Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks
Birding and mammals amid spectacular scenery
Join Heatherlea's Ian Ford together with experienced local guides on this amazing wildlife adventure.
PRE-FLIGHT SERVICE FREE OF CHARGE! Book our Yellowstone holiday and you can enjoy an airport hotel (night before departure), and airport lounge free. See itinerary, or contact our office, for further details.
This is a tremendous tour of both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, as we visit spectacular locations to see a fantastic range of birds and mammals. This relaxed and non-intensive holiday gives you the chance to experience this marvellous place in all its grandeur. Visiting three States (Utah, Wyoming and Montana), you will enjoy a comprehensive tour of all the key places, and have an excellent opportunity to see wolves, both bear species, beaver and much, much more including a wide range of bird species. You will love the open spaces and vistas, where your expert guide will help you focus on nature amidst a real feeling of solitude.
Summer is a time of abundance in Yellowstone, and we should see high numbers of mammals every day. Gray Wolf, Black and Grizzly Bear, American Bison at the rut (we are here at the peak time for this), Red Fox, Coyote, Pronghorn Antelope, Bighorn Sheep, Elk, Moose, Mule Deer, White-tailed Deer, River Otter, American (Pine) Marten, American Beaver, American Badger – no wonder Yellowstone has been compared to a safari in Africa! Our recent holiday produced excellent sightings of wolves and both bear species, something not guaranteed by any means, but much more likely with expert guidance - see our Trip Report!
While Yellowstone is best recognized for its mammals, birds are spectacular too, and we plan to find many classic species such as Trumpeter Swan, White-faced Ibis, Ruffed and Dusky Grouse, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, Bald Eagle, Golden Eagle, Steller’s Jay, Sandhill Cranes with growing young, Wilson’s Phalarope, Eared (Black-necked) Grebe, Red-naped Sapsucker, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Mountain Bluebird, Clark’s Nutcracker, Barrow’s Goldeneye, American Dipper, Western Tanager, Lazuli Bunting, Ospreys almost daily…. There is a long birdlist!
We explore the geyser basins, where 25% of the world’s major geysers are clustered in a scenic two mile long valley. We take a boardwalk trail through the basin, watching Old Faithful (the most famous) and other geysers including perhaps Riverside, which arches over the Firehole River when in eruption, or Grand, which jets to almost 200 ft high.Other geological highlights include the Lamar and Hayden Valleys, the dramatic Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, and a great birding raft trip on the Snake River. We also visit the 10,000-foot mountain pass that crosses the great Beartooth Plateau to see some of North America’s finest scenery.
Unlike most Yellowstone itineraries, we include a major birding spectacle at the Great Salt Lake, where wetlands of worldwide importance are critical for migrating shorebirds. You should see many tens of thousands of Eared (Black-necked) Grebe, American Avocets and Wilson's Phalarope amongst many more waders; over a million birds seen on our last trip! We then navigate a circular route to Yellowstone via Jackson and the spectacular Grand Teton National Park en route. A tremendous safari of the wildlife of the American west!
DAY 1 Salt Lake City, Utah
We meet at Heathrow airport, and once checked in your guide, Ian Ford, will accompany the group to our comfortable airport lounge.
Escape the airport crowds and relax before your flight, enjoying the services and comforts of an exclusive airport lounge. Heatherlea founder Kevin Shaw, spent some time recently checking all the facilities available for guests. Kevin says; 'I enjoyed using the Lounge facilities where I could get a drink, snacks, hot food and internet access. The Lounge was spacious and comfortable, with a choice of seating areas and things to do including TV, newspapers, a cinema and a seperate area for kids. The staff were lovely, the bathroom was clean, and I felt very relaxed. In my case I was just back from Costa Rica, but I know our guests will love this service before boarding. ' Enjoy a relaxing start to your holiday compliments of Heatherlea!
Flying into Salt Lake City is a great experience, as we pass over many of the high peaks of the Rocky Mountains and arrive to a wide, fertile valley framed by mountains on both sides. We meet our experienced local guide and rest from our travels, awakening to fantastic scenery and birding! Accommodation local to Salt Lake City. (D)
DAY 2 Antelope Island State Park / Bear River National Wildlife Refuge
Large shallow lakes fill a valley surrounded by mountains, and we start our birding at the spectacular Antelope Island causeway, birding at a leisurely pace on a road that bisects the Great Salt Lake. We should see tens of thousands of Wilson’s Phalarope and Eared Grebe (perhaps half a million of each on our last visit), along with resident Black-necked Stilt and American Avocet, Marbled Godwit and Long-billed Dowitcher. This is shorebird heaven, a vast inland sea rich with brine shrimp; an excellent place for resident species to breed, and for migrants already returning from the Arctic to refuel. August sees peak migration through the Salt Lake wildlife refuges, and Peregrine hunt the large flocks. On nearby Antelope Island we look for Chukar Partridge.
We have lunch and a short break, then drive north to expansive freshwater marshes formed by the emptying of the Bear River into the Great Salt Lake. Concentrations of waders and waterfowl at this refuge can exceed the imagination. We may also find secretive Virginia Rail, Sora Rail, Marsh Wren and possibly Short-eared Owl.
Driving along the back roads of the refuge, with mountain vistas all around, we look for White-faced Ibis as well as American White Pelican, California and Franklin’s Gulls, Caspian Tern, and a variety of herons, egrets, American Avocet and Black-necked Stilt. We may also see Sharp-shinned Hawk, Belted Kingfisher, Common Nighthawk, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-headed Blackbird, and both Western and Clark’s Grebes. The highlight on our last trip was beautiful California Quail. After a full day we relax in our en-suite hotel in the Salt Lake area. (B,L,D)
DAY 3 Bear Lake NWR / Jackson / Grand Teton National Park
Today we head towards the Grand Teton National Park. We travel a scenic route through Logan and Montpelier with a chance to bird at Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge, with its mix of open water, freshwater marsh and grassland habitats. American Bittern, our first Bald Eagles, a variety of passerines including grosbeaks, chickadees, sapsuckers, Cedar Waxwing and finches will soon become commonplace. Huge milkshakes are a popular option on this day!
Continuing north we follow the Snake River through Afton and on into Jackson, driving through the striking Hoback Canyon. Just outside this classic western town, we walk a short boardwalk trail through a marsh of the National Elk Refuge, where Yellow-headed Blackbird and Marsh Wren scold. Northern (Hen) Harrier can be seen here too.
Trumpeter Swan may have cygnets this time of year, and with luck we may find Canvasback, Redhead, Green-winged Teal and other ducks. Just beyond the refuge we get our first long view of the Grand Teton Mountains, perhaps the most spectacular range in the Rockies, rising abruptly from the valley floor, towering 5000 feet or more over the landscape, displaying their jagged crestline. We spend the next few nights in this area in comfortable accommodation. (B,L,D)
DAYS 4 and 5 Grand Teton National Park
We have two full days to explore the Grand Teton National Park, considered to be amongst the top National Parks in the US for watching birds – perhaps in part for its background scenery! Here we search for Ruffed and Dusky Grouse, American Three-toed Woodpecker, beautiful Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak and a host of western wood warblers. Just outside our lodgings, tall conifer trees attract Olive-sided Flycatcher, Gray Jay, Cassin’s Finch and Red Crossbill. A short walk along the lakeshore often reveals MacGillivray’s Warbler, Western Warbling Vireo, or Osprey over the waters. Atop Signal Mountain we have a 360-degree view of magnificent mountains and a good chance of finding Green-tailed Towhee in the sagebrush, and along the conifer forest edge, Dusky Grouse. One evening we take a scenic raft trip on the Snake River (not energetic), where we hope to encounter American Beaver, Moose and nesting Bald Eagle. We also venture into historic Jackson Hole, known for its fine restaurants and shops, nightly rodeo and western flair. (B,L,D)
DAY 6 Grand Tetons / Yellowstone National Park
This morning we walk a short way looking for MacGillivray’s, Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned Warblers and Common Yellowthroat in the willows, and in the adjacent forest Hammond’s and Dusky Flycatchers, Mountain Bluebird, Mountain Chickadee and Ruby-crowned Kinglet.
We then drive into the heart of Yellowstone, entering through the South Entrance. An area burned in the great fires of 1988 shows regrowth of Lodgepole Pine, and is a good habitat to search for woodpeckers including Common Flicker, Hairy, and Northern Three-toed. Belted Kingfisher frequents the river, and in one area tall mixed conifer forest is especially good for Red Crossbill, Pine Siskin and possibly Pine Grosbeak. Our destination is stunning Yellowstone Lake, where we should find Western and Clark’s Grebes, Barrow’s and Common Goldeneye, Bald Eagle, Osprey and more. Our accommodation will be chosen from high quality optons at Lake Hotel, Canyon and Old Faithful, where we also have a relaxing dinner. (B,L,D)
DAY 7 Lake / Hayden Valley / Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
A special mammal day begins as we leave early to watch for Grizzly Bear and possible Grey Wolf activity in the Hayden Valley area. Some years a pack of wolves dens here and could be visible from along the roadside. We can find both species of bear here, and on a trip of this length have every chance of seeing them. The Bison rut is an extraordinary spectacle; males roar like elephants, and test their strength by pushing, shoving and sparring with each other. Bison herds with calves often create “road blocks” here, much to viewers’ delight as they dust bathe sending huge clouds of dust into the air. With herds of between 300 and 1000 animals, this is spectacular. If the weather is warm, the entire herd may head to the river to wade, cool off, or cross to other feeding areas.
After breakfast at Canyon, we see the thundering waters of the Yellowstone River’s Upper and Lower Falls, which are a highlight for many. White-throated Swift and Violet-green Swallow often feed in the colourful deep canyon. Driving through Hayden Valley, we may see Coyote, Northern Harrier, Ferruginous Hawk, many Elk, and possibly sought-after Harlequin Duck, American White Pelican and Common Merganser at LeHardy Rapids. En route back to our hotel, we check out Fishing Bridge for Bald Eagle and Osprey at the outlet of Yellowstone Lake, and several ponds for Canvasback and other diving ducks. We take a break with lunch at midday, and meet in the mid-afternoon to drive west along the lakeshore and up to a viewpoint at Lake Butte. This is a good area for raptors; we may find Red-tailed or Swainson’s Hawks as well as Bald Eagle. Common Loon (Great Northern Diver) and Canvasback inhabit Mary’s Bay, and in a more recent burn area to the east we search for Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpecker. We return to another delightful dinner and night in the Yellowstone National Park. (B,L,D)
DAY 8 Hayden Valley/Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone/Dunraven Pass// Lamar Valley / Cooke City
This morning we intend an optional ealry morning wildlife drive into Hayden Valley, and those who prefer an extra lie-in can take it easy instead! After breakfast we go to see the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, perhaps the most beautiful in the American west. The falls have become an iconic image, famous subjects for artists and photographers alike. with luck we may see River Otter in the pools above or below the falls, and Bald Eagle and Osprey can be spotted circling in the area. Next we head up and over the Dunraven Pass (2700 metres) before heading into the wildlife rich Lamar Valley. This is a good area to look for Prairie Falcon, clark's Nutcracker and Northern Goshawk. Pergrines often nest on the cliffs near Tower Falls, and can often be seen active in the area. We keep a keen eye open for Grey Wolf and both bear species, and often see them on this day.
Later we settle into accommodation in the gateway town of Cooke City and enjoy a group dinner tonight at a favourite local restaurant. Accommodation at the Alpine Hotel, Cooke City. (B,L,D)
DAY 9 Lamar Valley, Yellowstone
We have a full day to explore the Lamar Valley and scenic Tower Falls. We hope to observe Mountain Goat, Mule Deer, American Elk, Bighorn Sheep, Pronghorn and American Bison, which all have young at this time of year, and all are wary of possible predators. We may find Gray Wolf activity here, as several of the packs are found in or near this valley. Enjoy some sightseeing around midday, when the animals are less active. With luck we may find the Gray Wolf’s little brother Coyote hunting, travelling, and possibly feeding young. In the afternoon we explore a small mountain town, where several residents put out hummingbird feeders – we expect Rufous and Broad-tailed Hummingbird here. Accommodation at the Alpine Motel, Cooke City, MT and dinner at your leisure tonight. (B,L)
DAY 10 Beartooth Plateau / Evening Wildlife Drive
Today we venture up to the magnificent high country of the Beartooth Plateau, just outside Cooke City. This extraordinary drive is one the most scenic in North America, and a wonderful way to access the tundra without a long, arduous climb. If we can tear our eyes away from the stunning views of both the Beartooth and Absaroka Mountain ranges, we’re likely to see alpine birds such as Black- and Gray-crowned Rosy Finches, American Pipit, Horned Lark, Merlin, Northern Goshawk, and more. Clark’s Nutcrackers, Yellow-bellied Marmot and a herd of Rocky Mountain Goats frequent the rest stop at Rock Creek. Those who wish to eat early can join us as we go back out into the Lamar Valley at dusk, when wildlife is most active. Accommodation for a third night at the Alpine Motel, Cooke City, Montana. (B,L)
DAY 11 Yellowstone’s West Side
Today we travel to the west side of Yellowstone, passing back through the Lamar Valley and on to Mammoth Hot Springs. We stop to watch for American Dipper near beautiful Tower Falls, and to see if Peregrine Falcon chicks have fledged from a regularly-used nest. This is a good area to watch for Black Bear with growing cubs. Red-naped Sapsucker, Brown Creeper, Red-breasted Nuthatch and Cordilleran Flycatcher are often found in this area. Next we drive towards Mammoth Hot Springs, the lowest elevation site in the park where we enjoy a picnic lunch. Here we look for Mountain Bluebird, Townsend’s Solitaire, and the beautiful Lazuli Bunting. We then visit places which look as great as they sound; Swan Lake Flats, Norris Geyser Basin (hottest in the park), Gibbon Falls, and the Madison River at one of the Three Forks of the great Missouri. There is a lush canyon, often filled with herds of American Elk and Bison, all with young, lounging in the summer sun. Great Blue Heron sometimes fish the stream; with luck we’ll see Cinnamon Teal, Sandhill Crane and Tree Swallows. Our accommodation tonight is in the West Yellowstone area, a fun town with a wide selection of shops and restaurants, so we turn you loose for dinner at your leisure (you can of course eat with your guides if you wish). (B,L)
DAY 12 Yellowstone National Park
Today we enjoy one of the main highlights of the holiday, time at the unforgettable 'Old Faithful' National Park. We check times posted for the eruption of ‘Old Faithful’, and spend half a day in the basin, hopefully witnessing at least two Old Faithful eruptions. Other geysers are lovely as well, as are hot springs, which are every colour of the rainbow!
Later in the day we might enjoy a final view of Grizzly or Black Bear as we pass south through the park, returning to Jackson Hole via the spectacular Grand Tetons. This day will give you a real chance to remember the wonderful mountian scenery of this special area, and in the evening we enjoy a celebration dinner in the historic town. (B,L,D)
Fly home to UK from Jackson Hole, arriving on the morning on Day 14. (B)
Leader Ian Ford plus experienced local guides.
Price includes: Return scheduled flight from London – Salt Lake City, Jackson Hole - London, airport taxes, transfers from and to airports (where appropriate), airport lounge at Heathrow, overnight hotel accommodation near the airport prior to departure, full-board accommodation at hotels and lodges (excluding three dinners at your leisure), picnic lunches, ground transportation, National Park entry fees, incidental tips including mealtimes, and the services of your leaders.
Price excludes: Holiday insurance, three dinners at your leisure, optional tips to local guides/other staff, drinks, and other personal expenses.
Please note: All itineraries in this brochure are given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of your guides, and elements beyond our control (eg weather).
Many thanks to Peg Abbott and friends for pics, including:
Evening Grosbeak, American Avocet, Ruffed Grouse, www3.sympatico.ca/beck.tony ,
American Dipper courtesy of Carol Rivchun.
Trumpeter Swan www.trumpeterswansociety.org
Photo of Peg, Coyote eating Ground Squirrel and most scenic pics courtesy of Peg Abbott/Naturalist Journeys.
Bald Eagle, Great Grey Owl by Ian Ford
Less good pics by Kevin Shaw
Please note: all itineraries are given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of your Leader, and elements beyond our control (eg weather).