Yellowstone in Spring 2021 Trip Report

By Eric Rock on Aug 02, 2021

It is true spring can come a little early or it can arrive a little late in Yellowstone National Park. But you can always be sure it will occur as sure as there will be blooming wildflowers and newborn animals of the year. Our Yellowstone in Spring Photo Safari was set up for median spring dates just for this reason.
Making plans a year in advance and considering the possibility that Covid-19 could still be a factor while running a photo trip in Yellowstone, we took this into consideration as we selected our lodging with social distancing in mind. We also wanted to do things little differently and do everything possible to stay well out of the crowds—especially when it came to mealtime. Quite frankly, sitting in a restaurant three times a day during the pandemic isn’t really that inviting of an idea. So, we hired a private chef to prepare our meals using a rented house near our overnight accommodations. This allowed us a place to have delicious, well prepared, and timely sit-down dinners all to ourselves before heading back out for an evening shoot each day. A quick grab and go breakfast got us out the door before daybreak and a picnic lunch to have during our time in the field.
With current covid restrictions lifting, several restaurants were open. It seemed like maybe we over compensated.  But our plans panned out as although restaurants were operating, they were considerably understaffed and thus very busy.  So, we bypassed those crowded restaurants which allowed for far more time for taking photos.
It seemed everyone and their mother wanted to visit the national parks this year and Yellowstone was invariably at the top of their list. With our early morning shoots, we managed to avoid the crowds. Our early time afield found us walking popular geyser basins, taking in steaming landscapes with iconic features like Old Faithful and Surprise Pool almost by ourselves. One of the special aspects to a photo trip—and one of our major goals—is for our photo travelers not to feel rushed, allowing ample time to work any given scene or photo opportunity. Making our own schedule and having a private chef and accommodations allowed just that.
With a full week to photograph the park, we focused the first three days on the park’s interior also known as the Grand Loop area. Here we planned time for finding wildlife in the more remote Hayden Valley along our way to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. We arrived just in time to catch just the right light for a rainbow to appear in the mist of the Lower Falls. We spent our unhurried days and evenings working landscapes in both morning and evening light, being careful not to miss areas like Fountain Paint Pots, Grand Prismatic Spring as well as a very surreal steam filled  morning at Norris Geyser Basin.
The second half of our trip focused more on the Northern Range of Yellowstone. Our lodging for this part of the trip was just outside of the park’s northeast entrance in the little hamlet of Silver Gate, Montana. Here we were just minutes from many of our photography sites. If you are not familiar with Yellowstone’s Northern Range, this is the lower elevation area that attracts much of the park’s wildlife for the better part of the year and includes the famous Lamar Valley. This is the area of Yellowstone where one is most likely to find wolves and bears. But there is also plenty of other wildlife to be found. In fact, during this season bison were found in great numbers—sometimes not only close to the road, but on the road as well. Large groups of female bison and their newborn calves made for great photography as well as smaller groups of large males, known as bulls, which also presented plenty of closeup photography from a sensible distance. This large concentration of bison also gave us lots of excellent landscape photos with bison included for scale.
While focusing our attention on wildlife in the Northern Range, we did manage to find wolves each day of our time there, but unfortunately, they were at a great distance for reasonable shots even with the most powerful telephoto lenses. We spent a little time watching a mother grizzly bear and her two tiny cubs frolic on a distant snow field through our spotting scope. We photographed black bears daily—often close to the road. At one point, a mother black bear and her two small cubs-of-the-year strolled right past us at a safe distance on her way to a resting place back in a shady Douglas fir forest.
After dinner on our last evening in Silver Gate we took advantage of the seasonally open Beartooth Highway with a scenic drive to Beartooth Pass. At just under 11,000 feet, we caught a smokey sunset over the Absorka Mountains and ended our day in the company of marmots and mosquitos.
Leaving Silver Gate early on our last morning, our group was back in the Lamar Valley photographing bison and pronghorn. Crossing the Yellowstone River bridge for the last time we came upon a particularly beautiful black bear in morning light and spent some quality time photographing it as it foraged across the adjacent hillside. Our final day found us by the upper terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs for a little more landscape photography and then onto Bozeman for the finish of the trip.
All in all, we enjoyed traveling with an excellent group of photographers, great planning and even better weather which made for one of our best springtime wildlife photography trips in Yellowstone National Park—and a wonderful respite from the pandemic.