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About Gray Wolves

In the US, there were thought to be two species of Wolves: the Gray Wolf, and the Red Wolf. The Red Wolf is highly endangered with wild populations numbering only 100 - 120 Red Wolves. For more information, see the Red Wolf page. However, federal researchers are now saying that the Eastern Wolf, long thought to be a subspecies of the Gray Wolf, is actually it own species. See the USA Today Story on Eastern Wolves.

Gray wolves are a social animal that hunts and travels in packs. The pack will consist of a dominant pair of breeding wolves known as the alpha wolf pair, their current offspring, and a few yearlings or other young wolves. There is a definite hierarchy system within every pack with the dominant pair being referred to as alpha and the lowest member in the hierarchy known as the omega wolf. The social order of pack members will change throughout time as wolves sexually mature, reach old age, become ill, and become weakened. If one of the alpha pair dies or becomes weakened, the next most dominant wolf (referred to as the beta wolf) will take its place. In a pack, only the alpha male and female are allowed to breed. Any attempt at breeding by other members of the pack is met with aggression by the alpha pair. Although the largest documented pack was one of 36 animals in Alaska, the average wolf pack consists of four to seven individuals.

Where to See a Gray Wolf

Gray wolves can be found in the wild only in the states of Alaska, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan (and small sections of Oregon and Washington). See the wolf range maps for details below of their range in the continental 48 states. Of course, if you really want to see wolves, head to Canada (which has a much larger population of wolves).

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Grey Wolf Range in the United States

Gray Wolf Range in the USA

The United States has up to 13,000 gray wolves. Specifically defining the Gray Wolf Range in the United States: Alaska has a stable population of 6,000-7,000 wolves. Minnesota has the second largest population of about 3,000 wolves. Both Wisconsin and Michigan each have healthy populations of 600 wolves. The Rocky Mountain states (Wyoming, Idaho and Montana) have an approximate total population of over 1,600 gray wolves (up from near extinction in these states only 15 years ago), including 500 wolves in the greater Yellowstone area. In Canada, the population of gray wolves is approximately 55,000 to 60,000.

In Yellowstone National Park, as of 2011, at least 98 wolves in 10 packs (8 breeding pairs), with 2 loners occupied Yellowstone). This is the same population size as 2010 (97 wolves) so represents a stable population. Breeding pairs were also stable at eight. The wolf population has declined approximately 60% since 2007 mostly because of a smaller elk population, the main food of northern range wolves. The Yellowstone Park Ranger detected 343 kills made by wolves in 2011, including 267 elk (78%), 15 bison (4%), 18 deer (5%), 1 moose (<1%), 2 pronghorn (<1%), 2 bighorn sheep (<1%), 2 badgers (< 1%), 1 jackrabbit (<1%), and 14 coyotes (4%).

In addition, approximately 50 Mexican Wolves (a distinct subspecies of Gray Wolf) have been reintroduced to the wild in the states of Arizona and New Mexico. The Mexican Wolf is highly endangered, with a total population of only roughly 300 wolves (most of whom live in captive breeding facilities). Only approximately 100 individual wolves roam free in the wild, in two distinct wolf ranges in Arizona and New Mexico (see map below). For much more detailed information on the Mexican Wolf, see the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program Home.

Hunting Effects on Gray Wolf Population

Gray Wolf Range in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana
Gray Wolf Population in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana

The area of the northern Rocky Mountains has been a tremendous success for the reintroduction of the gray wolf. The populations totals have climbed from near zero to over 1600 wolves. There weren't any wolves in Wyoming until the federal government reintroduced them in the 1990s. As of 2010 there are at least 329 in the state. And Idaho has a population of 705 wolves, while Montana has a population of 566 wolves (also as of 2010, when the wolves were delisted).

Unfortunately, the US federal government has delisted the Gray Wolf from the endangered species list in Idaho and Montana in 2011 (as well as Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan), and put the wolves under state control. Wolves are expected to be delisted from Wyoming in 2012. And because of the delisting from the Endangered Species List, states are free to set up hunting seasons for wolves.

As of March 1, 2012, Montana and Idaho listed the following total wolves killed in the first hunting season (see Montana Wolf Hunting Results and Idaho Wolf Harvest for 2012:

- 166 wolves killed in Montana

- 341 wolves killed in Idaho (including both trapping and hunting)

This hunting harvest -- in the first year alone -- has decimated the population. Thus, the wolf population number have already decrease dramatically (by at least 466 wolves in the 2011-2012 hunting season). With Wyoming set to start a wolf hunting season too, it is unlikely that there will be many wild wolves outside Yellowstone within a year or two.

Gray Wolf Pack Range Map in Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park

Gray wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in 1995, and it is your single best bet for seeing a Gray Wolf. Today, the reintroduction has been widely heralded as a great success In Yellowstone National Park, in Lamar Valley, early in the morning or near dark, is certainly your best bet. In the past decade, the park has become home again to gray wolves, who were absent from the park for more than 60 years due to extermination by park rangers. Park rangers now play an active role in conserving the wolves, who are a valuable component of this amazing ecosystem. Today, there are an estimated 100 wolves in Yellowstone, and over 500 wolves in the greater Yellowstone area.

The best way to see the animals is to get up early and head to the Lamar Valley, where elk herds graze under the watchful eyes of the wolf packs who prey on them. If you're lucky, you may even get to see the wolves attack the weaker members of the herd. Most animals are out grazing at dawn and retreat into the woods as people gather along the road to spy on them. For more information, see Wolves of Yellowstone for detailed information of the wolf packs, number of wolves, and range of each wolf pack.

The Best Place - The Lamar Valley - a magical name for the wolf groupie fraternity. If you want to see Canis Lupus the Lamar is the place to be. The Druid Peak pack lives there most of the year and surrounding packs make their appearance on a regular basis. The prey base is huge, the Lamar River insulates the wolves from most human contact, and the large open valley is a great place to spot in. If you go to see the wolves, try to stay as close to the Lamar Valley as you can. Roosevelt lodge is a good option if you want to stay in the park, but its season is short. Silvergate and Cooke City both have lodging available and camping is nearby at Pebble Creek and Slough Creek campgrounds. Close is good because you want to be at the Lamar Valley at dawn and dusk. We've seen wolves at 2:00 in the afternoon, but our best sightings have occurred from 6:00am to 10:00am.

In the Lamar good viewing begins from about a mile east of Soda Butte cone all the way to the last turnout (Fishermans) before the Lamar canyon. The Slough Creek area is also good from the Slough Creek campground road entrance through Little America to the Yellowstone Picnic area. The wolves can be anywhere in those areas. When you reach the Lamar look for people with spotting scopes and radios. They will probably be wolf spotters for the Park Service. Ask them if they see anything presently, what recent activity they have observed or heard of in the park, if there are any carcasses, the location of the packs, and where they think are the best places for seeing wolves. These people are generally very nice and very willing to help.

If nothing is visible, you can cruise the common areas like everyone else. I would glass these places regularly:

1. The Druid Pack rendezvous site

2. Jasper Bench (straight across from Dorothy's knoll).

3. The Slough Creek hills and across the road from Slough in Little America.

4. In denning season you should spend time at the Hitching post or Hiking bridge pull offs at dusk and dawn to see the wolves leave and return to the den.

5. Listen for coyotes yipping. When they yip the wolves will often start howling, making it easier to locate them. A wolf's howl is much deeper and more mournful than a coyote's.

6. Watch for prey species to indicate that a predator is in the area. If elk, bison or pronghorn are facing one direction or are bunched together looking nervous, that's a great sign that a wolf or bear is close by.

It helps to know the packs seasonal behavior so you know where to look for them. In the spring (April/May) they have pups. This means that they will stay very close to their dens, leaving only to hunt and feed and returning to bring back food to the puppies and the alpha female. In June and July the pups are big enough to move to the rendevous site, so they become more mobile, but still typically hang out in their usual territory. In July and August the elk go up to the high country to get the sweet grass there and avoid the bugs. The packs usually follow them to the summer grounds where they stay until cooler weather rolls in around September. Then they return to the wintering grounds where they and the prey stay through spring. For more info, see Wolf Watching at Yellowstone.

Northern Rockies

The area of the northern Rocky Mountains has been a tremendous success for the reintroduction of the gray wolf. The populations totals have climbed from near zero to over 1600 wolves. There weren't any wolves in Wyoming until the federal government reintroduced them in the 1990s. Now there are at least 329 in the state. Unfortunately, the US federal government has delisted the Gray Wolf from the endangered species list in Idaho and Montana in 2011 (and also parts of Oregon and Washington), and put the wolves under state control. Wolves are expected to be delisted from Wyoming in 2012. Wolves were also delisted from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan as well.

Within a year or two, based on the results from the first hunting season, the population of wild wolves may be wiped out (outside of Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Park).

Gray Wolf Population in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana

Grand Tetons National Park

Other than Yellowstone, the best national park to see Gray Wolves is the Grand Teton National Park. As wolves repopulated Yellowstone, their offspring, as anticipated, dispersed and recolonized areas surrounding the park, including Jackson Hole, the large, high-elevation valley that includes Grand Teton National Park. You can see Wolves at all times and in all seasons, but the best time to see wolves is winter, when the wolves are hunting prey at lower elevations in open fields. Wolves are most active at dawn and dusk. There are currently 5 main wolf packs in the Grand Teton area. See the Grand Teton Wolf Range Map for a map of the wolf packs in the Grand Teton area.

Isle Royale, Michigan

The classic North Woods forest that covers most of Isle Royale National Park in Michigan is home to steadily growing wolf and moose populations. Both animals were only recently reintroduced to Isle Royale, an isolated island in the northwest corner of Lake Superior. You're more likely to hear wolves than see them, but their splendid howl will serenade you if you spend a night in the backcountry. A 2010 census counted 19 wolves on Isle Royale.

The popular Greenstone Ridge Trail runs for 40 miles along the spine of the islands and affords spectacular views as well as moose sightings. Watch for moose wading, sipping, and nibbling in the water as you follow the trail through dense woods, past bogs, and up high peaks with panoramic views. Hikers on the 13-mile Rock Harbor Trail may encounter moose swimming up to the Moskey Basin dock. Anyone spending a night in the park is bound to hear the howl of wolves and loons throughout the night.

Isle Royale is different than most national parks in that it requires real planning and preparation to visit. The park, actually an archipelago of 200 islands, is quite remote. Just getting to one of its three ports of departure — Houghton, Michigan, Copper Harbor, Michigan, or Grand Harbor, Minnesota — requires some planning. Once visitors arrive in their chosen port town, they take a passenger ferry or a seaplane (from Houghton only) to the narrow, 45-mile-long island.

Montana Gray Wolf Range


If you want to see a Wolf in Montana, Good Luck. Your odds of seeing a wolf in Montana are fairly low, as the hunting makes the wolves especially skittish of human contact. That said, here is a map (to the right) which lists the location of each wolf pack in Montana. Click on the map to enlarge it. Or follow this link to see the original map maintained by Montana Fish & Wildlife Wolf Range in Montana.

For a complete list of the Wolf resources published by the Montana Fish & WIldlife, see their Wolf Link.

Jasper National Park, Canada

Winter is the time of year where wolf photography is at a peak, and there’s no better place in the Canadian Rockies to find wolves than in Jasper National Park, where more than five different packs can be found near roads that traverse the park. My favourite areas to look for wolves in Jasper include the Maligne Lake Road and Highway 16 west of town into Mt Robson Provincial Park. If it’s solitude and wolves that you desire, then try the Snaring River Road first thing in the morning. And if you want to try the Icefields Parkway, check out my $10 e-guide to finding and photographing wildlife along this famous roadway: How to Photograph Wildlife in the Canadian Rockies. Keep in mind that Jasper wolves are wild animals and that you often get better images of them using long lenses and remaining in your vehicle. Happy shooting! -- John E. Marriott



Gray Wolves in the Western Great Lakes States Home

Mexican Wolf Recovery Program Home

Grand Teton Wolf Range Map

Wolves of Yellowstone

Wolf Watching at Yellowstone