Yellowstone Bobcats – How to Increase Your Chances of Finding this Elusive Cat
There are many reasons why people choose to visit Yellowstone National Park. Seeing wildlife ranks at the top of many visitors’ list. This place is truly one of the best places on earth to see and photograph an incredible array of wildlife. Many novice visitors are thrilled to see the common yet impressive critters like elk and bison. But others seek a more “once in a lifetime” type experience. Yellowstone is home to many rare animals. One that has drawn many into Yellowstone’s frozen winter landscape is the Bobcat.
Finding bobcats is extremely difficult so nothing is guaranteed, but there are strategies that you can implement to improve your chances of finding a bobcat on your next trip to Yellowstone. So, where should you go and what strategies can help you to find a bobcat in Yellowstone?
The most consistent Bobcat sightings occur along the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park during the winter months. Geothermal activity in the area prevents the Madison river from freezing creating an oasis for waterfowl in an otherwise frozen landscape. Bobcats take advantage of these unique circumstances and prey on the waterfowl that flock here. The best time to find them is early in the morning hours and late evening along the river’s edge as they hunt.
Tips for Spotting Bobcats in Yellowstone
Bobcats are elusive animals and very difficult to spot! When spotted, they are often hunkered down around rocky areas, among fallen logs of conifer forested area, or near rivers. Further, their tan/black patterned fur blends in with its surroundings quite well. Below are 5 tips that will increase your chances of spotting a Bobcat.
1- Search the log jams: Rarely will you spot a bobcat out in the open. They tend to stay in the brush or hidden under fallen logs, especially near the river’s edge. This offers them protection against other predators (wolf, coyote, mountain lion) and serves as cover from which they can ambush their prey.
2- Early morning and late evening hours: Bobcats are solitary animals, and while the morning and evening hours are the best time to spot wildlife in general, its especially true for bobcats.
3- Look for tracks and other disturbances: Look for tracks on the snow-covered log jams that line the banks of the Madison river. They use these structures to hunt. Bobcats will often take the path of least resistance when traveling. That means walking on the downed logs or atop rocks. Below is an unexpected video we took of a bobcat on our most recent trip to Yellowstone. Notice how often the bobcat chooses to stay on the logs as opposed to walking in the deep snow.
4- Patience in Key: Simply glancing along the river’s edge and along the mountain side and then moving on will not do the trick! You need to stop, get out and with patience scan with your spotting scope or binoculars, carefully looking for anything that moves, shows signs of animal activity, or simply looks out of place! Don’t be afraid to visit the same areas again and again if they look like particularly good hunting grounds.
5- Hire a guide: Did we mention finding a bobcat can be extremely difficult? Local knowledge can go a long way when trying to find such a rare animal. The two guides that are some of the best in the biz are Adam Brubaker with “Tied to Nature” and Chris Daniel with the “Three Bear Lodge”. These guys know what they are doing! They are very experienced guides taking people through the park and know how to find wildlife.
Visiting Yellowstone In the Winter
Yes, Yellowstone National Park is open during the winter months, however, travel within the park is limited to either Snowcoach, Snowmobiles, ski’s or Snowshoes. The one exception to this is the road section from North Entrance (Gardiner, MT) to Mammoth Hot Springs then over to Tower-Roseevelt then through the Larmar Valley to the Northeast Entrance (Cooke City-Silver Gate, MT). Weather permitting, you are able to travel by vehicle. You can learn more about this by reading our other Blog post titled, “Our Winter Road Trip to Yellowstone, and Why You Should Consider Such a Trip”. The road section from the West Entrance to the Madison Junction is not plowed. As such, you are limited to one of the four options mentioned above. Below is an overview of the different travel options.
Yellowstone Snowcoach: If staying warm and dry is a must, then this is the option for you! The snowcoaches can fit up to 14 people per tour and is fully heated with large open windows for easy viewing for wildlife.
Yellowstone Snowmobile Options: When it comes to Snowmobiles, you have two options. Self-Guided and Guided Tours. Note: Self-guided snowmobile trips are limited to one group per day per entrance. Permits are obtained through a lottery system. More info can be found here:
Ski/Snowshoes: This is a fun and unique way to view the park. It will take some work but the experience is rewarding! If you’re going just for the bobcats, then this may be the way to go. You will be able to take your time as you go along the Madison River, looking along the bank and hillside for the bobcat. Note: Being in shape is a must for this! For more details on this, please see our other article titled, “Yellowstone in the winter - Snowcoach, Snowmobiles, Ski’s or Snowshoes”.
Our Personal Bobcat Experiences in Yellowstone
Bobcat sightings were occurring somewhat regularly in 2016. Ryan and I had always wanted to see a Bobcat, so we decided to go out on an adventure to find one. Being a broke college kid and Ryan being a broke high school kid, our only option was to ski in from West Yellowstone until we hit the Madison. It was our first time on cross country skis. Having a 14-mile round trip as your first experience on skis is not ideal. We learned that the hard way. We continu
ed on anyway. The day was spent avoiding bison on the road, scanning the riverbanks and LOTS of skiing. No luck with Bobcats though. We turned around to start heading to back to West Yellowstone. About a mile into our return trek Ryan stopped skiing and asked to see the binoculars one last time to check out a dark object on the far side of the river. “It’s a bobcat!”, he shouted. We got to watch the Cat for the next 45 minutes or so as it ate a duck it must have just caught. Wildlife filmmakers from the BBC and Smithsonian later stopped and began filming the cat too. We found out that they were working on “Planet Earth 2” and “Epic Yellowstone”. As a blizzard moved in the cat took its kill up into the trees to finish it in the cover of the forest and we began the long trip back to our car parked outside of the west entrance. A truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Fast-forward five years and we still talk of our bobcat experience on the Madison all the time. I have always wanted to go back and look. As luck would have it, I drew a non-commercial permit to take snow mobiles into Yellowstone. We were going to get another chance to look for bobcats and this time without the grueling ski trip in. Trevor, Ryan and I wanted to see a few of the sights like old faithful and Yellowstone Canyon in the winter but we decided we would spend the majority of our time looking for bobcats along the Madison and that is exactly what we did. The trip had already been incredible. We spent many hours scanning the banks and going back and forth searching. As it was getting close to sunset on our last day in the park, we decided to take one more run along the river to find a cat. Once again Ryan spotted a Bobcat on the river’s edge! About a mile from where we saw the bobcat five years earlier. We couldn’t believe our luck. It gave me one good look for a photograph before moving down the river and hiding in a log jam. It remained hidden for about an hour. As the light faded it made an appearance from its hiding spot and moved up the hillside before tucking itself underneath a tree and out of sight. We were on cloud nine. Fortunately, Trevor had positioned himself differently from where Ryan and I had hiked to for the photograph and happened to have his cellphone with phone scope attached to our spotting scope and was able to capture some video of the bobcat on the move. This video is referenced above.
Some high-fives and hugs were exchanged as we relived what we had just experienced. Yellowstone provided us with yet another once-in-a-lifetime experience that we will never forget.
If your planning on visiting Yellowstone National Park, you should consider purchasing the Yellowstone Explored Travel Book. The book has all of this information and so much more! You can purchase the Yellowstone Explored book by clicking HERE.