CONSIDERING ALL THE PUBLICITY and controversy that raged when wildlife biologists reintroduced gray wolves into Yellowstone in 1995 after their 60-year absence, it's surprising how few park visitors actually venture out to see the newcomers. But that's lucky for you, because the Lamar Valley, one of the best venues for WOLF TRACKING, is in the park's lightly trafficked northeastern section, far from such perennial crowd magnets as Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake, and Mammoth Hot Springs. You can certainly head out to the huge open meadows alone, but the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance offers an upgrade worth pondering. Three times a year, the Alliance runs four-day wildlife-tracking trips in Lamar (February and autumn trips focus on the valley's resident Druid Pack, and the April/May trip on both wolves and grizzlies, which emerge from their dens around then). Trips are led by Franz Camenzind, the group's executive director, who is also a wildlife biologist, a cinematographer, and an expert on Canis lupusnow more than 200 strong in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The valley's flat terrain lies between 7,000 and 8,000 feet, with three to four feet of snow cover likely from November to April, so trackers head in on either snowshoes or cross-country skis (except in early fall, when they trek in). With spotting scopes and binoculars, the chances of seeing wolves playing, loping, hunting, and post-kill gorging on up to 30 pounds of elk meat (per wolf, gulp) are excellent, especially around dawn and dusk. Groups usually stay in rustic cabins at the Yellowstone Institute, a science-education facility, attend afternoon classes in winter ecology or the like, and indulge in a celebratory soak at Chico Hot Springs before returning to Jackson Hole ($450 per person; JHCA, 307-733-9417).
WHEN TO GO: In October, bugling elk outnumber RVs, making it a copacetic time to check out even the most popular hot springs and geysers.
ANNUAL VISITORS: 2.84 million. (High: July, 768,040. Low: November, 13,422.)
MORE CHOICE ADVENTURE: With 100 miles of shoreline and nearly 150 square miles of surface, Yellowstone Lake's chilly, crystalline waters invite unforgettable multiday SEA KAYAK jaunts. Several outfitters offer guided trips and lessons, among them Jackson Hole Kayak School (800-733-2471, www.jhkayakschool.com).
HEADLAMP READING: Hiking Yellowstone National Park, by Bill Schneider; The Wolves of Yellowstone, by Michael Phillips and Douglas Smith
LOCAL SPECIALTY: Eisenhower was president when Helen Gould began serving her crowd-pleasing Hateful Hamburger at Helen's Corral Drive-In in Gardiner, Montana, at the park's northern entrance. Forty-two years later, Helen is still behind the counter, serving up burgers, fries, malts, and tales of times gone by.
PARK HEADQUARTERS: 307-344-7381, www.nps.gov/yell