National Elk Refuge – What To Expect

Just before the entrance of Grand Teton National Park, barely 5 mins away, there is an area covering 25,000 acres which is refuge center for migrant elks. Approximately 8000 elks migrate every winter here, from different parts as far as Yellowstone area.

If you are in Jackson Hole and want to witness one of the largest ungulate migration, this is the place and time. Elks can be found sitting, grazing, basking and enjoying their time in their big herd inside the refuge.

During our recent trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming in January, we visited this place on the second day of our trip. You can simply drive around the place in your car and see them, but refuge was not fully open for public vehicles and few areas were closed for the season for everyone except licensed hunters. So better option to enjoy this is through horse sleighs. It’s actually best way to get closer to them and see them in natural habitat. There would be plenty of opportunities for photographers too.

Option 1 : Drive in your vehicle and watch them through binoculars

Option 2 : Horse sleigh (No need of binoculars)

A horse sleigh returning from tour

Sleighs can be booked online or at the visitor center in Jackson Hole. Visitor center was closed for the season, but there was arrangement outside visitor center for ticket purchase. A vehicle was parked in the area with 3 ticket windows for booking purpose. We went there on first day of our trip, but booking was full as it was a long weekend and there was good amount of crowd.

Ticket Booth

Lady at the window asked us to get added in waiting list of next available slot, but we decided to go for next day since there were no prior bookings for the next day. she wrote our names in her list for tomorrow’s noon slot and asked us to come 15 mins before the time.

Next day it was bright sunny day. We reached there in advance at 11:00 AM and Harmit went to the window to confirm our spot. She paid the price and took the tickets. They asked if we want to go right now, since there was a bus ready to depart. To save our time, we agreed to go. We parked our car in the parking lot, which was almost full. It took me around 10-15 mins to find a suitable spot.

We just kept our camera and binocular and boarded the bus. We were also asked to keep blanket if needed, as temperature was quiet low, but we preferred going without it. There were nearly 8 people in our group. Refuge center is hardly 5 mins from the visitor center, so it took negligible time to reach there. Horse sleigh was ready for us.

Through the horses

Selfie in Elk Refuge

Sleigh was having two side benches, where we were asked to sit and our guide – a mid-age lady, stood facing us at the front of sleigh. She stopped the cart near two male elks, with very big horns and gave us ample time to take pictures. We also spotted a bald eagle and coyote at far distance through our binocular. She started again and moved the sleigh towards the elk herd and told us everything about the place, elks, their habits, breeding and migration .

Here we go !

Male Elks

Once we reached near the herd, she again stopped the sleigh and told us various facts about them. She told about few males in the group and other important members of the group. Few elks were also wearing red scarfs on their neck for identification. We took various pictures. There was also a newly born baby which we spotted with our guide’s help. We also witnessed a possible fight scene between two elks. Check out the video.

Capturing the moments

After taking complete round of the herd and once everyone was satisfied, we returned back. It took nearly 1 hour in the ride. It was once in a lifetime experience being so close to those beautiful animals and to see so many of them at once. You can see big bison herd in Yellowstone area, but not this close. Our guide was also very informative and helpful.

Big elk herd

Alone from the group

Just silence

Direct gaze

Our bus was ready to leave us back to visitor center, so we took some photographs with the horses quickly, who were very cooperative. We took some pictures outside visitor center and returned to our hotel just to get some rest before starting for next venue.

Posing with the horses

Some Information :-

  • Price :- 27 $ per adult
  • Hours of operation :- 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM
  • Days :- Daily Monday to Sunday

Tips :-

  1. Parking in visitor center is a big problem, go early or park somewhere else near by
  2. This place can be covered any time, no preference of time, but choose sunny day for better visibility
  3. Binoculars would be good to see other wildlife
  4. Keep blankets and come layered as it’s completely outdoor
  5. Tips can be paid in advance while purchasing tickets

So what you liked about this place and would you like to visit it ? Please leave your comments.

Happy Reading ! Keep Traveling !!!

6 thoughts on “National Elk Refuge – What To Expect

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