the water or stand near the features for photos.
Nobody can guarantee that you won’t have an encounter with wildlife or an incident on a trail, but if you will keep these few simple rules in mind, you should have a safe and enjoyable experience here in the park and in West Yellowstone!!
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK / NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
AUTHOR: CINDY SHAFFER