Lamar Valley was named for Lucius Lamar, the Secretary of Interior in 1885. For over a century it was one of the least visited areas of the park. But lately, it has become a very popular for wolf watching. The broad expansive valley was sculpted by glacial ice and strewn with glacial ponds and boulders dropped by melting ice. Flanked by the steep ridges and peaks of the lofty Absaroka Mountains and dotted with aspen groves, the valley is bisected by cottonwoods along the Lamar River. It is truly beautiful.
And it is seething with wildlife. As wintering ground for hundreds of bison and thousands of elk, it is a great place to see the large prey species of the park. And where there’s prey, there are bound to be predators. Sometimes called the American Serengeti, Lamar Valley is the best place in the world to view wild wolves.
When wolves were reintroduced to the park in 1995 the first packs were released in Lamar Valley because it is perfect wolf habitat with all the elk and wide-open space in which to chase them. Though wolves have spread out over the park, the Northern Range still supports the highest density of wolves and their pack territories overlap here.
Visitors and researchers enjoy watching wolves hunt, eat, sleep, fight and play. Some thrill at hearing the wolves howl. In Lamar Valley, the wolves not only interact with their prey, but also with coyotes, ravens, grizzlies and even other wolves. No one predicted they would be this visible but 20,000 people see wolves each year in Yellowstone.
Because they are so visible, researchers are learning new things about wolf behavior and ecology. Their return is certainly changing the valley and there are many theories about how wolves will affect the ecosystem. Now that they’re back, we’ll just have to wait and see.