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Wonders abound in Yellowstone, though many come with an unfamiliar danger. Learn how to adventure through Yellowstone safely.


Protect Your Park; Protect Yourself

Yellowstone’s scenic wonders are sure to take your breath away: don’t let them take your life. From boiling hot springs to thousands of wild animals, some of the hazards in Yellowstone will be new to you. Protect yourself and the sights you plan to enjoy by following a few simple rules:

  • Never approach wildlife
    The animals in Yellowstone are wild and unpredictable, no matter how calm they appear to be. The safest (and often best) view of wildlife is from inside a car. Always stay at least 100 yards (91 m) away from bears and wolves, and at least 25 yards (23 m) away from all other animals, including bison and elk.

  • Stay on boardwalks and trails in thermal areas
    Hot springs have injured or killed more people in Yellowstone than any other natural feature. Keep your children close and don’t let them run.

  • Never feed wildlife
    Animals that become dependent on human food may become aggressive toward people and have to be killed. Keep all food, garbage, or other smelly items packed away when not in use.

  • Never park in the road or block traffic
    Use pullouts to watch wildlife and let other cars pass. Stay with your vehicle if you encounter a wildlife jam.

We can’t guarantee your safety in Yellowstone, but these concepts will help you avoid the most common accidents. See below for more great advice, and be sure to review our Rules & Regulations, Laws & Policies, and tips for backcountry travel.

If you have an emergency, dial 911 or notify any park ranger.


Thermal Areas

Boardwalks and trails protect you and delicate thermal formations. Water in hot springs can cause severe or fatal burns, and scalding water underlies most of the thin, breakable crust around hot springs.

  • Always walk on boardwalks and designated trails. Keep children close and do not let them run on boardwalks.
  • Do not touch thermal features or runoff.
  • Swimming or soaking in hot springs is prohibited. More than 20 people have died from burns suffered after they entered or fell into Yellowstone’s hot springs.
  • Pets are prohibited in thermal areas.
  • Do not throw objects into hot springs or other hydrothermal features.
  • Toxic gases may accumulate to dangerous levels in some hydrothermal areas. If you begin to feel sick while exploring one of our geyser basins, leave the area immediately.

Thermal Comparison: Dangerous Ground!

Infrared scene shows the hot water of the hot spring (in yellow) in contrast the the surrounding cool landscape (in blue) Infrared scene shows the hot water of the hot spring (in yellow) in contrast the the surrounding cool landscape (in blue)

Left image
Infrared view (yellow = hottest, blue = coolest)
Credit: NPS/Dave Krueger

Right image
Normal view of Crested Pool
Credit: NPS/Dave Krueger

Set of comparison photographs of Crested Pool. Note the lethally hot waters of the pool, as well as the very hot grounds surrounding the hydrothermal feature.



know your distance for safe wildlife watching
Enjoy watching Yellowstone's animals but STAY SAFE. They are WILD and DANGEROUS. Know your distance.


All of Yellowstone is bear country, from the trails in the park’s backcountry to the boardwalks and parking lots around Old Faithful. Your safety cannot be guaranteed, but you can play an active role in protecting yourself and the bears people come here to enjoy.

  • Give bears space. Keep at least 100 yards (93 meters) from bears at all times and never approach a bear to take a photo.
  • Carry bear spray and know how to use it. We recommend each person carry one can of bear spray in a readily accessible location like a quick-draw holster (not stowed away in your backpack).
  • Hike in groups and make noise. Since 1970, 91% of the people injured by bears in Yellowstone were hiking alone or with only one hiking partner. Only 9% of the people injured by bears were in groups of three or more people. While hiking on a trail, periodically yell “Hey bear!” to alert bears of your presence. Learn more about backcountry safety.
  • Respect closures. Do not travel in areas closed for bear management.
  • Never feed bears. Bears that become dependent on human food may become aggressive toward people and will be killed.
  • Stay with your stuff. Do not leave packs or bags containing food unattended, even for a few minutes, as bears learn new food sources quickly.
  • If a bear approaches or touches your car, honk your horn and drive away. We want to discourage this behavior for the bears’ safety and yours.
  • Help us spread the word! Share posters from our "A Bear Doesn't Care" campaign.

If you’re involved in a conflict with a bear, regardless of how minor, contact us or report it to a park ranger as soon as possible. If cell service is available, dial 911. The lives of other people, and the bear, may depend on it.

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Bear spray is proven to be highly successful at stopping aggressive behavior in bears. Bear Management Biologist Kerry Gunther walks through the steps to deploy bear spray.


Important Notes about Bear Spray

  • Do not use bear spray like insect repellent. It does not work as a deterrent when applied to people or equipment.

  • Make sure your bear spray is EPA-approved and check the expiration date on the can.

  • Bear spray can explode if it reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius). Don't store it in the passenger compartment of vehicles or near any heat sources.

Bear spray is sold at gift shops, outdoor stores, service stations, and bookstores inside the park, as well as in local communities. Always select an EPA-approved product that is specifically designed to stop bears.

Bear spray is available for rent at Canyon Village in the kiosk located near the Canyon Visitor Education Center and at Old Faithful in the Yurt located south of the Yellowstone Tribal Heritage Center. For more information, visit Bear Aware.

Bear spray cannot be taken on airplanes and may cause injury if thrown away. Please check locally within the park for locations where bear spray canisters can be recycled.



Bison have injured more people in Yellowstone than any other animal. Bison are unpredictable and can run three times faster than humans. Always stay at least 25 yards (23 m) away from bison.

  • Give bison space when they are near a campsite, trail, boardwalk, parking lot, or in a developed area. If need be, turn around and go the other way to avoid interacting with a wild animal in close proximity. 

  • Approaching bison threatens them, and they may respond by bluff charging, head bobbing, pawing, bellowing, or snorting. These are warning signs that you are too close and that a charge is imminent.

  • Do not stand your ground. Immediately walk or run away from the animal. Spray bear spray as you are moving away if the animal follows you.


Cow elk are especially fierce and protective around their calves in the spring. Around Mammoth Hot Springs, they often hide calves near cars or buildings. Be cautious when exiting buildings or approaching blind corners. In the fall, bull elk battle for access to cows and challenge other males during the rut. They also charge cars and people who get too close.

  • Always stay at least 25 yards (23 m) away from elk.
  • In an elk charges, get away! Retreat to shelter in a building or vehicle or behind a tall, sturdy barrier as quickly as possible.


Wolves are not normally a danger to people, unless they become habituated to their presence and food (there has never been an attack in Yellowstone). Two habituated wolves have been killed in the park. Help us protect wolves in Yellowstone by:

  • Remaining at least 100 yards away when watching or photographing them.
  • Telling a ranger if you see wolves near developed areas or approaching people.
  • Keeping your dog leashed at all times when it’s outside a vehicle.

If you’re concerned about a wolf because it’s too close or not showing any fear of people, stand tall and hold your ground. If the wolf approaches you, wave your arms, yell, and flare your jacket. If that doesn’t discourage it, throw something at it or use bear spray. Group up with other people, continue waving and yelling, and tell a ranger as soon as possible.

Do not handle wolf scat: it may contain tapeworm eggs that can cause hydatid disease in humans.


Environmental Conditions


Most of the park lies more than a mile above sea level, so give yourself time to adjust to the elevation before engaging in any strenuous activity.

Falling Trees

Wildfires have left thousands of standing dead trees that can fall with little or no warning. In 2015, a falling tree killed someone on a hill near the Midway Geyser Basin. Avoid areas with large numbers of dead trees, and watch for dead trees along trails and roads, or in campsites and picnic areas.


More than 100 people have died in Yellowstone’s lakes and rivers. Cold water makes hypothermia a year-round risk, and spring snow melt makes rivers dangerous to cross. Read more about hypothermia and stream crossings on our backcountry safety page.


Winter brings its own set of challenges, including sub-zero temperatures, icy roads, and blinding snow storms. Read more about staying safe while enjoying Yellowstone's quiet season.


Human-related Concerns


Traffic-related accidents are the most common cause of injury and death in the park. Don’t let the scenery distract you: drive cautiously and watch for animals. If you need to stop for any reason, use a pullout: do not block traffic. The speed limit in Yellowstone is 45 mph (73 kph) unless posted otherwise. Pack your patience: winding roads and traffic often make drive times much longer than expected. Other road hazards include soft shoulders, potholes, and frost heaves. If you have detachable side mirrors, please remove them when you're not pulling a trailer. For details on road closures and construction, check out our park roads page.

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3 minutes, 36 seconds

Bear Management Biologist Kerry Gunther and Park Ranger John Kerr describe some best practices for handling these potentially dangerous situations.

A hiker watches an approaching storm on Specimen Ridge
Backcountry Safety

Best practices for exploring the backcountry.

A pair of skiers on the Barronette Trail.
Winter Safety

Prepare for cold air, deep snow, and slippery boardwalks.

Visitors enjoying the thermally-heated waters at the Firehole Canyon Swim Area
Swim and Soak

As most of Yellowstone's waters are dangerous, there are very limited opportunities to swim or soak. Always follow park regulations.

People hiking through a meadow of yellow flowers.
Take the Yellowstone Pledge

Take the pledge. Tell a friend. Protect the park.

Two girls stand in front of a large Yellowstone National Park sign while their dad photographs them
Plan Your Visit

Yellowstone is seasonal. Plan your visit by learning about current conditions, seasons, road conditions, services, activities, and more.

Last updated: March 28, 2024

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

PO Box 168
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0168



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