Once a month, we’ll feature a wildlife hotspot. We want to aid you with getting ‘the shot’ in order to help rekindle your love for nature, to enable you to become inspired by wildlife and to equip you to become an advocate for a wilder world at home.
This month’s focus:
Yellowstone’s Black Bear Ally is this month’s wildlife hotspot.
The park’s Tower region is notorious for its black bear population. On many days in June or July, you can’t drive a mile without slowing for a bear jam.
When driving from Mammoth to Canyon via Tower on the Grand Loop Road you will drive through the heart of Black Bear Ally. From Blacktail Plateau to Antelope Valley (and on the Northeast Entrance Road from Roosevelt to Little America) is prime habitat, but most of the sightings are around Rainy Lake and Calcite Hotsprings.
On the short stretch of road between Tower Falls and Roosevelt, the road moves through these locations and, after recent repairs, offers many places to pull over and observe the bears.
No one quite knows why this habitat is so good (after all, it backs onto the Yellowstone River’s canyon walls), but much of it has to do with sows using the road to avoid big boars in the backcountry while raising cubs.
In fact, one sow in particular has made bears in this small area of land famous.
Rosie has been featured in books and on documentaries and might be the most photographed black bear in history. Like many iconic bears featured on this site, she was patient with people and brilliant at defying odds to raise cubs to sub-adulthood.
Rosie, it is believed, was killed by a boar several years ago, but today, what is presumed to be one of her ex-cubs is carrying on in her large footprints.
Having successfully raised at least two sets of cubs, she has given joy and numerous ecology lessons to throngs of tourists in Yellowstone, much to the chagrin of some rangers.
And she’s not alone. We know of at least four sows that make this part of the park home – as do many subadult black bears and even a few boars.
Be sure to visit Black Bear Ally early in the day. If a bear is out or in the area, this will guarantee a parking spot, something that becomes harder to find as the day goes on.
If you come across a jam that appears to be getting out of hand, just drive down the road. In all likelihood, there will be another bear around to photograph. One year, we saw 16 different bears within a 10 mile stretch.
And if you prefer to sit and wait for a bear to come to you? Sit in the Calcite parking lot and watch the meadows on each side of the road. Or, better yet, park by Rainy Lake on a hot summer’s day. Frequently black bears will go for a dip to cool off and provide for spectacular images, so long as the light isn’t brutal (like it was when I took this image).
One final note: visit this area of Yellowstone sooner than later. While the bears won’t be going anywhere, Tower rangers are increasingly growing tired of bear jams and the days of great photography could very well be limited.
Location: Yellowstone National Park,. Wyoming
Accessibility: Yellowstone’s Grand Loop Road, between Roosevelt and Tower Falls
Photographic Focus: Black Bears
Best Time: All day, but early morning is best
– Increasingly, the Tower Ranger Station is discouraging bear jams in ‘Black Bear Ally’, even though recent road improvements have made bear watching safe and easy.
– Though the stretch of road from Tower Falls to Roosevelt is incredible black bear habitat – especially Rainy Lake in the early summer – black bear sightings are very possible on the entire road from Antelope Valley (south of Tower) to Blacktail Plateau (west of Roosevelt).
– Black bear sightings occur all day in this part of Yellowstone, but given the volume of people and the premium on parking, we highly recommend looking for black bears by at least 6am in order to stop if you see one.
– The area between Calcite Springs and Rainy Lake is particularly good for black bear cubs – so be sure to look up trees if you find a bear by the road.
– Light is good, for the most part, until 9am in this area and improves in the evening by 6pm. In the summer, by 8pm, the road becomes quite dark.