Gallatin National Forest
large bull moose with velvety antlers in dimly lit aspen stand
Wildlife
 

 


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The mountain ecosystem of the Gallatin National Forest provides outstanding wildlife habitat for many species - some of which happen to be very rare in the lower 48. From winding rivers to majestic snowcapped peaks, the Gallatin National Forest has a wide range of habitat for numerous species.



All of the species that were here before European settlement still exist in the Gallatin, making it one of the few areas in the lower 48 to have those bragging rights. The Gallatin National Forest supports over three hundred species of animals! The most famous of these animals is the grizzly bear. These bears still roam the forest, with most of the population near the border with Yellowstone. Your chances of seeing these bears while in the forest is very slim. The forest is also home to bald eagles, golden eagles, moose, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, pronghorn, black bear, mountain lion, pine marten, bobcat, lynx, mule deer and whitetail deer.

big black bear standing on hind legs in meadow wqith grass in mouth looking at camera
A black bear rises to greet me in the Gallatin National Forest.

To be perfectly honest, viewing wildlife is more difficult in the Gallatin National Forest compared to Yellowstone because of the very thick tree cover and rugged terrain. There are just as many animals, they are just harder to see. If you wish to view wildlife consistently and more easily, Yellowstone is your best bet and is a relatively short drive away. But for those of us who prefer no crowds, there are opportunities to view wildlife in the Gallatin in a much more peaceful setting. For example, spending time along the forest roads near sunset and sunrise will most certainly get you some glimpses of grouse and wild turkey. You also have a very good chance of observing deer this way. In general, these hours of the day are always preferable for seeing wildlife. The animals are up early, and if you want to see them, you should be too. The moose image on this page was taken past sunset in an aspen patch a couple of summers ago. This particular moose would not reveal itself unless it was the crack of dawn or sunset.

American Dipper: Fast streams in the forest.
Bald Eagle: Yellowstone River, Gallatin River, Boulder River, Madison River, Hebgen Lake, Quake Lake.
Osprey: Yellowstone River, Gallatin River, Boulder River, Madison River, Hebgen Lake, Quake Lake.
Golden Eagle: Meadow areas with high cliffs, prairie areas bordering start of national forest.
Elk: Paradise Valley upper meadows, Gardiner area.
Grizzly bear: Eagle Creek campground and area north of Gardiner.
Black bear: Berry patches along roads in fall early and late(see image on camping page)
Wolf: Good luck! You can try to glass for them in open areas during the fall and winter.
Pine Marten: Mature conifer or mixed wood forests away from landscape disturbances. These guys will know you are coming from a mile away. Very difficult to see in the wild.
Wolverine: High alpine areas. You could live on the forest for one hundred years and never see one, but they are there.
Mountain lion: All over the forest but difficult to see.
Bighorn: Yankee Jim Canyon near Gardiner.
Pronghorn: Around Gardiner but also just south of Big Timber on Main Boulder Road.
Mule Deer: All over the forest, but north of Big Timber on way to Crazy Mountains in low light hours proves great viewing. Be incredibly careful though as the deer density there is through the roof.
River Otter: Yellowstone River, Madison River.
Badger: Open areas bordering start of national forest.
Moose: All over the forest, but key in on water sources such as rivers, bogs and lakes in the early morning and evening hours.

bull moose feeds in dark forest, velvety antlers indiacte summer or alte summer
A big bull moose feeding in late summer.


Porcupine: Montane forests, sage brush lands and near streams.
Beaver: Ponds, small lakes, meandering streams.
Owls: All over the forest during low light times where forest meets open areas. Did you know Montana has more species of owls than any other place in the lower 48?
Northern Flying Squirrel: Montana and subalpine coniferous forests.
Yellow-Bellied Marmot: Talus slopes and rock outcrops in or near meadows.
Snowshoe Hare: Thick stands of young timber. They are easily spooked.
Bison: NE corner of Yellowstone which borders Gallatin National Forest. This is known as the Cooke City area and Beartooth Mountain country.
Mountain Goats: The Crazy Mountains north of Big Timber. Start at Half Moon campground.
Lynx: Where there are snowshoe hare. Rare.
Prairie rattlesnake: lower elevations.
Western Painted turtle: lower elevations
Ornate box turtle: lower elevations

Top image note: This moose was hanging out where an aspen patch meets a meadow about 70 yards from a medium sized river in the Gallatin National Forest. These animals only tend to reveal themselves around sunrise or sunset, and this one was at sunset. I kept my distance and respected the wild animal while it fed. your best chance of spotting moose is to spend time near areas with water at lowlight.


 

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