Video: A Yellowstone National Park ‘Bison Jam’

By Michael Lanza

It’s the coolest, most awe-inspiring traffic jam you’ll ever get stuck in—if a little unnerving, too—and something of an iconic experience in the world’s first national park. On a visit to Yellowstone, after a couple of days of hiking, I was driving south between Mammoth and Norris when I got stuck in a line of vehicles stopped by a large herd of bison walking up the road. Yes, we were in a bison jam, and I captured it on this video (scroll down to watch it).

I’ve visited and driven through Yellowstone National Park many times, in all seasons, since my first visit more than 30 years ago, including the 10 years I spent as the Northwest Editor of Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog. I’ve been stopped on a park road many times by herds of bison (it’s not that unusual) and by herds of humans parking right in the road to take photos of wildlife. (On this particular visit, in fact, I was driving north toward Tower Junction at dusk, after hiking Mount Washburn, when I ran into a line of dozens of cars whose drivers had stopped to shoot pictures of a large black bear grazing beside the road.)

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I was even once cross-country skiing by myself in the Midway Geyser Basin area when I came upon a herd of hundreds of bison, filling the entire valley before me. When one of those behemoths suddenly starting sprinting straight at me, from a distance, I quickly looked at the only tree within a quarter-mile of me and wondered how quickly I could get my skis off and get up it. I got lucky that day: That bison inexplicably veered off in another direction. I’m not even sure whether it noticed me.

But I think this episode with the bison herd passing my car was the most closely surrounded I’ve ever been by these enormous animals, the largest of which weigh upwards of a ton and could probably flip over a small car. Fortunately, these bison remained calm as they paraded past at least a few dozen vehicles stopped on the road.

Check out the video below to see what it’s like to sit inside a small car while a herd of bison saunters past.

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See all stories about Yellowstone National Park at The Big Outside, including:

The Ultimate Family Tour of Yellowstone
The 10 Best Hikes in Yellowstone
Cross-Country Skiing Yellowstone
In Hot (and Cold) Water: Backpacking Yellowstone’s Bechler Canyon

Plus, see a menu of all stories about national park adventures at The Big Outside.

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2 thoughts on “Video: A Yellowstone National Park ‘Bison Jam’”

  1. I had a similar experience but I was on the board walk at the Grand Prismatic spring when a nearby herd of bison moved through. I was standing no more than 10 feet from one with a 2×4 rail as the only thing separating us. They are certainly huge powerful creatures.