It may be off-season for tourists in Yellowstone National Park, but the deer and the antelope still roam in this iconic 3,472 square-mile playground. Barring the geysers, here are the hottest spots in Yellowstone where you’re likely to see the most powerful megafauna in the Lower 48 during the coldest time of year.
The mighty griz hibernates from late December to late May, but right now, in the park’s higher elevations, the bears are foraging for roots, whitebark pine nuts, and small animals, building up protein stores for their winter snooze.
Yellowstone is the only place the bison have freely roamed in the Lower 48 since prehistoric times. The 1,500-strong Lamar Valley bison herd migrates in the winter to the northern front range near Gardiner, Montana.
At the end of 2010, 97 wolves inhabited Yellowstone. A lone straggler might be spotted anywhere in the park, but most migrate toward the Lamar Valley or the Northern Range.
December is rutting season for bighorn sheep—the time during which the males lock 40-pound horns to spar for the females. Once the fighting is over, the sheep head for the cliffs in the northern range, near Gardiner.
The most abundant large mammal in Yellowstone—there are upwards of 22,000 in the park in winter—elk aren’t shy and can be seen almost everywhere. But keep your distance—the males can weigh up to 700 pounds.