YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, – Spring may officially start on March 20 this year, but few in Yellowstone really pay attention to the calendar date. For those who live, work and visit Yellowstone, spring really arrives when the first of the babies make their debut.
Bear cubs begin to emerge from their dens in late March, bison calves and wolf pups begin appearing in April and May, and elk calves are born in June. The youthful antics of the young – and the wildly varying parenting techniques of their mothers – can be observed well into the summer season.
“Every season in the park offers a different wildlife-viewing experience, and each season is appealing for a different reason,” said Rick Hoeninghausen, director of sales and marketing for Xanterra Parks & Resorts, operator of the lodges, restaurants, tours and other concessions in the park. “Winter is especially gratifying for watching wolves and observing the determined survival instincts of bison and elk. Spring is the time to watch the arrival next generation of Yellowstone’s animals. During the summer, the animals seem to thrive as they enjoy plentiful sources of food and trade their raggedy winter coats for impressive summer versions. By fall it is mating season, and a particularly good time to watch elk and bison rut.”
Hoeninghausen said with the first sighting of a newborn – often a bison calf – those who work in the park know that spring has truly arrived. “We are already buzzing a bit about initial reports of the first bears emerging from winter hibernation,” he said.
And those Yellowstone babies are so darn cute. Parenting techniques vary widely in the park. Mothers of any species might be envious of maternal black bears, which sleep through most of their labor, become only semiconscious during delivery and then return to a deep sleep for another two months while their blind and toothless young nurse and doze alongside them.
Born with reddish-colored fuzzy fur, bison calves can keep up with their mothers as soon as two hours after birth. Bison adults protect their young from predators by surrounding them with the herd.
Typically born in late May and June, elk calves can walk on their gangly legs within an hour of birth. Elk calves are a frequent target of many of the park’s predators. Elk calves have very little scent. In order to protect them, elk cows often run, hoping the predator will chase her and not notice the newborn lying hidden and motionless.
Moose cows chase offspring from the previous year away when they are ready to give birth to a new calf. And female pronghorn typically deliver a set of twins. Young pronghorn walk within 30 minutes and can outrun a human within just a couple of days.
One of the best ways to observe wildlife and learn about their habitat is by participating in a Xanterra tour. The tours are led by trained interpretive guides who are knowledgeable about the park’s many species and trained to spot wildlife activity as they drive through places like Lamar and Hayden Valleys and other wildlife habitat in the park.
Yellowstone’s nine park lodges begin to open for the spring/summer season on a staggered schedule beginning April 29 with the opening of the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. The final lodge to open for the season is Roosevelt Lodge & Cabins on June 10.
Tours operating dates vary according to the location of the designated lodge pick-up point and the area of the park to be explored. Tours vary in length from just a few hours to several days.
The popular four-hour “Wake Up to Wildlife” tour in a Historic Yellow Bus departs three park hotels during the early morning and proceeds to Lamar Valley in Northern Yellowstone, an area often called the “American Serengeti” because of its abundance of wildlife. The park’s animals are often most active during the early morning and at dusk. The four-hour “Lamar Valley Wildlife Excursion” travels to Lamar Valley during the hours just before sunset.
The multi-day “Spring Wolf & Bear Discovery” package educates participants about the springtime behavior of these two marquee predators. This Lodging & Learning program is a partnership between Xanterra, which provides accommodations and meals, and the non-profit Yellowstone Association Institute, which provides a naturalist guide and in-park transportation.
Xanterra offers more than a dozen tours in all, including partial-day, all-day and evening tours in Historic Yellow Buses, vans or motorcoaches. Tour dates and rates vary. For a complete listing of tours as well as other spring and summer activities visit www.YellowstoneNationalParkLodges.com/summer-activities-199.html. Xanterra also offers custom guided tours for groups ranging from four to 36 people. For more information about custom tours visit www.YellowstoneNationalParkLodges.com/custom-guided-tours-1829.html.
Xanterra interpretive guides and National Park Service rangers remind all park visitors to view wildlife from a safe viewing distance – at least 25 yards for most Yellowstone animals and at least 100 yards for bears and wolves. Yellowstone’s four-legged females are dedicated mothers who protect their young with gusto and will respond aggressively if they perceive a threat to their babies.
For additional information about the wildlife of Yellowstone National Park visit the National Park Service web site www.nps.gov/yell/naturescience/animals.htm.
Complete details about accommodations, restaurants, tours and activities in Yellowstone National Park can be made by visiting www.YelllowstoneNationalParkLodges.com or calling (1) 307-344-7311 or toll free (1) 866-GEYSERLAND (1-866-439-7375).
Nikki is a writer and editor for Do It Yourself RV, RV LIFE, and Camper Report. She is based on the Oregon Coast and has traveled all over the Pacific Northwest.