Experience the Bison Rut Up Close
Yellowstone’s bison population of approximately 5,000 is the largest free-roaming, wild herd of bison in the United States. The month of August is the peak time of year that the rut kicks in and the sights and sounds of bulls engaging in the seasonal competition for mating rights is on full display. Violent wallowing roles on the ground as a display of aggression. Loud and deep guttural bellows can be heard throughout the herd as bulls, with their tails head high, prepare for the intense head-to-head battering ram type clashes to take place. Heads hitting, dirt and sod being kicked into the air, two power animals engaged in a fight for rights can be an adrenaline producing experience to witness. It truly is one of the more thrilling events of the Yellowstone experience.
During the rut most bison congregate in two main areas of the park – Hayden Valley on the road section between Canyon Village and Fishing Bridge, and Lamar Valley between Tower-Roosevelt and the Northeast Entrance. Be prepared for some bison jams as well as lots of folks who will also congregate to these areas to catch a view of the bison rut.
While there are numerous geothermal features throughout Yellowstone, there are only three locations where the right combination of cool river water and hot geothermal water mix to provide a unique experience for those interested in swimming or soaking in a natural hot tub or wading on a hot summer day.
· Firehole Swimming Area: Located on the Firehole Canyon Drive of the Madison to Old Faithful road section, is a portion of the Firehole River where hydrothermal hot springs bubble up from the river’s bottom and along its bank to create a warmed section of the river perfect for visitors to jump into and swim through. A short boardwalk down to the river provides easy access and two restrooms across from the swimming provide the amenities to help make the experience more convenient. The parking is limited right next to the swimming area, but a larger more accommodating parking lot is located upstream within easy walking distance to the area.
· Boiling River Swimming Area: Located between the North Entrance and Mammoth Hot Springs is the Boiling River swimming area adjacent to the Gardner River. You will need to take a .5-mile hike from the parking lot (where restrooms are located) to get there, but the opportunity to relax in one of nature’s hot pools is worth the hike.
· Madison River Wading Area: Located a short southward walking distance from Madison Campground is the confluence of the Firestone and Gibbon Rivers in what is known as Madison Valley. Because the Firehole river has multiple geothermal hot springs located along its course as it flows down Firehole Canyon, the river is still fairly warm when it reaches its joining point with the Gibbon River. During the hot summer days of August, you can often see dozens of park visitors wading and playing in the shallow areas of the Madison River while also enjoying the spectacular beauty of Madison Valley and nearby National Park Mountain.
Located adjacent to the nearby Information Station and amphitheater just east of the wading area is a stone monument with a large plaque mounted on top that reads, “Here at the junction of the Firehole and Gibbon Rivers on September 19, 1870, members of the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition gathered around a campfire the last evening of their historic exploration of the Yellowstone country and discussed the astonishing natural wonders they had seen. There emerged an idea, expressed by Cornelius Hedges, that there should be no private ownership of these wonders but that the area should be preserved for pubic enjoyment. Others shared these views, and on March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Act establishing Yellowstone as the world’s first National Park.” Kind of fun to know that you are wading in the waters where the decision to create Yellowstone as a national park was inspired.
Yup, Christmas is also celebrated during the month of August in Yellowstone National Park. Christmas in August as it is now known as, is an annual and parkwide tradition that includes every hotel in the park having decorated Christmas Tree in the lobby, Christmas Carol singing and gift exchanges by park employees, and cookies being passed to park visitors.
The origin of this event is not exactly known, but there are a few different versions that are talked about for giving rise to the celebration. Versions of its origin include an early and freakish 20th century blizzard that stranded many park visitors on August 25th at Old Faithful who then decided to make the most of the situation by engaging in a Christmas type celebration to match the white Christmas time looking outdoors. Another possible origin put forth, occurring in the 1940’s, was the annual celebration of “Savage Days” by early park concessioner employees (called Savages back in the day) at Old Faithful that later morphed into a larger event, called Savage Christmas, that some felt was disrupting the services for park visitors. About this time an organization called “A Christian Ministry in the National Parks” became involved with the event and started to bring a more serious Christmas celebratory component to the event. There is much more information and speculation surrounding the origin of this event, but that is for the person who really wants to pursue it further.
Learn about Yellowstone at the various Amphitheater Ranger Lead Campfire Programs
Beginning Memorial Day weekend and continuing to Labor Day weekend (individual locations vary in opening and closing dates as well as program start times), knowledgeable and friendly park rangers provide informative nightly slide show presentations of educational learning opportunities about Yellowstone, its history, culture, natural wonders, and wildlife. Programs last approximately 45 minutes. As you travel the park there are 10 locations that offer the campfire programs and program topics and start times are posted on the campground bulletin boards and sometimes at the local visitor center if applicable. The locations are:
- Bay Bridge Madison
- Canyon Village Mammoth Hot Springs
- Fishing Bridge Old Faithful
- Grant Village Tower
- Indian Creek West Entrance
Camping and Star Gazing
August in Yellowstone is a great time for camping in Yellowstone and gathering around the campfire to enjoy the tried and proven family activity of star gazing. The nights while cool, they are still warm enough and about perfect for sitting around the fire and looking skyward on a clear night to count the number of shooting stars or passing satellites. It’s been a tradition of our family for years having grown up enjoying the experience with my parents and siblings, and now with my own family.
When the evening grows late and the fire dims, we often cuddle up in our warm camp blankets and turn our attention to counting the number of shooting stars. Those little ones sure get excited about spotting a shooting star. Spotting a passing satellite is another treasure to spot in the sky at night. This is a great setting for reminiscing about the events of the day, the anticipation for the events of tomorrow, and some meaningful interactions with family. And if you are lucky enough to have a really good storyteller in the family, that can provide an added bonus to the evening.
You can certainly fish at various places in the park throughout the entire summer season. Some places are better in the springtime, others in the fall, and some during the summer months, and for the purposes of this article, during the month of August. Because July and August is the peak tourist season for the park there are typically many anglers vying for spots to fish on the more known rivers and especially those close to the road where a long hike is not required to get to the stream.
The northern part of the park, from Mammoth Hot Springs to Lamar Valley, are the best places to fish in August, and some places in the southern part of the park may even be closed to protect the fish due to warm water temperatures. Let’s look at the rivers that run through this part of the park and how to fish them during the month of August.
· Gardner River: A good place to fish the Gardner River this time of year is to hike down from a parking lot on either side of the Gardner Canyon Bridge and fish up or down stream. Rainbow, brown, cutthroat and brook trout inhabit this stretch of the river. For details on the flies to use on the Gardner River click HERE.
· Yellowstone River (Black Canyon area): This time of year, the water has dropped, and the river is filled with boulders and riffles providing a lot of location options where the fish can be found. For details on the flies to use on the Yellowstone River click HERE.
· Lamar River: From the confluence of the Lamar and Yellowstone Rivers upstream to the entrance to Lamar Valley, and from here to its confluence with the Soda Butte River this river offers prime fishing to those willing to get off the main drive a bit. For details on the flies to use on the Lamar River click HERE.
· Slough Creek: This is one of the more famous areas for fishing with large trout occupying the deeper and slower parts of the creek in the lower meadows, and multiple fishing spots are found along the upper meadows for those willing to hike the distance to these beautiful locations. For details on the flies to use on Slough Creek click HERE.
· Soda Butte Creek: From Thunderer Trailhead located about a mile up the road from Pebble Creek Campground, down to and through the valley to the its confluence with the Lamar River, the Soda Butte offers lots of stretches with plenty of cutthroat and rainbow trout. For details on the flies to use on Soda Butte Creek click HERE.
Planning a trip to Yellowstone? Click HERE for the Yellowstone Interactive Map to help customize your own Yellowstone experience. It provides detailed information of things to do and see specific to each of Yellowstone’s 14 road sections.