To run or not run in Yellowstone National Park? That is the question.
Here’s my answer: Be careful. Stick to populated parking areas and run mid-day.
Bears are abundant in Yellowstone National Park. I was skeptical before I left on the trip. At the airport, I met a couple who were veterans of past trips to Yellowstone. “Wildlife is everywhere,” they said. “You will feel like the outsider in their homes.” Aside from an occasional deer in my backyard, I have not experienced living with wildlife. Heading to Yellowstone, I was worried I wouldn’t see any wildlife. I would be unlucky, and the herds of bison, elks, and beer would be elusive all trip long.
Nope. Wildlife is everywhere in Yellowstone National Parks. Bison herds traverse the roads at their leisure, blocking traffic in both directions with little regard to your dinner plans. Elk graze alongside the roadway and will bound in front of cars in the evening when started by headlights. And there are bears.
I planned to run in Yellowstone National Park in the morning before the family began our sightseeing day. I scrapped that plan on day one when I saw a black bear in the woods near our lodge before sunset. If a bear is that close to our lodgings, there is a chance the bear will be there in the morning. Bear safety information is ubiquitous at Yellowstone. Rule #1 is to stay away from black bears. Rule #2 is to walk slowly, don’t run away if you encounter a black bear. An early morning run that happens past a black bear I would not see until too late seemed like a bad start to the vacation.
Later in the trip, I pondered running again. If I had to run, how would I do it? I would not run in the early morning or dusk when wildlife was most active. The best option is mid-day when the temperature increases and the animals are less active. I would stick to more heavily populated areas like visitor center parking lots. The parking areas around Lake Village, Old Faithful, Grant Village, and Canyon Village are ideal. You can string together loops of the parking lot for your mileage. The scenery is bland, but the trade-off is safety. Finally, I would carry bear spray as the last line of defense.
What about trail running? I am sure trail running is possible, but the risk seems high. The safest version of Yellowstone Trail running would be the paved paths around key attractions such as Old Faithful Trail Basin and up to the Grand Prismatic Spring. Run both paths in the early morning before the crowds. You can enjoy the scenery on a less wild route – but still, bring your bear spray.