Safety

Photo of people on the boardwalks at Mammoth Hot Springs
Enjoying views from the boardwalk at Mammoth Hot Springs: boardwalks keep you safe, and protect the park's thermal features.

NPS/Neal Herbert

 

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 animals. 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.

 

Bear Jams

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3 minutes, 36 seconds

What should you do in a bear jam? Bear Management Biologist Kerry Gunther and Park Ranger John Kerr describe some best practices for handling these potentially dangerous situations.

 

Driving

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.

Elevation

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.

Bison

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.

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.
  • 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.

Water

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 hypothermia and stream crossings on our backcountry safety page.

Animals & Human Food

Never feed wildlife, even birds and squirrels. Animals that become dependent on human food may become aggressive toward people and have to be killed. Animals also carry diseases that can be transmitted to people. Be especially watchful around ravens: they can unzip or unfasten many different kinds of buckles and latches.

Bears

  • All of Yellowstone is bear habitat, even the boardwalks around Old Faithful (and other thermal areas).
  • Never pursue a bear to take its picture. When viewing bears along roads, use pullouts and stay in or near your car.
  • Keep all food, garbage, and other scented items stored in bear-proof containers when not in use.
  • Follow the best practices for hiking in bear country: be alert, make noise, hike in groups, do not run, carry bear spray and know how to use it.
  • If you see someone hurt by a bear, witness aggressive bear behavior, or see a bear obtain or try to obtain human food or garbage, call 911 immediately or notify any park ranger.

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.

Wolves

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.

Winter

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.

 

Last updated: September 18, 2017

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 168
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0168

Phone:

(307) 344-7381

Contact Us