Before I moved to Gardiner, I was always drawn to the area by the nearby geysers, recreation opportunities, and incredible scenery. Sure, I love observing wildlife as much as anyone else, but it just wasn’t the primary attraction for me.
Until I spent my first spring here in 2014.
It was then, while hiking near Yellowstone's North Entrance, I witnessed a brand new bison calf on unsteady legs, just minutes after being born. Or the time I stopped to watch two tiny black bear cubs scrambling up a lodgepole pine while Mom patiently relaxed under its branches, her shiny black fur showered in pine needles. Cue groupie squeals of delight.
I’ve counted down the days to “baby season” ever since.
And wouldn’t you know it? It’s that time of year again! A unique and incredibly wonderful phenomenon characterizes nature’s favorite entrance to Yellowstone National Park - the babies are back! And they’re out there, often in plain sight, for us to see, observe, and enjoy.
Bison calves are one of the first youngsters to make an appearance along the greening hills of the Northern Range. Possibly the most iconic of all Yellowstone’s little ones, bison calves were once thought to resemble cocker spaniels by early park visitors, and were given the name “red dogs” for their rust-colored coats. The name has stuck. Bison calves are best spotted near the North Entrance around Gardiner, Montana, and in the Lamar, Madison River, and Hayden Valleys in Yellowsotone.
Born in May and June, bighorn sheep lambs are not only adorable, but also talented. The little climbers can be spotted engaging in play fights with one another on the cliffs in the Tower area and Mt. Washburn, the Gardner Canyon near the North Entrance and Gardiner, Montana, and along the Yellowstone River near Calcite Springs on the Northern Range.
Black and grizzly bear cubs are born in mid-January and early February, but won’t emerge from their dens for another two months while they nurse and sleep. Black bear cubs are most commonly seen starting in May in the Mammoth and Tower areas, while grizzly bear cubs might be spotted between Norris and Canyon, Yellowstone Lake, Hayden Valley, and Swan Lake Flats. Not sure how to tell the difference between the two? Here’s an explanation from Yellowstone NPS.
Elk calves arrive a little later in the season, in May and June. The spotted youngsters have very little scent at birth, and therefore spend most of their time bedded down, fiercely protected by their mothers. You can find them in the Mammoth area, along the Northern Range, and right in town in Gardiner, Montana and in Paradise Valley.
And with that, it’s time to grab the big lens, practice safe wildlife viewing, and don’t be too embarrassed if - while standing in a crowd of about 30 other visitors - that cliche' sentiment, “Awwww….look at the baby!” comes tumbling out of your mouth. It’s happened before. And really, everyone gets it.
Photo Credits: Baby bison, bear cub and sow, and elk calf: Jean Modesette. Bighorn sheep lamb: Evan Barrett.