Grizzly bears are easily among the world’s top predators. These intelligent and massive creatures can grow to 1,800 lbs, making them some of the most formidable hunters in natural history. Even with all that raw power, grizzly bears can still live in relative proximity to humans, with very few fatal attacks on record. In places where humans enter into the domain of the grizzly bear, however, these attacks become more likely. Today, we will explore one of the last major regions in the lower 48 states where grizzly bears are known to live year-round: Yellowstone National Park. By the end, we will have learned where exactly grizzly bears live within Yellowstone, plus a bit about how to avoid them when you can. Let’s get started!
Grizzly Bears in Yellowstone National Park
Do grizzly bears live in Yellowstone National Park? Of course, they do! In fact, Yellowstone National Park is one of the only places in the continental United States where grizzly bears can be regularly seen. Still, their numbers are probably a lot lower than people realize. Let’s explore it a bit more.
Yellowstone National Park is a large national park that is located around the tri-state area of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, although the vast majority of the park is in Wyoming. The entire park spans 3,472 square miles, making it larger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined. Still, despite being larger than United States’ two smallest states, there are only 150 bears living within the park’s borders.
This number has been pretty consistent across the past few decades, indicating that this is about as large a population of grizzly bears that the region can support. Still, despite having a somewhat smaller population, especially when compared to population densities along the northern Pacific (Alaska and British Columbia, specifically), it is still possible to see them if you are visiting.
Although Wyoming is the primary state that Yellowstone is located in, the state with the most grizzly bears (outside of Alaska) is Montana. Montana is home to around 2,000 grizzly bears after intense conservation action by the state and forestry services began in the 1970s.
Where Specifically Do Grizzly Bears Live In Yellowstone?
Grizzly bears in the lower 48 states are generally plains-dwelling in nature. In other regions across the world, grizzly bears can be quite adaptable and live in alpine, coastal, and arctic habitats, but few of those places are capable of supporting bears in the lower United States. Knowing that, we can assume in Yellowstone the most likely places to see grizzly bears would be in meadows and plains habitats. Within the park, the most common grizzly sightings occur in Lamar Valley, Gardiners Hole, Antelope Creek meadows, Dunraven Pass, Hayden Valley, and the wet meadows near East Entrance Road from Fishing Bridge to the East Entrance of the park.
Despite only having 150 full-time bear residents, there have been many sightings. In fact, Yellowstone even offers a form to fill out for anyone who has seen a bear to best track the bear’s movement. From 1980 to 2011, there were over 40,000 bear sightings. Using that data, the park staff can map out where the bears spend most of their time and where sightings are most likely to occur.
Outside of the locations listed above, some other factors make seeing a bear more likely. In the right locations, grizzly bears are most active during the night and at dawn and dusk, making them nocturnal and crepuscular, respectively. Another factor in seeing a bear is the time of year. In Yellowstone, the best times of the year to see bear activity are the spring and early summer, as the bears are foraging. Grizzly bears will often head into meadows to search for food, while black bears are more commonly seen among the tree line.
Grizzly Bear Attacks in Yellowstone National Park
With so many humans visiting Yellowstone each year, the odds of a bear attack seem invertible. Thankfully, grizzly bears have a reputation that doesn’t exactly match up with the data. While grizzly bears are absolutely capable of killing a human at any given moment, they generally don’t prefer to hunt us. In fact, there have only been eight fatal attacks from grizzlies in Yellowstone since 1872, whereas there have been 22 deaths from people falling into the hot springs. There is only a 1 in 2.7 million chance of being attacked by a grizzly while in Yellowstone, so it isn’t something that should cause too much anxiety.