Yellowstone Grizzlies Observed Farther East In Wyoming — And Earlier

Grizzly bears are getting more common in the lower elevations as they push east out of Yellowstone National Park toward Cody. A visitor caught video of a grizzly lumbering along the shore of Buffalo Bill Reservoir last week during a snow squall.

Mark Heinz

May 17, 20244 min read

This image from a video taken from a distance by Fred McClanahan Jr. shows a grizzly running along the shore of Buffalo Bill Reservoir near Cody, Wyoming, during a smattering of spring snow.
This image from a video taken from a distance by Fred McClanahan Jr. shows a grizzly running along the shore of Buffalo Bill Reservoir near Cody, Wyoming, during a smattering of spring snow. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Fred McClanahan Jr. is a native of Fort Collins, Colorado, but he loves Wyoming because of its more conservative mindset and abundant wildlife, especially grizzly bears.

“It’s the grizzlies that keep me coming back,” he told Cowboy State Daily.

And he got a special treat after he left Cody last week headed for Yellowstone National Park. As always, he was eager to watch and photograph Yellowstone’s bears.

But he’d hardly gotten out of town when he saw his first bear of the day — a grizzly out for a brisk stroll along the shore at Buffalo Bill Reservoir west of Cody.

“I had just made it out of the tunnels, and there he was,” McClanahan said.

He was referring to a series of three tunnels along Highway 14-16-20 between Cody and the Buffalo Bill Dam, the last of which is the Wyoming’s longest highway tunnel.

‘He Was On A Mission’

The bear was busily lumbering along a dry section of the reservoir bed “that hadn’t filled in yet,” he said.

McClanahan caught some video of the grizzly going on it way in the middle of a typical Wyoming springtime snow flurry.

The bear wasn’t distracted by highway traffic, or anything else, McClanahan said.

“He was on a mission. I’m not sure where he was headed or what he was after, but he was really moving,” McClanahan said.

Bears Moving Down Toward Cody

McClanahan has been visiting Yellowstone since the early 1980s. He tries to make two trips per year, one in the spring and one in the summer.

“I still have the canceled check from the first time we made a reservation for the motorhome at the Fishing Bridge campground. I think it was $9,” he said.

Back then, about the only places to see grizzlies were between “2 miles outside the of park and 2 miles inside the park,” he added.

But in recent years, grizzlies have become commonplace at lower elevations east of the park.

“I have friends who live in the Wapiti area (a rural community west of Cody). They say grizzlies are seen there frequently,” McClanahan said. “I just saw that one, at Buffalo Bill, but I’ve heard about several others.”

There were two incidents in Park County last year that ended badly for the grizzlies.

In May 2023, a large male grizzly near Highway 14-16-20 west of Cody was mistaken for a black bear and shot by a hunter.

In September 2023, a grizzly was spotted near the base of Heart Mountain between Cody and Powell and appeared in a “Your Wyoming Sunrise” photo in Cowboy State Daily.

Unfortunately, that bear became too habituated to human-occupied areas and food sources, so wildlife agents captured and killed it.

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A Robust Population

A grizzly sighting at Buffalo Bill Reservoir isn’t surprising these days, Wyoming Game and Fish Department Large Carnivore Specialist Dan Thompson told Cowboy State Daily.

“It’s definitely not out of the ordinary to have grizzlies seen in that area. We have a lot of grizzly activity on the South Fork and North fork this spring. Essentially another obvious indicator of a robust grizzly bear population,” he said.

Spring is prime time to spot grizzlies at lower elevations, he added.

“It’s pretty standard when bears come out of the den to move lower,” Thompson said. “That's where it greens up first. So we generally see that move to lower elevations out of the den.”

Mark Heinz can be reached at

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter