Jillian Thornton was born in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, and spent her first 13 years growing up on the pristine beaches of Florida’s Emerald Coast. Horseback riding, dirt biking, boating, and camping filled the first part of her childhood, with the next being flooded with adventures in Nairobi, Kenya. Attending high school in Kenya awakened Jillian’s love and enthusiasm for cultural experiences, wildlife, and conservation. While living in Kenya, she and her family traveled to adventurous destinations including India, Thailand, and Namibia to name a few.
Jillian moved out to Montana in 2006, where she worked in the service industry during the summers and guided snowmobile trips into Yellowstone during the winters. She guided snowmobile tours for a number of seasons, interpreting to groups about Yellowstone, with an emphasis on wildlife ecology and thermophiles. These experiences brought out her desire to continue her own education in conservation and wildlife ecology. Jillian also co-owned a Yellowstone tour guiding company for 5 years, designing individualized itineraries for clients, which offered the opportunity to experience Yellowstone via private, customized tours of the park.
After graduating with Honors from Montana State University in 2015 with a degree in Conservation Biology and Ecology, Jillian began working for the USDA Forest Service in 2016 in West Yellowstone, Montana as their Grizzly Bear Expert and Educator. Traveling all over South West Montana teaching educational presentations on bear awareness and safety, she educated and trained people from all walks of life including tourists, government agency employees, children, and local home and business owners. Teaching others about wildlife ecology and conservation is her passion. Not to mention that she is also a major bird nerd and loves wildflowers!
What’s your favorite vacation destination?
I love the coastal areas of Kenya…Mombasa, Diani Beach, and Watamu are incredibly beautiful! Mauritius is a close second though!
What’s your favorite hike?
I love hiking in the Taylor Fork area of the Gallatin National Forest. The views are incredible and the wildlife and wildflowers are mind-blowing! Although any trail that leads to a beautiful lake with flowers along the way ranks highly too!
What’s your favorite bike ride?
There are great forest service roads to the west and south of West Yellowstone, MT that are great for relaxing bike rides. My friends and I enjoy taking off down the trails to get away from all the crowds in town during the summer, even if it was just for an hour. There is nothing like peace and quiet while being surrounded by fields of wildflowers! Always remember to bring your bear spray!
What’s your favorite movie?
Jaws & Jurassic Park.
What’s your favorite book?
“I Dreamed of Africa” – By Kuki Gallmann.
What’s your favorite song?
“I Need Never Get Old” by Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats.
When did you first catch the travel bug?
When I moved to Kenya as a Sophomore in high school. I can remember landing in Nairobi and seeing giraffes near the airport, in the wild for the first time! Baboons were all along the roadside in our new neighborhood and all the beautiful cultural details of the locals were exquisite. I immediately recalled an essay to myself that I had crafted while in 4th grade about what an African Safari could be like and BOOM I realized at that moment I would get to live it! I was hooked and couldn’t wait to see and experience more!
What are your hobbies?
Going on adventures with her dogs, Phineas & Cooper. Cooking, hiking, camping, fishing, painting, kayaking, snowshoeing, photography. Anything outside!