With more than 400 kinds of animals and multiple life zones for plant life, Yosemite National Park is a top spot for wildlife watching. In fact, it’s everywhere you look. The park’s protected status, combined with a variety of natural environments that stretch from the Sierra Nevada’s wooded foothills to the treeless alpine tundra, provides unmatched habitat for wildlife.
While we can’t guarantee that you’ll see every species you’re hoping to get a glimpse of, you’re sure to find plenty of spectacular flora and fauna to photograph during your trip. The following are some of the most popular animals to look out for in the Yosemite region. But all of these are just the beginning of the amazing wildlife you can encounter during your Yosemite vacation. Other superstar species to watch out for include bighorn sheep, yellow-bellied marmots, red foxes, and the Western fence lizard with its iridescent blue-colored belly.
Black bears are the biggest wildlife attraction in Yosemite National Park. Unlike their grizzly cousins, black bears are naturally fearful of humans, unless they have become habituated by the careless actions of park visitors, such as leaving food unprotected. Wild black bears are omnivores who mostly forage on acorns, berries, and grasses. Despite their name, their fur is can be inky black, chocolate brown, cinnamon-colored, or even golden blond. A full-grown adult male black bear averages 350 pounds and can run up to 30 mph, so always keep your distance when observing bears in the park. You’ll most often see black bears in meadows and along hiking trails in the forest. Do your part to keep black bears wild by always carefully storing your food, trash, and any other scented items in the free bearproof lockers found throughout the park.
Mule deer are the animal most commonly seen in Yosemite National Park. You can recognize them by their ears, which resemble those of a mule, and their typically white tails with black tips. Mule deer graze in grassy meadows and throughout the forests. They run with an unusual gait: all four feet hit the ground at once. These deer migrate seasonally between the Sierra Nevada high country and the foothills, so be careful when driving around the park not to hit one by the side of the highway. Slow driving can save the lives not only of mule deer, but also black bears.
Birding enthusiasts will find over 250 species in Yosemite National Park, thanks to its wide range of climates and elevations. Peregrine falcons can be seen swooping and diving in the Yosemite Valley, where they nest in granite cliffs. After dark, hoards of bats emerge from rocky caves and hollowed-out trees (called snags) to hunt. The orange-and-yellow Western tanager is a cheery, bright spot of color in pine forests. The hoots of blue grouse and great gray owls can be heard in upland forests, if you listen carefully. For a complete introduction to Sierra Nevada bird life, take a naturalist-guided walk and ask for a free birding checklist at park visitor centers.