- Full Itinerary
- Photo Gallery
- Travel Details
- Trip Reports
- Know Before You Go
- Other Trips You May Like
Winter brings a wonderland to the Yellowstone landscape and is perhaps the best season of the year to find and observe wolves. Dramatic behavior revs up with competition among packs for territory and within packs for mating opportunities. Among the daily sightings are frosty Bison lumbering by, Bighorn rams gathering on snowy cliff ledges, tall Moose nibbling leafless twigs, and prowling Coyotes pouncing on unsuspecting prey. Be cautioned—participants must be prepared to withstand frigid conditions!
Join us for an incredible experience with wolves and other wildlife in the wilds of Yellowstone!
- Explore Yellowstone in an exciting new season—winter makes for incredible wildlife viewing
- Travel with wolf experts, ready to share their knowledge with you
- Unpack once and relax at the Absaroka Lodge, right on the Yellowstone River
- Witness fascinating wolf behavior, from hunting, playing, sleeping, and even courting
- Seek out classic western wildlife, including Bison, Pronghorn, Bighorn Sheep, and Elk
- Spend time in the Lamar Valley, so renowned for its abundance of wildlife
- Photograph stunning landscapes under a blanket of sparkling snow
Itineraries are guidelines; variations in itinerary may occur to account for weather, road conditions, closures, etc. and to maximize your experience.
Sun., Jan. 28 : Arrivals in Bozeman
Please plan to arrive at your leisure today into Bozeman. The GranTree Inn offers free shuttle service to/from the airport, and for visiting downtown shops or the famous Museum of the Rockies. Dinner is on your own tonight.
Accommodations at Best Western GranTree Inn
Mon., Jan 29 : Yellowstone National Park
You’re met this morning by your guides to transfer to Yellowstone National Park. The route is through the scenic Paradise Valley rimmed with rugged mountain peaks. A lunch stop is planned on route to the park. At Yellowstone, the group visits the famous Roosevelt Arch for a formal arrival to the park, and explores the wildlife-rich winter range of Pronghorn, Elk, and Deer.
Check in follows at the Absaroka Lodge in Gardiner. From your room, the views of the Yellowstone River and its rolling hills and snow-clad mountains astound! The Absaroka Lodge features Wi-Fi, cable tv, and balconies in each room overlooking the Yellowstone River. Our evening meal is prepared and served by our chef Zac Kellerman of Zac's Montana Kitchen. Dinner is accompanied by an orientation for the days ahead.
Accommodations at Absaroka Lodge (B,L,D)
Tues., Jan. 30 : Yellowstone Wolf & Wildlife Watching
An early morning departure creates our best chances of viewing active wildlife. Wolves are our priority, but many wildlife species are seen along the way. We search the park's northern range for wildlife from Bison to Bears, Badgers to Bald Eagles. Search areas include the Blacktail Plateau, the Slough Creek valley, and the famous wildlife haven, Lamar Valley, for resident wolf packs. Our search teams with rangers, scientists, and the eclectic wolf-watching faithful in a mutual effort to find and observe wildlife. Lunch is at Mammoth Hot Springs, followed by a walk through the terrace boardwalks to experience the amazing travertine hot springs, some of Yellowstone's finest thermal features. An evening presentation accompanies Zac's gourmet dinner at the Track Education Center in Gardiner.
Accommodations at Absaroka Lodge (B,L,D)
Wed., Jan. 31 : Yellowstone Wolf & Wildlife Watching
Our schedule is similar to yesterday with the goal to look for multiple wolf packs and make observations of a variety of behaviors and activities (hunting, playing, traveling, feeding, (sleeping!), etc.). This time period is at the beginning of the breeding season for wolves, so courtship behavior may bring exceptional opportunities to view and learn. Lunch is back in Gardiner, followed by an optional short hike. An after-dinner evening session at the center in Gardiner features one of our special guest speakers, to be announced. Past speakers have included Dr. Douglas Smith, film-maker Bob Landis, canine geneticist Dr. Dan Stahler, and other distinguished experts in the field of wolf biology and behavior.
Accommodations at Absaroka Lodge (B,L,D)
Thurs., Feb. 1 : Northern Range & Lamar Valley
To maximize our opportunities for viewing wolves, bears, and many other wildlife species we return to the Northern Range and Lamar Valley. Lamar is one of the best areas in the park for wolves, bears, and vast herds of Bison and Elk. The sheer abundance gives this area its well-earned nickname, 'The Serengeti of North America.' Lunch is at the home and photography gallery of Dan and Cindy Hartman, who live in Silver Gate, a small and charming mountain town outside the northeast entrance of the park. They are exceptional naturalists that share their many insights to wildlife in the area. After an afternoon return drive through the park, a final celebration dinner follows with Chef Zac in Gardiner.
Accommodations at Absaroka Lodge (B,L,D)
Fri., Feb. 2 : Departures
After breakfast we transport to the Bozeman airport for mid-day airlines departures no earlier than NOON. (B)
Great Gray Owl
Snowshoe Hike courtesy of Nathan Varley and Yellowstone Wolf Tracker
Winter Scenic courtesy of Nathan Varley and Yellowstone Wolf Tracker
Winter Hike courtesy of Nathan Varley & Yellowstone Wolf Tracker
Wolf courtesy of Nathan Varley and Yellowstone Wolf Tracker
Wolf Pack courtesy of Nathan Varley and Yellowstone Wolf Tracker
Wolf courtesy of Nathan Varley & Yellowstone Wolf Tracker
Winter Yellowstone Scenic
Bison in the snow
Mammoth Hot Springs Winter Yellowstone
Coyote in the snow Yellowstone
Cost of the Journey
Cost of the journey is $2490 DBL / $2750 SGL per person, based on double occupancy. This cost includes: accommodations for 5 nights, all meals as specified in the itinerary (B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner), park entrance and other activity fees for activities for 6 days as described in the itinerary, professional guide services, pre-departure materials, and miscellaneous program expenses. Tour cost does not include: round-trip airfare to and from Bozeman, Montana (BZN). The tour cost does not include items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone, drinks from the bar, or gratuities for luggage handling or personal services.
Please plan to make air travel plans only after the minimum group size has been met. We will send you a confirmation email as soon as the trip has been confirmed.
Arrival and Departure Airport: Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN)
Arrival Details: Plan to arrive January 28, at your leisure
Departure Details: Plan February 2 flights after 12:00 PM
Travel Tip: If you want to arrive early, Bozeman is a scenic and fun town to explore. The Museum of the Rockies is an excellent introduction to natural and cultural history. The downtown area is trendy with western-themed shops and restaurants, very walkable. The airport is 10 miles from downtown so depending on your interests, you may want to choose a hotel that offers shuttle service to town, choose a downtown hotel, or rent a car. Taxis and Uber are readily available, too.
Top Choice: Best Western Plus GranTree Inn. Adding a night to our first night tour hotel makes the best use of your added time. The hotel offers a free airport shuttle as well as free shuttle service downtown and to a few other area attractions. If this is your choice, please book this online and give us the confirmation number so that we can submit it when we send our final room list, (the goal being you don’t have to change rooms).
If you prefer to stay adjacent to the airport, we recommend: Holiday Inn Express & Suites Belgrade (406) 388-7100
Browse below for trip reports and species lists from past versions of this and other tours from this destination.
- June 2011
- June 2012
- June 2013
- September 2016
- September 2017
- September 2018
- September 2019
- June 2021
- September 2021
- September 2022
- June 2023
- September 2023
Nathan Varley & Linda Thurston
Nathan Varley and Linda Thurston met in 1996 working on the Yellowstone Wolf Restoration Project in its earliest stage. Project director Doug Smith takes some credit for matching the two wildlife biologists who married 3 years later. Following their years with the wolf project, they created THE WILD SIDE, LLC for their ecological research and university-level field programs. Over a decade ago, YELLOWSTONE WOLF TRACKER was developed as Yellowstone's premier wildlife guiding service, providing services for hundreds of guests throughout the year, and setting the standard for professional service in the industry today
Other trips with Nathan Varley & Linda Thurston
Essential Information +
This information is important for being prepared for your journey; we want you to have the best experience possible. If you only read one section, this one is key!
Ahead of Your Tour
- Please talk with your doctor about general health needs. It is a good idea to consult with your doctor about general vaccinations recommended for travel.
- Please plan to make air travel plans only after the minimum group size has been met. We will send you a confirmation email as soon as the trip has been confirmed. After you make travel reservations, please send a copy of your travel itinerary to the Naturalist Journeys office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Travel insurance in case of serious medical emergency is recommended. Full health coverage and repatriation is available through Allianz Travel Insurance.
- Soft sided luggage/duffel bags are easiest for packing the vans. Remember to pack essential medications in your carry-on luggage, as well as one day of clothing and optics in case of luggage delay.
We will share a copy of your health and emergency contact information with your guide. This information will be kept confidential but is very important in case of a medical emergency. In addition to bringing any prescription medications with you, we recommend that you have a copy of the prescriptions in case of loss.
Pace of the Tour & What to Expect
You will receive a Schedule-at-a-Glance and list of hotels (our eContact List) a few weeks before your departure. This will serve as an outline for each day and alert you to any recent changes made in the schedule or to our hotels, if needed.
Our journeys are set up to follow the rhythm of nature. Our focus is on birding and nature; we offer full, well-planned field days and often get up early for that magical time around dawn. We generally follow the published itinerary, but we stay flexible to the weather, wildlife opportunities and the interests of the group. Your guide will keep you apprised of the next day’s schedule at each evening meal, noting what to bring and what to prepare for. Questions and/or concerns are welcome.
The pace of our Naturalist Journeys tours is moderate; to fully participate you should be able to get in and out of vehicles several times a day, and walk 1-3 miles over uneven terrain. It is important to participate with a flexible attitude as adjustments may be made in our schedule to make the most of our time in the field or for other purposes at your guide's discretion. We are not a “listing” bird company that drills down on target species, but at times we do wait for those special species unique to the places we visit. During the day, we take time to stop for photos and for educational opportunities to learn about conservation projects, landscapes, and geology. We appreciate other taxa as well as birds, with mammals often the biggest draw but plants and butterflies are also very popular. Our clients often lend their own expertise to the mix.
We like to make meals a fun and memorable part of the experience, too. Breakfasts are often at hotels, and we carry snacks, fruit, and water in the vans each day. Lunches are a mix of picnics in the field (weather dependent) and a chance to dine with locals at small cafes and restaurants. For dinner, we pride ourselves in our homework to keep up with the best choices for dining, choosing restaurants with atmosphere that specialize in local foods. On occasion we keep dinner simple to go back out in the field for sunset wildlife viewing or night walks. In some remote locations, our choices are limited. If you are tired, room service for dinner may be an option you can choose.
Food & Drink
We carry water and juices/cold drinks in the cooler each day, and sodas if people like them. Please also plan on bringing and filling your water bottle for hiking each day. We try to use as few plastics as possible!
Packing, Clothing & Laundry
Soft sided luggage/duffel bags are easiest for packing the vans. Please pack essential medications in your carry-on luggage, as well as one day of clothing and optics in case of luggage delay.
Dress is informal and is casual even at restaurants. Layering is a great way to stay comfortable. Protective clothing is essential, whether it be from from sun, rain, cold, insects, or vegetation. You need closed toe shoes, and we comfortable walking shoes with good tread. Hiking boots with good support for hiking and on rocky terrain can work well.
Many people ask how much to plan to bring as spending money. Part of that depends on how much you want to shop. Most shops will take VISA and MasterCard or American Express. Typical items people purchase include local souvenirs and T-shirts, caps, and natural history books. You may want to bring cash for drinks with dinner (if available) or smaller local purchases.
Expect the normal tipping protocol to apply for hotel maids and bar service. If at the end of the tour, you would like to show your appreciation to your guides, tipping is entirely appropriate but at your discretion. We hope that you will be pleased with all professional services. Gratuities for group meals are included. For your birding tour guide, we suggest $10-$15 per day per guest. Note that if there is more than one guide, this amount can be split among them.
Cell Phones & Internet Service
Wi-Fi and cell phone service are available in most US destinations, although there are some exceptions in remote locations. Wi-Fi is generally provided in all hotels, lodges, and restaurants you visit, at least in public areas. Please refrain from taking or making cell phone calls in the vehicles when traveling with other passengers unless it appears to be an emergency as this disrupts other guests – please plan cell phone calls on your own time.
Smoking is not permitted in any vehicle or in any situation where the group is participating in an activity together, such as a vehicle excursion or a guided walk. Please respect all designated smoking areas at hotels and restaurants.
For this tour, your guides will drive travelers in either full-size or mini-vans or a combination of those two. We ask all attendees to please rotate your seating, so you ride with different drivers and alternate between front and back seats.
Photo Release & Sharing
We take many group photos and will share photos with the group. And after your tour, we will organize a chance to share photos via Dropbox or Google Photos. Please note that this is our policy and if you prefer to be excluded, we need to know ahead of your tour.
By registering for this tour, you agree to grant to Naturalist Journeys and its authorized representatives permission to record photos and/or video of your participation in the tour. You further agree that any or all of the material photographed may be used, in any form, as part of any future publications, brochures, or other printed materials used to promote Naturalist Journeys, and further that such use shall be without payment of fees, royalties, special credit or other compensation.
Please contact Naturalist Journeys by email at email@example.com or telephone our office: (520) 558-1146 or toll free: (866) 900-1146 if you have any questions. Many thanks for traveling with us and we hope you enjoy your journey.
Packing List +
Please pack light!
Soft luggage is much easier for us to pack than a more rigid hard sided piece, so if you have the choice, please use your soft luggage. Be sure to have your name and address on the inside of the bag, as well as on the luggage tag on the handle. It is our hope that you can pack in one checked suitcase that does not exceed 45 pounds. Be sure to pack your personal medication, airline tickets, passport, binoculars, camera, and other essential items in your carry-on bag. You will want a day pack for field trips, so this is an ideal carry-on. Please reconfirm your airline’s baggage weight and size restrictions about a week or so before departure.
Winter temperatures in Yellowstone can range from the high 30’s to 20 or more degrees below zero. It is important to have the right clothing to stay comfortable.
Important Footwear Advice from our Operator:
Insulated boots will be important, because toes can easily get cold while standing and watching wolves! Make sure they are comfortable, and large enough for a pair of heavy warm socks. Tight boots will cause painfully cold feet. Allow for some toe-room. Hiking boots, work boots, or sneakers won’t have enough insulation against the cold.
Winter boots are probably the most important piece of equipment for winter events. Conversely, the most common complaint for winter programs is cold feet. The usual winter recreation footwear is for exercising and not for themore sedentary activity of watching wildlife. Indeed, the standing around that is required for spotting and viewing often requires long spells of limited physical activity in cold weather. While we attempt to buffer against the cold by offering air-activated toe warmer heat pads, insulated pads to stand on, and shelter in the heated vehicles, these may still be insufficient when coupled withpoor footwear.
The boot needs to be insulated, roomy, and elevated off of the ground by a thick sole. Wool or synthetic socks should be worn in combination, but not to the point of a tight fit. Roominess is much, much better than adding more socks to the point of a tight fit.
Baffin (guide’s choice), Sorrel, LL Bean, and several other companies have varieties that work well. Boots can be rated for a certain temperature, which corresponds to the air temperature at which water freezes inside the boot. SO, it does not mean the air temperature at which your feet will remain comfortable. For example, guides often wear boots like Baffin models that are rated to-100F degrees! Pads and toe warmers are not necessary with these boots—they really work. A lesser rating may be perfectly suitable, but aim for a Negative Number (F) rating. This indicates hiking boots, XC ski boots, etc., are probably going to be insufficient or will work for only short periods of time, which limits one’s enjoyment of the activity. Winter boots like Uggs are stylish but lack real insulation value to be effective. The bus is always a safe zone for those that do get chilled, but it is not an ideal location for any sightings that may be occurring.
Good boots can often be purchased for $100-$200 new. Many guests from warm climate areas may be understandably hesitant to invest in such boots. Consider looking for used pairs at second-hand sporting good stores and thrift stores, or borrowing suitable boots from friends. One can try cheaper varieties of boots for these short duration programs, but with possible mild suffering built in to the decision. These guidelines have developed for winter programs after many, many winters in Yellowstone and addressing a lot of guests complaining of cold feet. Lastly, if your local stores do not carry these boots,consider ordering them online and shipping them to us. For USPS mail c/o Yellowstone Wolf Tracker, PO Box 769, Gardiner, MT 95030. The physical address is 404 Water Street if shipping by Fedex or UPS.
Clothing & Gear
- Long underwear top and bottom made from synthetic materials like polypropylene or light fleece; multiple layers are ideal
- Personal under clothing and sleepwear
- Socks, several pairs (wool or synthetic insulated socks, a thin polypropylene liner can be worn as a first layer)
- Warm jacket that protects from both wind and water; a bulky down parka is advised
- Outer pants, either a good pair of insulated snow pants or (2) fleece pants or expedition-weight layers under a water-resistant shell, or (3) wool pants with long underwear.
- Insulated boots
- Sweater, fleece or down vest (great for layering under your jacket, ideally bring more than one the be versatile with changing conditions)
- Warm hat that covers your ears, wool or synthetic
- Brimmed hat for bright, sunny days
- Neck gaiter and/or scarf, can be used to protect neck and face when it is windy and cold.
- Gloves, 2 pairs, consider a pair of insulated mittens with a shell; an additional thin glove liner is useful for operating cameras
- Comfortable clothes for evening (long sleeve shirts and long pants, 2-3)
- Bathing suit (optional; there may be an optional visit to soak in a hot springs)
Equipment & Miscellaneous
- E- ticket confirmation & identification
- Passport for our international travelers
- National Park pass if you have one (not required but can expedite entry)
- Spotting scope (optional - guide will bring multiple scopes)
- Camera and extra batteries, film, lens cleaning supplies, and your instruction manual (optional)
- Cell phone and charger
- Daypack or fanny pack for carrying your field gear, adequate to hold your lunch if hiking
- Water bottle
- Sunscreen/lip balm with high SPF
- Small flashlight with fresh batteries
- Alarm clock, or use your cell phone
- Notebook or journal and pen (optional)
- Field guides (optional)
- Earplugs (optional; hotel noise may bother you)
- Rechargeable power bank (optional)
WE DO NOT RECOMMEND TRAVELING WITH PRECIOUS OR VALUABLE JEWELRY – don’t tempt anyone and don’t bring things you’d regret losing - your mind will be at ease!
Medical & First Aid Items
- Personal medications
- Motion sickness preventatives if likely to be needed on bus, van, etc.
- Personal first aid kit and medications for general ailments (including band-aids, moleskin, etc. for blisters)
- Copies of prescriptions for vital medications and eyeglasses, as well as any medical alerts
- Insurance information
- Extra pair of eyeglasses or contacts
- Small tube of hand sanitizer
Suggested Reading List +
There are many titles of interest for Yellowstone and the wolf reintroduction project there; the following are a few that we have enjoyed that can get you started.
Merlin App. A phone-based birding app from Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology. You can download it here.
Wildlife & Nature
The Alpha Wolves of Yellowstone 4 book series:
Bears & Mammals of Yellowstone
History & Culture
Your guide will also have a selection of reference books and materials to share. As an Amazon Associate, Naturalist Journeys earns from qualifying purchases, and may get commissions for purchases made through links on this page at no added cost to you.
Useful Links +
Museum of the Rockies
Nature, Wildlife & Biology
Yellowstone’s Gray Wolf
Yellowstone Video Feature - The Wolf Generation (10-minute film)
National Geographic Video – Wolves of Yellowstone
Wildlife of Yellowstone
Birds of Yellowstone
Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
Grizzly Bear Recovery Program – Grizzly Bear Biology
Conservation, Parks & Reserves
National Park Service – Yellowstone
Yellowstone Science - Publication devoted to Yellowstone’s natural and cultural resources
National Park Services Yellowstone National Park App
- https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/app.htm (NOTE: Be sure to download the app before you arrive in Yellowstone as cell service and Wi-Fi are limited in the park)
National Park Service Video – Yellowstone InDepth: The Northern Range
Yellowstone Forever - Funded Projects
Geology & Geography
US Geological Society – Geology and History of Yellowstone
NPS Geodiversity Atlas – Yellowstone
History & Culture
PBS Brief History of Yellowstone National Park
Historic and Associated Tribes of Yellowstone
Helpful Travel Websites
Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN)
Homeland Security Real ID Act
Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
Time and Date
Photo credits: Banners: Wolf Pack (courtesy of Nathan Farley & Yellowstone Wolf Tracker), Yellowstone Winter Scenic (NJ Stock), Winter Bison (NJ Stock), Yellowstone Scenic (NJ Stock), Gray Wolf (courtesy of Nathan Farley & Yellowstone Wolf Tracker), Winter Hike (courtesy of Nathan Farley & Yellowstone Wolf Tracker) Thumbnails: Wolf (courtesy of Nathan Farley & Yellowstone Wolf Tracker), Hairy Woodpecker (NJ Stock), Pronghorn (NJ Stock), Tundra Swan (NJ Stock)