At the turn of the century, America's wild bison — which at one time numbered 60 million — had dwindled to about two dozen animals. Strong, sturdy and resilient, they’ve made a comeback, thanks to public and private conservation efforts.

On the range, in refuges and national parks, this symbol of our wildlife heritage is magnificent to observe.

Here are five places where you and your family members can revel in wide open spaces and perhaps snap a shot of this American icon – with a zoom lens:

1. Yellowstone National Park, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho

America’s first national park is the only place in the United States where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times.

Home to approximately 3,500 bison, many are the descendants of the few who survived near-extinction. Social animals that often form herds often directed by older females, they are most active during the day. Pay attention to ranger warnings and keep your distance as bison are agile, strong swimmers and can run 35 miles per hour. Despite their burly build and weighing up to 2,000 pounds, they can jump over objects about 5 feet high and have excellent hearing, vision and sense of smell. You’ll likely spot them in the Lamar and Hayden valleys. Also, be on the lookout near Pelican Valley, the Lower Geyser Basin and in Gibbon Meadows.


2. The National Bison Range, Mission Valley, Montana

Established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt, this historic range sprawls across 18,000 acres and is one of the oldest wildlife refuges in the nation. Located in the center of the 1.25 million-acre Flathead Indian Reservation, more than half of the NBR borders Native American trust land and waterways.

Today, visitors witness a diverse ecosystem of grasslands, Douglas fir and ponderosa pine forests, riparian areas and ponds. In addition to herds of bison, the range supports populations of Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, pronghorn and bighorn sheep, as well as coyotes, mountain lions, bears, bobcats and over 200 species of birds. Stop by the visitor’s center to learn about hiking, scenic drive, photography and fishing opportunities as well as information about current wildlife sightings.


3. Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

This family-owned and operated organization provides year-round wildlife viewing and natural history interpretation to those interested in a close-up view of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s wild creatures in their natural habitat. Offering half-day to multiday safaris, as well as photo safaris, the experienced guides use their knowledge, passion and skills to locate bison as well as elk, deer, moose, bighorn sheep and bears in one of the most beautiful landscapes in the country.


4. Custer State Park, South Dakota

Each year the public has been invited to hear the thunder of hooves and photograph the moment as experienced riders round up a herd of some 1,300 bison during the state’s Buffalo Round Up and Arts Festival. Considered a critical management tool in maintaining a healthy herd, the buffalo are corralled and then tested, branded and sorted. The fall event typically includes a pancake feed, Western and Native American entertainment and the chance to peruse the fine art and crafts offered by more than 150 vendors. Weather permitting, you can snag top-notch views of wildlife via the 18-mile Wildlife Loop State Scenic Byway. Possible sightings include elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep and the resident bison roaming the park.


5. Terry Bison Ranch, Cheyenne, Wyoming

This family-friendly ranch offers bison viewing year-round on a 27,000-acre spread that stretches into Colorado. A popular reunion spot, families can spread out into eight cabins, 17 bunkhouse rooms, as well as RV and tent sites. Home to nearly 3,000 bison, the ranch also features train rides, horseback riding, a restaurant and a trading post.



(Lynn O’Rourke Hayes ( is an author, family travel expert and enthusiastic explorer.  Gather more travel intel on Twitter @lohayes, Facebook, or via

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