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Hayden Valley

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Hayden Valley—named after Dr. Ferdinand Hayden, whose geological survey helped Yellowstone become a national park in 1872—is one of the best places in Yellowstone to spot wildlife. It’s also one of the most popular, though the traffic isn’t always entirely human-caused: Herds of bison sometimes crowd the road, letting you know whose territory you’re on.

Millions of years ago, Hayden Valley was filled with water—it was part of Yellowstone Lake. Today, it’s an undulating, verdant plain home to elk, moose, grizzly bears, wolves, bison, hundreds of species of birds, and more.

Because of its diversity of fauna, it’s a very popular spot for a scenic drive in Yellowstone National Park; its stretch of road is about 7 miles (11 kilometers) long. South of Yellowstone Falls, Hayden is far more accessible than Lamar Valley, its fellow wildlife-rich sibling, making it a fan favorite of visitors scouting for those on four legs. If this spot is on your list, come early to avoid the crowds—and to catch the animals’ breakfast time.

  • Between car traffic, bison traffic, and stopping for wildlife sightings, allot at least an hour for this drive.

  • Vehicle access to Hayden Valley can only be had from May through October.

  • Several pullouts will allow you to see the Mud Volcano, the Yellowstone River, and the valley’s many non-wildlife attractions.

Hayden Valley can easily slot into any Yellowstone itinerary—north of Yellowstone Lake and south of Canyon Village (aka Yellowstone Falls, Inspiration Point, and Artist Point) on Grand Loop Road. This isn’t a trail-lined spot, so you’ll definitely want a car to do the scenic drive and stop at the various overlooks.

If you’re visiting in summer, the best time to explore Hayden Valley is sunrise—not only will you beat the millions of others planning to do the same, but you’ll catch the animals out in the meadows, browsing for breakfast. The second-best time is dusk when the opposite takes place. Spring can be a fun time, too, to catch the baby animals.

Yellowstone National Park has two wildlife-rich valleys, and each has their fans. Hayden is more accessible but also more hilly, making faraway wildlife impossible to spot. (It’s also closed from November to April.) Lamar is much further away but flatter and open in winter. There’s no wrong answer—at the end of the day, both are great spots to catch wildlife, and sightings will vary from day to day, moment to moment.


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