The valley stretches between the park’s entrance at Cooke City and Tower Junction. The Lamar Valley is not on the Grand Loop, but if you are even remotely interested in wildlife, it’s definitely worth checking out.
This area of the national park is commonly referred to as America’s Serengeti due to its large wildlife populations that are relatively easy to see.
The park’s inhabitants include the Junction Butte and Lamar Canyon wolf packs, which unsurprisingly makes this something of a haven for wolf enthusiasts who you might see gathering with spotting scopes trying to catch glimpses of the canines.
If you are looking to spend a few days or longer out in the wilds of the valley there are several points of interest, including a couple of small and primitive campgrounds.
Both of these campgrounds are ideal spots for early-rising wildlife watchers to base themselves, and the Lamar Buffalo Ranch also plays host to various participants of the association’s many field programs among other things.
To get to the region of the northeast entrance gate for Yellowstone National Park near Cooke City, head west on Northeast Entrance Road (sounds logical enough!). You’ll need to drive for around 10 miles before you enter the valley, and this road winds up at Tower Junction.
To get to the Lamar Valley from the direction of Mammoth Hot Springs you can head east along the Grand Loop Road past Tower-Roosevelt. You then continue on Northeast Entrance Road until you enter the park and start driving west. The valley is also accessible via the Beartooth Highway.
Lamar Valley Stats
- Approximately 30 miles of road
- Accessible year-round
- Two primitive campgrounds
Main Areas and Attractions
The Lamar Road runs for 29 miles and is Yellowstone’s only year-round road. It can be divided into 3 main sections, with the first one including the stretch between the bridge over the Yellowstone River and the bridge over the Lamar River.
Although the scenery here is not necessarily among the best the valley has to offer, there are above-average chances of spotting various wildlife species like buffalo, wolves, and bears. There are just a couple of campgrounds and Yellowstone Picnic Area is also in this region.
The second section of the road could be considered the Lamar Valley proper. This is the stretch that is all expansive, wide-open Ice-Age glacier landscapes. There are even more opportunities to observe wildlife here, along with plenty of openings for cars to pull in.
This area is also home to the Lamar Buffalo Ranch, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The third stretch of the road begins at the junction between the Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek. This area is surrounded by mountains all the way to the park’s northeast exit.
In addition to wildlife, you can find Pebble Creek Campground along this section.
The Lamar Valley has been a wolf-watching mecca ever since the animals were reintegrated back into the region in 1995. On top of that, there’s no other destination in Yellowstone that gives you more opportunity to see wild bison than Lamar Valley.
The Lamar River feeds the valley, which draws the huge grazing mammals to the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park. Although bison are among the biggest land mammals in the U.S., they are still pretty swift and can run at speeds over 30 mph. Thus viewing the creatures from a safe distance and never approaching them is always the rule.
If bison and wolves aren’t enough wildlife for you there are also various populations of pronghorn, badgers, grizzly bears, bald eagles, osprey, deer, and coyotes.
If you are really serious about seeing some bison then Route 212 Northeast Entrance Road runs the length of the valley past plenty of viewpoints where you are pretty much guaranteed a sighting of the Lamar Valley Bison Herd.
Recreational Activities in Lamar Valley
Camping in Lamar Valley
Pebble Creek Campground is a remote, 27-site facility that is the closest to the park’s Northeast Entrance. This campground is right at the base of the Beartooth Highway, and it can serve as an ideal spot indeed from which to spot wildlife and even indulge in a few sunrise explorations of Lamar Valley.
RVs up to around 30 feet are accommodated here to some extent by pull-through sites but the majority are smaller sites. Vault toilets are available but no generator use is allowed here. Pebble Creek is usually open from mid-June through late September.
Slough Creek Campground is a slightly smaller, 16-site facility set along the highly scenic Slough Creek between Lamar Valley and Tower-Roosevelt.
This is another campground that literally provides some of the best wildlife viewings in Yellowstone. Don’t be surprised if you see bison, deer, and bears while spending time at the campground.
Things are somewhat on the rustic side with pit toilets, a water pumping station, and no generators. So it is highly likely that you’ll fall asleep to the sounds of nature, and maybe even the odd wolf cry.
Fishing the Lamar River
The best fishing likely to be found along the Lamar River is in the Lamar Valley. Soda Butte Creek enters the Lamar River near the valley’s eastern side. The western side is marked six miles further downstream by the Lamar Canyon.
Some of the best fly fishing on the Lamar River occurs after the run-off, typically from around the end of June to late July.
The river is typically crystal clear after the snowmelt, and this is when decent-sized cutthroat and rainbow trout between 12 and 16 inches start to show themselves.
Although the Lamar River is popular for fly fishing it is still relatively easy to find solitude if you seek it. Going upstream over Soda Butte Creek is one way to ensure more likelihood of this, and the majority of anglers tend to focus their attention somewhere near the confluence with the creek.
A short and steady wander upstream will take you into waters with more solitude.
Trail Routes in Lamar Valley
This 7-mile, out & back-type trail is one of the best-known in the area. It is generally reported as being moderately challenging and takes an average of close to 3 hours to complete.
The valley is a popular and well-worn region for hiking, so you’ll most likely encounter other people along the route. This is a somewhat unique trail that provides every opportunity to see more bison than you probably ever have before, along with a few pronghorn.
Hikers will encounter some amazing scenery along the way, although not everyone goes the entire length of the trail and hikers turn back at various points.
The best times to use the trail are reportedly May through October. No dogs are allowed on this trail and it’s also worth considering that some roads leading to this trailhead are subject to seasonal closure during winter.
This route is a slightly longer 33-mile round trip that runs along the Lamar River. It stretches all the way to Cold Creek and stays pretty much on the east side of the river through the Lamar Valley.
This is another trail that unsurprisingly offers many opportunities to spot some of the park’s larger mammals including grizzly bears.