At the turn of the century, America’s wild bison – which at one time numbered 60 million – had dwindled to about two dozen animals. Strong, sturdy and resilient, they’ve made a comeback, thanks to public and private conservation efforts.
On the range, in refuges and national parks, this symbol of our wildlife heritage is magnificent to observe.
Here are five places where you can snap a shot of this American icon – with a zoom lens:
1. Custer State Park, South Dakota. Each year, in late September, the public is invited to hear the thunder of hooves and photograph the moment as experienced riders round up a herd of 1,300 buffalo during the state’s annual Buffalo Round Up and Arts Festival. Considered a critical management tool in maintaining a healthy herd, the buffalo are corralled and then tested, branded and sorted. The event includes a pancake feed, Western and Native American entertainment and the chance to peruse the fine art and crafts offered by more than 150 vendors. Check the website for specific dates and details. Contact: www.travelsouthdakota.com/things-do/events/custer-state-park-buffalo-roundup
2. Yellowstone National Park, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. America’s first national park is the only place in the United States where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times. Home to approximately 3,500 bison, many are the descendants of the few who survived near-extinction. Social animals that often form herds often directed by older females, they are most active during the day. Pay attention to ranger warnings and keep your distance as bison are agile, strong swimmers, and can run 35 miles per hour. Despite their burly build and weighing up to 2,000 pounds, they can jump over objects about 5 feet high and have excellent hearing, vision and sense of smell. You’ll likely spot them in the Lamar and Hayden Valleys. Also, be on the look out near Pelican Valley, the Lower Geyser Basin and in Gibbon Meadows. Contact: www.nps.gov/yell
3. The National Bison Range, Mission Valley, Montana. Established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt, this historic range sprawls across 18,000 acres and is one of the oldest wildlife refuges in the nation. Today, visitors witness a diverse ecosystem of grasslands, Douglas fir and ponderosa pine forests, riparian areas and ponds. In addition to herds of bison, the range supports populations of Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, pronghorn and bighorn sheep as well as coyotes, mountain lions, bears, bobcat and more than 200 species of birds. Stop by the visitors center to learn about hiking, scenic drive, photography and fishing opportunities as well as information about current wildlife sightings and flowers in bloom. Contact: www.fws.gov/refuge/National_Bison_Range/visit/visitor_activities.html
4. Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris, Jackson Hole, Wyoming. This guide-owned and operated organization provides year-round wildlife viewing and natural history interpretation to those interested in a close-up view of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s wild creatures in their natural habitat. Offering half-day to multiday safaris, as well as photo safaris, the experienced guides use their knowledge, passion and skills to locate bison as well as elk, deer, moose, bighorn sheep and bears in one of the most beautiful landscapes in the country. Contact: http://jacksonholewildlifesafaris.com
5. Terry Bison Ranch, Cheyenne, Wyoming. This family-friendly ranch offers bison viewing year round on a 27,000-acre spread that stretches into Colorado. A popular reunion spot, families can spread out into eight cabins, 17 bunkhouse rooms, as well as RV and tent sites. Home to nearly 3,000 bison, the ranch also features train rides, horseback riding, a restaurant and a trading post. Contact: www.terrybisonranch.com.
— Lynn O’Rourke Hayes (www.LOHayes.com) is an author, family travel expert and enthusiastic explorer. Gather more travel intel on Twitter @lohayes, Facebook or via FamilyTravel.com.