Wolf pack territories in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks and wolf watching tips

NPS photo gray wolf pauses along riverbank: gray wolf starting to wade into the water

Some of the surveys / charts / maps below of the territories of wolf packs are of

Grand Teton National Park (some not only Grand Teton National Park, but the whole Jackson area, including Bridger-Teton National Forest to the east of the park and Caribou-Targhee National Forest to the west of the park),

some are of Yellowstone National Park and some are of both parks as included in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (Greater Yellowstone Area). In the map below Yellowstone park is in the center, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem surrounds the park and stretches out into Idaho, Montana and Wyoming:

map of three states

Some wolf pack charts are one year, some as many as 20 years.

(There are also individual wolves not currently affiliated with a pack at the time each survey was completed, and not shown on the chart / map.)

The Yellowstone National Park yearly wolf reports, (linked to below at each of the maps), including numbers of and details about wolves in each pack, territory changes, births and notes about wolf interactions with bears, Ravens, Magpies, coyotes, bison and elk.

The main Yellowstone National park webpage about wolves is
https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/wolves.htm

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Below a NPS drawing showing the size comparison of a wolf, coyote and a fox.

wolf, coyote, fox size comparison NPS drawing:

A wolf, up to 35″ tall, is much bigger than a coyote or family dog, but it can be hard to tell at a distance, which is where you will most likely see one if at all. Wolves can weight 70-120 pounds, coyotes only 25-40.

Wolves run on the average 5 mph, or up to 35 mph.

Wolves can be coal black, creamy white and everything (gray, tan) in between.

wolf and three pups

 
Coyotes are gray, tawny, buffy or reddish gray, with some orange on its tail and ears.

On a Yellowstone trip we watched a coyote sniffing at the tracks in the snow. A coyote’s long nose is full of scent receptors and can detect the movement of other animals a mile or more away or days earlier.

Yellowstone coyote winter 2007: coyote sniffing at tracks in snow:

The coyote often holds his tail between his legs when running. His nose is more pointed than a wolf.

The coyotes have a narrow, triangular shaped head. A wolf has a more square, blocky head.

A red fox has red fur with white-tipped tail, dark legs; long, slender snout. It has a bushier tail than a coyote. Some are black or silver.

Adult males weigh 11–12 pounds; females weigh average 10 pounds.
Average 43 inches long.

fox sleeping

A National Park Service drawing comparing the size and coloration of a fox (front), coyote (center), and wolf (back), by Michael Warner from a Yellowstone Park webpage

National Park Service drawing of a fox ( front) coyote ( center) and wolf ( back), by Michael Warner from a Yellowstone Park webpage

rocks packed together

A red fox barks, but rarely howls/sings.
Wolves and coyotes both sing long howls, but the wolf does not add yips/yaps.

wolf with head lifted to howl
Why wolves howl:

Yellowstone park notes that that wolves howl for “intrapack communication, advertising territory, coordinating social activities.”

Denali park notes that “Wolves are noted for their distinctive howl, which they use as a form of communication. Biologists do not know all of the reasons why wolves howl, but they may do so before and after a hunt, to sound an alarm, and to locate other members of the pack when separated. Wolves howl more frequently in the evening and early morning, especially during winter breeding and pup rearing. Howling is also one way that packs warn other wolves to stay out of their territory.”

https://www.nps.gov/articles/why-wolves-howl.htm

What wolf or wolves howling sounds like:
https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/photosmultimedia/sounds-wolves.htm

Yellowstone park notes: DISTANCE HOWLING CAN BE HEARD:
forest = 11km (6.6 mi), open areas = 16 km (9.6 mi)

First photo below of mollie’s wolfpack in Yellowstone: (in social situations like the first photo, the height the tail is carried generally relates to the social status of that wolf).

mollie's wolfpack NPS Photo by Dan Stahler: five wolves playing in the snow FWS photo gray wolf 130 pixels: head and shoulders of a gray wolf

 

AVERAGE LIFE SPAN (Yellowstone National Park): 4-5 years
AVERAGE LIFE SPAN (OUTSIDE Yellowstone National Park): estimated 2-3 years
(Some live to be 14 years old.)

The International Wolf Center tells us that “The biting capacity of a wolf is 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of pressure per square inch… In comparison, a German Shepard has a biting pressure of 750 pounds per square inch. A human has a much lower biting pressure of 300 pounds per square inch.”

   

NPS photo of wolf tracks in mud:

paw prints in mud

Coyote front prints are usually 2 3/4 inches in length or less, some large dog breeds can have prints as big as a wolf, wolves are usually 3 1/2 inches or more in length not including the claws.

If you measure your palm before you go on a trip, you can use it to “size” a track you might see. A wolf track will be bigger than coyote, which is bigger than a fox, but an adult fox print might be the same size as a wolf pup. Tracks can be slightly different sizes / shapes in soft mud (especially after recent rain) or melting snow.

wolf track in snow: wolf track in snow photo by Barry O'Neill:

coyote has a walking stride of 6 to 8 inches and leaps of 10 feet,
wolf has a walking stride of nearly 30 inches and leaps of 9 or more feet

Wolves run an average of 5 m.p.h., as fast as 35 m.p.h.
two wolves running right after each other

   
Was that a wolf or a coyote? An elk or a moose?

nps drawing bears: drawing of a black bear and a grizzly for comparison Rocky Mountain mammal size comparisons NPS photo Yellowstone wildlife montage Robert Hynes 180 pxls:

Rocky Mountain mammal size comparisons has photos and comparisons of beavers, squirrels, pika, marmot, elk, moose, bison, fox, coyote, wolf, golden-mantled ground squirrel, chipmunk, Red Squirrel (also known as) Chickaree, Unita Ground squirrels, bobcat, lynx, mountain lion (cougar), pine marten, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, grizzly and black bears, tundra swan, trumpeter swan, adult and juvenile Bald Eagles.

rows of large rocks in a wall

When wolves move through deep snow they often go single file, with adults breaking trail through the snow for the younger / smaller wolves.

two wolves walking in snow

Below, the shadows are quite large compared to the wolves:

wolves and their shadows

row of rocks carved into brick shapes

Wolf watching tips:

Yellowstone National Park notes:
“While all of Yellowstone offers chances for great wildlife sightings and photography, the highest concentration of animals can usually be found along the Yellowstone and Lamar river valleys between Mammoth Hot Springs and the Northeast Entrance.” (The start of the only road open in the winter.)
“. . . Winter is best since snow makes the wolves easier to see.”

The Slough Creek area in northern Yellowstone is said to be the best place to watch wolves and it attracts many people all year.

line of over twenty people

Sometimes there are so many people that the wolves have difficulty just crossing a road. One wolf parent had to go five miles away from his usual route when trying to bring food back to pups in the den, because people kept moving along the roadside, trying to get a photo, and blocked his safe route to get through them across the road.

line of people with cameras

We have let strangers use our spotter scope when we have it set up to watch wildlife. Please take this advice, if you let people look through a device / camera on your tripod, tell them you can adjust the height of it for them and ask them to not touch it, BUT also keep one hand on the tripod the entire time you share it. (Children and even some adults do not seem to understand that if it is moved even slightly, you will lose sight of the animal you wanted to see AND you risk even careful people knocking it over.)

long line of people along road

Yellowstone Forever, the official nonprofit partner of Yellowstone National Park, offers many wolf watching trips, including with guides, transportation and overnight accommodations in the park.
https://www.yellowstone.org/experience/yellowstone-forever-institute/

When you buy wildlife guides, maps, books from them the profit goes to the park. https://shop.yellowstone.org/

On a winter trip we took we found that if you stand on sections of insulating sleeping pads it helps keep your feet less cold.

Yellowstone winter wolf watchers Lamar valley buffalo ranch: Yellowstone wolf watchers lined up with spotting scopes:

And if you have a small bag hanging around your neck, or around your waist inside your sweaters and jackets you can keep spare sets of camera batteries in it to keep them warm, as the batteries in the cameras weakened in the cold and needed to be switched around regularly.

The park says “peak activity is at dawn and dusk” but we watched all day. Well across the Lamar Valley we could see a live nature video unfold with tiny animals in the distance from the naked eye, animals clearly visible through binoculars and quite close up through spotting scopes.

long shot of Lamar valley yellowstone winter: wolf watcher with Lamar Valley in background:

The folding or pop-up chair for sitting at the campfire and sitting while waiting for wolves to appear, will be much more comfortable (you’ll be noticeably warmer) with a foam/ensolite pad / sleeping size pad lining it, as in the chair on the left in the photo below:

pop-up chairs:

See also snow or rain camping equipment for details about choosing warm gloves / clothes and rain gear that actually functions.

thin line of various colors of rocks

The park service makes wolf den sites off-limits, with signage and usually with notices at park websites.

logs and brush

 
Your safety while wildlife watching

wolf crossing road with many people, even out of their cars, behind

For your safety while wildlife viewing, stay 25 yards away, at least, for most wildlife, and 100 yards for bears, moose, elk, bison and wolves, whether on foot or in your car.

Keep the animal’s line of travel or escape route clear and move away if wildlife approaches you.

How far away is 100 yards? Picture the length of a football field without the end zones.

25 yards? picture four car lengths or six kayak lengths, or the width of an Olympic-sized pool like ours at the college.

If you have an accidental, surprise or inadvertent closer encounter with wildlife you must remove yourself to those distances, including while driving on a road. (more on wildlife jams)

wolves running alongside road

NPS drawing of a human and various animals showing how far away we need to stay from wild animals

NPS drawing of a row of buses depicting the distance people need to stay away from animals

Grand Canyon National Park rangers say: “Follow the rule of thumb: if you can cover the entire wild animal with your thumb you’re at a safe distance. This distance is usually 25 yards from most wildlife and 100 yards from large wildlife . . . If you are close enough to take a selfie with an animal, you are too close. ”

More on determining safe distances from wildlife, with charts and photos to better be able to determine and visualize how far away from wildlife you need to stay to be safe (and obey laws that do have penalties)..

all wildilfe are dangerous

rocks packed together

Yellowstone Park has this advice: “Your Safety in Wolf Country

Wolves are not normally a danger to humans, unless humans habituate them by providing them with food. No wolf has attacked a human in Yellowstone, but a few attacks have occurred in other places.

Like coyotes, wolves can quickly learn to associate campgrounds, picnic areas, and roads with food. This can lead to aggressive behavior toward humans.

What You Can Do

• Never feed a wolf or any other wildlife. Do not leave food or garbage outside unattended. Make sure the door is shut on a garbage can or dumpster after you deposit a bag of trash.

• Treat wolves with the same respect you give any other wild animal. If you see a wolf, do not approach it.

• Never leave small children unattended.

• If you have a dog, keep it leashed.

• If you are concerned about a wolf—it’s too close, or is not showing sufficient fear of humans— do not run. Stop, stand tall, and watch what the wolf does. If it approaches, wave your arms, yell, flare your jacket. If it continues, throw something at it or use bear pepper spray. Group up with other people, and continue waving and yelling.

• Report the presence of wolves near developed areas or any wolf behaving strangely.
To date, eight wolves in Yellowstone National Park have become habituated to humans. Biologists successfully conducted aversive conditioning on some of them to discourage being close to humans, but two had to be killed.

. . . If you are concerned about a wolf — it’s too close, or is not showing sufficient fear of humans — do not run. Stop, stand tall, and watch what the wolf does. If it approaches, wave your arms, yell, flare your jacket. If it continues, throw something at it or use bear pepper spray. Group up with other people, and continue waving and yelling.”

Info on the use of bear pepper spray is at:

https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/bearspray.htm

https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/bearreact.htm

poster says Carry bear spray, know how to use it

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(All wolves currently living in Yellowstone were born in the park.) The story of how wolves were re-introduced into Yellowstone park from Canada is at:
https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/wolf-restoration.htm

NPS map Historical and current range of gray wolves in the United States and Canada:

map of Canada and the United States with dots representing current range of wolves mostly in Canada, and historical range in most of both countries

Celebrating 20 years of wolves
https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/upload/YELLOWSTONE-SCIENCE-24-1-WOLVES.pdf

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Grand Teton National Park yearly wolf pack territories:

NPS chart of the Population growth of Jackson area wolves, including those in Grand Teton NP, 1999-2018.

chart with three lines

NPS chart of the Population growth of Jackson area wolves, including those in Grand Teton NP, 1998-2015.

chart with three lines

   
2018 wolf pack territories in Grand Teton National Park:

map with wolf packs areas

A 2017 Wyoming Game and Fish Department wolf report listed the minimum number of wolves “known to be present on Dec. 31, 2017”, in packs that reside in part or in whole in Grand Teton National Park, including 7 in the Huckleberry Pack (the purple almost circle on the map below to the right of the Teton Range), 5 in Lower Gros Ventre (the light blue colored blob below that), 11 in Pinnacle Peak ( the blue one below the Lower Gros Ventre wolf pack), 8 in Pacific Creek and 8 in Togwotee. 2017 Yellowstone wolf pack minimum size pack totals were 97 and the Wind River Reservation total minimum number of wolves was 12.

238 wolves, in 40 wolf packs, with 19 breeding pairs were known to be in Wyoming. In the map below you can see the wolf packs locations in Grand Teton and Yellowstone parks, as well as adjacent National Forest and private lands in 2017:

map of most of Wyoming with locations of wolf packs

 
NPS map Distribution of Jackson area wolf packs, 2016 (with Grand Teton National park and Bridger-Teton National Forest to the east of the park and Caribou-Targhee National Forest to the west of the park)

simple map
 
NPS map Distribution of Jackson area wolf packs, 2015 (with Grand Teton National park and Bridger-Teton National Forest to the east of the park and Caribou-Targhee National Forest to the west of the park)

simple map
 
NPS map Distribution of Jackson area wolf packs, 2014 (with Grand Teton National park and Bridger-Teton National Forest to the east of the park and Caribou-Targhee National Forest to the west of the park)

simple map

 
NPS map Distribution of Jackson area wolf packs, 2013 (with Grand Teton National park and Bridger-Teton National Forest to the east of the park and Caribou-Targhee National Forest to the west of the park)

simple map with mostly circular shapes

carved wood ceiling beam
 
NPS chart Spatial distribution of wolf pack territory use in Yellowstone National Park over 20 years (1995-2015)

chart with many sections

 
 

Some of the reports below say they do not have an accurate description of the territories of some of the wolf packs, because they did not have wolves in the pack wearing radio collars (GPS tracking) that the rangers put on wolves.

Below a radio collar after it finished working and dropped off the neck of the wolf:

wide neck band collar

Breeding male wolf from the Phantom Springs pack just released after being fitted with a GPS collar:
wolf with radio collar

a strip of Yosemite granite

 

 

Yellowstone National Park yearly wolf reports:

 

As of January 2020, there are at least 94 wolves in Yellowstone park. Eight packs were noted.

 

2019 report:
https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/upload/2019-WOLF-REPORT_508.pdf

2019 Yellowstone Wolf Pack Territories
simple map
 
2018 report:
https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/upload/2018-Wolf-Report_web-2.pdf

simple chart

 
2017 report:
https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/upload/WOLF-REPORT-2017-YELL-FINAL.pdf

simple map
 
2016 report:

https://www.nps.gov/yell/upload/Wolf_Report_2016.pdf

2016 Yellowstone Wolf Pack Territories
simple map
 
2015 report:
https://www.nps.gov/yell/upload/WOLF-REPORT-2015-WEB-_R.PDF

simple map with sections
 
2014 report:
https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/upload/2014-wolf-report.pdf

2014 Yellowstone Wolf Pack Territories
simple chart

 
2013 report:
https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/upload/2013-Wolf-Report-Accessible_web.pdf

simple map

 
2012 report:
https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/upload/wolf_ar_2012_final.pdf

2012 Yellowstone Wolf Pack Territories
simple map
 
2011 report:
https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/upload/Wolf_AR_2011.pdf

2011 Yellowstone Wolf Pack Territories
simple map
 
2010 report:
https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/upload/wolf_ar_2010.pdf

NPS photo map 2010 of wolf packs locations

 
2009 report:
https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/upload/wolf_ar_2009_final.pdf

2009 Yellowstone Wolf Pack Territories

simple chart
 
2008 report:
https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/upload/wolf-ar-2008.pdf
2008 Yellowstone Wolf Pack Territories
simple map
 
2007 report:
https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/upload/2007__Wolf_AR.pdf

2007 Yellowstone Wolf Pack Territories Darker colors depict higher use or core territories
simple map

 
2006 report:
https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/upload/wolfrpt06.pdf

2006 Yellowstone Wolf Pack Territories Darker colors depict higher use or core territories
simple map

 
2005 report:
https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/upload/wolfrpt05.pdf

2005 Yellowstone Wolf Pack Territories
simple map

 
2004 report:
https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/upload/wolfrpt04.pdf

2004 Yellowstone Wolf Pack Territories
simple map

 
2003 report:
https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/upload/wolfrpt03.pdf

 
2002 report:
https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/upload/wolfrpt02.pdf

NPS map Greater Yellowstone Area Wolf Pack Territories 2002 includes Yellowstone and Grand Teton National parks. Outlines of the boundaries of each park are on the map:
simple map

 
2001 report:
https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/upload/wolfrpt01.pdf

NPS map Greater Yellowstone Area Wolf Pack Territories 2001 includes Yellowstone and Grand Teton National parks. Outlines of the boundaries of each park are on the map. (At least 218 wolves—25 packs and 4 wolves without established territories—occupied the greater Yellowstone area in 2001.)

simple map

 
2000 report:
https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/upload/Wolfrpt00.pdf

NPS map Greater Yellowstone Area Wolf Pack Territories 2000 includes Yellowstone and Grand Teton National parks. Outlines of the boundaries of each park are on the map. (At least 177 wolves—18 packs and 2 wolves without established territories—occupied the GYA in 2000._

simple map

 
1999 report:
https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/upload/wolf99.pdf

NPS map Greater Yellowstone Area Wolf Pack Territories 1999 includes Yellowstone and Grand Teton National parks. Outlines of the boundaries of each park are on the map. (A total of 118 wolves—11 packs and 17 wolves without established territories—occupied the Greater Yellowstone Area in 1999.)
simple map

 
1998 report:
https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/upload/wolfar98.pdf

NPS map Greater Yellowstone Area Wolf Pack Territories 1999 includes Yellowstone and Grand Teton National parks. Outlines of the boundaries of each park are on the map. (Eleven groups including ten packs with a total of 112 wolves occupied the Greater Yellowstone Area in 1998.)

map with Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks

 
1997 report:
https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/upload/wolf97.pdf

NPS map with “Nine groups of wolves including seven packs and several loners for a total of 86 wolves occupied the Greater Yellowstone Area at the end of 1997

simple map with Nine groups of wolves including seven packs and several loners for a total of 86 wolves occupied the GYA at the end of 1997

 
1995 – 1996 report:
https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/upload/wolfrep95-96.pdf

1996 Yellowstone Wolf Pack Territories

simple map
 

water rippling

 

 

Grand Teton National Park birds includes Bald Eagle, Canada Goose, Golden Eagle, Great Blue Heron, Great Gray Owl, Harlequin Duck, Loon, Magpie, Northern Flicker (woodpecker), Osprey, Pelican, Ouzel, Peregrine Falcon, Raven, Sandhill Crane, Steller’s Jay and Trumpeter Swan, with links to calls / songs from most of them to listen to.

 

 

For actual incidents of injuries from animals, usually caused by approaching them too closely, go to: fatal, near fatal or close call incidents/accidents in camping, backpacking, climbing and mountaineering

Look for the BEARS, MOUNTAIN LION, BISON, ELK and MOOSE sections.

 

Top reasons not to speed in a National Park

How to not collide with a deer,

Safe driving in rain and fog,

wildlife jams

Prepare for winter driving has a link to bad weather driving tips, tips for using tire chains, tricks for dealing with frozen car locks, how to prepare your vehicle for winter driving, how to de-fog the windows, a winter survival kit for your car and what to do if you get stranded

Road trip advice and etiquette has ideas for limiting boredom, getting along on a road trip and some packing and safety tips.

GPS is not infallible

fatal, near fatal or close call incidents/accidents in camping, backpacking, climbing and mountaineering is a collection of some of the true stories I use in my wilderness first aid class to illustrate how the wilderness is not dangerous, it’s the people who aren’t prepared, who don’t know what they are doing, or who take inordinate risks, that are the danger.

Cell phones in the wilderness has advice on how/when to use a cell phone to contact 911 in the wilderness and a warning about interference between cell phones, iPods and avalanche beacons.

lightning boltThunderstorm and lightning safety includes a warning about not using your cell phone or IPod during a storm.

The use of cell phones for photography (with or without a selfie stick) has made preventable injury or even death by selfie common They were just taking a selfie . . .

your safety in grizzly bear territory tells you what to do if you see a grizzly in the distance or if a bear charges you and has info about Bear Pepper Sprays.

Before a bison charges What people were doing before a bison charged them, and injuries they received.bison halfway over a wall

 
This warning from Canada can apply to any long-distant drive: “Visitors to large cities and popular tourist destinations should be aware that parked cars are regularly targeted for opportunistic smash-and-grab thefts, and they are cautioned to avoid leaving any unattended possessions in a vehicle, even in the trunk. Due to the high incidence of such crimes, motorists in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and some other jurisdictions can be fined for leaving their car doors unlocked or for leaving valuables in view. Visitors should exercise precaution to safeguard their property.”

sign that says please do not leave valuables in your car

 
Yosemite National Park regulations, policies and rules are much the same as other national parks, see theselinks

 

Parking and traffic jams in Yosemite valley tips and tricks

 
pond with clouds reflection