In terms of star power, no carnivore in Yellowstone National Park tops either the grizzly bear or the gray wolf.
And while they may have star power, they aren’t much interested in publicity. They’re not as rare as eruptions from Steamboat Geyser, but the chances of seeing either a grizzly bear or wolf (or both) is pretty slim. You can wait of course. There’s a whole culture around waiting in pullouts in the Lamar and Hayden valleys (and elsewhere) waiting with binoculars and long-zoom camera lenses, salivating at the prospect of spotting a wolf pack or mama bear with her cubs. But what to do if you don’t have the time or patience to see a grizzly bear or wolf in their natural habitat?
The Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center near West Yellowstone, MT may have the answer to your prayers. It doesn’t offer the same thrill as chancing upon a grizzly bear off in the meadows or a lone wolf rising over a ridge, but make no mistake: the animals populating the Center are not tame in the least. They’re educationally wild.
This itinerary starts in Canyon Village and heads west to the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center, before sweeping back to Canyon.
Raptors and Wolves And Bears, Oh My! A Trek to the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center
Suggested Starting Time: 9-10 a.m.
When you leave depends on when you want to get to the Grizzly Bear & Wolf Discovery Center, as well as when/where you want to have lunch and whether you want to visit Norris Geyser Basin on your way to West Yellowstone. The drive between Canyon and West Yellowstone is only an hour approximately.
All the restaurants in Canyon Village serve breakfast at some point in the season. The Canyon Lodge Dining Room serves both sit-down breakfast and a buffet, while the Deli opens at 7:30 a.m. every day through the summer season. The Canyon Lodge Cafeteria mainly specializes in lunch/dinner but serves breakfast from July to the middle of September.
If you’re looking to get on the road quickly, you should just grab something to snack on in the car from the Canyon General Store.
Hitting The Road
The route to West Yellowstone is pretty straightforward—just shoot down the stretch between Canyon and Norris, then follow the Grand Loop Road to Madison Junction and westward out of the Park.The road is spare on major attractions, though there is one you should make a point of seeing if you can.
This lovely falls is just off the Norris-Canyon road, accessible via a short road. The route is sometimes closed due to inclement weather; you should inquire at a ranger station whether the Virginia Cascades are open before venturing out.
Norris Geyser Basin (Optional)
You won’t be able to see the wealth of Norris Geyser Basin in a short period of time—it sprawls and sprawls and sprawls. If you want a quick tour, you should head down to Porcelain Basin, through the Norris Museum. Otherwise, you can always jot down to Cistern Spring and Echinus Geyser, in the Back Basin. But everything beyond that will require much more time.
Norris to Madison
The road to Madison from Norris encompasses some gorgeous scenery. Bison and elk are likely to appear. And there are several features worth stopping at if you have the time.
Artist Paintpots (Optional)
While pretty, the Artist Paintpots aren’t much of a roadside destination. You have to walk a bit from a parking lot to the features themselves, but it’s worth it if you’ve got the time.
You’ll see this thermal feature steaming from the passenger side. Fairly popular, it’s worth a stop if you want to stretch your legs a bit and see a little pocket of Yellowstone hydrothermals.
One of the major waterfalls on the western half of the Park, Gibbon Falls is well worth a stop. In addition, the parking lot/walkways around it were recently renovated, making it more accessible.
Madison Junction offers its fair share of enjoyment to visitors, but on a trip like this, it’s a turning point and/or rest-stop at best.
Madison to West Yellowstone
It’s pretty much smooth driving through this portion of the Park.You’ll want to keep an eye out for wildlife along the Madison River, as well as the spaces between National Park Mountain and Mount Haynes.
Lunch: West Yellowstone
Being a gateway community to Yellowstone National Park, West Yellowstone is well equipped for feeding visitors coming its way. Most of the restaurants in town are concentrated on North Canyon Street. The Center is located on South Canyon Street.
Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center
The Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center doesn’t advertise itself as a zoo; in many ways, it isn’t a zoo. In fact, the Center articulates its exact purpose here, on its homepage: “The Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center is an AZA accredited Not-for-Profit, wildlife park and educational facility. The Center offers every visitor to Yellowstone a chance to uniquely experience the world of grizzly bears and gray wolves. All the animals at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center are unable to survive in the wild and serve as ambassadors for their wild counterparts.
The animals on site (grizzly bears, wolves, and birds-of-prey) are indeed ambassadors—wildly charismatic ambassadors. Some of the bears, for instance, are named for figures from Yellowstone history: a pair of grizzly brothers are named Grant and Roosevelt, for the U.S. Presidents. It’s not the same, obviously, as seeing them in their natural habitat, but at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center, it’s a chance to see them up close and understand that the animals there are the same as the ones roving around Yellowstone National Park.
There is a wealth of programs available for kids and adults alike; the only limit on your time spent there is your level of entertainment.
Hitting The Road
You know the drill: your drive will take you approximately an hour from the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center. If you’re looking to get to Canyon Village for dinner and you’ve got some time, this is when you should consider stopping at Artist Paintpots and/or Norris Geyser Basin.
Dinner: Canyon Village
Depending on where you ate breakfast, you might want to change things up a bit. So, for instance, if you ate at the Deli, try the Cafeteria. Or if the Cafeteria doesn’t suit you, head over to the Dining Room.
Lodging in Canyon Village is available through the Canyon Lodges as well as camping in the Canyon Campground.